Mayor Rahm Emanuel has opened the door to his City Hall office for a steady stream of investment bankers, venture capitalists and international consultants in his intense search for private solutions to some of Chicago's biggest public problems.
From January through August, Emanuel entertained dozens of executives and experts who make money by working with governments on everything from subsidizing city jails to reinvesting public pension funds in search of better returns, according to a Tribune examination of the mayor's calendar for the first eight months of 2012.
Though it is a partial view of how the mayor spends his time, the calendar reinforces a developing storyline of Emanuel's tenure — the premium he places on boosting Chicago with private investment and on establishing his administration's central role in the city's economic recovery.
At the center of that effort is a key private adviser — Michael Sacks, the CEO of a Chicago hedge fund firm and a prolific campaign fundraiser for Emanuel.
Soon after taking office in May 2011, the mayor put Sacks in charge of World Business Chicago, the city's de facto economic development agency, naming him vice chairman. Sacks has met with Emanuel more than two dozen times this year, according to the schedule, on everything from pension reform to the sites of sporting arenas.
During that same period, marked by an escalation of street violence and a looming teachers strike, Emanuel's schedule shows he met with Chicago police Superintendent Garry McCarthy 19 times and held nine meetings with Jean-Claude Brizard, then the CEO of Chicago Public Schools. Brizard resigned last month under pressure from the mayor.
Emanuel, who is well-known for burnishing his image around the country, also scheduled no fewer than three dozen media interviews with national and international outlets, talking to reporters not just from Chicago but also from London and Paris, New York City and Washington.
Emanuel's schedule offers an imperfect view into the decision-making of the mayor, whose style is to announce major initiatives as if they are foregone conclusions rather than risk developing a plan in the full glare of a public debate.
The calendars are not provided in real time — on a day-to-day or week-to-week basis, for instance. They are only provided for past months, in response to public information requests. And they do not detail every event Emanuel attends, including his political fundraisers, instead relying on nonspecific language such as lunch "with a friend" or "evening event."
The mayor is also well-known for, and readily acknowledges, doing much of his work over the phone. But the mayor's office has repeatedly declined Tribune requests for his phone records, saying he does not use a city-issued phone for public business. When the mayor later acknowledged having a cellphone he uses to regularly talk to top city leaders, his administration then denied the records on the grounds that he uses a private phone.
Emanuel's predecessor, Richard Daley, would not provide phone records or his official calendar.
Kathleen Strand, a spokeswoman for Emanuel, said the public sees only a partial picture of Emanuel at work.
"Mayor Emanuel's schedule is a document that exists in real time and does not necessarily reflect his every move but is rather a guide for the expectations of his daily appointments," Strand said. "It's not possible to reflect his every move and every person he sees, meets and talks with.
"For example, it doesn't reflect conversations at events with commissioners and community leaders or his near-daily calls with department commissioners, the police superintendent, the school CEO, etc."
But even so, the calendars — compiled by the mayor's press staff — are one of the few public sources of information on what Emanuel does day in and day out as mayor of the nation's third-largest city.
Infrastructure and pensions
Two of the mayor's key financial objectives are dealing with overwhelming pension costs for public employees and finding a way to pay for public works projects without taxpayers feeling the pain. One of his top advisers, Lois Scott, headed a financial consulting firm that represented companies entering government privatization deals. And since taking office, Emanuel has had many meetings with experts who are offering solutions to such problems for other governments.
Months before he announced plans that Scott helped formulate for an "infrastructure trust" — a quasi-public panel designed to help Emanuel lure private investment for building everything from streets to schools — the mayor held a series of meetings with experts in the field.
One of the first people Emanuel was scheduled to meet with this year was Glenn Tilton, a financial heavyweight in the Emanuel network where government and private interests come together.
Emanuel's schedule shows a 45-minute meeting on Jan. 5 with Tilton, the Midwest chairman of financial giant JPMorgan Chase. Tilton is a member of the World Business Chicago executive committee and donated $10,000 for Emanuel's May 2011 inaugural party when he was still the boss of United Airlines' parent company.
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JPMorgan is a major pension player around the world and has a relatively small piece of Chicago city pension business. The company also has a global portfolio of infrastructure projects, from natural gas and wind power to water and sewer systems, as well as seaports in Europe and two airports in Australia. In addition, the company has noted the trend toward investing pension funds in infrastructure — including "bridges, toll roads, airports, pipelines, utility towers, educational and health care facilities" — because the investments are considered predictable and stable cash producers.
When JPMorgan hired Tilton last year, the company emphasized his role in developing relationships with government officials as a way to expand in an important market.
"Chicago is a city that understands competition and the relationship between business and the public sector that is mutually beneficial," Tilton said in the company statement.
Emanuel met with JPMorgan officials again, this time in New York, about a month before the mayor's May unveiling of the infrastructure trust. JPMorgan was one of five organizations that backed the mayor's plan by agreeing to consider financing the trust. Tilton declined to comment for this story.
