CHICAGO SUN TIMES / Fran Spielman
Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s appointment of Kurt Summers to replace newly-retired City Treasurer Stephanie Neely was unanimously approved by an admiring City Council Wednesday, giving the first-time candidate a leg up on the competition in the Feb. 24 election.
“We need more people like you to share with others what they don’t have,” said Ald. Will Burns (4th) prior to the 49-to-0 vote.
“The mayor could not have found a better person to lead the charge on our treasury,” gushed Budget Committee Chairman Carrie Austin (34th).
Austin playfully advised Summers to “wave goodbye” to his wife and children because of the long hours that will be required to campaign and run the office. But Emanuel said that won’t be necessary if Summers follows the mayor’s lead and puts his family first. The mayor noted that he has a rule: three family dinners-a-week, including the Sabbath.
“Work is not allowed to intefere with that,” the mayor said,
Eight years ago, a similar pre-election resignation by then-City Treasurer Judy Rice paved the way for then-Mayor Richard M. Daley to tap Neely as her replacement.
That allowed Daley to run on a rainbow ticket with two brand new running mates. Daley had already appointed then-State Sen. Miguel del Valle to replace convicted City Clerk Jim Laski.
The surprise resignation four months before the election infuriated U.S. Rep. Jesse Jackson Jr., who is now in prison but was then a possible mayoral challenger. It enabled Daley to fill the $135,545-a-year job by appointment and allowed Neely a chance to get a leg up on the competition.
“Where has democracy gone? The mayor has now appointed the city clerk, the city treasurer and 29 of the 50 aldermen….Why not wait until the election and let the people decide through an open democratic process?” Jackson said.
Neely’s decision to follow the same familiar Chicago script paved the way for Emanuel to appoint Summers.
He is the Harvard-educated grandson of longtime community activist Sam Patch, a close adviser to former Mayor Harold Washington.
U.S. Rep. Bobby Rush (D-Ill.) gave Summers his first job in politics—by hiring him as an intern. In between high-powered jobs in the finance industry, Summers served as chief-of-staff to both Chicago’s 2016 Olympic bid committee and to Cook County County Board President Toni Preckwinkle.
Emanuel has argued that he needed “more than a seat-warmer” because the treasurer sits on boards overseeing four city employee pension funds, and there are 20 board meetings between now and the election.
With just more than three months to go until the election, Summers plans to hit the ground running. He’s already been to 30 neighborhoods in the last two weeks alone selling himself to Chicago voters.
“Each of those discussions, I’ve led with the fact that, on Feb. 24th, I’ve got to earn the right to be hired for this job,” he told aldermen earlier this week.
“It’s great to have the appointment from the mayor. It’s great to have support from members of the council and political leaders. But ultimately, you have to convince the voters and people on the ground. I take very seriously . . . the need for them to believe I’m the best person for the job in my own right.”
The newly-appointed treasurer has also been laying the groundwork to help solve the city’s $20 billion pension crisis–by improving investment returns and reducing millions of dollars in fees paid to investment managers.
After huddling with actuaries and pouring over the books of the four city employee pension funds, Summers noted that the firefighters and laborers pension funds are paying dramatically higher fees to their investment managers than the Municipal Employees and police pension funds.
“One fund is paying 80 percent more in fees. Another is paying 50 percent more. Yet, there’s one client: The city of Chicago. That’s real money. For fire, the value of that is about $2.5 million a year on $1 billion in assets,” he said.
“These kinds of things aren’t going to solve the kinds of holes we have. But any benefit we can find to invest more efficiently and less expensively is a benefit to taxpayers and retirees.”