Transcript: My One-on-One Interview With Rahm Emanuel

I sat down for an interview with Rahm Emanuel yesterday. Here is the full transcript.

GEORGE STEPHANOPOULOS: Great. Mr. Mayor, thanks for doing this.

RAHM EMANUEL: Thank you.

GEORGE STEPHANOPOULOS: So, two weeks in, you used to hearing "Mr. Mayor"?


GEORGE STEPHANOPOULOS: Used to hearing "Mr. Mayor"?

RAHM EMANUEL: (LAUGH) I still (UNINTEL). It’s interesting. A lot of folks were "Hey Rahm", first name basis. So--

GEORGE STEPHANOPOULOS: And that’s okay with you?


GEORGE STEPHANOPOULOS: You know, for most of the last six days--

RAHM EMANUEL: It’s what comes after that that I’m more nervous about.

GEORGE STEPHANOPOULOS: Well, and … you’ve got a tough act to follow. For most of the last six decades a Daley sat in this office. Is it going to be hard to escape that shadow?

RAHM EMANUEL: I do think this. One, the public is ready for a change. And to Mayor Daley’s credit, he knew they were ready for a change. He left a great city. A lot of great work that he has done. And I’m not just talking physical, although that’s nonetheless a manifestation of it. But there is a change that has to happen. And it’s, it was the season for change, in the sense that we have the shortest school day and school year in the country … worked on now getting the legislation so we can reverse that so our kids can get actually a day of academic instruction and be in a safe place.

Parts of our city had a per capita basis, a worse murder rate than New York. I just announced 500 new police officers from clerical positions to the streets. And I visited the Commander today. So, we have to make those changes. And on day one, I wasn’t even in the office 24 hours, cut $75 million out of Mayor Daley’s budget.

GEORGE STEPHANOPOULOS: You still have a $700 million shortfall.


RAHM EMANUEL: But that comes, George. So, on every aspect, ethics reform, put your fiscal house in order, changing the way we organize our schools, putting cops on the beat. On every aspect, the voters who wanted change were beginning to make the downpayments to bring that change about.

GEORGE STEPHANOPOULOS: What kind of sacrifices are the people of Chicago going to have to make if you close that gap?

RAHM EMANUEL: Well, one of the things in that $75 million: I put a ten percent cut in the mayor’s office. Day two, the City Council for the first time, fewest committees since World War II and a ten percent cut in the City Council budget. Everybody will have skin in the game when it comes to belt-tightening. But there’s also other things. It’s not just belt-tightening, it’s doing things different and more effective. And we’re going to have to do both of it -- all of it -- to close that gap.

GEORGE STEPHANOPOULOS: And that means getting buy in. I wonder if, you know, you say that you said in your inaugural, you’re not going to follow the path of Scott Walker, Governor Scott Walker, John Kasich in Ohio. But do you have more sympathy for the constant challenges that Chris Christie’s facing and Scott Walker’s facing? And how much change are you going to demand from the unions, as well?

RAHM EMANUEL: Well, here’s the thing. I don’t think what I rejected was using a fiscal crisis to achieve a political end. I did also say that assuming that we’re going to do everything we’ve done in the past and hope for a different result is also a failed strategy. I think both are wrong for Chicago and for its future. Now, we just passed the most comprehensive education reform in the country.

It gives the board the ability to lengthen the school day and school year, so kids can learn and be safe. Tenure reform, so we keep good teachers, let go of bad ones, and reward them with merit pay. It passed 59 to 0 in the Senate. Democrats and Republicans together. That’s a different strategy. I said the old way was not working, we’re not going to try and do something political. We’re actually going to try to do the one thing that had never been tried in the school systems here in Illinois or in Chicago. Not just rhetorically, but we actually put kids first.

GEORGE STEPHANOPOULOS: You mentioned that on your first day, you passed executives orders on, issued executive orders on ethics reform. And that gets to a question that we asked our viewers for questions for you. And one came in from Tom Nealon of Midlothian, Illinois. He says, "Chicago has a pretty poor reputation for crooked politics. How do you plan on changing that image?"

RAHM EMANUEL: Well, there’s two things we did. I actually was, I walked over from my inaugural. Came in here with my family. Went back out actually to this desk in this room, where you’re sitting … And I signed six executive orders. I shut the revolving door. You work for me, you cannot lobby for two years when you leave. And there were five other executive orders, banning lobbyists from contributing to the campaigns. That was Tuesday. That was, rather, Monday. On Wednesday, in addition to that, the City Council passed its own ethics ordinance, which I had asked them to do.

Which is that if you’re a former City Council member and you’ve committed a felony because of public service, you’re not allowed on the floor of the City Council anymore or in the back room, took that away. Now, those are the first set of steps. Now, I also want to bring a level of transparency to the way the city government functions, how we do no-bid contracts, and bring, we’re actually doing dashboards for how city government works.

