Jewish World Review
Sept. 14, 2010
/ 6 Tishrei, 5771
Obama gets a little bossy with tacit endorsement of Emanuel
For someone who has waxed poetically about ending the "broken politics of the past," President Barack Obama sounded like just another ham-fisted boss in pushing his candidate for mayor of Chicago.
His guy? It appears to be Rahm Emanuel, Obama's chief of staff and loyal fundraiser for departing Mayor Richard Daley.
"I think he would be an excellent mayor," Obama gushed about Emanuel in an interview with ABC News. "I think right now, as long as he is in the White House, he's critically focused on making sure that we're creating jobs for families around the country and rebuilding our economy.
"But I think he would be a terrific mayor," said Obama.
The pro-Rahm media establishment played along with the fiction that Obama wasn't endorsing Emanuel. But anyone who thinks it wasn't an "endorsement" must have smoked three bowls of primo Hopium trimmed from one of those Happy Obama Chia Heads.
Excellent? Terrific? These aren't exactly nuanced terms. What words would he have chosen if he were "officially" endorsing Emanuel?
Stupendous? Fantastic? Da Bomb?
And so our self-styled reform president becomes the grand marshal of the post-Daley Chicago Way parade. All Obama needed to complete the picture was a shillelagh, a green sash, some bagpipes and the plumbers union marching at his elbow.
The timing of Daley's long-planned abdication was no accident. By waiting until after Labor Day to announce he wouldn't seek re-election, Daley set up a political sprint.
It favors candidates with name recognition, the ability to raise huge amounts of cash quickly, and those who have political organizations to help them.
Couple Obama's glowing commentary with similar gooey rapture from Obama media strategist David Axelrod — a former Daley mouthpiece and Emanuel ally — and a reasonable man gets the picture.
It's a picture of Obama winking and nodding at Rahm.
Emanuel canceled a planned trip to Chicago this weekend, so he's technically avoiding the media while his boss sings his praises. Meanwhile, other potential candidates were trying to put coalitions together.
Cook County Sherriff Tom Dart was inching closer to an announcement, which will come only if he gets the expected blessing of Illinois House Speaker Michael Madigan. Alderman Edward Burke, 14th, chairman of the City Council's Finance Committee and perhaps the most experienced of the potential candidates, is also considering a run. But he wouldn't buck Madigan.
"To be in Chicago politics for as long as I have been, it would be hard not to imagine oneself in that role," Burke told us the other morning on WGN-AM's Greg Jarrett program. "It certainly is the Super Bowl of Chicago politics and government. ... The first thing I would do would be to make a pledge to only serve one term, and be a transitioning figure in Chicago's history."
Latinos such as City Clerk Miguel del Valle were also pushing forward. But Obama's comments may have the most effect on African-Americans.
One of the most prominent of the possible African-American mayoral candidates is state Sen. James T. Meeks, pastor of the giant Salem Baptist Church on the city's South Side.
Salem Baptist has a congregation of 20,000 members. Theoretically, Meeks could have all his candidacy petitions signed on one Sunday after sermon.
This makes him one of the most influential potential candidates in this political sprint. You can't have a serious discussion about the Chicago mayoral campaign without mention of Meeks.
In speaking with him on Thursday, I got the distinct impression he was none too pleased with Obama's effusive non-endorsement endorsement of Emanuel.
In his first public comments about the post-Daley era, Meeks told me he was still mulling a mayoral run, but that he was puzzled by Obama's rhetoric.
"On one hand, you'd think, 'That's what he's supposed to say,'" Meeks said. "He can't say his guy is a terrible chief of staff, or that he'd be a terrible mayor. He can't say that.
"But there is a danger for the president to stake out a position on Chicago politics when he doesn't yet know all the details," said Meeks. "We're still coming together, we're still meeting, so staking out a hard position so early on might be problematic."
Why is that?
"Let's say Rahm Emanuel becomes the president's candidate and gets into a mayoral runoff with a high-profile African-American candidate," said Meeks. "That wouldn't be a good position for the president. It would be a difficult proposition, especially if the president was thinking about turning around and asking African-Americans for votes in 2012. It would just complicate things."
If Obama actually believed his old campaign rhetoric written for him by Axelrod, all that jazz about transcending the old politics, he wouldn't have been so strong for Emanuel.
Obama could have taken a page from Daley himself, who the other day said that he wouldn't be playing kingmaker.
"This office doesn't belong to me, this office belongs to the people of our city," Daley said.
The president could have played that tune with great subtlety and grace. He could have said that Emanuel was a good chief of staff, but that the choice of a mayor should be left up to the taxpayers of Chicago.
When it comes to choosing words carefully, leaving himself enough wiggle room to dance with several partners at once, Obama is a master.
But this time, he decided to crack his knuckles for Rahm.
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John Kass is a columnist for the Chicago Tribune. Comments by clicking here.
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