Chicago Foundations Underwrite Mayor Elect Emanuel’s Transition

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March 26, 2011; Source: Chicago Tribune | When Rahm Emanuel takes over as Chicago's new mayor in mid-May, he'll not only have his constituents who elected him to thank, but he'll also be grateful to four of the city's leading foundations for their help. According to the Chicago Tribune, the MacArthur, Joyce, McCormick and Spencer foundations have contributed $200,000 to defray transition costs for the incoming administration.

Emanuel apparently chose not to use campaign funds for these expenses or raise money from private donors, as most politicians do. Instead, the Tribune reports that "nonprofit money is being used to keep part of Emanuel's political team intact until he perhaps chooses to put those staffers on the city payroll after being sworn in."

Turning to foundations for help with an incoming administration is a first, says David Morrison, deputy director of the Illinois Campaign for Political Reform. "I haven't heard of any other transition funded that way. There's no reason that they couldn't use campaign money for this."

What do the foundations expect in return for supporting the mayor? In his proposal to the foundations, Emanuel outlined plans for using the transition period to "develop policy priorities so that the next mayor enters City Hall with a plan to address a slew of pressing problems." To Mike McPherson, president of the Spencer Foundation, the funding request presented "an opportunity to contribute to the development of public policy analysis on urban problems in a city." Similarly, MacArthur President Robert Gallucci characterized the transition period as time to think thoughtfully about a "broad array of social and policy issues that will impact residents of Chicago, and particularly underserved communities."

The new mayor and his transition team will certainly have no lack of tough choices to make. As noted in his funding request, the city faces a “$500 million budget deficit, a $600 million pension shortfall, a public schools system in need of reform, depressed morale among the police force, and public transit infrastructure that requires massive capital investment."—Bruce Trachtenberg