He is a brilliant political strategist, and a Chicago bruiser who moved from Congress to the White House as Obama's chief of staff - then back to Chicago as mayor. But who is Rahm Emanuel?
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Legend has it that even his mother calls him Rahmbo. And Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel is nothing if not a man of legend: hot-tempered, often profane, he famously sent a dead fish to a pollster who sent his results back too late. Yet he also studied at ballet school, tells a mean joke, and regularly ferries his children to and from school.
"Lucky Chicago: this pit-bull is on our side", blazed a local paper editorial this year, and it is true that Emanuel's story has consistently been one of success. It appears to be a family trait: his older brother Ezekiel is a leading oncologist who became a health adviser to the White House, while his younger brother Ari is an agent to Hollywood stars who inspired the Ari Gold character in the hit TV show Entourage.
Rahm, though, was destined for political power rather than liberal arts: he ran congressional election campaigns, helped propel Bill Clinton into the White House, then worked in the West Wing as senior adviser, overseeing policy and strategy. After brief spell in investment banking, he was back on the hill: this time, as the Democratic congressman for the 5th district of Illinois, winning election his first time out.
Lucky Chicago: this pit-bull is on our side. Chicago Sun-Times
Rahm was no backseat operator, of course, swiftly rising to become chair of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, running a flawless campaign in the 2006 midterm elections which ensured that not a single Democratic incumbent lost their seat. Sharing his political dreams with his long-time friend and fellow Chicagoan, Barack Obama, Rahm said he wanted to become the first Jewish speaker of the house: Obama wanted to be president.
Instead of the speaker's chair, however, Emanuel plunged back into the frenzy of presidential politics, part of a close-knit team of Chicago friends and allies who managed to sweep Obama on a tide of hope and enthusiasm, all the way to the White House. Another long-time Chicago friend, and key Obama strategist, David Axelrod told the New Yorker's Ryan Lizza that Emanuel could have been made for the chief of staff job.
"He spent six years in the White House, knows this place inside out, spent four or five years in Congress and became a leader in a short period of time. He really understands the legislative process, he's a friend who the president has known for a long time from Chicago, and whose loyalty is beyond question, and who thinks like a Chicagoan."
The politics of compromise
In the Obama West Wing, Emanuel devoted his energies into driving through legislation, building centrist coalitions on issues like free trade and welfare reform. Nothing, it seems, phased him. As financial turmoil rocked the world he countered: "Never let a good crisis go to waste." But it was not going to be easy: the loss of that Democratic majority in Congress in 2010 saw to that.
Hours, days, weeks, were spent in increasingly protracted negotiations with Republicans in an effort to forge some kind of cross-party agreement: "Once you repeatedly get rejected, you've got to be ready to go your own way." The important thing, he always said, was to be seen to make an effort. "The public wants bipartisanship. We just have to try, we don't have to succeed."
Emanuel told the author Jonathan Alter that he had begged Obama not to pursue his highly unpopular healthcare reforms, convinced that it would doom the Democrats' chances at the polls. Always far more of a pragmatist than an ideologue, the internecine warfare in Washington proved unbearable. He wanted more time with his family: it was time to go back to Chicago.
And so, to a different dream: becoming mayor of Chicago, easily winning a majority after leading the polls throughout, and raking in more than $12m to fund his campaign. "This is the best job I've ever had in public life," he confessed. "I love doing this. Nothing is more exciting. You can make decisions, see them through, make big changes."
The Chicago way? No way
This new role could not be further from the gentlemanly traditions of Washington: Chicago was practically a byword for a toxic mix of corruption and cover-up. The man who once represented Emanuel's fifth district, Rod Blagoyevic, and went on to become governor of Illinois, is now serving a 14 year sentence for corruption. Three of his predecessors also spent time behind bars.
Along with the new Illinois governor, Pat Quinn, Emanuel has proclaimed himself dedicated to turning things around, tackling allegations of fraud, waste and wrongdoing across the city. Even his infamous bad language was cleaned up, once he was back in public office. The nameplate given to him by his brothers, which adorned his White House office - "Undersecretary for go f*** yourself" - is on display no more.
Away from the sniping inside the Washington beltway, Emanuel has managed to achieve more of a consensus, passing a controversial budget by unanimous consent, enjoying comfortable approval ratings of 52 per cent.
Is this it, though, for the man who seems to constantly need a new challenge, another top-level accomplishment to conquer? Pundits have not stopped hinting about his possible presidential ambitions. No matter that he went on record last year with this rejoinder to NBC's Rock Center: "Not interested. Not going to do it. No."
If the top job is off the agenda, then perhaps, go the rumours, there's a 2016 "dream ticket" on the cards: Hillary Clinton for president, with Emanuel as her running mate. A suprising choice, perhaps, given claims that the pair clashed so much in the nineties that Mrs Clinton tried to get Rahm fired from her husband's staff.
This is the best job I've ever had in public life. Rahm Emanuel, on being Chicago mayor.
Emanuel will not comment on rumours like those: right now his political mind is tuned to a more immediate fight: in recent days, blasting the Supreme Court's Citizens United ruling that opened the floodgates to unlimited corporate donations to campaigns, declaring that the presidential election will be down to just 5 states, and 500 precincts.
"Who is going to fight for who in that Oval Office?" he said on CNN this month, describing the choice between Obama and Romney as one between "really different people with different experience, different views about how to shape the future of this country. And I think that's going to be the fundamental core piece of what this election is about."
Lucky Obama, perhaps, to have this pit bull on his side. Never mind a presidential run in 2016: it seems that Rahm Emanuel doesn't have to be in power, to be in charge.
Felicity Spector writes about US affairs for Channel 4 News