By John Byrne, Tribune Reporter
11:13 PM CST, November 7, 2012
As he looks ahead to President Barack Obama's second term, Mayor Rahm Emanuel expects funding for roads and mass transit and a push for education reform to be high on the White House's to-do list.
Not surprisingly, those agenda items also are close to Emanuel's heart.
"As a mayor, one of the key goals the president mentioned, as you know I talked a lot about investing in our infrastructure so we can grow our economy," Emanuel said late Tuesday at McCormick Place. "And the president has committed as part of his jobs plan and economic plan to invest in our roads, our bridges, our airports, our mass transit."
The perception endures that local governments benefit from close relationships with federal officials when largesse flows from Washington, D.C., to cities and states. Emanuel is particularly tight with Obama, having served as his chief of staff before returning to their shared hometown to run for mayor.
Emanuel also was a key campaign surrogate for Obama, traveling to Florida and Ohio on his behalf in recent weeks, raising money for an Obama-aligned super PAC and appearing repeatedly on Sunday morning talk shows to make the president's case.
"I don't think it's an overstatement to say there is no mayor in America that has a better link to the White House than Mayor Emanuel. But that's self-evident," said Ald. Edward Burke, 14th, when asked whether Obama's Tuesday win strengthens the mayor.
Ald. Patrick O'Connor, 40th, the mayor's City Council floor leader, said Obama may be in a better position to loosen the federal purse strings in a second term.
"I think that from the standpoint of a president now who isn't looking at a re-election coming up in his rearview mirror all the time, he might be a little more free to do things for the entire country," O'Connor said. "I would hope that would include Chicago."
Emanuel has worked hard to position himself as a mayor who builds things. He formed an infrastructure trust to find ways for moneyed interests to back public projects while getting a return on their investments. And he raised water and sewer fees as a way to pay for a makeover of Chicago's aging underground pipes.
Among recent federally funded infrastructure projects, dozens of miles of the city's arterial streets were resurfaced using federal stimulus money after Obama took office. Stimulus money helped pay for the $20 million revamp of Congress Parkway in the South Loop. And the $133 million Englewood Flyover rail bridge project was covered almost entirely by federal money.
But Emanuel has expressed disappointment with the piecemeal nature of federal funding programs. He hopes that changes in Obama's second term.
"I've been talking about that, it's key for our economic growth, it's key for our job creation," the mayor said. "And that would be helpful if we got an infrastructure, highway, mass transit bill that cities like Chicago, cities across America, regardless of size, will have the investments necessary to move their economies forward."
Among the major transportation projects the mayor hopes to find federal funding for is the extension of the Red Line from 95th Street to 130th Street. Estimates in recent years have put the price tag for that undertaking at more than $1.4 billion.
In addition, Emanuel said he expects Obama to continue "strengthening education, and pushing even further on Race to the Top." Emanuel helped design the president's signature national education initiative, which requires school districts to compete for funding.
Tribune reporter Hal Dardick contributed.
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