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Rahm Emanuel: The Error Apparent

Daniel J. Kelley 22 September 2010 8 Comments

Rahm Emanuel is nothing if not ambitious. Chicagoans need to ask themselves if that is reason enough to support Emanuel’s projected mayoral candidacy? Does the fact that Emanuel has never served in an executive capacity as an elected official warrant any voter scrutiny?

Inside the Beltway, disgruntled politicians from both parties are looking forward to Emanuel’s departure. The foul mouthed Rahm has critics and enemies within the White House and on Capitol Hill who are eager to see him return to Illinois. Progressives see Emanuel as playing the role of a scheming Iago to Obama’s gullible and trusting Othello. Media guru David Axelrod is expected to leave Washington along with Emanuel.

If this dynamic duo works together in the 2011 mayoral campaign, expect the mud to fly. Just ask US Representative Jesse Jackson, Jr. (D-2nd) about the bus that blind sided him within the past few days. While Emanuel relishes playing the role of the assassin, Axelrod prefers to do his dirty work quietly in order to maintain deniability later on. The Illinois political landscape is littered with defeated politicians who Axelrod has unconvincingly denied smearing, including such former Obama rival candidates as Blair Hull and Jack Ryan. Suddenly, Junior is on the defensive about his “social acquaintance” with a blond from the District of Columbia.

Emanuel obtained political access the old fashioned way: he bought it. His rise to political prominence occurred because of his ability to raise large sums of money for Democratic politicians. Emanuel began by shaking the money tree for Chicago’s incumbent mayor, Richard M. Daley. Daley referred his protégé to Governor Bill Clinton. Once in the White House, one of the unsolved mysteries is whether or not Emanuel is one of the anonymous persons described as possible security risks in Gary Aldrich’s book “Unlimited Access.”

During the course of his Washington career, Emanuel’s outrageous behavior has become legendary. His performance repeatedly stabbing a steak knife into a restaurant table while declaring various Republican Congressmen “dead” suggests that Emanuel watched Al Pacino in the Brian DePalma film “Scarface” a few times too many and that he ought to consider drinking decaffeinated coffee.

While Emanuel would be a formidable mayoral candidate, by declaring his candidacy, he may be placed in the position of having to finally answer several pointed questions that he has ducked and dodged for the past eight years. A head bob or a pirouette may no longer suffice. Here are a few of the major issues to may come back to haunt Emanuel:

Donald Tomczak

When Emanuel set his sights upon restarting his political career as an elected official, some pundits initially thought that he would challenge US Representative Mark Kirk (10th) Emanuel said no dice to campaigning in his hometown of Wilmette. Kirk was an established incumbent who enjoyed support within the Jewish community as a reliable friend to Israel in Congress. Emanuel wanted a sure thing, not a competitive race that he might well lose. So, he cast his lot with outgoing US Representative Rod Blagojevich (D-5th). Blagojevich was planning to vacate his seat in Congress to run for governor and he recommended to Emanuel that he file for this vacancy.

Emanuel chose to reinvent himself as “a lifelong Chicagoan” despite his longstanding ties to the North shore suburbs. Currently, Emanuel’s current preferred phrase is that he is a “native Chicagoan” which refers to his delivery having occurred in a Chicago maternity hospital. In 2002, as a perceived carpetbagger, the Mister Chicago act was an awkward sales pitch to say the least. Veteran political observers pointed out that Emanuel had no ties whatsoever to the communities that he was seeking to represent in Congress. For example, he had never lived or attended schools within the district and he had virtually nothing in common with its residents.

In his initial successful campaign for Congress, Emanuel faced a serious primary challenge from former State Representative Nancy Kazak. Emanuel garnered with 51% of the primary vote while Kazak placed second with 42%. Emanuel painted Kazak as an anti-Semite after she received a campaign endorsement from the Polish National Alliance. The rationale for the charge seemed spurious at best and would take a quarter of an hour to explain in detail. Suffice it to say, Kazak was put on the defensive, not for anything that she had said or did, but for an ambiguous statement made by a third person who supported her.

