Mayor Rahm Emanuel came to my neighborhood Saturday.
Every news outlet in town was at U.S. Bank in Pullman to hear what the mayor had to say about all the outrage over his plan to close 61 schools buildings — parents in Humboldt Park pulled school fire alarms to protest, for crying out loud.
That would have to wait.
Because the mayor had everyone’s attention, Emanuel first touted Pullman as a shining example of something good — his new targeted neighborhood revival plan.
Now, some cynical folks say the mayor’s plan isn’t much more than a clever way to take credit for projects that already were under way in seven neighborhoods, Pullman among them.
I asked the mayor about that. He offered a pretty straightforward answer: Fast-tracking public improvement projects and bringing wider attention to redeveloping neighborhoods can attract more private development.
Still, I had other questions for the mayor: Can you persuade President Obama to put his library across the street from my house?
And are there plans to improve the public transit options down here?
“To follow up, because I live in Pullman,” I started to say.
“I’ve heard,” the mayor said — getting a laugh at my expense.
“Your coaching of the baseball league,” he went on, “we have to talk about that.”
(Apparently, Ald. Anthony Beale (9th) told the mayor about that summer I coached the Roseland Little League Pirates that, let’s just say, didn’t end with a championship.)
I was surprised the mayor's last zinger got more laughs — making two in a row, which is rare for a guy who isn’t known for his jokes.
I intended to say something clever, but instead muttered something about having the kids throw too many curveballs.
The mayor, on a roll, quickly responded with another attempt at humor.
“I think from [your] questions … I can tell,” he deadpanned, which scored another raucous round of laughs from the peanut gallery.
That’s when I realized that, of course, everyone in the room was laughing while the mayor mocked me.
Many of them were from Pullman — a forgotten historic 'hood on the Southeast Side that Emanuel publicly claimed responsibility for revitalizing as part of his Neighborhoods 2.0 plan.
Sure, some of the development projects the mayor touts are old news. In fact, I broke the news about phase two of Pullman Park — the project Emanuel “unveiled” Saturday — way back in November.
But people know that the mayor's presence was about more than expanding a Wal-Mart strip mall. Emanuel put himself out there as the guy responsible for making sure those projects make a difference in a neighborhood revival.
For people who live in Pullman and six other targeted neighborhoods — Bronzeville, Englewood, Little Village, Rogers Park, the Near West Side and Uptown — having the mayor take interest in trying to breathe life in your struggling ‘hood means a lot.
For instance, part of the mayor's commitment includes using his clout to back a proposal to turn Pullman into a National Park, which was nothing but a pipe dream without his blessing.
And Emanuel promised that a decade's worth of infrastructure projects — new streets, sewers, streetlights and improved parks — would be done immediately.
Former Mayor Richard M. Daley built a lot of libraries and police stations, and fixed miles of busted sewers and crumbling streets. But he didn’t stick his neck out to say any one neighborhood’s future economic success was his priority.
And the way a lot of my neighbors see it, that's exactly what Mayor Emanuel has done. These neighborhood projects — whether they started months ago or not — are his projects.
After Emanuel had been sufficiently grilled about school closings I asked if he’d let me take him on a “straight-dope” tour of Pullman.
I figured that I could give him a good look at what my neighborhood is up against — decades of half-finished, poorly planned, publicly funded projects that have done little to spur an economic revival because there’s never been anyone (or at least not anyone with his kind of influence) willing to be held accountable.
My invitation, however, was politely declined on his behalf.
And that's too bad. We could have taken my dog, Stella, for a walk past the Hotel Florence. The place got a $3.5 million state-funded makeover that, sadly, didn’t include very specific plans for what to do with it after the sprucing-up.
When we got to the Pullman Administration Building and its awesome clock tower — rebuilt for about $10 million by the state after a fire gutted it in the '90s — I would have pointed out that it isn’t used for much.
Of course, I’d have to show the mayor the decrepit Metra Electric stations at 111th and 115th streets — slums compared to the palacelike depots built in some suburbs — that certainly scare tourists, and do nothing to attract news businesses, as transit stations should.
And we'd have to walk around Market Square — our neighborhood’s greatest shame. Despite a $1 million state grant to restore the burned-out neighborhood marketplace, it has remained a useless ruin on 112th Street for decades.
And if the mayor saw all that vacant land at 114th and Langley, I’m sure he’d agree that the Park District should help my ambitious neighbors turn it into a dog-friendly park — especially if Stella gave him the puppy-dog eyes.
It would've been a great walk.
Like a lot of suffering neighborhoods, all Pullman has ever needed is a mayor willing to see its potential, care enough to push for its economic revival and take responsibility for following through.
And because Emanuel stepped up for Pullman, my neighbors and I finally have a pretty powerful guy saying on the record that he's fighting for us.
So, mayor, if you're up for that tour, you've got an open invitation.
But I can’t promise to laugh at your jokes.