So, it’s not just ethics reform. It’s bringing the public in for part of the process that they need to have that confidence. I am a progressive in view of government. I think government can be an affirmative force. But if people have a cynical attitude about either public service or government or those in government, you can’t get the buy in for government to be a force for change.

GEORGE STEPHANOPOULOS: And a lot of Chicago politicians have given them good reason.

RAHM EMANUEL: Absolutely. Both Chicago, Illinois, and both parties. And part of what I’m doing and the change I want to bring about, and I said this repeatedly -- which is why the former independent I.G. for the City of Chicago endorsed my candidacy and my proposal -- is I want people to have trust that our time in public service is about serving the public.

GEORGE STEPHANOPOULOS: You’ve worked at every level of politics. You’ve worked in Congress. You were a congressman. You worked in presidential campaigns. You’ve worked in the White House. What’s different about this --

RAHM EMANUEL: That’s how I got this gray hair (LAUGHS).

GEORGE STEPHANOPOULOS: I understand that. What’s different?

RAHM EMANUEL: Let me -- I’m so glad you asked that. Let me give you today. Okay? I announced the first ever city -- of any city in the country -- with Comcast, a strategy on the digital divide. If you’re on free lunch in our school, you now get a $150-coupon to buy a computer. Major discount. Your Internet connection for broadband goes from $60 a month to 10 bucks. An entire educational training, all paid by Comcast. Over $20 million investment in dealing with the digital divide. First city in the country.

While I was there, I went to District 7, to the Commander (UNINTEL). He got 55 of the 500 cops, so about ten percent of one district, Englewood area. I said, "Okay, tell me how you’re using it. Where is it? Where are you putting them?" So, we walk through on units on the C.T.A., kids going from the C.T.A. to school, also dealing with empty houses, and then (UNINTEL). Those are the three strategies he wants to use on the -- we had 500 cops, we announced to the street from back office, actually from clerical work to beat cops. So, I wanted, I checked in, he got the full allotment on Sunday. On Monday morning, I was, on Tuesday morning, I’m checking in. "How is that being used? What’s your strategy? What are you doing here?" Third, I went to our math and science school, (UNINTEL) one of our special schools.

And I talked to the kids about how they’re doing on their APs. How … they have 100 percent of the kids take the ACTs at this high school. Its' down on the southside Englewood area, Lindblom. Eighty-seven percent go onto college. What are you doing in math and science? What are you learning? I was, sat in on an AP math class and a computer class. So, in this job, I don’t talk about public safety, I check in with a commander about how they’re going to use those 55 cops.

GEORGE STEPHANOPOULOS: So, you’re on the ground and you can access --

RAHM EMANUEL: It is the greatest -- I joked-- I said to Bill Daley the other day, if I had known this was this great, I would have primaried Richie four years ago. (LAUGHS) I think – and you get to talk to people. And you get to not talk about crime, you get to actually check in on a commander. And you get to actually try to make the tough decision. Where are we taking the police officers and how do we move them -- which district?

You check in on a school, with a principal, who has got another assistant principal, who's going to the New Leaders for New schools, which I’m a big supporter of, the principal training. What is that school doing that I can take to another school? They have (UNINTEL). Here on the south side, largest Chinese language classes at Lindblom High.

GEORGE STEPHANOPOULOS: Your number one constituent, the president of the United States. Has he given you any advice?

RAHM EMANUEL: Yeah. (LAUGHs) He has. Yeah, he, we have talked with repeatedly on both education -- he was proud of what we accomplished on the new policies, for the length of day and year and tenure reform, public safety -- but also he was impressed when we did, I announced last week, General Electric has a thousand jobs in the city. They’re adding another thousand jobs. They’re doubling down on the City of Chicago. It’s now going to be the largest city outside of Connecticut for GE employees. We’re talking about economic development and the decisions we have to make.

GEORGE STEPHANOPOULOS: He called you out last week, when he went to APAC. He said he didn’t need your advice.

RAHM EMANUEL: He called both of us – that’s true, he doesn’t.

GEORGE STEPHANOPOULOS: But, but, you know, did the president- go too far? How much trouble did he cause for himself?

RAHM EMANUEL: Well, I think he -- George, first of all my focus is on what goes on in Englewood, what goes on in Lindblom High. I looked at the whole speech. I looked at everything he said in support of Israel, with its security and safety. And I saw the president that I worked for. And he’s been consistent about Israel security and safety, as his number one concern.


RAHM EMANUEL: -- as it relates to dealing with the peace process.

GEORGE STEPHANOPOULOS: Any pro-Israel Democrats who were bothered by this you don't think they should be.

RAHM EMANUEL: I'm like, if they can look at the speech they may see a different speech. I read-- I read the speech, and I saw the same president who pulled out of the Durban Conference. The president’s been clear about not using the United Nations for independent action. It has to be done in negotiations. And I think the president, as I worked with, is consistent about Israeli’s military strategic edge.