Afterwards, it was disclosed that Emanuel received invaluable assistance from Donald Tomczak, a high ranking official in the City of Chicago Water Department, who put an army of city employees into the field as precinct workers for Emanuel. Tomczak was later indicted by Federal prosecutors for his role in the “Hired Truck” scandal. It was proved that Tomczak’s army received promotions and pay raises based upon their political activities and some campaign work was done on city time. Emanuel’s unsatisfactory response to these revelations was that he simply did not know Tomczak and he was unaware of any corrupt activities that benefited his candidacy.

Investment Banking and Freddie Mac

Following his departure from the Clinton White House, Emanuel pursued a career in investment banking which quickly netted him millions. It was an extremely curious career transition since Emanuel had no prior background in the banking field and had not even majored in business while attending college or university. Emanuel attended Sarah Lawrence College, a liberal arts college with a strong program in dance (Emanuel is a former ballet performer) and, later, obtained a graduate degree in speech and communications from Northwestern University. As a banker, Emanuel earned over $16.2 million dollars in less than three years. Cynics pointed out that he was trading heavily upon his political insider’s Rolodex to facilitate mergers and acquisitions. While dealing with SBC Communications on one such deal, Emanuel was working closely with Clinton’s former Commerce Secretary, William Daley, the brother of the Chicago mayor.

Additionally, Emanuel secured an appointment from President Clinton to the scandal plagued Federal Home Loan Mortgage Corporation (“Freddie Mac”) in 2000. Emanuel earned not less than $320,000.00 for his service on the board of directors before he resigned his position in 2001 to run for Congress. The mismanagement of “Freddie Mac” which included accounting irregularities, improper campaign contributions, which caused the Federal Election Commission to issue a $3.8 million dollar fine against the corporation, may ultimately cost the taxpayers billions, if not a trillion dollars. America’s economic collapse has been traced to the collapse of the mortgage and real estate industry fueled by government policies that encouraged sub-prime loans to unqualified applicants.

What was Emanuel’s precise role at Freddie Mac? What decisions did he make, if any, and what type of supervisory oversight did he provide? The Obama administration has refused to furnish documents relating to Emanuel’s activities at “Freddie Mac” in response to Freedom of Information Act (“FOIA”) requests from journalists and researchers. One wonders what Emanuel and Obama are hiding from the public?

Rod Blagojevich

As previously noted, Blagojevich and Emanuel had a close working relationship during the 2002 election cycle. As Blagojevich fell out of favor with ranking Democrats in Illinois, Emanuel remained on speaking terms with the governor. In fact, Emanuel’s communications with the now disgraced Blagojevich continued almost up until the time of the former governor’s arrest. As was disclosed during the Blagojevich trial this summer, some of discussions were intended to boost Valerie Jarrett for the appointment to fill President-elect Obama’s vacant Senate seat. Rahm also tried to secure a favor for himself.

When offered the position of Chief of Staff in the incoming Obama White House, Emanuel, who envisioned himself as a possible successor to Nancy Pelosi as the Speaker of the House, contacted Blagojevich to inquire if an interim appointment could be made to fill his position in Congress. Emanuel wanted a seat warmer to succeed him in the House of Representatives. He entertained the notion that the placeholder would step aside once he was prepared to leave the White House and return to the Congress. After all, the Kennedys had been using surrogates to hold their seats for years when using a substitute suited their convenience.

Emanuel’s lack of familiarity with Illinois election statutes seems almost risible. Congressional vacancies in the Prairie State are filled by special elections, not gubernatorial appointments. In any event, Emanuel struck out once again, as his preferred replacement, Alderman Patrick O’Connor (40th), who indicated his willingness to serve as a temporary Congressman, was defeated by County Commissioner Mike Quigley in the special primary election held to nominate a Democratic nominee to succeed Emanuel.

With Federal prosecutors preparing to put Blagojevich on trial a second time in January, Emanuel faces the prospect of being served with another subpoena by the impeached former governor. In addition to legitimate questions about the timing and substance of Emanuel’s conversations with Blagojevich, which seem more likely now that a union official gave testimony that contradicted Emanuel’s prior explanation of contacts between the Obama transition team and the governor, one important question remains to be asked:

If Rod Blagojevich attempted to shakedown Children’s Memorial Hospital in return for releasing state funds for the institution and Emanuel was aware of these facts after trying to intervene for the release of the money, what possible explanation is there for Emanuel not speaking out as to Blagojevich’s egregious conduct? Why didn’t Emanuel report the matter to the authorities immediately?

