CN Oct. 31, 2013

After Harold Washington died, the Daley family saw an opportunity to knock off Eugene Sawyer in a 1989 special election. But they needed lots of money, and fast. They turned to a not-yet thirty year-old up-n-comer named Rahm Emanuel, who managed to raise $13 million in seven weeks. 

That caught the eye of David Wilhelm, who was putting together a Presidential campaign for some former governor named Bill Clinton. They had raised a grand total of $600,000. Then Emanuel came on board. Through veiled threats and badgering, he raised $17 million and was seen as having saved the early phase of the campaign.

He co-founded a company called The Research Group, which specialized in Opposition Research.

As President, Clinton paired him with Bill Daley to get NAFTA passed. Business Week described it as a “bloody fight” that “pitted friend against friend and allied the administration with Republicans and big business.” A majority of Democrats in both the House and Senate voted against it.

Emanuel played a major role in the successful maneuvering to pass welfare reform, converting most welfare programs into what we now know as TANF. Ten years later, then in Congress, Emanuel said he was proud of the accomplishment that was “connecting a generation of children with a culture of work”

He used his “golden Rolodex” to make his way into the field of investment banking, where, despite not having an MBA, he earned more than $18 million in 2-1/2 years, placing him in the top 5% of earners in his profession.

Ron Susskind, in his 2011 book Confidence Men, said this about someone earning so much money so quickly, then heading right back into government: “paying someone who will be a future government official a lot of money for doing very little? On Wall Street we call that an investment.”

He went on to become Barack Obama’s Chief of Staff, and later to become Mayor of a midwest town called Chicago.

That’s just a tiny sampling of the stuff you can learn about our Mayor in Kari Lydersen’s new book, Mayor 1%. She says she and her publishers had intended the book to be more of an effort to tell the back-story of a man Chicago elected without knowing that much about him. But so much happened so quickly in that first couple of years that the book expanded to include the mental health clinic closures, the school strike, TIFs, the O’Hare janitors replacement and the public budgeting process.

Emanuel has taken a positive lead, she says, on key environmental issues like energy policy, battery research, closing coal plants and the like. But he still hasn’t found his footing when it comes to dealing with the public. For example, she says, he never once appeared at any public meetings to explain or discuss his budget priorities, as his predecessors had done.

And she pays special attention to the treatment of patients in the City-run mental health centers. “Saving two million dollars by closing the mental health clinics actually isn’t worth it in terms of the impact on the people,” she explains,” and there are larger costs when these people end up in emergency rooms or jail. So as smart as he is with money, I think that’s an example of  where he’s been penny wise and pound foolish.”

And she uses the current debate over how to combat the gun violence in our streets as an example. “The violence and policing issue is just so complicated”, she says. “I personally can’t say whether he’s done a good or a bad job on that – it’s such a mess – but it is a situation where listening to the people in the communities would be a good idea.”

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About Ken

Ken's the host of Chicago Newsroom. A former news director, reporter and radio program host, he's also a past Vice President of the Chicago Headline Club.
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