Ward Room
Covering Chicago's nine political influencers

Opinion: Rahm Lobs Softballs at Hillary in Chicago Interview

The embattled Chicago mayor fails to ask the one question everyone wants to know

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    NEWSLETTERS

    Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel played journalist Wednesday morning during a Q&A with Hillary Clinton, gently ribbing the "Hard Choices" author -- and possible future U.S. President -- for remarking that she and Bill left the White House "dead broke" and debt-ridden.

    "Hillary, dead broke. Really?" asked Emanuel, grinning, to which Clinton responded: "That may have not been the most artful way of saying that Bill and I have gone through many phases in our lives."

    The former Secretary of State and U.S. Senator made the comment in a Monday-night interview with Diane Sawyer when asked about making millions on the public speaking circuit. She moved to clarify her statement the following morning on "Good Morning America," saying the couple worked hard to get out of $12 million in debt and "understand" the struggles of everyday Americans.

    Clinton, beloved in her hometown of Chicago, returned here on Wednesday to promote her new book before hundreds of adoring fans (mostly women) at Harris Theater. The ex-First Lady/feminist icon looked radiant and healthy -- Karl Rove who? -- as she gave a 20-minute speech and sat down for an interview with Emanuel, who emceed last week's back-to-back fundraisers on behalf of the "Ready for Hillary" PAC.

    The atmosphere was charged with excitement as attendees clutched pre-signed copies of "Hard Choices," snapped photos of Clinton -- Rahm who? -- and stood up for a standing ovation as she walked on stage, overpowering the mayor by sheer force of her star wattage.

    "This is a role reversal," quipped Emanuel during the Q&A portion of the event. "I stayed up all night to study for my final exam here."

    Emanuel, who recently endorsed Clinton for president even though she has not yet announced her candidacy, failed to ask the one question everybody wants to know and the one question every Clinton interviewer must always ask in the off-chance that there might be a direct answer this time. That question -- "Are you running for president?" -- was avoided by Emanuel, in addition to discussion on the never-ending -- though newsy -- Republican uproar over the State Department's handling of the Benghazi attacks. (She has previously assumed responsibility and did so again in Monday's Sawyer sit-down.)

    Emanuel didn't press Clinton to weigh in on the Taliban's hand-off of POW Bowe Bergdahl, another controversy making headlines, and he smartly steered clear of Monica Lewinsky, who recently stepped back into the spotlight with a dishy Vanity Fair essay. (Raising the M-word would be extremely bad form for all sorts of reasons, including the fact that Bill is headlining Emanuel's re-election fundraiser later this month.)

    He also left Chelsea Clinton's pregnancy alone. (Go ahead, pretend you don't care!).

    Despite the tame lining of questioning, Emanuel was able to draw out compelling answers from Clinton, who captivated the crowd with stories about growing up in Park Ridge and watching '90s foe Newt Gingrich sneak into the White House for secret late-night meetings with Bill for bipartisan negotiations.

    Though Clinton states in "Hard Choices" that she has yet to decide whether to run in 2016, she certainly behaved like a presidential candidate as she addressed the issues of income inequality and the decline of the middle class. "Trickle down economics doesn't work," she declared, drawing cheers. "We have to rebuild the consensus for the American Dream in America."

    She advocated for immigration reform, climate change laws and marriage equality. She complained of "too much policy being made in an evidence-free zone," making reference to the tea party's far-right, populist agenda.

    Asked by Emanuel whether she believes the nation is irrevocably divided, Clinton invited further applause, responding: "Don't vote for anyone who says they are against compromise. They are saying they are against the American experience of democracy."

    Ever the politician, she did Emanuel a solid by lauding his controversial decision to lengthen the public school day after the embattled mayor -- in a bit of politicking himself -- asked for her thoughts on education reform, a hot-button issue in Chicago.

    Then it became obvious that the Q&A was a clear and calculated move on Emanuel's party to win back the city's love, if not through money, then employing other means: the validation of a powerful Democrat and popular hometown hero.

    He needs all the help he can get.