Chicago Sun-Times
The scoop from Washington

Rahm Emanuel, enforcer

| 6 Comments


When William Daley was looking for someone to manage his brother's 1989 race for mayor of Chicago, a brash Rahm Emanuel pitched himself for the job.
"I said no," Daley said, going on to select David Wilhelm as campaign manager, who went on to manage Bill Clinton's 1992 White House bid. Instead, Daley offered Emanuel a post as finance chairman for the mayoral campaign, and Emanuel turned him down.

"I said, 'OK, thanks,'" Daley recalled. But Emanuel changed his mind, joined the Daley team and started down a road that Thursday led to President-elect Barack Obama tapping him to be his White House chief of staff, Obama's first appointment.

With Emanuel, Obama gets an enforcer, a bad cop who loves the f-word, with a unique resume no one else in the United States can match: the No. 4 leader in the House; veteran of seven years in the White House during the Clinton administration; a supreme media and political strategist who knows process and policy. He's also a close friend of Obama and David Axelrod, the mastermind who helped propel Obama from a state Senate seat in Chicago to the White House in four years.

"No one I know is better at getting things done than Rahm Emanuel," Obama said in a statement.

"He's unbelievably loyal and tough," said Daley, who is part of Obama's transition team and close to Emanuel and Axelrod.

If Obama is reserved Mr. Cool, Emanuel is emotive Mr. Hot.

On this point, Emanuel, who accidentally lost the tip of a finger as a 17-year-old working at an Arby's, made this joke on himself at the April 2007 Gridiron dinner. "Of all the fingers to lose! I could not express myself for months. I had to learn to talk with my left hand."

The decision by Emanuel, re-elected Tuesday to his fourth House term, to step down to become chief of staff came with some agony: He was on a path in the House that could have made him speaker someday.

He also relishes the lifestyle he has carved out for himself. He commutes to Washington, leaving his wife, Amy, and three young children at their Ravenswood home.

In a statement, Emanuel said he was leaving a job "I love" because "I want to do everything I can to help deliver the change America needs."

Rahm Israel Emanuel, who turns 49 on Nov. 29, was born on Chicago's Far North Side, with his family moving to Wilmette when he was a youngster. He is a graduate of New Trier West High School, with an undergraduate degree from Sarah Lawrence and a master's in communication from Northwestern University. He is a ballet dancer and a swimmer.

Emanuel's Israeli father, Benjamin, is a pediatrician, and his mother, Marsha is a social worker. Emanuel is an observant Jew who did not, contrary to some of the mythology that has grown around him, serve in the Israeli army. Rather, Emanuel in 1991 volunteered for a few weeks in a program run by the Israeli army where civilians could help the Israel Defense Force with support work on an army base.

He is one in a trio of superachieving brothers: Ari is a Hollywood superagent, the chief at Endeavor, and Ezekiel, a breast oncologist, is the chairman of the department of bioethics at the National Institutes of Health. An adopted sister, Shoshana is rarely mentioned.

Through his Wilhelm connection, in 1991, Emanuel joined the Clinton campaign as a fund-raiser, rewarded with the White House political director post. He flamed out in a few months, to be resurrected and end up as a senior adviser to Clinton.

After seven years in Washington, Emanuel moved to Ravenswood, making millions of dollars as an investment banker in a few deals, and making more money when tapped by Clinton for a plum spot on the Freddie Mac board.

With Mayor Daley's backing, Emanuel won a House seat in 2002, quickly rising -- he has a seat on the Ways and Means Committee -- in no small part because of his ability to raise political money. In 2004, Emanuel was tapped by then-Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi to chair the Democratic House political operation, where he was the architect of the plan that resulted in the Democrats taking back the House in 2006.

Supposedly Emanuel was the model for Josh Lyman on the "The West Wing." Now he'll be Leo McGarry, Lyman's boss.

6 Comments

Obama was elected with a mandate to get things done--things America desperately needs, like repairing the economy, creating a new health-care system and dealing with two wars.

The complaint, already coming up on election night, was that he was a rookie whom Congress would steamroller. So he chooses a guy who unmistakably knows how to work Congress, and now the other complaints begin.

If Obama chose someone less aggressive, pundits like Sweet would be complaining that he's a wimp. Let's see what gets accomplished before the name-calling starts, OK?

The problem with the recent picks of Emmanuel, Axelrod, Jarrett, with more to come is that they are all people who have Mayor Daley's personal number on their speed dial. They all have made their careers based on relationships with the Mayor. If Blago's administration is any indication of Chicago politics going to Springfield, Chicago pals going to the bigger cess pool of Washington only means the AG office might as well appoint an independent council now for the investigations to come. It will be President-Elect Obama's biggest challenge to not bring corruption with him in the people he selects from Chicago to go with him. Change is coming the question is what kind...

MAYOR DALEY IS MAYOR DALEY, HAVE YOU SEEN WHAT
CHICAGO LOOKS LIKE LATELY, HE HAS DONE HIS JOB!
STOP TRYING TO PLAY GUILT BY ASSOCIATION, ASK
FOX NEWS IT DOESN'T WORK!
ASK MCCAIN IT DOESN'T WORK!
ASK PALIN IT DOESN'T WORK!
PLEASE JUDGE THESE NICE PEOPLE BY THEIR WORK,
NOT BY WHO THEY KNOW!
YOU NEED TO CHANGE YOUR THOUGHT PATTERNS!
DON'T WATCH FOX NEWS ANYMORE!

I agree fully with Phil Smith, Jr and Decisive Victory .........we need more thinkers like this in America...this is not Europe people this in individualist America ......remember?!!!

I agree fully with Phil Smith, Jr and Decisive Victory .........we need more thinkers like this in America...this is not Europe people this in individualist America ......remember?!!!

ktemple's comment should read "we need more believers like this in America". Obama and his handlers, like Rahm and Axelrod, continue to hammer away at the "need to believe", not think. Thinkers find a lot to be troubled about regarding Obama's team appointments and shared Chicago speed dial pals is just one of those troubling issues.

Leave a comment

Get the Sweet widget

More widgets

Video

Lynn Sweet

Lynn Sweet is a columnist and the Washington Bureau Chief for the Chicago Sun-Times.

Stay in touch

About this Entry

This page contains a single entry by Lynn Sweet published on November 7, 2008 4:08 PM.

Obama looking for non-allergic dog was the previous entry in this blog.

Obama haunted by Nancy Reagan quip; mulls dog, school for daughters is the next entry in this blog.

Find recent content on the main index or look in the archives to find all content.