Kurt Summers was sworn in as city treasurer Monday and promptly unveiled a 90-day action plan to pressure Wall Street to invest in Chicago neighborhoods and provide sorely needed capital to local entrepreneurs.
Summers noted that the city treasurer’s office and government employee pension funds together invest $50 billion each year.
Those assets match the “third-richest American” and “one of the 20 largest investors in the nation,” but it’s political muscle the city is not flexing.
Summers is determined to change that. He wants to hold an annual investor conference for the 200 fund managers who already get Chicago’s money and for hundreds more who desperately want a piece of the $50 billion pie.
At that conference, local entrepreneurs, many of whom have trouble getting access to capital to fund their innovative ideas, will get a chance to present their ideas to make the case for investment.
If Summers has his way, the city’s investment decisions will be based, in large part, on how much of the money is being invested in Chicago neighborhoods.
“We’re gonna bring them to Chicago. We’re gonna show them Chicago entrepreneurs and businesses and neighborhoods. And we’re gonna use our own capital. We’re gonna walk the talk, basically, and look to invest in Chicago,” said Summers, who is running unopposed in the Feb. 24 election.
“Today, we’re basically investing anywhere else but Chicago. And we’re telling the rest of the world that we don’t think Chicago is a worthy investment for our portfolios. That’s not the message we want to send. We’re also telling people in Chicago that we’d rather put our money anywhere else in the world but here. And that’s also not the message we want to send. We’re gonna change that.”
When Chicago starts making local investments a priority, Summers said he’s convinced that “the market will follow,” bringing tens of millions of dollars in capital to Chicago neighborhoods.
“We begin by asking the question of every manager that invests with us what their process is for evaluating Chicago investments,” he said.
“In every RFP and every investment management discussion … every board vote, they’re gonna be asked that question. And they’d better have a good answer. If they don’t, they won’t have my support.”
In a luncheon address to the City Club of Chicago, Summers promised to “build generational knowledge” by extending to “unbanked and under-banked adults and seniors on fixed incomes” a financial literacy program that retired City Treasurer Stephanie Neely used to educate Chicago Public School students.
He also fleshed out his earlier plan to help solve Chicago’s $20 billion pension crisis by improving investment returns and reducing millions of dollars in fees paid to investment managers.
Earlier Monday, Summers was sworn in by Chief Judge Tim Evans at a City Hall ceremony that included Mayor Rahm Emanuel, who appointed Summers.
Summers told an audience of family and friends that, “This just got real” and that, “My entire life has culiminated in this moment and prepared me for this moment.”
Emanuel, who handpicked Summers to fill a vacancy that nobody else knew about, couldn’t agree more.
“You have the experience, the energy, as well as the integrity to serve in public life and serve the residents of Chicago,” the mayor told Summers.
“The city is very fortunate that you were willing to hang up your jersey in the private sector and put on a public-sector jersey and serve the city of Chicago. A lot of people think of it from a perspective of numbers, and there’s a piece of that, and from a perceptive of investment, and there’s piece of that. Because of how you were raised, where you went to school, what you understood and your willingness to come back and serve, you understand that, behind those numbers are residents, people, values and an ability to make a difference.”