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Mayor Rahm Emanuel Rolls Out Public Relations Razzle-Dazzle

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Chicago's mayoral razzle-dazzle machine this week was operating at full-tilt boogie.

Mayor Rahm Emanuel on Thursday announced a repackaging of many previously announced construction projects into one, $7 billion bundle. And in the process he wowed newspaper headline writers into sheer wonder.

Emanuel's three-year infrastructure program, labeled Building a New Chicago, will, according to the mayor, "touch nearly every aspect of the city's infrastructure network" and create more than 30,000 jobs over the next three years -- if all the funding materializes.

"Whether it is renewing our parks or repairing our pipes, repaving our roads or rebuilding our rails, retrofitting our buildings or revitalizing our bridges, we must restore Chicago's core," said Emanuel. "While our infrastructure challenges are not unique, our resolve and determination to see them through is."

Despite being mostly a repackaging of previous items, the New York Times fawned over Emanuel's initiative in a story leaked to the Times the day before the mayor's announcement.

Armed with the headline, "$7 Billion Public-Private Plan in Chicago Aims to Fix Transit, Schools and Parks," the paper's reporter, John Schwartz, went on to write, "... an infrastructure proposal for a single city with an estimated cost in the billions -- with a "b" -- is audacious."

Well, the public relations of re-bottling mostly old wine in new bottles and pitching it as new to the New York Times is audacious.

Here in Chicago, the Chicago Sun-Times also obliged City Hall with the headline, "Emanuel pushing $7.3 billion plan to rebuild Chicago's infrastructure." But the paper's veteran reporter, Fran Spielman, wrote, "The runway talks were the one new piece of a largely repackaged infrastructure plan that would: eliminate 26 miles of slow zones on the CTA's Blue Line over the next ten years..."

Ditto Crain's political reporter, Greg Hinz. Hinz was also wise to Emanuel's maneuver, writing, "...the mayor is to review a variety of projects his administration already had announced and add some new ones to the list."

Nevertheless, Crain's editors also granted the mayor a New York Times-like headline, "Rahm vows $7.2 billion in infrastructure work, calls for final new runway at O'Hare."

The headline is the money-shot in public relations.

In the spite of the public relations razzle-dazzle, the substance of the mayor's strategy is unshakably sound. Every rehabbed road and patched pipe will advance the city's economic development and livability. And Emanuel will undoubtedly draw deserved credit for it. And his communications team should be credited for shaping a laundry list of earlier planned projects into a coherent vision of a city working to rebuild itself.

The launch site of the Chicago rebuilding image campaign was appropriately made by Emanuel at Chicagoland Laborers' Training and Apprentice Center, in the city's Austin neighborhood -- a neighborhood in need of a second gust of wind.

Some of the mayor's list of projects will include:

*Renovation, repair or rebuilding of more than 100 CTA stations

*The creation of the first 16 miles of Bus Rapid Transit Route on Jeffrey Boulevard, with future routes being developed for the Central Loop.

*A $1.4 billion investment in O'Hare airport over the next three years, creating 5,900 jobs, including opening two new runways by 2015, a project that will first require the agreement of the airlines who will pay for it.

*A five-year, $290 million capital plan for the City's parks that will include the acquisition of 180 new acres of parklands, and the building of 20 new playgrounds and 12 new parks.

*The replacement of 900 miles of century-old water pipe, the repair of 750 miles of sewer line, and the reconstruction of 160,000 catch-basins.

*A $660 million investment in Chicago Public Schools, and a $479 million investment in the City Colleges of Chicago, to create modern educational environments that will propel our students into the jobs of tomorrow.

*"Retrofit Chicago," a $225 million dollar effort to retrofit City buildings, reducing their energy consumption by 25 percent and creating 900 jobs in the next three years, the first project funded by the Chicago Infrastructure Trust, a fresh a initiative.

Of course, Rahm could just rearrange that list and at a later date roll it out again for another bite at the P.R. apple from the New York Times and others.

It's all part of the razzle-dazzle public relations magic.