EAST GARFIELD PARK — Mayor Rahm Emanuel skipped out on a planned walk with students through a West Side neighborhood Monday, prompting a small group of activists outside Willa Cather Elementary to chant, "Run, Rahm, Run."
The protesters claimed the mayor changed his plans to walk with students after school got out on the first day of classes when demonstrators arrived to the announced event with a bullhorn.
According to a news release sent from Mayor Rahm Emanuel's office Monday afternoon, the mayor was scheduled to "join Chicago Public School students on their walk home from school."
Emanuel visited the school at 2908 W. Washington Blvd. and greeted students.
But reporters then waited in vain, cameras poised along the 100-yard strip from Cather Elementary to the nearby Martin Luther King Jr. Boys & Girls Club, where the walk was scheduled to end after school let out. Emanuel never showed.
He apparently instead opted to take a back route away from protesters, said Windy Pearson of Action Now, a group that has been critical of school closings.
"Anything that has to do with the community, he runs," she said. "The mayor can't tell you what happens in our neighborhoods — he runs."
The man with the loudspeaker, Ellyson Carter, of Action Now, was unapologetic as he accepted credit for uprooting the mayor's plan — though he said the derailment wasn't intentional.
"I didn't know what to expect," he said, loudspeaker still in hand Monday afternoon. "I wanted to confront the mayor with some questions about budget cuts and [Tax Increment Financing] money ... but evidently I didn't get to.
"It's typical Rahm," he added. "He isn't going to allow the community to ask him direct questions."
Cather parent Robert Newman said it was good for the mayor to make even a token show of walking kids to the Boys & Girls Club after school.
"I think that Mayor Rahm Emanuel is trying to say that he cares about us. The only thing I'm saying is back it up with action, don't just get your picture taken," he said.
King Boys & Girls Club program director Denysa Wolfe said a plan for the mayor to arrive with students at the club "was never set in stone."
Cather Elemtary officials "said it was a possibility," she said as she sat with some of the children Emanuel had visited with about an hour earlier. "It would be different if we had gotten a media notice, but he was never scheduled. It was only a possibility."
Either way, she said, Emanuel had visited with classes at Cather before the first day of school ended — so the kids didn't leave disappointed.
The Mayor's Office brushed off criticism Monday.
"Today was all about our children — the city's future thinkers, leaders and innovators — who are celebrating their first day of the school year. The mayor and [CPS CEO Barbara] Byrd-Bennett are not interested in anything that distracts our children from their studies, their learning and realizing their fullest potential," said Tarah Cooper, an Emanuel spokeswoman.
Emanuel said he visited five schools Monday, and touted the district's improved graduation rate and college acceptance rate.
"I think we have a lot of work ahead of us," he said. "You can see the enthusiasm of the children, the enthusiasm of their parents, and the excitement of both the teachers and the principal and the other administrators in the building to get the kids energized."
Contributing: Ted Cox, Mark Konkol