Rahm Emanuel and Mayor Daley at the opening of the Art Institute's Modern Wing in 2009. Photo courtesy www.anthonyjstewart.com.
Are you ready for a mayor who can speak in complete sentences, even if those sentences can’t always be aired on television?
Rahm “Knucklef*&#” Emanuel, President Obama’s profane chief of staff, announced on the Charlie Rose Show that he would love to be mayor of Chicago.
Was it a signal to Daley to get out of the way, and stop blocking the political talent that’s been waiting 20 years to climb to the fifth floor of City Hall? Or was it a signal from Daley that Emanuel is his chosen successor?
More likely the latter. Despite his cheeky image, Emanuel is an organization man, through and through. A devoted Machine Guy. In 2002, when other Clinton Administration veterans were overreaching by running for governor or senator, Emanuel took the humbler step of running for Congress. Daley endorsed him, sending in the South Side heavies to hand out palm cards on Election Day.
The mayor owed him one. When Daley ran for his first full term as mayor, in 1989, Emanuel was his chief fundraiser, raising $7 million in just 13 weeks.
In 2008, Emanuel set aside his dream of becoming speaker of the house to go to work as Obama’s chief of staff, giving Chicago one more (loud) voice inside the White House.
That’s not a guy who’s going to mount an insurgent, independent campaign.
This would be a perfect time for Emanuel to take over, too. With Obama likely to stay in office until 2017, Emanuel would be the most connected mayor in America.
Daley has plenty of reasons to retire -- he’s about to turn 68, he’ll break his father’s record as longest-serving mayor this year and his wife is in poor health. While Daley is a character out of Chicago’s past -- an inarticulate Irishman from Bridgeport, raised in a political dynasty -- Emanuel represents the modern Chicago that Daley built. He’s a wealthy North Side yuppie who moved to the city from Wilmette. Emanuel doesn’t eat Polish sausage at a White Sox game. He races triathlons and roots for the Cubs.
The best thing about Emanuel is that inside that professional-looking package is a man as profane and greedy as any of Chicago’s old-time mayors. Political scientist Larry Sabato dubbed Emanuel “The Jewish LBJ,” not only for his ambition but for his reputation as an amoral political animal focused only on power. A famous Emanuel story: at a Clinton victory party in Little Rock in 1992, Emanuel celebrated by reciting a hoped-for necrology of Democrats who had “f---ed” the president-elect. After every name, he stabbed a steak knife into a table and screamed, “Dead man!”
Emanuel will fit right in at City Hall. And as mayor, he’ll be able to swear at anyone he wants.