Ward Room
Covering Chicago's nine political influencers

From City Hall To The White House

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Did the mayor protest too much when he said that he didn't plan to ever throw his hat in the ring.

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When Rahm Emanuel was asked whether he wants to be president, he responded “No, Never, Not Interested.”

Which, of course, is a lie, because every big-city mayor and governor wants to be president. Especially if, like Emanuel, they’ve worked in the White House and seen what being president is all about. Also, Emanuel will be the keynote speaker at the Iowa Democratic Party’s Jefferson-Jackson Dinner later this month. Everyone who does that ends up running for president.

Emanuel may have been saying he’ll never run for president. That’s more likely, because the job he has now is not a stepping stone to the presidency. No politician has ever gone directly from a City Hall to the Oval Office. In fact, in all of American history, only one man who served as a big city mayor has ever been elected president. That was Grover Cleveland, who was mayor of Buffalo in 1881, when it was a big city.

Cleveland only stayed in the mayor’s office for a year, before moving up to become governor of New York. In 1884, he was nominated for president, and won.

(Calvin Coolidge was also a mayor -- of little Northhampton, Mass. He served two years, twice as long as Cleveland, then went on to become governor of Massachusetts.)

Neither Cleveland nor Coolidge were mayor for very long, and it wasn’t the office with which they were most identified. In modern times, big-city mayors have attempted to run for president. In 1972, both Sam Yorty of Los Angeles and John Lindsay of New York sought the Democratic nomination. Neither won a primary.

If Emanuel does, in fact, want to be president, he needs to get out of the mayor’s office as fast as possible. His first chance will be in 2014, when he can run for governor, or senator, if Dick Durbin retires. He can get to the White House from there.

Buy this book! Ward Room blogger Edward McClelland's book, Young Mr. Obama: Chicago and the Making of a Black President , is available Amazon. Young Mr. Obama includes reporting on President Obama's earliest days in the Windy City, covering how a presumptuous young man transformed himself into presidential material. Buy it now!

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