Rahm Emanuel, at the beginning of his mayoral tenure in Chicago, promised to be a force to be reckoned with. He had managed to come from being President Obama’s Chief of Staff, after winning a battle to legally prove residency in Chicago (exploiting a law enacted for military who were stationed outside of Illinois to still be eligible for Illinois public office). He was known as President Obama’s “enforcer”. He was legendary for his antics , including sending a dead fish to a pollster with whom he had worked, and with whom he was livid and picking a political fight with a Democrat member of Congress in a locker room and whilst completely naked. John Kass, pretty much the only reason to continue reading the Chicago Tribune, popularized the moniker “Rahmfather” in referring to Emanuel, and it was a persona which Emanuel himself enjoyed.
The election of Emanuel to mayor, like much of politics in Chicago, seemed preordained, that the silly little election was merely a formality, a show for the rest of the country. Sure, it gave Emanuel a chance to get some cash into his coffers, build alliances, and see who his first enemies (those supporting the other Democrats in the race) were, but everything about the campaign screamed “foregone conclusion”, from his campaign flyers “Chicago for Rahm” to his coziness with Chicago Democrat royalty – the Obamas.
The thing was, though, that even with all the inevitablity, it seemed like Emanuel had no great love for Chicago, that this position would merely serve Emanuel’s own political career, feeding his ego, and giving him a platform to launch his next political bid, something more national in nature.
And so Emanuel became mayor of Chicago. He came in with the swagger and the reputation of someone who was completely ruthless. In some cases, he was practical, such as trying to (finally) close many schools which had declining enrollment and were running at well under half-capacity. Of course, this upset the Chicago Teacher’s Union, which is incredibly powerful, and which holds a lot of sway with voters.
However, in the quest to make Chicago more progressive, Emanuel seems to have totally lost any sort of control over lawlessness in the city. With all the howling the progressives made about a proposed Chik-fil-A on Elston Avenue (not even the first one in the city), real crime was exploding. Yes, Chicago has been known for ages to be a very dangerous city, but that’s only half the story. Up until Emanuel’s tenure, most of the violent crime was limited to certain neighborhoods. The mayors Daley understood this. They understood that there was no real “fixing” of culture. Chicago is remarkable in that there are so many groups that are there, or who have come through and left their mark. Every neighborhood has a unique history, attested to, in large part, through architecture. Yet, at its heart, Chicago is a very American city, and also very Midwestern, and outside of downtown, generally very unassuming. Fifteen years ago, the neighborhoods that weren’t plagued by violence were generally as safe as most of Western Europe at the same time, and I remember revelling in the freedom that allowed me as a teenager in the city. Of course, we had to be careful, especially as I lived in a pretty sketchy neighborhood for some of that time, but I stayed away from the gangs and the drugs, and I was left alone. The Daleys understood the city, every corner, I’d guess, and for as corrupt as they were, I believe that they also loved the city, and did what they could to make it as livable as possible for the greatest number of people.
A lot of this extended to people’s political sense. The Daleys WERE the political machine, in a city where Democrat is a default, and those who are outwardly not Democrat could be punished severely. At the same time, they very much represent an older Democrat party, a party who wanted to be seen as the champion of the “everyman”, the party who came to the rescue of those who did not have much. This is a powerful message to a city where a lot of the residents are recent immigrants, the Polish, the Koreans, the Mexicans, etc. Especially for the contingents from Eastern Europe, who often fled from persecution, political, religious, or otherwise, the promise that there was a political party who would “listen” to them, having nothing, knowing no one, etc., is hard to resist. And so the Daleys made sure that although the Democrat grip on the city was absolute, one didn’t necessarily feel threatened for occasionally uttering beliefs countering those of the Democrat party. They were also careful not to follow the lead of Detroit, and while race was certainly a Democrat “issue”, they made sure that it didn’t turn to an all-out war.
