Too bad Emanuel’s not running for most unlikeable man in Chicago

March 3, 2015
Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel waves as he arrives to address delegates during the first session of the Democratic National Convention in Charlotte

Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel arrives to address delegates at the first session of the Democratic National Convention in Charlotte, North Carolina, September 4, 2012. REUTERS/Chris Keane

In the aftermath of February’s Chicago election, in which Mayor Rahm Emanuel was forced into a runoff by Jesus Garcia, a more liberal opponent, we’ve heard a lot of talk about how their April 7 showdown is a struggle between neo-liberals and progressives for the heart and soul of the Democratic Party.

Sort of like a Midwestern version of the national rivalry between Hillary Clinton and Massachusetts Senator Elizabeth Warren.

And, yes, there’s some truth to that.

For the better part of his term, Emanuel pursued a neo-liberal agenda as he privatized civic services, closed public schools and clinics, fired city workers, opened charter schools and tossed subsidies to wealthy developers — in the name of a public-private partnership.

These are positions and policies that Garcia, a Cook County Board commissioner, has vowed to reverse.

But I caution everyone not to go too far with this theory. Because in many ways Emanuel’s setback has less to do with ideology than likeability.

Oh, how to put this?

Emanuel just may be one of the most unlikeable personalities in the history of Chicago politics. That’s saying a lot, given the nasty brutes we’ve elected down through the years.

jfk daley -- crio

Chicago Mayor Robert J. Daley in the White House, Jan. 20, 1962. Courtesy of John F. Kennedy Presidential Library and Museum

Consider Representative Dan Rostenkowski, a congressional powerbroker throughout the 1970s and 1980s. This chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee was so rough and gruff and mean that he once ran over a bunch of senior citizens protesting his support of hikes in Medicare payroll tax.

OK, he didn’t really run them over. The seniors surrounded his car and were banging on the windows. So Rostenkowski hopped out and headed off down the street, with the geezers in hot pursuit.

That enabled his driver to speed away and pick up Rostenkowski down the street, as the seniors furiously called him “liar,” and he yelled back they didn’t know what they were talking about.

Oh, boy, do we have fun in Chicago, huh?

Rostenkowski, by the way, learned his politics from the first Mayor Richard Daley (Richard J. Daley), who ruled Chicago with an iron fist for more than 20 years, from 1955 to 1976. Daley had such a vindictive streak that he once dispatched a police officer, who’d filed an affirmative-action suit against the Chicago Police Department, to the new assignment of patrolling an alley. A short alley.

Just to let everyone know what happens to lackeys who mess with the boss.

Apparently, vindictiveness was hereditary. His son, Mayor Richard M. Daley, brought in bulldozers to plow over the Meigs Field Airport in the middle of the night, when it looked as though he couldn’t get his way and convince the governor and the feds to let him turn it into a park.

In case anyone forgot who ran Chicago!

This Mayor Daley was also notorious for throwing temper tantrums. Who can forget the infamous press conference about gun control, when Daley gathered City Hall reporters to show off a stash of guns that police had collected in a recent crackdown?

When my colleague, Mick Dumke, dared to ask about the effectiveness of his gun-control policies, Daley got so mad he pointed to a rifle and said, “If I put this up your butt, you’ll find out how effective this is!”

I told Mick to look on the bright side — at least the mayor didn’t threaten to pull the trigger.

But Emanuel, well, the man’s just got a gift for being unlikeable.

U.S. President Obama announces Rouse as his interim White House Chief of Staff in the East Room of the White House in Washington

President Barack Obama (R) with White House Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel in the White House in Washington, October 1, 2010. REUTERS/Larry Downing

In his defense, the mayor says that he’s just a passionate man who cares deeply about Chicago and the people who live here. It’s also not like Chicago voters didn’t know what they were getting when they elected him in 2011. Emanuel’s reputation for nasty arrogance dates back to his days as White House aide to Presidents Bill Clinton and Barack Obama, as well as a congressman.

C’mon, you know the list. The dead fish he sent to a former colleague. The time he called a group of liberal activists “f—ing retarded.” Or the time he harangued a naked congressman in the congressional gym for not supporting Obama’s healthcare policies. While he himself was naked.

Say this for Rahm — he’s not afraid to let it all hang out.

I’d go so far as to say that many Chicagoans originally voted for him precisely because they thought it would be a good idea to have a mean, tough pol in office to get the city through some tough economic times.

