RIVER NORTH — White House senior adviser Valerie Jarrett returned to her hometown Monday to insist that cities can lead the way in advancing President Barack Obama's agenda in a "year of action."
"The president is committed to working with Congress, and we have a robust agenda," Jarrett said Monday in remarks on the subject of "Strong Cities — Strong Nation" at the University of Chicago's Gleacher Center in River North.
Yet she quickly added that, if congressional gridlock persists, cities can lead the way in the "year of action," adding, "Maybe it will create a little pressure on Washington."
Mayor Rahm Emanuel echoed that in introducing Jarrett at the event, sponsored by his World Business Chicago development initiative. He cited the reverse migration "back into cities" and how "the intellectual, economic and cultural strength of our cities drive the economic power of our country."
Both Jarrett and Emanuel emphasized the importance of renewing infrastructure and education, from expanding it in early childhood through making college tuition more affordable.
Emanuel said Chicago shared the president's agenda, especially with its emphasis on cities, with "mirrored goals, as well as mirrored plans." He said the president could use a Congress that is as responsive and active as the Chicago City Council.
"If we move our city forward," Emanuel said, "we'll actually have a strong country, which is something we all desire."
Jarrett called for renewed spending on infrastructure, along the lines of the Recovery Act of 2009, and specifically cited the CTA's Red Line South project.
"It's not just spending," she said. "You're gonna get a return on that investment."
Jarrett called for immigration reform, a familiar Emanuel theme, as a way of strengthening cities and returning population to downtrodden areas like Detroit, saying, "Immigration reform is in the best interests of our country."
Jarrett called it "nonsense" that Obamacare would cost jobs, saying health care and jobs would be "strengthened" by the Affordable Care Act.
She also called for a recommitment to education, from early childhood through college, saying, "We need to bring down the cost of tuition."
Jarrett echoed Obama's State of Union remarks that strong women are key to a strong economy and culture. She called for efforts to diminish sexual assaults.
"There's no excuse for tolerating it," she said. "No still means no."
Jarrett also cited the president's commitment to lowering the incarceration rate for black men, pointing to Education Secretary Arne Duncan's efforts to trim the "discipline gap" in schools, where black youths are more likely to be harshly punished, just as they're more likely to face jail time later in life.
"You'll be hearing more from him on this," Jarrett promised.
Jarrett said she already knew almost all those in attendance at the World Business Chicago event, which included business leaders as well as politicians like local aldermen and Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle.
Emanuel introduced her with a gentle reminder that the city would like to be the eventual home of Obama's presidential library when he leaves office. The mayor welcomed Jarrett to the kickoff of what he jokingly called "the presidential-library fundraiser."