While covering the mayor’s race, the most common comment I heard about candidate Rahm Emanuel was, “Personally I can’t stand him, but I’m voting for him because he’ll get stuff done.” Rahm had much of the business community (many of them Republicans) locked up from the start because they believed he’d get deals done that would benefit the city’s bottom line—and, hence, their own.
Yesterday, when lame-duck mayor Richard M. Daley finally got some of what he wanted in the building of a new runway and a new air traffic control tower at O’Hare, he got to take center stage. But people who follow city politics saw the hand of Emanuel, who has an old friend in Ray LaHood, the U.S. Secretary of Transportation.
“Rahm e-mailed me every day,” LaHood told reporters at the press conference announcing the O’Hare expansion, which may be truncated but at least it’s not dead. One might guess that Rahm was doing more than e-mailing; at the least he was probably bombarding LaHood with telephone calls until the Republican from Peoria came through with the millions in federal funds needed to close the deal—and persuaded airline execs to go along with an expansion that they had argued was premature.
The relationship goes both ways. In December 2008, when Barack Obama was staffing his cabinet, Rahm pushed for the appointment of his buddy LaHood. In their days in Congress, the two men co-hosted dinners for colleagues from their respective parties to discuss policy.
Emanuel’s reputation in the first Clinton administration—as the fierce partisan who would send a dead fish to political enemy or stab a restaurant table with a steak knife declaring his political enemies, “Dead, dead, dead!”—did not reflect the older, more pragmatic Rahm. He became the ultimate sausage maker: don’t worry how it looks or what you put into it, just shove it into its casing, wrap it up, and ship it out.
Rahm’s mantra since winning election last month has been that there can only be one mayor at a time. But yesterday, there were two. In the two months until Emanuel is sworn in, and as Rich Daley departs on more foreign travel, watch for the skinny guy to pull more and more of the levers.