Why Chicago’s Rahm Emanuel is still standing – for now

December 10, 2015
Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel listens to remarks at a news conference in Chicago, Illinois, United States, December 7, 2015.  REUTERS/Jim Young   - RTX1XN4Z

Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel listens to remarks at a news conference in Chicago, December 7, 2015. REUTERS/Jim Young

Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel is a world-class political operative, but the brass-knuckled approach that made him effective as an aide to presidents Bill Clinton and Barack Obama — and delivered Nancy Pelosi the House speaker’s gavel in 2007 — hasn’t served him well as a big-city executive.

Emanuel faces an existential threat to his own political career following the release late last month of a long-suppressed dash-cam video showing white police officer Jason Van Dyke killing black teenager Laquan McDonald in a hail of 16 bullets as McDonald walked away from him in October 2014.

His political survival may well depend on his ability to adapt to an environment in which he has to address the priorities of other elected officials, particularly leaders in Chicago’s African-American community, rather than bullying them.

“If it’s found that this tape was suppressed, that the timing of it was based on the mayoral election, then that’s wrongdoing and he needs to go, too,” said Rep. William Lacy Clay, who represents Ferguson, Missouri, where a police shooting of a black teenager set off sometimes violent protests in the summer of 2014.

But Emanuel isn’t likely to slink away. It’s not in his nature, it’s not in his interests, and, tellingly some of the highest profile leaders in Chicago’s black community are giving him room to negotiate.

“If someone’s on the ledge and you push him off, it’s homicide. If he jumps off, it’s suicide,” the Rev. Jesse Jackson said in a telephone interview Tuesday. “It’s not my job to push him over.” Instead, Jackson said, he wants the facts of the McDonald case, and others like it, to be fully investigated.

After protesters called for Emanuel to step down Wednesday, he reiterated that’s not his position. The absence of an electoral recall mechanism in Chicago is one reason. But Jackson also senses there’s an opening to push Emanuel to reform the police department and devote attention and resources to urban renewal in underserved parts of the city.

In other words, there’s leverage right now. A desperate Emanuel, compromised if late to contrition, might be a powerful ally in addressing the needs of black Chicagoans. Since there’s no procedure for forcing Emanuel out before the 2019 election, it makes more sense to give him space to sink or swim on his own. And, after all, a focus on Emanuel could distract from the broader goals of finding out what happened and reforming the Chicago Police Department.

Similarly, Democratic Rep. Bobby Rush, a former Black Panther, has yet to call for Emanuel’s resignation. Like some of the city’s other black elected officials, Rush, who has been involved in protesting the police department’s handling of the McDonald case, has a bit of a personal stake in Emanuel’s survival. Rush issued a surprise endorsement of Emanuel in the 2015 election, helping him secure a majority of the black vote in a closely contested race against Jesus “Chuy” Garcia, who carried the vast majority of the city’s Latino voters.

There’s evidence that Emanuel is trying to get on the right side of the black community — and quickly — after stumbling through the politics of the video’s release.

On Wednesday, he issued an apology during remarks to the city council.

“I’m sorry,” he said, acknowledging that his city faces a “defining moment on the issue of crime and policing, and even the larger issue of truth, justice and race.”

The pressure on Emanuel has been building since the video was made public two days before Thanksgiving.

“There’s been a cover-up in Chicago,” the New York Times editorialized late last month, laying out the ways in which Emanuel and his government fought to keep the video out of public view — and didn’t finalize a settlement with the victim’s family — until after his April re-election. “The video of a police shooting like this in Chicago could have buried Mr. Emanuel’s chances for re-election. And it would likely have ended the career of the police superintendent, Garry F. McCarthy,” the Times opined.

Van Dyke was charged with murder the same day the video was released, U.S. Attorney General Loretta Lynch has opened an investigation into the Chicago Police Department, and McCarthy has been sacked.

Emanuel, who says he didn’t watch the video because he didn’t want his own emotions to provoke him to interfere with a criminal investigation, has nonetheless watched his approval rating drop to 18 percent. And calls for his resignation, and that of Cook County state’s attorney Anita Alvarez, are likely to continue to mount. It could be that he will simply be the last domino to fall.

