THE BLOG
12/27/2013 02:28 pm ET Updated Feb 26, 2014

Will Emanuel Dominick's Grocery Task Force Ring Up Sales?

The typical government task force often surfaces when solid policy solutions are politically radioactive or in short supply.

Mayor Rahm Emanuel's Christmas Eve announcement of his appointments to the Grocery Store Task Force is a case of the latter.

There is no quick and easy answer to the economic and nutrition potholes that are now emerging Chicago neighborhoods as a result of Dominick's grocery store closures. But Emanuel needs to demonstrate concern.

Thus, a mayoral task force.

Dominick's parent company, Safeway, announced in November it was pulling out of the Chicago area market by the end of the year. The firm said three of its 13 stores in Chicago will be sold to Mariano's. Still, the remaining closures deal a severe blow to Chicago's real estate market and to its neighborhoods.

The Emanuel task force is a public relations tool in the absence of a concrete policy response. It's more motion than action. But with few policy levers available to address what is essentially a free market problem, a task force becomes a default response.

And he's smart to deploy it.

"I have brought together this group of leaders to help address the potential impacts of closing grocery stores on our neighborhoods, residents, and workers," said Emanuel.

One those "potential impacts" is the political risks that the closures pose to the mayor as he prepares to seek a second term.

Thus, the panel has the unenviable task of providing political breathing room while Emanuel and city officials launch both a near term scramble and a long term slog to fill those neighborhood holes that may emerge as wounds if left too long unfilled.

Among those volunteering or being dragooned for the task force are familiar faces accustomed to such a role:

• Steven Koch, Deputy Mayor, City of Chicago.
• Andrew Mooney, Commissioner of the Department of Planning and Development, City of Chicago.
• Ald. Leslie Hairston, 5th Ward.
• Ald. Joe Moore, 49th Ward.
• Ald. Patrick O'Connor, 40th Ward.
• Rev. Dr. Janette C. Wilson Wilson is Assistant Pastor of Metropolitan Apostolic Community Church and serves as the Executive Director of Rainbow/PUSH Coalition.
• Jorge Ramirez, President, Chicago Federation of Labor.
• Steve Powell, Secretary Treasurer, United Food and Commercial Workers Local 881.
• Mike Mallon, Principal, dkmallon, a food industry consulting firm. Mallon is a former VP at both Jewel/Osco and Dominick's.
• Joel Bookman, Principal, Bookman Associations, a community development consulting firm.
• Craig Chico, Executive Director of Back of the Yards Council.
• Carlos Nelson, Executive Director of Auburn Gresham Community Development Corporation.
• Frank Petruziello, Principal, the Skilken Company. Petruziello is the major force behind the development of the Shops & Lofts project at 47th and Cottage Grove, a mixed use development that includes a neighborhood Wal-Mart store.
• Angel Gutierrez, Vice President of Community Development and Outreach Services, Catholic Charities Chicago.

Emanuel says the task force will work to "ensure smooth transitions" of those stores that have been purchased by other grocers and to "aggressively" market the unsold properties.

The mayor has ordered the task force to focus on three issues for sites with the vacant stores:

• Ensuring access to fresh food and vegetables in key areas;
• Protecting and supporting workers who are affected by the store closings.
• Consulting with building owners, gathering local market data, finding prospects in the food industry, and hosting tours, creating marketing materials, and engaging brokers.

In the run up to the 2015 reelection campaign, the grocery task force will arm Emanuel with an important talking point as he aims to defends his economic development record and his leadership.

However, if Emanuel finds himself with a challenger in 2015 and those stores remain shuttered, you can bet an abandoned Dominick's will be featured as a powerful backdrop to attack the mayor's economic stewardship -- and it will be more powerful than a talking point.

DavidOrmsby@DavidOrmsby.com

David also edits, with the help of Capitol Fax's Rich Miller, The Illinois Observer: The Insider. The article first appeared on The Illinois Observer's Web site.