Ward Room
Covering Chicago's nine political influencers

Rahm Emanuel, Tough Guy

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Rahm Emanuel, Tough Guy
Rahm Emanuel, Tough Guy

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Rahm Emanuel didn’t leave Washington, D.C. to work in some podunk political backwater. And Chicago ain’t gonna be one if he’s mayor.

A.J. Liebling dubbed Chicago “The Second City” nearly a decade before Emanuel was born, but he still hasn’t gotten over the slight, even though Chicago is now, technically, America’s third city.

In his first ad, which debuted on YouTube Sunday, Emanuel plays on the inferiority complex that is woven into Chicago’s DNA, and was only made worse by our failure to achieve Alpha City status by landing the Olympics.

“We’ve got to decide whether we’re going to be a great city or become a second-tier city, and I think it’s time we make that choice, and make the tough decisions that are necessary,” Emanuel says in the ad, which shows him meeting, and being shorter than, a succession of ordinary Chicagoans, from firemen to Cub fans to guys who work at Home Depot.

In other words, Emanuel is saying, we’ve got to decide whether we’re going to pursue our aspiration of becoming a world-class city by electing a world-famous mayor, or whether we’re going to elect a no-name mediocrity whose name will never be mentioned outside the local papers. Will James Meeks or Miguel del Valle get invited on Late Night with David Letterman or Fox News Sunday? Hell, no.

By titling the ad “Tough,” Emanuel is also trying to turn his most unflattering characteristics -- his abrasiveness and lack of interest in anyone else’s opinions -- into an asset. He could have taken a page from Christine O’Donnell and addressed the camera, “I’m not a jerk. I’m you.” Instead, he’s telling us, “Yeah, I’m a jerk, and that’s exactly what Chicago needs.”

Because Rahm Emanuel uses toughness to compensate for his own insecurities, he can help Chicago overcome its own civic insecurities. He’ll be a tough mayor for a tough town -- or at least, a town that wants people to think it’s tough.

When Rudy Giuliani declared that New York’s slogan was “Our city can kick your city’s ass,” he was joking. Emanuel wants you to believe it.

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