March 9, 2011


Throughout Chicago's 174-year existence, the mayoralty has never been a political steppingstone.

Instead, it's the top of the heap. The ultimate achievement. The pinnacle of power. Any other office is, by comparison, inconsequential -- except that which requires the occupant to live and work in a big house at 1600 Pennsylvania Ave. in Washington, D.C.

For mayor elect Rahm Emanuel, age 51, the job is a steppingstone. He is the exception. Having supped the elixir of power as a White House aide during the Clinton and Obama administrations, Emanuel will not deign to spend the remainder of his mortal or political life in City Hall.

Emanuel will run for Illinois governor in 2014, and he will use that job as a steppingstone to seek the presidency in 2016 or 2020.

Undistracted by ideology or political gamesmanship, Emanuel is motivated by a simple philosophy: self-advancement. As demonstrated by his mayoral campaign and his 10-hour grilling before the Chicago Board of Elections, Emanuel possesses magnificent stamina and singleness of purpose. Politics is his life, and every moment is devoted to the furtherance of his ambition. Having been a senior advisor to the president at age 33, a congressman at 42, the Democratic congressional campaign chairman at 46 and the White House chief of staff at 48, Emanuel has the hubris -- meaning insolence or arrogance -- to believe that he can be as competent as his former bosses, Bill Clinton and Barack Obama, if not more so.

Emanuel is the soul mate and descendant of a long line of nimble, facile, opportunistic politicians, extending from Henry Clay to William Jennings Bryan to Bill Clinton (and even Rod Blagojevich), who are smart, clever, perhaps genius, and rapaciously egotistical, but who are lacking in conscience and moral compass. Their desire to do good is to do themselves good. Their end, which is aggrandizement of their power, justifies whatever means are necessary.

Until Mayor Rich Daley's unanticipated retirement, Emanuel's game plan was to return to Congress in 2012 or 2014, pushing out successor Mike Quigley, get back into the Democratic leadership, and become speaker of the house by the end of the decade. The Republicans' House takeover in 2010 and likely dominance in upcoming elections, and former speaker Nancy Pelosi's refusal to relinquish control of the Democratic minority, make that option not feasible. The speakership is now foreclosed. But, as Chicago's mayor, the presidency is not -- although he needs to win another job, Illinois' governorship, to get there.

 As mayor, Emanuel need not curry favor with special interests, such as the public sector unions, because he has no intention to run for reelection in 2015. His goal is to be a competent, innovative, decisive, reformist, cost-cutting and tax-cutting mayor.

Having absorbed the intricacies of "triangulation," or co-opting the middle ground, from Clinton, Emanuel will position himself on every issue so as to maximize his publicity, enhance his reputation and demonize his enemies. He will be neither liberal nor conservative, but rather patently opportunistic. He will obsess on two major issues: fighting crime and upgrading educational performance. Having been elected without the backing of the police and teachers' unions, Emanuel owes them no debt. He can be creative, redeploying officers where needed, demanding teacher accountability, and embracing charter schools to inspire educational choice and invoke competition. If he performs deftly, he will be monumentally popular among both black and white voters in the short term.

His goal: To produce tangible results within 2 years and then in 2014 venture into the fiscal and political wasteland of state politics, posturing as the "savior" who can rescue Illinois from the stupidities and vacillations of Governor Pat Quinn's 6-year "Reign of Error." By 2014 "Governor Jello" will be about as popular as a blemish at a beauty pageant. Quinn is a lame duck; he barely won in 2010, and he will not be electable in 2014.

Illinois' bonded debt is $30.4 billion, and pension debt is $80 billion. Debt service and pension borrowing will cost $5.4 billion in 2012 and $6.2 billion in 2013 -- roughly 10 percent of the state budget. Quinn's solution to the 2010 deficit was to borrow $8.75 billion, which will cost taxpayers roughly $500 million a year through 2025.

The question is: After 4 years of unrestrained spending, capitulation to unions, more borrowing, tax hikes, flip-flopping and spinelessness by the Quinn Administration, can any Democrat win the job in 2014?

