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The Sudden But Well-Deserved Fall of Rahm Emanuel

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tags: Rahm Emanuel



Rick Perlstein lives in Chicago. He is a national correspondent for the Washington Spectatorand the author, most recently, of “The Invisible Bridge: The Fall of Nixon and the Rise of Reagan.”

It’s hard to remember a time when Rahm Emanuel wasn’t a Democratic Party superstar. Go back to 1991, when the thirty-two-year-old took over fund-raising for Bill Clinton. He  was soon renowned for making the staff come to work on Sundays, shrieking into the phone to donors things like “Five thousand dollars is an insult! You’re a twenty-five-thousand-dollar person!”—and, not incidentally, helping Clinton afford the blitz of TV commercials that saved him from the Gennifer Flowers scandal, clearing his course to the White House. The legend continued through this past April, when Rahm—in Chicago and D.C., he’s known by that single name—won a second term as the mayor of Chicago in a come-from-behind landslide.

Nine months later, Chicagoans—and Democrats nationally—are suffering buyer’s remorse. Last month, a Cook County judge ordered the release of a shocking dashcam video of a black seventeen-year-old named Laquan McDonald being shot sixteen times by a policeman while he was walking away. Five days later, the officer was charged with murder. The charge came after four hundred days of public inaction, and only hours before the video’s release. Of almost four hundred police shootings of civilians investigated by the city’s Independent Police Review Authority since 2007, only one was found to be unjustified. So the suspicion was overwhelming that the officer would not have faced discipline at all had officials not feared a riot—especially after it was learned that McDonald’s family had been paid five million dollars from city coffers without ever having filed a lawsuit. Mayor Emanuel claims that he never saw the video. Given that he surely would not have been reëlected had any of this come out before the balloting, a recent poll showed that only seventeen per cent of Chicagoans believe him. And a majority of Chicagoans now think he should resign.

For twenty years now, there have been those who say that this emperor never had any clothes on in the first place. Given the speed and intensity of his fall, perhaps it’s time to reconsider their case.

Start with the 1992 Presidential campaign. Emanuel persuaded Clinton to prioritize raising money. This, to put it lightly, caught up with him. And while Emanuel was never tied to the fund-raising chicanery involving forgotten names like James Riady, Yah Lin Trie, and John Huang, it was that zeal for cash that provided Clinton’s Presidency its original taint of scandal. Obsessive fund-raising is also the foundation of Emanuel’s political operation in Chicago. When two reporters for the Chicago Reader filed a Freedom of Information Act request for the mayor’s private schedule in 2011 (unlike previous mayors, his public schedule was pretty much blank), they discovered that he almost never met with community leaders. He did, however, spend enormous blocks of time with the rich businessmen, including Republicans, who had showered him with cash.

There are moral complaints to be made about this, to be sure. But the behavior has also failed Emanuel on political grounds: when he found himself in trouble, he was left without a broad base of political support, unlike the previous mayor, Richard M. Daley, who in similar straits fell back on his close relationships in all fifty city wards. When one of those rich Republicans donors—Bruce Rauner, with whom Rahm has vacationed—became Illinois’s governor, last year, at least the scolds could comfort themselves that their mayor would enjoy privileged access to lobby for the city’s needs. But that hasn’t worked, either: instead, Rauner has given Rahm the cold shoulder. ...

Read entire article at The New Yorker


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