PEORIA – Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel made an unusual visit Wednesday to downstate Illinois and told a Peoria crowd his city and other communities need to move past historic animosities and capitalize on the economic links between them.
Emanuel appeared at the Peoria Civic Center at the invitation of Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood. The mayor told close to 500 local businesspeople and elected leaders that the traditional tension between Chicago and the rest of the state isn’t constructive.
“The politics of the past where we used to play Chicago versus downstate is over. It doesn’t serve the people of Illinois, who we all work for,” he said.
“We can’t let the regionalism or the differences of party pull us apart,” he added. “It’s not working anymore.”
The speech was Emanuel’s first public appearance since the Obama administration decided to move the G-8 economic summit from Chicago to Camp David in Maryland. The event had been expected to be an image builder for Chicago – and to a lesser extent the state.
Emanuel did not mention the G-8 summit during his Peoria speech. The Chicago Tribune reported he told the newspaper President Barack Obama wanted to provide a different atmosphere for the meeting, a decision Emanuel said he learned about Monday, the same day the summit move was announced.
Chicago still is in line to host the NATO summit, another potential publicity boon, in May.
Emanuel, a Democrat, stuck to his one-state message. He also offered a list of his own plans and achievements as mayor.
He said he’ll need to work with downstate politicians to achieve much of what he hopes to do, particularly in the area of improving public schools.
Many in the crowd came out of curiosity, given the rarity of local appearances by Chicago mayors.
“I think he’s got bigger goals than mayor of Chicago,” said Lon Lyons, a local bank vice president. “I don’t think it hurts to stick his head down here occasionally.”
Lyons and others said they were encouraged by talk of the state’s communities cooperating, but were not sure that’s actually happening yet.
“I don’t know if I see evidence of that,” Lyons said. “That’s something we probably need to work on more.”