GEORGE STEPHANOPOULOS: You’re on the ground here in the Midwest. The president’s going to have to do well here, Illinois, Wisconsin, Michigan, Ohio, if he’s going to get reelected next year. What’s the single most important thing he has to do?

RAHM EMANUEL: Well, look, he is doing what I’m doing. Focusing on the basic concerns that people talk about at the kitchen table. We’re not – what I’m also excited about, just from my perspective. People are economically distressed. They’re trying to make ends meet. They’re trying to get a paycheck from the beginning of the month to the end of the month and pay the bills and still have stuff left over. Yeah, here in Chicago I can say they’re optimistic, though, given the changes we’re making, that we’re actually doing what’s right for the future.

He knows what he has to do, which is the same thing I’m trying to do on-- much, much, much smaller playing field. Hear their concerns and make sure that we’re addressing them and we’re focused on the stuff that matters most. A good school for their kids, safe streets for their family and their neighborhood, a job that pays, so they can afford things for their children and afford things for their family. And that’s the bread and butter of the American dream and the American life. I’m doing it on a very, very, very small scale. He is focused on he is focused on that since day one.

GEORGE STEPHANOPOULOS: You talked about the jobs GE brought to Chicago. Is the economy turning around here?

RAHM EMANUEL: It’s, you know, yes, but not enough for everybody. And one of the reasons -- and I’m not trying to get the Comcast announcement in -- to do what we have to do, I need the most trained workforce ready to deal with the … jobs of tomorrow. And technology, if you think about it George, is supposed to be the great leveler. You want to apply for a job today, you have to really do it online.

If you want to deal with your own health records or health information, dealing with your health, online. Banking, online. And yet, if you look at the divide, it’s just-- this great leveler is actually a point of difference. And my investment and the reason I want to do this is because I want every child, regardless of what neighborhood you grow up in, in what conditions you grow up in, you’re familiar with technology as if it's second nature.

GEORGE STEPHANOPOULOS: You helped make Jon Huntsman Ambassador to China.


RAHM EMANUEL: Is this a review of all my time as Chief of Staff? (LAUGHS)

GEORGE STEPHANOPOULOS: Well, no, you did. And did you expect him?


GEORGE STEPHANOPOULOS: To run for President? No.


GEORGE STEPHANOPOULOS: A lot of Democrats think he’d be the strongest Republican candidate. Are you one of them?

RAHM EMANUEL: I’m-- whatever I think, I’m going to be focused on what goes on in this office and this job.

GEORGE STEPHANOPOULOS: Still a national leader, national Democrat.

RAHM EMANUEL: I thought, I do think that, I think the president of the United States, people will judge-- first of all, let me back up here. There will be an assessment of the president versus whoever. And I think if they’ll look at the country he inherited, worst economic conditions since the Depression, an auto industry that was on its back, and actually, a lot of people-- even some of the national leaders of the Republican Party were advocating of let it go.


RAHM EMANUEL: A lot of them said, "Let the American auto industry get (UNINTEL)--" I remember the president’s speech to Congress. When the president said, "We’re not going to let the place where-- it was America where the car was invented go over the side." He made the tough decision where a lot of people were second guessers, the naysayers in America. Made tough decisions, forced the industry. Management, labor, bankers, suppliers, all made some concessions. And it saved 1.2 million jobs in this country.

And that was against the winds of all the naysayers and on the other side, where the only model that existed prior to that was Chrysler. And he had to do it with the entire industry. And we are stronger for it, because he was ready to sail against the wind. Just taking one industry, not counting the financial, not counting the recession, and not counting the war in Iraq. Which are all decisions he made in the first five months.

GEORGE STEPHANOPOULOS: So, as Mayor of Chicago, who would you like to run against as a Democrat (LAUGHS) (UNINTEL PHRASE)?

RAHM EMANUEL: First of all, first of all, this is day one of my third week. I’ve just started. The voters will make that decision. What I’m excited about is their optimism, which is not where they were before. They’re excited about the city. They’re excited about the opportunity to actually turn the page, hit the reset button, and I have a lot of work to make their lives better. And they’ll make an assessment about whether I deserve even to run again.

GEORGE STEPHANOPOULOS: Well, we’re out of time. But, you know, if you do a good job here, a lot of Democrats are going to be talking about you to run for president in 2016.

RAHM EMANUEL: I got a job to do here and that’s all I’m focused on.

GEORGE STEPHANOPOULOS: You never think about it?

RAHM EMANUEL: You know my wife. No. (LAUGHS)

GEORGE STEPHANOPOULOS: Mr. Mayor, thanks very much.

RAHM EMANUEL: Thank you, sir.

The interview took place in Chicago, Ill., on May 31, 2011. The transcript has been edited for clarity.

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