Ward Room
Covering Chicago's nine political influencers

Why Rahm Emanuel Fits the Bill for Chicago Mayor

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    NEWSLETTERS

    President Obama Thursday issued a glowing appraisal of Rahm Emanuel's potential to be mayor of Chicago.

    "I think he would be an excellent mayor. He is an excellent chief of staff," Obama said. "I think right now, as long as he is in the White House, he is critically focused on making sure that we're creating jobs for families around the country and rebuilding our economy. ... But I think he would be a terrific mayor."

    There's more to it than a presidential fist bump. But Rahm does make sense for the city. Here's why:

    In the movie Milk, there’s a scene in which San Francisco City Councilman Harvey Milk tries to bully Mayor George Moscone.

    “You know who you remind me of?” Moscone says. “Boss Tweed…or Mayor Daley.”

    That got a big laugh in Chicago, of course. But the filmmakers knew that audiences outside Chicago would get it, too. “Mayor Daley” was an international synonym for an autocratic big-city politician.

    When Harold Washington was mayor, he used to boast that, at one time, foreigners used to respond to the word Chicago by miming a Tommy gun, and shouting “Rat-tat-tat,” “boom-boom-boom.” After Washington was elected, they asked, “How’s Harold?”

    The point is that mayor of Chicago isn’t just the biggest political job in the city. It’s one of the biggest in America. Try to name the governors and senators who served with the first Mayor Daley. We Chicagoans expect our mayor to be larger-than-life, a national and international figure. Daley the younger was never cunning, intelligent or charismatic enough to attain power on his own, but the family name made him a big deal.

    In the current field of aspirants for Daley’s job, only White House Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel has that kind of star power. Emanuel is a phenomenon in D.C. (or “F---nutsville,” as he calls it), renowned for his profane, abrasive, driven personality. He’s been the subject of a GQ profile and a book that gave him all the credit for the Democratic takeover of the House of Representatives in 2006. He’s already a first-name-only politician, referred to as “Rahm” or “Rahmbo.”

    Cook County Sheriff Tom Dart is the only other plausible candidate who is known outside Chicago. Dart made Time magazine’s list of 100 most influential people after temporarily suspending foreclosures in 2008.

    Of course, being mayor of Chicago makes you a celebrity. So whoever wins the election could grow to match the office’s grandeur. After all, Richard J. Daley was once a quiet county clerk. But right now, Emanuel is the only man whose stature is as great as the city he wants to lead.