Rahm Emanuel: Cities Must Not 'Become Hostage' To Political Gridlock (UPDATE)

Rahm Emanuel Urges Cities To Chart Own Destiny

WASHINGTON -- Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel's message to local municipalities waiting for federal assistance? Don't count on it.

"We have to take our destiny into our own hands as best as we can," he said Friday morning during an infrastructure investment discussion at the Center for American Progress. "And we can't leave our destiny to Washington's dysfunction or Springfield's budget-cutting exercise," he added, referring to the capital of Illinois.

"I'm not going to let Chicago become hostage to this dysfunction," Emanuel declared.

In April, the Chicago City Council approved the mayor's proposal for an infrastructure fund that would secure $1.7 billion in private financing to modernize the city's transportation backbone. Emanuel has pushed the Chicago Infrastructure Trust as a way to fix his city's crumbling infrastructure without raising taxes.

At Friday's event, Emanuel acknowledged there are still "big national problems" that mayors cannot tackle alone. Yet he had little praise for Washington's recent attempt at one federal solution, calling it "crazy" that the transportation bill passed by Congress earlier this month provides only an 18-month infusion of cash for transportation improvements.

Emanuel granted that taking on such ambitious city-level projects is not for everyone. He said that he is "only interested in Chicago. Other people can do what they want to do."

"It's right for cities or regions or states that have things of scale," he said. "You obviously have to have a revenue stream that pays it back."

Asked if he could name other U.S. cities dealing with infrastructure funding in an innovative way, Emanuel pointed to Canada, where he said there are already 127 such projects in progress.

"We have a lot of daily flights out of Chicago [to Canada]," he remarked.

UPDATE: 3:46 p.m. -- The country's largest organization of mayors on Friday endorsed Emanuel's plan to attract private funding for public works projects.

"We support the Emanuel Administration's emphasis on investing in Chicago's urban infrastructure as well as looking outside the box to leverage private financing for these projects," said Michael Nutter, president of the U.S. Conference of Mayors and mayor of Philadelphia, in a news release. "In this era of tight budgets, mayors across the country are looking for new ways to keep their urban infrastructure from crumbling through smart and strategic investments that increase economic growth and job creation as well as keep cities modern."

The statement called the Chicago Infrastructure Trust the "first public-private financing model for infrastructure investments in our country."

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