Friday, October 1, 2010



The national media, and increasingly the local Chicago media, are all aflutter about Rahm Emanuel’s soon to be declared candidacy for mayor of Chicago, to the point at which one wonders whether the breathless media types think an airplane will be involved when they report that Mr. Emanuel will fly home to Chicago to begin his “listening tour.” “Listening tour?” Well, one has to concede that while everyone is agog at Mr. Emanuel’s toughness, no one has argued that he is an original thinker. But I digress.

As I have said before, I simply don’t see why everyone seems to think, as Roe Conn said on his WLS talk show yesterday, that Rahm Emanuel is the “odds-on favorite” to be the world’s greatest city’s next mayor.

Mr. Emanuel’s ties to the city are tenuous. He grew up in the suburbs. He has not ever been actively involved in the city’s politics at the street level. He was elected to the storied 5th District Congressional seat (Former holders include Stephen A. Douglas, John Kluczynski, Bill Lipinski, Dan Rostenkowski, Michael Patrick Flanagan (Yes, I know he served only one term and was something of an historical fluke, but he had perhaps the greatest name in the history of politics. But I digress again.), and Rod Blagojevich.) only because Mayor Daley flooded the district with his political legions, under the direction of First Deputy Water Commissioner, genuine tough guy, and later convicted felon, Don Tomczak and muscled him into office. Emanuel has no political foot soldiers of his own. He has few friends among the city’s ward committeemen. He hasn’t lived in the city for a few years, if then, a fact that will doubtless result in what will prove to be pointless litigation when he declares his candidacy. Rahm Emanuel is a Chicago outsider. While outsidership, if you will, may be popular on the national stage, most cities are not welcoming to outsiders who decide they want to move in and take over. This is especially true of Chicago.

There is also the “tough intimidating guy” factor. Rahm Emanuel, as we are being endlessly reminded of late by awe struck reporters, is a very tough, very intimidating guy, presumably because he throws around profanity and doesn’t back down. One who is not in politics, wants nothing from politicians other than material for his books and blog, has no skeletons in his closet, finds profanity indicative of a weak command of vocabulary and inability to articulately express one’s self rather than of toughness, and backs down when the cost/benefit calculations dictate that judicious retreat is merited still does not understand what makes Mr. Emanuel so tough. But those who know him, deal with him, and/or write about him assure us that Mr. Emanuel is indeed a very tough, very intimidating guy. So I will concede that point; after all, even those of us who don’t like the legislation have to admit that Emanuel did a very good job of banging congressional heads to get the health insurance reform, financial reform, and stimulus bills through Congress. Perhaps Mr. Emanuel’s profanity borne intimidation tactics work in Washington, a den of iniquity populated by poltroons who quiver and shake at the feet of anyone who has a remote chance of separating them from their lifetime sinecures on the public payroll. But when he comes to Chicago to run for mayor, Mr. Emanuel will find himself immersed in a politics that is characterized by tough, intimidating guys, a town defined by the toughness, indeed the scariness, of its politicians. One wonders how Mr. Emanuel’s tough guy routine will work on the likes of, say, Mike Madigan and Jimmy DeLeo, two genuinely tough, intimidating, and scary guys who, while not running for mayor, will have a great deal to say about who will be the next mayor.

So I am not as sure as is, seemingly, the punditocracy in Washington and New York and increasingly in Chicago that Rahm Emanuel will be the next mayor of our great city. As I’ve said in the past, at least at this stage, several people, including James Meeks and Tom Dart, are for more likely to have their offices on the 5th Floor of City Hall next year than is Rahm Emanuel. On the other hand, Mr. Emanuel has plenty of money at his disposal and, through his family and other connections, can gather plenty more. And money wins elections. Further, perhaps Mr. Daley’s ground troops will work for Mr. Emanuel as ardently when he runs for mayor as they did when he ran for Congress. But with the convictions of Robert Sorich, Don Tomczak, Al Sanchez, and others, those troops are not nearly what they used to be. And there is no assurance that Mr. Daley’s supporters, a substantial number of whom hail from the 19th Ward, Tom Dart’s home base, will rally behind Mr. Emanuel.

Still, though, money wins elections and the influence of the ward organizations has been waning for at least the last twenty, probably thirty or forty, years. So if Mr. Emanuel does become the next mayor of Chicago, unless he does so by buying off key ward organizations (as it looks he may be doing on the west side, among other places), we can conclude definitively and unequivocally that the old ward based Chicago Machine is officially, undeniably dead.

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