Hours after Emanuel's Jan. 5 meeting with Tilton, the schedule shows, the mayor held an "infrastructure bank" meeting in his office that included Sacks and Steve Koch, now the deputy mayor but at that time an investment banker with Credit Suisse, which has managed millions of dollars for the city's firefighter pension fund. Also present was an attorney specializing in advising corporations on dealing with municipalities and two analysts from a global management consulting firm — McKinsey & Co. — that has done work supporting World Business Chicago.
Asked about the role that the WBC has had in advising the mayor on the establishment of the infrastructure trust, Sacks said there was a lot of sharing between the WBC team that worked on the organization's economic development plan and a team in the mayor's office working on infrastructure investment.
"So on the infrastructure trust specifically, there was a lot of work that we did in terms of looking at different models and different ways to accomplish it and different types of projects," Sacks said. "And the fact that Mayor Emanuel shares with WBC and leads this effort and we're able to share that information is exactly how this public-private partnership is supposed to work to serve the people of the city."
Also making appearances on Emanuel's calendar were current and former officials at Goldman Sachs, whose privatization ventures include investing $10 million in a New York City jail program, and Corsair Capital, a firm that has shown an interest in raising private money for investment in high-speed rail in the Northeast.
The schedule shows the mayor making regular out-of-town business trips to pitch financial titans on making investments in Chicago.
In April, on the same day he met with JPMorgan officials at their global headquarters, the mayor made a whirlwind trip around New York City, meeting with executives at ADM and Centerbridge Partners as well as Corsair. He also met with billionaire Dan Och of Och-Ziff Capital, a major New York City investment firm with public pension business around the country. His firm took a lead role in a failed pitch to build a boutique casino in Atlantic City, N.J. Emanuel has talked extensively about seeking state approval to build a casino in Chicago to help the city's strained budget. Through a spokesman, Och declined to comment.
"There are a number of initiatives going on in Chicago right now, bond deals going on right now, decisions every day that are impacting our economic future," said Strand, the Emanuel spokeswoman. "This is a mayor who will go to New York and talk to the people he knows to talk about Chicago's economic successes and financial initiatives and those kinds of things to keep that line of communication open."
Although it is not noted on his schedule, Emanuel also takes time out during some of these trips to raise money for his campaign fund, despite being years away from running for re-election.
In March, the calendar showed Emanuel traveling to New York to be part of a panel discussion at a Global Volatility Summit in New York that also included Paul Britton, the founder of Capstone Investment Advisors — a firm that has offered a kind of portfolio insurance to institutional investors, including pension funds.
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The next month, on the same day he made his whirlwind New York tour, he finished the day with a "reception" at a "private residence." Campaign records show he recently raised $50,000 from people tied to Capstone, including Britton's wife, and his campaign said it came during an April trip to New York.
Sacks: 29 meetings
No business executive appears on Emanuel's calendars more often than Sacks, the CEO of Grosvenor Capital Management, which is linked to more than $587,000 in campaign contributions to the mayor. Among people who are not members of Emanuel's administration, the mayor's schedule shows Sacks' name appears most often — 29 times.
Sacks was involved in a briefing for Emanuel's March trip to New York, and according to the calendar, accompanied the mayor.
Sacks also has been part of pension discussions with Emanuel, the calendar shows. One in January involved Sacks, Emanuel's chief of staff, the corporation counsel, the deputy mayor, the city's chief financial officer and others.
Sacks was scheduled to talk about pensions again at a May 4 meeting with one of Emanuel's top political advisers, John Kupper of AKPD Message & Media, just days before Emanuel proposed a pension reform package in Springfield that so far has gotten no traction. Kupper said he does not recall attending that particular meeting with Emanuel and Sacks.
Strand said the mayor relies on Sacks to give a businessman's outside perspective of how to handle major issues affecting the city.
"Michael Sacks is a trusted adviser and member of the mayor's informal kitchen cabinet. The mayor commonly asks for Michael's thoughts on key issues in the area of economic development, finance, budget and pensions," she said. "As the vice chair of World Business Chicago, he plays a key role in developing these policy areas. Also, Michael Sacks' company has no business with the city of Chicago's pensions."
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Grosvenor does handle hundreds of millions of dollars of public pension funds across the nation, including managing more than $660 million in assets for the Illinois Teachers' Retirement System, acting as a manager of retirement funds for Los Angeles County employees and recently being hired by the Texas State Board of Education to handle some of its assets.
Sacks said there is a clear line in his relations with Chicago.
"Grosvenor is in the business of managing assets and making them grow, for a variety of clients, some pension some not. Grosvenor's activities are not related to pension reform in any way," Sacks said in an email. "We are only focused on earning returns for our investors whether pension funds (public or private), endowments and foundations, corporations or individuals."