Here’s something Barack Obama still has to learn about Chicago politics: the reason he was sent to Washington is that nobody wanted him here, sticking his goody-goody nose into the serious business going on at City Hall and the state capitol.
When Obama launched his political career in the mid-1990s, his goal was to become mayor of Chicago, like his idol, Harold Washington. But that path was blocked, so Obama had to settle for a lesser office: United States Senator.
Many of Illinois’s most honest, hardworking and distinguished politicians have gone to the Senate: Paul Douglas, Adlai Stevenson III, Paul Simon, Dick Durbin. They were sent to the Senate so they couldn’t make trouble for guys who were trying to earn a dishonest living in Chicago and Springfield. Obama fit that mold. One reason Mayor Daley became such a big Obama fan is that elevating the charismatic young black politician to the White House removed a potential challenger for City Hall. The presidency is the only office bigger than mayor of Chicago.
Still, Obama’s send-off for Rahm Emanuel on Friday shows he hasn’t learned his place in the order of local politics. During the announcement, Obama all but endorsed his chief of staff, pronouncing Emanuel “extraordinarily well-qualified” to serve as mayor of Chicago. It looked as though the president was dispatching a trusted minion to go back home and run things while he was away. The scene raised hackles in the City Council.
“It would be a mistake if the President goes out for Rahm Emanuel," Ald. Howard Brookins told the Sun-Times. “In communities of color, I don’t believe Rahm has shown himself to be the peoples’ candidate. And I don’t know that Rahm being forced down our throats is the right thing to do.”
Endorsing Emanuel can only embarrass Obama. If Emanuel makes it to the run-off against a black candidate, Obama would find himself at odds with the black community that gave him his start in politics. If Emanuel loses, the nation won’t understand why the president of the United States is too weak to name his hometown mayor.
So butt out, Barack. You’re a Washington politician, not a Chicago politician.