"I often say, never bet against the kids of the City of Chicago," Mayor Rahm Emanuel said Friday at the Edgewater Branch Library. "I just wish once I had listened to my own advice. I made a bet with the children of the City of Chicago, and I took a whoopin'."
The mayor's commitment to take part in Sunday's Polar Plunge, a fundraiser for Special Olympics Chicago, stems from Rahm's Readers, a summer reading program he began as a congressman and that has grown to 70,000 children since he became mayor.
He pledged to jump in the lake in midwinter if Chicago kids read 2 million books last summer, and according to the Chicago Public Library they read 2.1 million — although the mayor jested that he wanted the inspector general to audit that figure.
"This is all about making sure our kids do not allow the summer slide to happen academically," Emanuel said.
Yet he quickly added it was also about Special Olympics Chicago, which uses the Polar Plunge as its largest fundraiser of the year. It is hoping for 3,000 people to take part, with a goal to raise $1 million. Emanuel said it was a key element of the NBC "Tonight Show" host Fallon agreeing to take part, and that he'd also keep his side of the bargain by appearing on the talk show.
Emanuel choked up talking about the efforts of the foundation committed to those with intellectual and developmental disabilities and founded in Chicago, saying, "Special Olympics as a format provides every child and every adult an opportunity to shine."
Otherwise, however, he struck a jaunty, can-do attitude, joined by a man in a polar-bear suit brandishing a poster showing an outdoor air temperature of 10 degrees and a Lake Michigan water temperature of 32.
The Polar Plunge takes place Sunday at North Avenue Beach in Lincoln Park.
"There's no way to prepare for this," Emanuel said. "This is not a normal thing to do.
"I don't recommend it on a regular basis," he said. "I'm not staying very long. .... In, out, dry off."
Emanuel will be joined by former Bear Israel Idonije, who has retained his Chicago ties and an Emanuel-appointed position on the Library Board since signing last year with the Detroit Lions, and they'll be wearing Rahm's Readers T-shirts stating, "The Kids Made Us Do This."
Emanuel said he'd set a goal for the number of books to be read "much higher" next summer.