Ward Room
Covering Chicago's nine political influencers

The Rahm Emanuel Workout

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    NEWSLETTERS

    Rahm Emanuel is a walking, running, cycling and swimming billboard for physical fitness. As a high school student, he participated in dance, the most athletic of the arts, and was good enough to win a scholarship to the Joffrey Ballet. He has raced in the Ravenswood Run 5K -- the last mile goes right past his house on Hermitage. A competitive triathlete, he once appeared on the cover of Chicago Athlete, wearing a wetsuit. He swims most mornings to keep his boyish figure. As a result, the 5'8" politician weighs 147 pounds, even with his pockets stuffed full of campaign contributions.

    We could use a health-conscious mayor: Harold Washington gained 100 pounds during his four-and-a-half years in office, thanks to too much Wendy’s, too much Army and Lou’s, and not enough exercise. He finally keeled over of a heart attack at his desk. The mayor, who didn’t have a wife to nag him about his weight, left no survivors, but he did leave a huge political mess for a city that wasn’t prepared for his sudden demise. Mayor Daley, an avid cyclist, keeps himself in better shape than his portly father, who also died of a heart attack.

    If Emanuel is elected, he plans to noodge the entire city about eating and smoking. Today, Emanuel introduced a wellness and disease management plan he says will save the city between $40 million and $60 million in health care costs each year. The plan will offer incentives, such as reduction or elimination of co-payments, for city workers who lead healthy lifestyles. He's going to be our own Richard Simmons!

    “In one example,” Emanuel said in a statement, “nearly 60 percent of the employees with a high risk of heart and other diseases were able to reduce their risks to low levels within just six months of participating in a wellness program that included exercise and medical claims per participant fell by over $1,400. At companies like Johnson & Johnson, the number of employees who smoke has dropped by two-thirds and the rate of employees with high blood pressure has been cut in half.”

    It could be a tough sell.

    Chicago’s carnivorous traditions go all the way back to the days of the stockyards: we love hot dogs, Italian beef sandwiches, barbecued ribs and deep-dish pizza stuffed with sausage.Last year, the obesity rate among Illinois adults rose 0.8 points, to 26.6 percent. Emanuel is trying to make a big change in a city with one of America’s great meat cultures.

    If financial incentives don’t work, Emanuel can always needle employees until they shape up, as he once did President Bush. When then-Rep. Emanuel bragged about his workout schedule to the president, Bush invited the congressman to Texas for some “real biking.” Not to be out-machoed, Emanuel said, “‘I’ll make you a deal, Mr. President. I'll bike if you swim’ Now he didn't exactly say swimming was a wussy sport, but you could tell.... So I said, ‘Mr. President, Laura can put your water wings next to the lake. You can have your water wings.’ I said to him, ‘You’re not one of those tribathletes, are you, Mr. President? You know - steam, sauna, shower?’ And Bush goes, ‘That’s g-o-o-d.’”

    Yeah. If he gets on the president’s case like that, imagine what he’ll do to some hapless budget analyst.