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Emanuel's top aide moving from City Hall to mayor's re-election campaign

Mayor Rahm Emanuel and his senior adviser David Spielfogel. |Brooke Collins/ City of Chicago

Mini-Rahm is making the move from City Hall to Rahm Emanuel’s mayoral campaign.

David Spielfogel is a trusted mayoral adviser who has emerged as Emanuel’s alter-ego while spearheading virtually every one of the mayor’s policy initiatives.

They range from ethics reform, ride-sharing and petcoke to raising the minimum wage to $13 an hour by 2019 and giving movie mogul George Lucas 17 acres of free lakefront parkland to build an interactive museum.

Moving from City Hall to the campaign will give him the freedom to defend the mayor’s first-term record and articulate Emanuel’s vision for another four years.

“I’ve been with the mayor for more than four years. I have a very good sense of his record and vision for the future. His campaign is going to be focused on those two things. Being at the campaign will allow me to defend his record and talk about his vision in a way I can’t at City Hall,” Spielfogel said.

Spielfogel said one of his jobs at the Emanuel campaign will be to help prepared the mayor for debates.

Ald. Bob Fioretti (2nd) has called for five debates, but none has been agreed to or scheduled.

“Of course there will be debates. The mayor is very much looking forward to speaking directly to voters just as he has been for the last four years, and the debates will be a big part of that. Last time, we did four or five. It’ll be about the same this time,” he said.

A former policy chief-turned-senior adviser to the mayor, Spielfogel said his move to the Emanuel campaign does not mean his days in city government are over.

“There’s nothing more rewarding than working in a city for a mayor who is willing to take on the entrenched bureaucracy and make the tough decisions. I’m looking forward to returning in the spring and helping him implement that vision if he’s fortunate enough to be re-elected,” Spielfogel said.

Earlier this year, Spielfogel was the subject of a Chicago Sun-Times profile that identified him as Emanuel’s intellectual match and “go-to guy.”

Spielfogel’s cellphone starts ringing with calls from the mayor shortly after Emanuel completes his predawn workout. It doesn’t stop ringing until 10 each night — and only because they’re both such early risers.

“There’s a special relationship there. He’s almost like Rahm’s alter ego, a mini-Rahm: studious, geeky, Jewish,” said a co-worker who asked to remain anonymous. “David is able to whip together a program that triangulates politics, communications and policy. The mayor has a special affection for that because that’s what the mayor does. The mayor relies on him heavily.”

Like Emanuel, Spielfogel comes from a family of overachievers.

His mother is Dr. Carol Ober, a Ph.D. and chairman of the Department of Human Genetics at the University of Chicago.

His father, Keith, is a criminal defense attorney who recently defended former Chicago Police Officer Steve Mandell against charges of building a torture chamber to castrate, mutilate and murder a businessman whom Mandell was allegedly trying to extort. A federal jury found Mandell guilty of those charges, though he was acquitted in a separate, similar alleged plot.

After graduating from the University of Chicago Lab School, the University of Michigan’s School of Natural Resources and the London School of Economics, Spielfogel worked as an energy and environmental policy aide in the Clinton White House.

A two-year stint as chief of staff for the MacArthur Foundation was sandwiched between four political campaigns: Howard Dean’s crash-and-burn 2000 presidential race; Barack Obama’s winning 2004 campaign for the U.S. Senate and Alexi Giannoulias’ failed Senate race in 2010.

On the night Giannoulias conceded to Republican Mark Kirk, Spielfogel was with the losing candidate until 2 a.m. Six hours later, he joined Emanuel’s mayoral campaign.

The political marriage was arranged by John Kupper, Emanuel’s longtime political consultant, who had worked with Spielfogel on Obama’s Senate campaign.

Spielfogel said his first meeting with Emanuel was “a rapid-fire 25 minutes on a lot of ideas he had and how we would package those together to fit his overarching” themes: safer streets, better schools and ‘investing heavily’ in Chicago’s aging infrastructure.

“He’s everything everybody says he is,” Spielfogel recalled when asked about his first impression of the mayor.

“But despite what people say, he’s pretty collaborative when it comes to new ideas and how to make them reality,” he said.

Giannoulias said he advised his deputy campaign manager to take a break before jumping headfirst into another pressure-packed campaign. But Spielfogel didn’t listen.

“Typical Spielfogel, he wanted to be part of a campaign of someone he really believed in and move the city forward,” Giannoulias said.

“David is one of the most gifted and competent individuals I have ever worked with,” he said. “It’s a rare combination of being truly intelligent, but also having a huge heart and genuinely caring about public policy. He’s a true believer. He’s under the radar. But he’s very influential and one of the greatest hidden gems of this city.”

Spielfogel is the most influential of a large number of openly gay employees in the Emanuel administration. On the day in June 2011 when civil unions became legal in Illinois, Emanuel performed one of Chicago’s first for Spielfogel and his partner, Lee Crandell.

In the story, Emanuel acknowledged that he rarely makes a move without consulting Spielfogel.

“Since David joined my campaign in its first few weeks, he’s helped me to shape city hall’s agenda on every major priority. Our first discussion in 2010 was about a range of ways to break from the past and move this city forward. . . . Whether on the campaign, or running my transition team, or now in City Hall, I have come to value David’s opinions, insight, advice and focus,” Emanuel said via email.