It would be fascinating if someone like Congressional hopeful Joel Pollak could question Emanuel. It would be a contrast between class and crass.


Daniel J. Kelley is a regular contributor to “The Chicago Daily Observer.”


  • Pat Hickey said:

    Axelrod is a deft race-baiter and handler of the more dim-witted editorial boards – both of the bigs in Chicago –

    “The Illinois political landscape is littered with defeated politicians who Axelrod has unconvincingly denied smearing, including such former Obama rival candidates as Blair Hull and Jack Ryan. Suddenly, Junior is on the defensive about his “social acquaintance” with a blond from the District of Columbia.”

    Axe bullied the Tribune into it’s shabby role in destroying Glen Poshard, Blair Hull and especially Jack Ryan. JJJ is only one of many and more to come.

    So long as Mark Brown, Eric Zorn or Carol Marin have columns political and dimwits who accept their hackeries, trolls like Axelrod will do just dandy for likes of Rahm,Schakoswky Mike Quigley and other bottom-feeders. Hust my own humble opinion.

    Great article Dan!

  • Bessie said:

    You took the words right out of my mouth…I had a feeling the JJJ leak came from Emanuel…it’s just how he play’s ball…What a jerk!!!

  • Bill Baar said:

    Re: Emanuel’s lack of familiarity with Illinois election statutes seems almost risible.

    That was a very strange moment. I guess it was sheer ignorance on his part.

  • Terry Przybylski said:

    Dan, just a point of clarification on the Emanuel-Nancy Kaszak race in 2002: it was not the endorsement of the Polish National Alliance which caused Emanuel to try to label Kaszak and her supporters as anti-Semitic; rather, it was an ill-considered comment about Emanuel made by the late Edward Moskal, then president of the PNA (and not necessarily supported by most PNA members). In fact, Emanuel sought out and obtained the endorsement of other segments of the Polish-American community in the 5th District. Not that it makes him any more admirable, of course. Just for the record…

  • Dan Kelley said:


    Your comment is quite correct, of course, but I did not want to rehash the entire story in my column. To explain the situation in full would have taken some additional paragraphs. It was a tempest in a tea cup that Emanuel distorted thoroughly for his own benefit.

    While Moskal’s comments about Emanuel were unfortunate and, ultimately proved detrimental to Kazak, after Emanuel’s spin doctors went to work, one cannot help, but wondering if some of Emanuel’s own bragging about his past did not serve to fuel such rumors?

    Mark Kirk is being pilloried about his military record as a reservist, but Emanuel has never been called to account for his own boasting. Fake stories have circulated about his missing finger tip being lost as the result of heroic military exploits in Israel or during a shark attack, but the truth is that Emanuel failed to seek prompt medical attention after cutting himself at an Arby’s restaurant where he once worked and the wound became infected.

    All of these fanciful tales were used to buttress Emanuel’s claims to be a tough guy. He raves, he swears, he threatens people in the shower and sends his enemies dead fish. It is all so much tripe.

  • Pat Hickey said:

    Well, it appears that Tom Dart is in . . .there will be blood – metaphorically speaking of course.

  • Finn Kacy said:

    Correct and on target as usual Mr. K. One has to wonder who else in both political parties risks being cut apart when these two assassins get together again. Both of these individuals, but especially Rahm, have shown that they are in it for themselves at all costs. You have to wonder if this time of departure was orchestrated by a higher power. The Democratic party is apparently in the early state of an internal power struggle and Rahm is not well respected within the moderate to conservative ranks. Has Mr. Obama come to the realization that their brand of politics comes at a heavy cost.

    Don’t bet on Blago going to jail as long as he can pull the Rahm card. Maybe there is something to a story that I heard a few days ago that died quickly. Stories that politicians and the media want to keep quiet have a way of being minimized.

    Finally in a recent interview Mr. D. Davis was asked if he would back out rather than confront Rahm in a mayoral bid. His answer was that he would not if it looked like he had support. I hope someone has bandages and transfusions ready.

    As it was said, “Let the games begin”.

  • Charles Saunders said:

    An excellent and thoughtful analysis as usual. Sadly, sound clips, eye catching headlines, and willful and leftist-leaning ignorance comprise today’s mostly yellow journalism.

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