Rahm Emanuel hit the bricks in the Chicago for his "Tell it Like It Is" tour in Chicago, a sort of preview to his bid for the mayor's job. It's also called a "listening tour." That's the problem with Rahm, he's telling you things when he's supposed to be listening and he doesn't see the irony, but that's quintessential Rahm. The question is - will Chicago accept him?
If you listen to the national media, Emanuel's ascension to the mayor's seat is already a done deal. I even heard one radio announcer say, "Now that Rahm Emanuel leaves the White House to become Mayor of Chicago, what's next for the White House?" What a minute, sir, aren't you missing a step? Like an election?
While the rest of the country is sure that fast-talking (often foul-talking) Rahm is off to a blazing start in Chicago, the truth is that not many voters really know what to make of him. Sure he's a hometown boy and served as a congressman on the North Side. But was he a street-smart protege of a ward boss? That's the way mayors are made in Chicago. I can't even think of a superstar ever making it to the mayor's office. In fact, I can hardly remember when someone named Daley wasn't in the mayor's chair.
There were brief stays by Harold Washington, Jane Byrne, and even briefer shows by Eugene Sawyer and Michael Bilandic, but they were blips on the radar screen. For my whole life, it's been Richard J. Daley and Richard M. Daley. And I'm pretty sure, it's been that way for most other Chicagoans too.
So what do we make of Rahm, who landed with such finesse straight from the White House? He's got a splashy new Web site that looks like a replicant of the Obama site, just teeming with that Macintosh slick design and the sly requests for information and stories (which are requests for your e-mail address.) Gotta give him style points on the Mac look, though.
On the Web site, he gives a humble speech that makes him look and sound as clean as a school boy. No foul language from this well-mannered young man! And the "my father immigrated here from Israel" part is a nice little reach out to the Jewish community. The rest of the site shows Rahm eating Italian Beef or going to day-care centers or otherwise interacting with everyday Chicagoans in a dopey, but friendly, way. It's all very cute but it looks rather fake.
Bring it on, Rahm! Be who you are. We all know you are the fire-breathing, foul-mouthed, Democrat who used to whip party regulars into line before the White House job. Show some of that blaze again. Even the foul language is not necessarily a bad thing. We're used to the rough stuff. The Daleys managed to slaughter every sentence they got their mouth around, and once in a while a four-letter word would fly too. Chicago's in sad shape economically, and we need someone with a little pluck. Enough with day-care visits. We need someone who can deliver cold, hard cash to the kiddie-care facilities.
Last week, on the cover of one issueof the New York Times, there was a picture of Emanuel holding out his hand to shake with a prospective voter. The caption called her "shy." I'd say she looked more like she was backing away, anxious and ready to bolt. If people know who Rahm is, they want to run the other way. "Emanuel? Isn't he the guy who screwed up the health care bill?" Or if they don't know who he is, they don't know why he's being followed by a parade of camera and sound crew workers. "Must be trouble."
In a poll taken by the Chicago Sun-Times before Emanuel left office, Rahm only scored 7% popularity with the voters, coming in below Jesse Jackson, Jr., who is besmirched by the Blago scandal. (Jackson is undeclared.)
Still, Rahmbo's about the only one out there who has a name. Rep. Luis Gutierrez (D-IL), who was thinking of representing the Hispanic vote, decided not to run. It's pretty sad when the only name that brings up any thoughts of integrity in office is Tom Dart, the Cook County Sheriff, and probably only about one eighth of the voters know who he is, if that many. So, Rahm is the only name brand anyone can relate to, for good or for bad.
So, listen hard, Rahm, on your "listening tour." Then stop with the schoolboy act and be who you are. Be the guy who was elected to Congress for being a progressive Democrat. Sure, that's not playing well in many portions of the country, but it's playing just fine in Chicago. If you want to win this thing, use your advantages. It would be a shame to waste that expensive Web site.