Mayor Rahm Emanuel and Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle this week released a joint budget efficiency report that revealed more than that the two governments have saved taxpayers $20 million in the last six months. It also revealed a difference in public relations between the two.
Emanuel issued a press release on the subject with the headline: "Mayor Emanuel and President Announce $20.5 Million in Total Savings Achieved in First Six Months of City-County Collaboration."
In contrast, Preckwinkle's press shop distributed theirs with this headline: "President Preckwinkle and Mayor Emanuel Announce an Additional $9.5 Million in Savings through City-County Collaboration."
In September 2011, the joint city-county committee tasked with finding program overlap between the two bodies announced $11.3 million in annual savings. Emanuel recycled the old news and added the $9.2 million saved in the second quarter, allowing the mayor to puff up his press release and cite the total of $20.5 million.
"This unprecedented collaboration has saved $20 million so far, and every day we are finding new opportunities to provide better services while saving money," boasted Emanuel.
Preckwinkle, on the other hand, played it straight and avoided the public relations inflation.
"The success of the first year of this collaboration is deeply gratifying, and proves that, working together, we can find new ways to save taxpayers money and improve services," President Preckwinkle said.
Nothing inflated in that statement.
From a public relations perspective, Emanuel was right.
The Chicago News Cooperative ran Emanuel's headline "City, County Announce $20 Million in Savings," as did WTTW's Chicago Tonight: "City-County Collaboration Saves $20.5 Million." Ditto the Chicago Sun-Times: "Emanuel, Preckwinkle tout $20 million saved in city-county partnership."
From a simple math perspective, Emanuel was right, too. He presented the report numbers over the last six months accurately. On that point, there is no dispute.
But there is a nagging sense that the mayor resold the earlier budget savings to the public and the news media wrapped in a new press release, squeezing the accomplishment for extra credit, where squeezing was unneeded. Saving taxpayers an extra $9.5 million in three months is commendable on its own merits.
On the other hand, Preckwinkle's tendency to avoid any sort of hype and rather focus on unvarnished public policy precision earns her a different quality of bragging rights. Of course, ironically, she would not brag.
Going forward, a good question for the public and for the press to ask the mayor about future announcements may be: have I seen this before?