Emanuel's young staffers: Mike Simmons, from left, Ankur Thakkar, Caroline Weisser, Matt Fischler, Anna Valencia and Michael Faulman
Photo: Elizabeth Jochum
NONE OF THE STAFFERS I TALK TO HAVE concrete plans to run for office one day. Simmons says it’s difficult to map out your life plan when your current job is already time-consuming and professionally challenging. But young staffers knew the new administration would be addressing questions around job creation, infrastructure, long-term economic development and Chicago’s role as a global city, and they wanted to play a part in coming up with the answers.
“[Emanuel is] revolutionizing what mayors do,” Faulman says. “To be a part of that and to see the changes, both good and bad… I think we’re pretty lucky. We’re witnessing history.”
Fischler left New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s administration to work for Emanuel. He says when he was in middle school, he watched The West Wing with his mother and imagined he’d one day work in the White House. But after several internships he realized “the federal government is so monstrous, you can barely get anything done.”
“City governments are the laboratory for policy innovation,” Fischler says. “It’s been really cool to see ideas from conception all the way to implementation.”
Simmons worked on policy for Cook County commissioner Bridget Gainer before joining the mayor’s team. To accomplish good ideas, he says, you need the foresight to predict which policies are doable and how they will be received across the city.
To do that, Simmons taps into his humble upbringing in Lincoln Square, back when the neighborhood was working-class and ethnically diverse. Simmons’s parents—who met at the Wild Hare, a popular reggae bar in Wrigleyville that Simmons’s father later purchased, ran for 30 years and closed before returning to his native Ethiopia last year—were constituents and supporters of Emanuel during his six-year stint in Congress.
“I don’t come from a well-connected family at all,” Simmons says. “I didn’t grow up with any money. These are all things that I think give you an out-of-the-box understanding of…policy.”