Friday, October 1, 2010

From East Room to Fifth Floor?

Rahm Emanuel would like it if his political journey that starts here Friday ...
Perhaps it is symbolic of how un-Chicago the mayoral campaign of Rahm Emanuel will be.

He is the candidate who on Friday will unofficially start his bid to fulfill his mayoral dream from the East Room of the White House – that’s the room that hosts many official presidential celebrations and has the original of that famed Gilbert Stuart painting of George Washington.

AT LEAST THAT is the plan. President Barack Obama will announce the resignation of his chief of staff, while also saying that he will be replaced for the time being by Pete Rouse – who was Obama’s chief of staff when he was the junior U.S. senator from Illinois and also once worked on the staff of former Majority Leader Tom Daschle of South Dakota.

Then, according to the various news reports of recent days that have given us rumor and trivia, Emanuel will return to Chicago to live in an apartment until he can get the man who sub-let his Ravenswood neighborhood house to actually leave.

Emanuel backers also say that the man who once was a Congressman from the Northwest Side plans to hold various meetings in neighborhoods across the city. Their purpose? Rahm wants to show that he can connect with, “the people.”

That is important, because an Emanuel campaign, should it actually occur, will differ from all the other political people who think they can get elected in the free-for-all that will be the municipal elections because he has no local base.

EMANUEL HAS REMNANTS of his old campaign fund from his congressional days that could give him a head start, and he has the ability to twist the arms of political people to get them to have their political bases work on behalf of his mayoral dream.

... ends here on the Fifth Floor next May.
But while most mayoral campaigns will start off with some sort of official announcement in front of their home (if it is bungalow-ish enough) or perhaps some local business in their home neighborhood, the Emanuel campaign is the one that will have the iconic Washington image looking down upon him.

Perhaps, to Emanuel, it is reminiscent of the fact that his boss began actively campaigning for president with the shadow of Abraham Lincoln looming over him – he did it outside the Old State Capitol in Springfield, Ill.

I know the Emanuel people are going to say this is a stretch, because technically the Friday event where his resignation gets announced is not the beginning of the mayoral campaign. He could decide not to run in the 2011 municipal elections.

WHICH IS ABOUT as likely as the Chicago White Sox learning that about a dozen games they lost earlier this season were really victories that will be restored to their record – which would put them back in contention with the Minnesota Twins for a division title.

Emanuel running for mayor is as certain as the White Sox not winning anything this season, which means the campaign saga begins Friday – even if he wishes to think it begins later.

There are some people in this city who would have a hard time deciding which of those facts disgusts them more.

Because I know that for some, Friday is the beginning of a circus that they will wish Chicago would not have to endure. Part of it is a parochial nature on their part. Emanuel may have served a few years in Congress, but the bulk of his political career has been Washington-based.

HE WAS A significant aide to then-President Bill Clinton who also was credited for the Democrats winning back control of Congress in 2006, in addition to being Obama’s chief strategist. To people who think of government in terms of who picks up the trash, all of that is irrelevant.

If there is one person I would like to talk to in depth these days, it would be Nancy Kaszak – who back in 2002 was Emanuel’s opponent for that Congressional seat. Their campaign against each other wound up being one of the most expensive in city electoral history, which is what makes Emanuel's financial edge such a big factor.

Kaszak was a former state legislator from the neighborhood who also was chief attorney for the Chicago Park District. In short, she was the typical kind of candidate who runs for such a political post, and she tried to create the image of a “nice Polish girl from the neighborhood” running against outsider Emanuel.

It didn’t work that year, even though there were a significant number of people living in the Illinois 5th Congressional District (the one that now calls Mike Quigley its U.S. rep.) who expressed the same detest for Emanuel and his image that many people across the city likely will express in coming months.

WHICH MEANS THAT anyone who thinks they can merely label Emanuel an “outsider” likely is thinking too small. It is going to take more than that to defeat him.

I do remember not being among those offended by Emanuel’s victory over Kaszak, in part because I knew his presence in Congress would offend the conservative ideologues who wanted to think that the 2000 election of George W. Bush as president had relegated Emanuel and other Clinton-types to permanent oblivion.

I’m sure some of those same ideologues will be equally appalled at the idea of Emanuel as Chicago mayor, since they want to write a version of history in which Emanuel is to blame for a failed Obama presidency and never recovers.

But I’m also sure there are other voters who will be backing a candidate who happens to come from their neighborhood or represents their interest. In the case of the potential candidacy of Rev. James Meeks, he will have his congregation thinking they’re voting for their preacher to be mayor.

I AM NOT about to predict who is going to win the election next spring, or who will qualify for a likely run-off election.

All I know is that Emanuel has the potential to demand attention in ways other candidates won’t get. Which other candidate will have Washington’s image eyeballing him as he prepares to leave the White House to return to our ranks as Chicagoans?


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