If Emanuel puts Chicago's fiscal house in order, proves himself an able administrator and eschews social issues, he can, simply because Illinois is such a Democratic state. If he wins Chicago by 400,000 votes and comes out of Cook County with a margin of 500,000 votes, he's the next governor.

The 2014 Republican field has already narrowed to two contenders -- state Senator Bill Brady of Bloomington, the 2010 31,834-vote loser to Quinn, and state Senator Kirk Dillard of Hinsdale, who lost the 2010 Republican primary to Brady by 193 votes. Dillard is less conservative than Brady on social issues, but he opposes abortion.

In hindsight, two conclusions are apparent: Brady lost to Quinn because the pro-choice group Personal Pac sent out an anti-Brady mailing which moved 100,000 votes, and if Dillard had been the Republican nominee, he would have beaten Quinn.

Emanuel's 2014 roadblock will be Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan, the daughter of Illinois House Speaker Mike Madigan, who is positioning herself to run for governor. Mike Madigan, recognizing Emanuel's threat, delivered his 13th Ward to Gery Chico by 6,177-4,592 in the Feb. 22 election. That quandary is easily soluble: Lisa Madigan could run for reelection in 2014 and then for Chicago mayor in 2015, and, if so inclined, for governor when Rahm "goes Washington."

Here is the Emanuel strategy:

2012: In 2008 Obama won Chicago with 85.7 percent of the vote in a turnout of 859,038, bolstered by a 97.2 percent sweep of the city's 20 black-majority wards, where turnout was 466,136. He won Cook County by 721,808 votes and the state by 1,388,169 votes. Obama will not lose Illinois in 2012, but expect Emanuel to be Obama's chief state strategist, cheerleader and advocate. The 2012 election will be a warm-up for the 2014 gubernatorial primary.

Emanuel's pitch to black voters in the February election was that he is the president's ally, that he would use his mayoral power to reelect Obama, and that electing a black mayor was inconsequential compared to reelecting a black president. Turnout in the black wards was a meager 229,948 on Feb. 22, down 236,188 from 2008. Emanuel amassed 135,898 votes (59 percent of the total), while the so-called black "consensus" choice, Carol Moseley Braun, got 45,518 votes (19.7 percent). Had more black candidates run, Emanuel's vote would have withered.

Emanuel's "Obama connection" got him enough black votes to become mayor, and presuming that Obama is still in the White House in 2014, it will provide the necessary votes to get him nominated for governor.

 2014: Quinn defeated Dan Hynes in the 2010 Democratic primary for governor by 8,372 votes, in a turnout of 915,726. Quinn won Chicago's black wards, which cast 146,425 votes, by 29,493 votes, getting 60 percent of the vote. In an Emanuel-Madigan primary, the Emanuel would get 75 percent of the black vote, making him unbeatable.

Hynes, the state comptroller, ran as a fiscal reformer, as would Lisa Madigan in 2014. Hynes' ancestral base was the Southwest Side, and Democratic committeemen in the 10th, 11th, 13th and 19th wards delivered for him and he barely lost in the 23rd Ward. That was the template on Feb. 22, as Chico beat Emanuel in each ward, plus Ed Burke's 14th Ward. Those wards will back Lisa Madigan in 2014.

However, Quinn topped Hynes on the Lakefront and in the Northwest Side and Hispanic wards, winning citywide by 31,066 votes. After three competent years as mayor, even against a formidable foe like Madigan, Emanuel would carry the city by at least 125,000 votes.

In any other state, Quinn's incompetence would assure a "regime change" to the Republicans in 2014, but Blagojevich's corruption didn't aid the Republicans in 2010. If Emanuel positions himself as a proven "reformer" and a Mr. Fiscal Fix-It, he'll easily dispatch either Brady or Dillard.

2016: There certainly will be "Obama fatigue," similar to "Bush fatigue" in 2008. Hillary Clinton, who will be age 69 that year, may be passé. The Democratic up-and-comers will be three post-baby boomers: New York Governor Andrew Cuomo, California Lieutenant Governor Gavin Newsome and Emanuel, but only if the latter two are elected governor in 2014.

By capturing City Hall, Emanuel has become a major player on the national stage. A presidential nomination in 2016 or 2020 is within his grasp, but only if he performs spectacularly as mayor and becomes Illinois' governor.