Mayor Rahm Emanuel picked investment executive and former Cook County official Kurt Summers Jr. to be the new city treasurer Wednesday, saying it’s important to quickly get the right person in place to manage municipal investments rather than waiting for voters to fill the job at the February 2015 election.
Summers got the mayor’s endorsement two days after Treasurer Stephanie Neely announced she would step down about three months ahead of the Feb. 24 city election. On Monday, the mayor was preparing to name Summers to replace her even as Neely was letting her employees know she would not run again.
The timing of Neely’s resignation and Summers’ appointment, which is subject to City Council approval, gives him a potential advantage against any challengers who might try to unseat him. There is a long tradition in Chicago of public officials leaving office prior to an election and powerbrokers picking their replacement before voters get a say.
Neely, who was first appointed treasurer herself in 2006 months before an election, said she plans to leave the office at the end of November to return to the private sector.
And Summers, standing alongside Emanuel Wednesday in front of a banner emblazoned with the city seal at the Harold Washington Cultural Center in Bronzeville, told a cheering crowd that included several aldermen and other officials he plans to run for the post in February because he’ll “need more than a few months to do the job.”
“I will work to earn the confidence and support of the people of Chicago,” Summers said.
Afterward, U.S. Rep. Bobby Rush, D-Ill., said Summers, once hired by Rush as an intern, is “eminently qualified” to be treasurer. But Rush said the late-term appointment by Emanuel taints it. “The only thing that besmirches this announcement is the process. It’s the only thing,” Rush said. “The person is perfect, but I just think this is Chicago style, and it can’t be repeated again.”
“I just think there’s something wrong with the process. I think the people of Chicago want and deserve something more,” Rush added.
Emanuel told reporters after the announcement that appointing someone with Summers’ qualifications to manage the city’s investments as treasurer rather than opening the process up for other candidates or waiting for the election is the best way to serve Chicago residents. “I think the taxpayers, the retirees and the employees deserve better than a seat warmer,” he said.
Summers has been close to the Democratic Party corridors of power in Chicago for years.
He is a former aide to Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle. He left that post in late 2012 to take a job as an executive at investment firm Grosvenor Capital Management, which is run by Emanuel confidant Michael Sacks.
When Preckwinkle was asked Wednesday whether it would have been more appropriate for Summers to run for an open seat instead of the mayor appointing him ahead of time so he can seek election as an incumbent, she did not answer directly. But she pointed out that when she stepped down as alderman to become County Board president, she requested then-Mayor Richard M. Daley appoint Shirley Newsome in the 4th Ward until the 2011 city election. Newsome did not run to keep the seat.
“That’s what I did,” said Preckwinkle, adding she thinks Summers will make a good treasurer.
Summers, 35, currently sits on the board of Navy Pier Inc., the nonprofit development arm of the lakefront tourist attraction.
He also co-chaired an Emanuel task force that recommended the Lucas Museum of Narrative Art be located on the lakefront.
And Summers was chief of staff to Pat Ryan in his role as chairman of the failed 2016 Summer Olympics bid under Daley.
Summers grew up in Bronzeville and has a political pedigree as the grandson of Sam Patch, a Democratic political strategist who was a confidant of the late Mayor Harold Washington, the city’s first African-American mayor. Summers tearfully recalled his grandfather Wednesday, saying he learned about Washington, onetime city Treasurer and Cook County State’s Attorney Cecil Partee and other Chicago political heavyweights “at (Patch’s) knee, in the room with him every chance I got, soaking up whatever I could.”
Summers received a bachelor’s degree in business administration from Washington University in St. Louis and a master’s degree in business administration from Harvard University.
He follows a path to the treasurer’s office similar to that of Neely, who was appointed to the job by Daley before she had to run.
Neely was a vice president at Northern Trust Global Investments in October 2006 when Daley named her to replace Judy Rice, who unexpectedly stepped down months before an election. Neely went on to run for the position she already held and was elected in February 2007. She was re-elected in 2011.