Emanuel picks former Preckwinkle chief of staff for city treasurer

By Evan Garcia

Kurt Summers Jr. speaks to reporters Wednesday after being appointed city treasurer by Mayor Emanuel.
Kurt Summers Jr. speaks to reporters Wednesday after being appointed city treasurer by Mayor Emanuel.

Mayor Rahm Emanuel appointed a politically connected investment executive to replace Stephanie Neely as Chicago’s treasurer when she leaves office next month.

Kurt Summers Jr. was once chief of staff to Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle. He is the grandson of Sam Patch, a top political strategist to Harold Washington, the city’s first black mayor. And he served as chief of staff to Patrick Ryan, the retired Aon Corp. chairman and pal of former Mayor Richard M. Daley, when Ryan headed the city’s failed effort to host the 2016 Summer Olympics.

The 35-year-old is currently senior vice president of Grosvenor Capital Management, a Chicago investment firm headed by Michael Sacks, an Emanuel confidant and fundraiser.

Emanuel lauded Summers’ background and values Wednesday at a press conference at the Harold Washington Cultural Center in the city’s Bronzeville neighborhood.

“He has the energy, the work ethic and the integrity to hit the ground running,” Emanuel said.

As a Harvard Business School graduate, Summers could make a good living in the private sector, but he “understands the calling and responsibility that comes with public service,” Emanuel said.

Some reporters questioned whether the mayor was giving Summers a leg up on the competition by appointing him four months prior to the city’s February elections. Neely took office in a similar fashion when her predecessor, Judy Rice, stepped down months before the February 2007 election.

The mayor defended his appointment by alluding to the city’s massive pension problem. “There are 20 board meetings on pension decisions,” Emanuel said. “I think the taxpayers, the retirees and the employees deserve better than a seat warmer.

“I’m not handing it over to the guy who wants it next,” he added. “He has to make his case to the public.”

The Civic Federation, a fiscal watchdog group, reported that Chicago’s 10 public pension funds are underfunded by a whopping $37.3 billion. State law requires a $550 million payment to the police and fire pension funds in 2016. Emanuel was mum on a plan to pay that bill in his budget address last week and is pushing for pension reform in Springfield later this year.

Summers underlined his intention to win over the public by promoting financial rejuvenation throughout the city, although he didn’t provide details.

“If I’m hired by the people of the city of Chicago this February, this office will be a driving force in partnership with the mayor and the City Council to continue to create opportunity and invest in every neighborhood in Chicago,” the South Side native said.

Neely announced her resignation and intention to return to the private sector Monday after serving as treasurer for eight years.

Summers’ appointment requires City Council approval.