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Mayor Fri Nov 22 2013

4 Reasons Why Rahm Won't "Get Started" on the French

Over the past week, a list of travel warnings about several U.S. cities on the French Ministry of Foreign Affairs website made its way through newsrooms across the country.

The page gave detailed crime warnings about entire streets, neighborhoods, and even suburbs for French tourists to avoid in places like New York City, New Orelans, Boston, L.A., Baltimore and Miami. In Chicago, travellers were simply advised to "Avoid the West Side and the south of the city after 59th Street." After numerous complaints from angered residents and politicians of the listed cities, the French Embassy issued apologetic statements, and revised their web advisory.

When asked about the offending entry during a press conference, Mayor Rahm Emanuel quipped, "Don't get me started on what I think of the French." He then smiled, and added, "No, no, I don't think that'd be good," before launching into a speech on why people were coming to Chicago, the "Most American of American cities."

While the quote made for an amusing headline, there are at least four good reasons why Rahm Emanuel will never say a single negative word about the French in public for the rest of his time in office.

1. The city's own tourism guide mirrors the French advisory

As the Chicago Tribune's Mary Schmich pointed out, the neighborhood guide on the city's official tourism website, Choose Chicago, only lists 41 of the city's 77 neighborhoods, and far fewer destinations for the West Side or south of 59th St, than the North Side. Any snide comment could simply draw further attention to the city's implicit validation of the initial French tourist advisory.

2. Chicago makes a lot of money from France

France is Chicago's 8th largest trading partner. Between January and September of this year, Chicago and France generated over $3.5 billion in trade, which was slightly over 6.3% of all French trade with the United States.

According to World Business Chicago (seen by some as the Mayor's "shadow cabinet"), over 100 French companies have locations around Chicago, and over 120 Chicago-area companies operate in France, including Groupon and Hyatt.

It's hard to imagine Rahm or any other mayor letting themselves say anything to jeopardize attempts to court future French companies and potential tourists - particularly as France faces a potential recession.

3. Rahm is still a proxy for the Obama White House

Given his previous role as President Obama's Chief of Staff and the status of Chicago as Obama's political and home base, any negative comment Rahm could make about France would reflect poorly on both the President and the city.

In fact, Rahm--who Chicago magazine's Carol Felsenthal once compared to previous French president Nicolas Sarkozy--had to clarify comments he made last year at a French Embassy reception about recently-elected President François Hollande's ability to grow into the job, citing the classic "lost in translation" excuse. Don't count on him to make that mistake again.

Especially not while Obama and Hollande are trying to coordinate Iranian nuclear disarmament talks, Israeli-Palestinian relations, and involvement in Syria, all in the middle of French demands for an explanation over the NSA's surveillance of their government officials.

With this in mind, there's no way Rahm would utter anything remotely similar to Cleveland Heights, Ohio mayor Edward Kelly's travel advisory reaction, who said, "The French government is foolish and doesn't know what they're talking about."

4. He would invite a new wave of "Marseille is the Chicago of France" stories

France's very own second city, Marseille, has had increasing problems with drug-related, gang-fueled violent crime and corruption. The trending violence has sparked the popularity of a far right party, as well as calls for French army intervention, drone spying, and even Batman to tackle the problems.

Two weeks ago, before the spread of the French Ministry city warnings, a series of articles began describing the this year's European Capital of Culture as "the Chicago of France."

To combat this image, the city--home of the infamous French Connection heroin smuggling scheme--is set to spend €3 Billion on improvements to "transportation infrastructure, urban renovation, education, security and jobs for underprivileged youth," along with 80 new cops on the streets to reduce crime and better integrate the comparatively poorer northern part of the city.

Technically, Marseille's murder rate pales in comparison to Chicago's--the entirety of France had only 665 murders last year, while Chicago alone had 506.

But in contrast to Rahm's gleeful escalation of the The Daily Show's tongue-in-cheek "Deep Dish vs. New York pizza" feud, no headline-grabbing "Chicago vs. Marseilles" story will do any favors for either city's reputation as a cultural hub or tourist destination.

Plus, no mayor of this city would go out of their way to reinforce "Chicago" as an international metaphor for uncontrollable violence and unaccountable corruption.

...Though, taking campaign contributions from real-estate developers getting tax breaks probably doesn't help.

At the end of the day, we can only imagine what one of the most infamously outspoken politicians of the modern era has to say about France.

But for the sake of his--and the city of Chicago's--reputation, perhaps we should thank Rahm for keeping his thoughts to himself for a change.

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