His standing with the black community, an integral part of his winning coalition back in April, could hardly be worse.

“Believe me, there’s a lot of buyers’ remorse right about now and there’s a lot of I-told-you-so right about now and there’s a lot of second-guessing,” Delmarie Cobb, a veteran Chicago political consultant and Emanuel critic, said. “I do think that if this continues, certainly he would never get re-elected again with 55 percent of the black vote.”

Jackson, who campaigned with Garcia earlier this year, said this is a moment in which Emanuel “can attempt to regain favor” by taking concrete steps, starting with a clear statement of policy against police officers shooting suspects in the back and including broader efforts to revitalize downtrodden neighborhoods in Chicago.

Emanuel, who once expressed his displeasure by sending a fish carcass to a pollster, earned the nickname “Rahmbo” for his brutal tactics as a political operative.

But in 2009, he hinted at his understanding of larger governing strategies.

“You never want a serious crisis to go to waste,” he said at the time. “What I mean by that, it’s an opportunity to do things you think you could not do before.”

For Emanuel, this crisis is an unwanted opportunity to show that he can govern as well as he plays politics.

9 comments

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Rahm iz a gud boy – he dindu nuffin. Why all y’all gun git ‘im fo’ nuttin’…?

Posted by DeckHero14 | Report as abusive

He better go now before Trump gets there …

Posted by Macedonian | Report as abusive

Typically stupid comment by Jesse Jackson. There’s a world of difference between pushing someone off a cliff and causing them physical harm or death, and pushing an incompetent and vile politician out of office. Stupid analogy, but typical.
Interesting how black “leaders” who are also part of the corrupt Chicago political scene, are not exactly on-board with the community. These corrupt black leaders, who are in bed with Emmanuel, are out for themselves…not the people, and are probably concerned that should Emanuel survive this, he will be politically vindictive.Of course, Jackson cares little for the community, or the black leaders…Jackson is all about himself…financial gain, and staying relevant.

Posted by tony4 | Report as abusive

Rahm is one of those living off the fear, hatred, racism he and Democrats foster in black people, blaming whites for everything.

HOw many years of no progress or actually getting worse can Chicago take of this guy?

Posted by UgoneHearMe | Report as abusive

“Now that this video is public (13 months later)…. It’s take to take ACTION against this rogue police officer. This aggression will not stand, man!”

Haha. What a joke. Emanuel is a creep and cop protector. Time for the king of cover-up to go jump in the lake.

Posted by Solidar | Report as abusive

Rahm Emanuel promises that his officers will shoot the next guy in the back only 15 times instead of 16. And hide the whole thing for 12 months instead of 13.

Baby steps.

Posted by Solidar | Report as abusive

Rahm Emanuel is not exactly a solution for Chicago’s crime problems and never was. He is also a Democrat in party affiliation only, and certainly not in conception of political significance…

Posted by StevenMitchell1 | Report as abusive

tony4, UgoneHearMe: The democratic party and black leaders are not wrong about the republican party, but they are also not different than them. I mean, both political parties and any religious or societal leaders are only allowed to do what is in the interest of the people farmers. We used to call them plantation owners, but they are the predominantly white (not always) and always wealthy (typically old money) people who work to keep solutions from happening so that they can maintain their economic stranglehold over the people, who are essentially slaves. Liberals are not generally oblivious to the failings of the DFL or black leaders, but they do know that the GOP is blatant and adamant regarding their support of racism and fascist leadership. If I have a vote and my choices are Hitler or George Wallace, I vote George Wallace. So, neither is a good choice but one is a better choice. You shills for the GOP never get that and you never get that we know that none of your rhetoric shows up in policy, such as fiscal responsibility and a moral compass. Trash Rahm Emmanuel all you want, we don’t like him either. But he’ll win again over any GOP candidate because the GOP candidate will always be worse. Oh, and please, don’t be nice to Jesse, we know he is a selfish weasel, but if he weren’t he would have been assassinated by now.

Posted by brotherkenny4 | Report as abusive

It will be interesting to see how all this is spun in the next season of “The Good Wife.”

Posted by bluepanther | Report as abusive