Although Chicago is not going to be a closely watched city on November 7, it is worth noting how influential Chicago politicians have been in preparing for the big day. Of course it is easy to recognize our local rock star, Barack Obama, but in the big scheme of things this junior, and I accentuate junior, senator is not calling any shots within the Democratic Party, especially not nationally.
The honor of being the most prominent and influential member of the Chicago delegation belongs to Rahm Emanuel, the congressman from the North Side’s fifth congressional district and the current chairman of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee. Although he is supposedly very difficult to work with, Emanuel is becoming a very popular man among party insiders. Poised to be the leader behind one of the largest swings in political momentum in this nation’s history, Emanuel will most likely take the title of Majority Whip if the Democrats regain control of Congress.
Such a victory would deal a crushing blow to the “50-State Strategy” of Howard Dean, a man who Emanuel notoriously does not get along with. Emanuel has always been a man of precise and tactical political maneuvers. Since beginning his work with the Illinois Public Action Committee, Emanuel has risen through the ranks and commanded some of the most famous campaigns in Illinois and national history. It was Emanuel, along with David Axelrod, who spearheaded Paul Simon’s 1984 US Senate Campaign, unseating the incumbent Chuck Percy (a U of C alum). It is rumored that Emanuel frequently had to push Simon to make fundraising calls, something that the soft-spoken gentleman from Troy, Illinois did not enjoy doing. In 1989 Emanuel was the senior advisor and chief fundraiser for Richard M. Daley in his first campaign for the Mayor’s office. Despite these successes, Emanuel only gained particular note for his work in 1992.
While on Bill Clinton’s presidential primary campaign in 1991, Emanuel worked with James Carville and George Stephanopoulos to orchestrate one of the most dramatic presidential victories in American history. Despite early debate about how to run the campaign, Emanuel’s method proved to be extremely successful and was one of the main reasons behind Clinton’s victory. By taking Emanuel’s advice and focusing less on the New Hampshire primary and more on national media and fundraising events, Clinton was able to bring in more money and gain more attention than any other Democratic candidate. This exposure would also serve Clinton extremely well in the general election.
After Clinton’s election, Emanuel worked in the White House as a policy advisor, until he joined the Chicago bank of Dresdner, Kleinwort, and Wasserstein in 1998. He remained there until the bank was sold in 2002, and ran for the 5th Congressional seat shortly thereafter. The primary race against Nancy Kaszak for the seat recently vacated by Governor Blagojevich was highly contested, but after winning the primary, Emanuel would take overwhelming majorities in the following two general elections.
While the influence of Emanuel may not be known to most of the country, or even to most of Chicago, it has not slipped by those in the press. It is believed that Josh Lyman, the character on the West Wing played by Bradley Whitford, is modeled after Emanuel. Furthermore, it is believed that Ari Gold, played by Jeremy Piven in the hit show Entourage, is based on Rahm’s younger brother, Ari, who is a Hollywood agent.
Despite Ari’s fame there is no doubt as to which of the brothers is the more influential and which one is more inclined to “hugging it out” come Election Day.