However, the new Democrat Party cannot abide by this; it is not enough to have absolute control of the city, but it is imperative that every citizen be inundated in progressive propaganda until each one understands that resistance is futile and full of repercussions. Emanuel is the full embodiment of that, from “little things” like Chik-fil-a to major endeavors such as introducing an “Afro-centric” curriculum to all public schools.
I believe this strategy has backfired for Emanuel, and as he leaves mayoral office, it is done with a whimper, the result of Chicago’s real issues coming back to bite him. With all the crying and screaming about “income inequality”, the bigger story is probably how Chicago’s middle class is disappearing. The middle class, in large part, is made up of families, in large part because they are stable, they pay taxes, they invest in the places where they live, they have children who often also stay and are deeply invested in the city of their birth. This loyalty is not absolute, though, and as taxes go up, crime goes up, the schools get worse and worse, eventually they leave. They leave the city, they leave the state.
The Jussie Smollett case has been a huge black eye to the city of Chicago, and in particular to Mayor Emanuel. No one who lives there believed that this happened. MAGA country? Chicago? You’ve got to be be kidding! The entire incident was completely preposterous from the beginning. 2am on one of the coldest nights in decades? Give me a break! I’m not saying something like this couldn’t have happened, but just like Steinmetz High School supposedly beating Whitney Young in Academic Decathlon,(the story upon which the HBO movie Cheaters was based) it was highly unlikely, to the point of being nigh on statistically impossible. And just like when the stories of the Steinmetz team members were examined, Smollett’s story fell apart under similar scrutiny.
How did this hurt Emanuel? Well, first of all, this didn’t get “fixed” in the early stages of the investigation. Stuff like this is supposed to disappear. Secondly, he was pretty much forced to take the side of law enforcement, if nothing else but for the reason that were he not to, his tenure as mayor would probably be ending in actual unrest in the city. This is not how you want things to end if you’re looking to bigger things.
However, Smollett just happens to be politically connected himself. His sisters have deep connections to Michelle Obama’s chief of staff, and one of them was even a personal guest of the Obamas at the White House. And so when push came to shove, phone calls were placed, the appropriate people were told what to do, and Jussie Smollett walks from 16 felony charges with nothing more than forfeiting $10,000 – nothing to someone making his kind of money.
Rahm, though, is left holding the bag. The decision, apparently, was made behind his back, and announced without his knowledge. Of course, this could all be theater, but I’m rather of the opinion that it was a big middle finger to Obama’s former Chief of Staff, signalling that when push comes to shove, the interests of the Obamas, with all their race-hustling and what have you, trump any loyalty that might have been shown to Emanuel, as Jewish males aren’t really considered a “victim class” in the Democrat party of today. Quite the opposite.
The thing that makes me believe that this may not be just theater on Emanuel’s part is the fact that Emanuel is now attempting to bill Smollett for the costs associated with the investigation. He may think that this move is a bold one, but rather than being noteworthy in the way that the dead fish was, it smacks of desperation, a last ditch effort to come out “even” after losing a game. This is not Rahm Emanuel acting from a position of power, but of someone who has been humiliated. I could even feel sorry for him after this – but figure my emotions are better spent elsewhere.
Everything in Chicago is politics. Where you live, the car you drive, the number of kids you have, where they go to school, the brand of tennis shoes you wear. It’s all politics. It’s a game of who can virtue-signal the best. When you have someone like the Obamas or Emanuel in charge, you never want to be the one to be the first to stop applauding them. Which is all part of the reason that I, as so many others, have left the city, and fight against this sort of corruption in the places we live now.
However, the Machine is merciless; if you’re not clamoring to its levers of power, you’re more than likely going to be eaten up by it. Look at Governor Blagojevich… He thought he played it to the top and could use his position for his own self-aggrandizement, but his corruption was allowed to be revealed for the sake of saving the rest of the corrupt appartus. Who benefits? Time will tell. It’s certainly not the people of Chicago.