Well, as we’ve since discovered, it’s one thing for Emanuel to be a jerk to some naked congressman in the congressional gym. It’s another thing when he’s a jerk to us.

Like when he closed 50 schools in the face of angry protests, and was off on vacation skiing in Utah when the closings were announced. Or when he closed six neighborhood mental health clinics in poor black and Latino neighborhoods, then ran out the back door rather than meet with patients who were pleading with him to keep the clinics open.

Or when he rewrote the city’s ward map so that one of his chief aldermanic critics found his home redistricted out of his ward.

Dang, old man Daley couldn’t have done it better himself.

Still, Emanuel might want to reconsider the nastiness, if he can’t win reelection outright — even with his $30 million in donations and endorsements from two presidents. Emanuel has conceded as much, promising at the very least to do a better job of listening to people, should he win another term.

Chicago Mayor Richard M Daley speaks during a rally in Chicago

Chicago Mayor Richard M. Daley speaks during a rally in Chicago, April 16, 2007. REUTERS/John Gress

I think he should go one step further, though. I suggest he take a page from the most recent Mayor Daley, who, temper tantrums and all, had enough common sense to be a little nice once in a while to the common man, whose votes he knew he needed.

Every year, for example, Daley held three public budget hearings at various locations around Chicago. They were command performances for all his chiefs and commissioners, who sat a table with Daley in the center. Like Chicago’s rendition of the Last Supper.

Then for more than three hours, the little people of Chicago got to voice their concerns to the mayor, who was sitting just a few feet away. Think of it as peasants coming before their king. If they wanted to rant and rave about mayoral policy, as many did, they got their two minutes like everyone else.

And Daley took it like a man. If they had a complaint — about an unfilled pothole or sketchy garbage collection — Daley would turn to the appropriate commissioner and demand an explanation. Like heads were about to roll!

Plus, his aides passed out little trinkets — pens, notepads and key rings — at the door.

Gosh, I’m almost weeping with nostalgia just thinking about those hearings. Emanuel tried his own version of a public budget hearing in his first year. But he ditched the Last Supper setup for something of an Oprah format.

The people weren’t permitted to directly ask him their questions. Instead, they wrote them on cards, which a factotum read to the mayor as he sat on the stage in the middle of the room. The best part of the evening was watching Emanuel unsuccessfully try to contain his sarcasm in the face of some of the more pointed questions about job cuts and privatization deals.

After that first year, he stopped holding public budget hearings.

I’m not sure if ditching the budget hearings had a role in Emanuel’s recent setback against Garcia.

But as Daley could have told him — even the meanest of mayors has got to throw the peasants a trinket or two every now and then.

Updated on 4/6/2015

 

 

6 comments

We welcome comments that advance the story through relevant opinion, anecdotes, links and data. If you see a comment that you believe is irrelevant or inappropriate, you can flag it to our editors by using the report abuse links. Views expressed in the comments do not represent those of Reuters. For more information on our comment policy, see http://blogs.reuters.com/fulldisclosure/2010/09/27/toward-a-more-thoughtful-conversation-on-stories/

For everyone who is tired of eating cake, Bastille Day is April 7.

Posted by Valeriefleonard | Report as abusive

Plus the Rockies and Broncos will win championships before the Cubs and Bears.

Posted by ARJTurgot2 | Report as abusive

Good ol’ Chicago politics

Posted by ChicagoAttorney | Report as abusive

They are not so much mean as they are stupid. The definition of stupidity is doing the same thing over and over again and each time expecting a different result. The “machine” has been a failure for decades and yet the people elect the same types of dimwits.

Posted by brotherkenny4 | Report as abusive

I hope he gets elected, if only for the facts that; The people of Chicago are probably better prepared to deal with him, and if he doesn’t get elected, there’s no telling where he’ll show up next to continue his Power-Money-Politics experimentation program.

Posted by Laster | Report as abusive

In light of the total and utter failure of so many large cities across the country during the recession: Chicago has not failed. A Democrat runs a Republican machinee, always has. Boo hoo, hoo, for all those who do not live in the city, your negative opinions are worthless since they are rarely, if ever, true. The attraction of Communist politicians, like “Chuy,” the re-emergence of Communism in the new USSR, the re-emergence of Communism in Greece and the love of scoff law thieves in and around Cook County is the problem. That is what is making people stupid. Rehashed nonsense from the “Reader,” the anarchist newspaper; yawn.

Posted by SixthRomeo | Report as abusive