The Graceful Failure of Mayor Rahm Emanuel
I didn’t vote for Rahm Emanuel the first time he ran in 2011. I don’t remember who I voted for because that vote was less one for that candidate and more one against Rahm. Never liked the guy. Didn’t trust him. He seemed weasely back when he was running the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, and shamelessly opportunistic and out of touch with Chicago when he plopped in to run for mayor. I was right.
But in 2015, I went against my better judgement and cast a vote for Rahm, thus making his reelection all the more absolute despite his approval rating of 35 percent. I was wrong here. Completely wrong. Wrong for voting for Rahm, of course, but also wrong for the reason I voted for the swine. It was a single reason. I was a single-issue voter in 2015.
I was working under contract as a marketing strategist for a non-profit with a mission to bring arts education (music, theater, visual arts) into all Chicago Public Schools strictly through private funding to tide CPS over until they could get their financial shit together and fund the programs in full forever. Without boring you by dragging you through the weeds, the organization’s mission was a righteous one. Arts education has proven to have vast benefits to the whole student. As part of this capital campaign the organization was championing, there was great involvement with CPS and many Chicago leaders. One of these was, obviously, Rahm.
The work I was doing also came at a time when tensions between the mayor and the Chicago Teachers Union (CTU) were almost as high as they’d ever been. But when are tensions not high between the CTU and the mayor’s office? From where I stood, at the time, I thought much of the trouble CPS faced was due in large part to the CTU, specifically, its president, Karen Lewis’ brash, vehement, unforgiving leadership. In no way did I think Rahm didn’t screw the pooch with CPS time and time again in his first term, but I was convinced that the future of CPS would be brighter if the CTU could dial back some of its fury and be reasonable. I felt they were solely focused on self-preservation rather than quality education. And Rahm was just the tough, hateful sonofabitch to stand up to Lewis and the union, and beat them down to size. Chuy Garcia, Rahm’s opponent that year, was not. Though I otherwise really liked Chuy. He seemed to me to be a Chicago neighborhood kind of leader. The antithesis of Rahm. The kind of leader Chicago needed. Or as good a leader as Chicago was going to get.
I wavered back and forth on what I would do on election day. Rahm or Chuy. Chuy or Rahm. As I entered the voting booth, I couldn’t shake the thought of my children. Children I didn’t have. Hell, Katie and I weren’t even engaged yet. But I was thinking about my imaginary family far off in the future. And I thought about my kids’ education. And I knew that if they were to have any hope of attending a school inside of a district with any kind of potential for real educational prosperity, the change to CPS needed to begin immediately. Rahm, therefore, would be my guy. He would whip that school system into shape. I voted for Rahm.
I walked out of the booth and the building tense.
I felt dirty. I felt silly. I felt sad. And I was right to feel that way because not long after the election, Rahm’s handpicked CEO of CPS, Barbara Byrd-Bennett had to step down amid some pretty hefty bribery charges. She was found guilty and sentenced to four-and-a-half years in the same cushy prison Martha Stewart once called home. At the time of this writing, the old, greedy bitch has one year down and three-and-a-half to go. With that news, it was crushingly clear that CPS was hopeless under Rahm’s watch. He couldn’t be trusted. He was a crook, a typical pol who put his guys in jobs despite their obvious penchant for corruption and/or vast incompetence. In that way, really, Rahm was as much the perfect Chicago mayor as either of the Daleys had been. Which is exactly why I didn’t like him to begin with.
So, I was pissed. Pissed at Rahm, pissed at myself, but happy that the contract with that non-profit concluded because it became harder and harder for me to market strategies for a campaign I knew was going to fail. And it did. Because there is no trust in CPS’s leadership. We had heard, “I’d be happy to support the arts in schools but where’s the sustainability? How do I know my money will be used appropriately?”
Yeah, that’s the thing about Chicago, you never know how your money is going to be used. Or who is using it.
I must pause here to make clear that my opinion of the CTU has mellowed. Perhaps because I learned exactly how systemically fucked things were at the hands of city leadership, rather than CTU’s leadership. Sort of. I think things got better after Lewis got sick, then better, but seemed to mellow out. I also don’t think that my kid will be screwed by attending a CPS school. He’ll be fine. School is only part of the equation. I, apparently, went to a fantastic school system, and I’m lucky I read a calendar. Katie and I will just make up for whatever they’re unable to teach him because of budget cuts or whatever. That’s parenting. I also have the utmost absolute faith in CPS teachers. Well, the few I know. I’m sure plenty of them are awful. And can you blame them?
And then there were the 16 shots. And all other matters of police brutality, cover ups, the Blue Collusion to never do the right thing when one of your brothers did wrong. The obvious distaste Rahm had for the poor; the obvious hard-on he had for the Loop. Yeah, he stood up to Trump with that whole sanctuary city thing but so what? That’s easy. He easily lost points by offering blow jobs and anal to Amazon — a deal that looked almost as fiscally irresponsible as Daley Junior’s parking meter deal.
I was standing in the green room of the WBEZ studios waiting to record a podcast for POLITICO Focus when the news broke.
I was ecstatic.
But now what? I was concerned that no one could beat Rahm in 2019. He’s got too much money, he’s too powerful, he’s too… Rahm. Now that he’s gone, there’s a new hard part to get through, which is getting a candidate of real quality that won’t split the progressive vote making room for a chud to come in and lazily let the city continue to careen into financial and social chaos. Or worse, take the helm by the nutsack and slam the throttle down.
Yesterday was for celebrating. Today is for action.
So what’s next? For Rahm? Well… He already raised $10 million for his re-election. I don’t know what the stipulations are on returning campaign money if the candidate drops out. The most cursory of investigations into it left me no smarter or dumber on the subject. So, assuming it’s his money to do with as he pleases, here’s what I suggest Rahm do with that $10 million in his suit breast pocket.
• Give the money to CPS. Fund the fucking arts already. Or…
• Create a political science program in CPS high schools. Rahm can be a guest lecturer the day the Doltish Corruption lesson comes up.
• Drive through the city’s poorest and most vulnerable neighborhoods — someone will have to show him where they are — tossing stacks of cash out the window a la Jesse Pinkman. He owes them that.
But what’s he really going to do? I imagine that he’ll spend the next three to eight months furiously beating his knob to a pulp jerking it to footage from the 1968 Democratic National Convention riots in Grant Park. You know, back when Chicago was a city he could get behind. One where the police policed.
Maybe he’ll spend his days eating Arby’s sandwiches hoping to find a finger in his food. His finger.
But what do we do? We find the right person for the job. Someone to replace him. Someone who isn’t a Big Bill Thompson or a Daley or a Rahm. Someone who isn’t even a Byrne. Someone who is a Washington. Someone who has Chicago in their DNA but is everything the politics of Chicago is not. Someone good, for fuck’s sake.
We can also head up to Rahm’s house in Ravenswood and celebrate his riddance in the same manner in which we celebrated the Cubs winning the World Series.
While any and/or all of that happens, we should, as I’m sure the mayor did before coming to his decision, consider his legacy. What will Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s legacy be?
A proclaimed badass who turned and ran from his failure just in time for the Van Dyke murder trial to start, so he’ll likely be gone when the verdict drops, relieving him from having to deal with that certain blowback. He wasn’t man enough to face the consequences of his misplaced pride. He wasn’t man enough to stick it out and make good on all his out-of-the-box rhetoric.
Then again, maybe it takes a man to recognize that you’ve fucked something so fucked already so badly there’s no way you can mend it. Best to leave it to the next foolish bastard who thinks they can go toe-to-toe with Chicago.