Monday, February 2, 2009

Would the voters of the Illinois 5th Congressional want Rahm Emanuel back?

It appears that Rahm Emanuel, the former member of Congress from the Northwest Side who is now President Barack Obama’s chief of staff, does have the thought somewhere in the back of his head that he can return to Capitol Hill someday.

At least that’s what could be inferred by the comments of a state legislator who wants to move up to Congress in the special election to be held March 7 to replace Emanuel. State Rep. John Fritchey, D-Chicago, let it slip during a candidate forum Sunday at DePaul University that the former Congressman once mentioned a few months ago he might someday run again for the post.

SUCH A THOUGHT shocks me in the same way that Capt. Renault was “shocked, shocked” to find gambling at Rick’s Café Americain.

What is important to note is that we must be very specific about what is being said here.

If Fritchey is being honest (and I have no reason to doubt that he is in this instance), it is merely that Emanuel might someday want to return to the world of Capitol Hill.

Emanuel allegedly was on track as a member of Congress to become a very high-ranking member of the House of Representatives, and some suggest he might have someday become House Speaker.

IN THEORY, RESIGNING his seat in Congress took him off the political path to achieve that goal (which is a rather ambitious one, similar to how Sen. Dick Durbin, D-Ill., has his own dreams of someday being Majority Leader).

Now one can argue that as chief of staff to the president, he is in a position of very significant political power. Emanuel is the guy who will be responsible for engaging in the hard-core partisan politics needed to advance the ideals of an Obama agenda.

And there will even be times when Emanuel will be the guy who drags the president into a side room, and privately tells him how he’s screwing things up and what he needs to do to fix things.

In short, being White House chief of staff can be just as powerful a post as being a congressional leader. Except that the leaders of Congress get the titles and the ability to say they have power in and of itself.

WHAT EMANUEL HAS now is merely the ability to influence a person with political power.

So it would be natural that a part of him had some misgivings about taking the new post, and that a part of him might want to keep his options open to return to his old political world – if it is at all practically possible.

There’s also a part of me that is kind of glad that Emanuel seems to realize that being in the White House is NOT a lifetime appointment. He realizes that the day will come when he is no longer chief of staff to the so-called “Leader of the Free World.”

While it is not typical that someone in such a White House post decides to return to electoral politics (most hang around its fringes become high-priced consultants or wind up making speeches and appearances for high fees – trading off the reputation they built during their up-to-eight years that they worked for a U.S. president), it is typical that White House people have to have a life AWH (“After White House”).

THE KEY AS to whether Emanuel’s behavior with regard to his old seat in Congress is whether or not any specific agreement exists.

Are any of the more than a dozen candidates with a legitimate shot at winning the special primary to be held next month engaged in some sort of deal by which they would willingly resign the post – when (and if) the day comes that Emanuel wants to step down from his “chief of staff” post?

The Chicago Tribune reported that Fritchey claims he told Emanuel he would look forward to running against him someday. That would appear to indicate he’s not willing to “play dead” and let Emanuel have his way with him.

I don’t have a problem with the idea of Emanuel having delusions that he will someday return to Congress. Heck, if the people of the Illinois 5th congressional district (or whatever number it carries after the state redraws its political boundaries by the year 2012) are willing to vote in favor of Emanuel, they can have him.

BUT I CAN’T help but wonder if it is premature to be thinking of Emanuel’s next political post right now.

While I realize it is not unheard of for political people to go through several chiefs of staff during their tenure in elected office (Richard M. Daley has had several during his nearly 20 years as mayor), Emanuel has only had his current title for about two weeks. (Technically, he was the chief of staff to the presidential transition for the couple of months prior to Jan. 20).

I’d hate to think Emanuel is already thinking about leaving his post. We’re probably going to have him as Obama’s chief adviser for two to four years (although I would be surprised if he remained into a second Obama term, should it happen in the 2012 elections).

And there’s always a chance that Emanuel’s goals and desires will change. The one-time White House aide under former President Bill Clinton turned to Congress as a way of resurrecting a political career during the era of “George Bush the younger.”

HE MAY WIND up figuring out on his own that trying to return to Congress would not be the bed of roses some might claim it to be. He may decide to pursue other goals – perhaps ones that would make him some money in his later years in life.

And there’s always the chance that Emanuel could return to the Northwest Side, only to find out that the voters prefer the thought of Sara Feigenholtz (a state legislator from the Lakeview neighborhood) in Congress, and think of “Rahm-bo” as a relic of their political past.


EDITOR’S NOTES: Only one of 11 people who participated in a candidate forum at DePaul University ( was willing to admit that Rahm Emanuel had broached the subject of returning to Congress some day.

To some Democrats, comparing Emanuel to Dick Cheney ( amounts to using fightin’ words.

If Barack Obama is willing to speak this bluntly about Emanuel in public, I can’t help but wonder ( what Emanuel says to Obama in private.

1 comment:

Joe Lake said...

Would the voters take back ..?

Nice piece about the future. But the IL 5th CD votes are faced with 25 candidates and a choice must be made by March 3, 2009.

What's going on in the IL 5th CD now?

Don Rose wries about the Chicago Machine and 'The Chicago way' in the Chicago Daily Observer, Jan. 19, 2009.

A Phony "Open" Primary in the 5th CD

Joe Lake, Bucktown