23 May 2011

Last Monday, Rahm Emanuel was sworn in as Chicago’s 55th Mayor, having resigned as the White House chief of staff to contest the February election. During the campaign he spoke of bringing to Chicago a focus on transparency akin to that championed by President Obama in federal government. He indicated that he would impose lobbying controls and bring in measures to change the culture of corruption and cronyism.

On his first day in office he made executive orders prohibiting

  • appointees from lobbying officials within two years of leaving the administration;
  • employees from lobbying the department where they work;
  • appointees from lobbying their fellow board members;
  • employees from making gifts or political contributions to the mayor or their superiors;
  • lobbyists from making gifts to the mayor.

Mayor Emanuel said that limiting the influence of lobbyists and protecting employees against pressure from their superiors will help restore Chicagoans’ confidence in their City government.

Just as President Obama’s first executive act was the symbolic reversal of an order on sealing presidential records to make Federal government more open, Emanuel said that his first official act as Mayor was to send “…a clear message that all operations of City government must be guided by a spirit of public service.”

Ironically he didn’t deliver on a promise to ensure that everyone involved in planning matters, including elected members, would be required to disclose any potential conflicts of interest.

From a New Zealand perspective it seems extraordinary that US City governments don’t already have clear prescriptions on declaring and registering interests, gifts and associations which could be seen to influence their decision making. But conversely, we are not sensitised to the integrity threats posed by lobbying and  “revolving doors” which motivated Mayor Emanuel’s first official acts.