Carol Felsenthal
On politics

Is Rahm a ‘Goat,’ a ‘Hero,’ or Something In Between?

D.C. pundits speculate on why the mayor was more popular when he was in Washington—and whether he has an eye on the White House.

Photo: Nancy Stone/Chicago Tribune

Taking a break Sunday afternoon from writing a profile of Bruce Rauner to read about another favorite subject, Rahm Emanuel. (I’ve asked Rahm for an interview for the Rauner profile—the two are, after all, friends—but, as usual, no response.)

Here’s some interesting recent Rahm reportage:

A long piece by Politico’s Maggie Haberman depicts Rahm as a “D.C. hero, Chicago goat.”  Haberman writes that in DC “Rahmbo” is seen as a “ruthless… operative” who, among other achievements, once plotted the Democratic takeover of Congress. But, in Chicago, he’s, in CTU President Karen Lewis’s words, the “murder mayor,” who, Lewis added, “is not suited to this kind of work.”    

In DC he’s a celebrity; in Chicago “his tough-guy veneer just isn’t as intimidating” and consequently his “approval rating… is perilously low.” In DC he “terrified staffers and donors”; in Chicago he gets much less respect. Haberman references last month’s Sun-Times poll showing Rahm with 29 percent of the vote if the mayoral election had been held then; eight percent among African American voters.

During a trip to DC—since taking office Rahm has taken 56 out-of-town trips—Rahm, according to Haberman, “mused about a 2016 presidential run if Hillary Clinton takes a pass.” Emanuel has repeatedly denied having any intention to run for president.

In another Politico piece, “The Obama Paradox”—this one even longer and the product of, according to reporters Carrie Budoff Brown and Jennifer Epstein, 60 interviews—Rahm makes several appearances.

The reporters depict Rahm, at that point the mayor of Chicago, as “crow[ing] to White House aides that pushing an immigration bill through Congress would be like `falling off of a log.’”

They describe Rahm’s tenure as Obama’s chief of staff  as less effective and rational than that of current COS Denis McDonough. McDonough’s style is “an unmistakable shift from the chaotic, creative destruction of the Rahm Emanuel era,” Budoff and Epstein write, “and the insularity and disorder of Bill Daley’s tenure.”

As for Obama, the authors depict him as, in DC, if not quite a goat, then certainly not a lion. And, in Chicago, the President could morph into something much worse than a goat if the Politico authors are correct that, after leaving the White House, Michelle and Barack will be co-op hunting in Manhattan. Obama “has told friends,” they write, “he would like to live in New York City. “

“Obama associates expect that the presidential library will end up in Chicago, given their ties to the city and [Rahm] Emanuel’s determination to secure it. The first lady grew up in Chicago, and the president made the city his home after growing up in Hawaii and Indonesia. But in landing the Obamas themselves, New York has the edge. The president, who graduated from Columbia University, loves the city and the anonymity it can provide. It may be wishful thinking, but he and his wife crave a return to a life in which they can stroll into a CVS or down the street without fanfare. “ 

The authors quote Obama as saying at a Manhattan fundraiser in 2012,  “I  just desperately want to take a walk through Central Park again, and just remember what that feels like.”

I’ll have Hard Choices, Hillary Clinton’s memoir of her State Department years, on my iPad today at midnight. I’ll be back with a look at Hillary’s description of Rahm, Bill and other Chicagoans who, I assume, make the cut in her 656-page campaign book.

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