Thursday, January 7, 2016

Politics and partisanship can knock out friendship – no matter how lasting

We all heard the stories about how tight the friendship was between then-business executive Bruce Rauner and Mayor Rahm Emanuel.

Who's the bigger man? ...
They were close. They spent time enjoying each other’s wealth. There was that exclusive wine club the two belonged to. For all we know, Rauner got bit with the politics bug through exposure to Rahm.

BUT IT SEEMS the two aren’t quite so close now. The fact that Rauner is now a governor and Emanuel the mayor of the only significant city in his state (although Illinois can claim a part of the St. Louis metropolitan area as well) is going to put the two at odds.

It’s not the least bit unpredictable that the two are now trading barbs with each other – trying to one-up each other in a game to see who comes out on top, and if Emanuel can make Rauner realize that as far as everyone outside of Springfield is concerned that he has the more prominent political post.

Seriously, the only reason anyone nationally pays any more attention to an Illinois governor compared to Indiana, Iowa or Wisconsin is because his state has Chicago within its boundaries.

This whole thing kicked off when Rauner returned from his vacation of sleeping in desert tents and riding on camels with his kids (two of whom supposedly live in Europe these days) and said he’d be willing to sign into law a measure that would allow for recall elections for Chicago mayors – a concept that currently does not exist.

CONSIDERING THAT STATE Senate President John Cullerton, D-Chicago, has no intention of permitting such a bill to advance, Rauner will never get the chance to do anything. I personally downplayed the threat as hot air from a blow-hard.

Yet Emanuel took offense to those fightin’ words. We’ve been getting verbal exchanges between the two as nasty as anything that ever occurred back in the 1990s days of Richard M. Daley and Jim Edgar. Or further back, to the 1970s days of Richard J. and Dan Walker.

... Probably neither!
Emanuel says Rauner is just spewing trash talk to cover up for the fact that Illinois state government remains without a budget in place even though we’re now more than half-way through the current fiscal year, and the idea of Fiscal 2016 being the year that Illinois had no budget at all is becoming a more realistic (and embarrassing) concept for us taxpayers to endure.

Of course, there’s the Chicago Public Schools that potentially have a $1 billion shortfall in their own funding, and there’s always the likelihood that state government will somehow have to intervene to resolve the situation.

THE PROBLEM IN the school system relates largely to the pension system now in place, and Emanuel would like to have changes made that would reduce costs. Yet Rauner has been more than willing to imply that the school’s financial problems are Rahm’s own fault and that the state shouldn’t need to feel the rush to intervene.

Not that he’s saying the state won’t help. The state may very well do so IF Emanuel starts twisting the arms of Chicago’s legislative representation (ie, Illinois House Speaker Michael Madigan) to get support for the various measures Rauner calls “reform” but which others view as nothing more than an undermining of organized labor within state government.

To which Emanuel offers up his own choice epithets of political irresponsibility. It’s a whole lot of trash talk – and probably shows just how petty both men are capable of being, rather than a sign that either one of them is right or wrong!

Unfortunately, politics is all about ego. It probably was unrealistic to think that an Emanuel/Rauner friendship would wind up controlling government in our state – particularly since both men have the kind of personalities that demand they come out on top.

NONE OF THIS is new. I still remember the early 1990s election cycle after Republicans managed to gain control of redistricting. Illinois had to lose congressional representation, and GOP operatives dealt with that issue in a way that pitted congressmen Marty Russo of south suburban Cook County against William Lipinski of the Southwest Side.

The two actually had a reputation on Capitol Hill for having a close friendship that often included sharing flights to and from Chicago. But having to campaign against each other brought out the ugly instincts that trashed friendship and had them barely speaking by the time that campaign cycle was over.

Who’s to say how ugly the Emanuel/Rauner brawl will become by the time it peaks? Or how many outrageous political proposals pitting city and state against each other will wind up being crafted as a result?

That is what Chicago-style politics can really be about.


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