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Editorial: A peek into how power really goes down in Chicago

Mayor Rahm Emanuel | Santiago Covarrubias/Sun-Times

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“I love you a lot,” Mayor Rahm Emanuel wrote in an email to future Gov. Bruce Rauner.

Now we know.

“I am requesting that you consider waiving this fee,” N’DIGO publisher Hermene Hartman wrote in an email to Emanuel.

Now we know that, too. Some people still try to use the ultimate clout just to get a parking ticket fixed.


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“Lake front bike path is a disaster,” Ken Griffin, the wealthiest man in Illinois, wrote in an email to the mayor.

Now we know that, as well. Rich people go straight to the top to whine.

“It’s been a rough few days watching the media kick the s— out of you, especially when I know the cover-up narrative is completely untrue,” Ald. Joe Moore wrote in an email to the mayor.

Does this one surprise anyone? Buttering up the big man is job number one for an alderman.

A public dump last week of some 2,700 pages of emails from Emanuel’s personal account, forced by a Better Government Association lawsuit, offered a trove of riches to anybody curious to know how political power and access work in Chicago. Thanks to digital technology, we gained a new peek into a world that has existed for generations, where whom you know and what favors you can do are the coin of the realm. As a check on insider favoritism, this kind of transparency can’t be beat, so many kudos to the BGA.

Anybody who expected the long-awaited email dump to reveal blatant misconduct, though, had to be disappointed. The emails reveal nothing like the clumsy and unethical horsetrading that landed former Gov. Rod Blagojevich in prison. Best we can tell, the mayor never responded to Hartman’s email, let alone fixed her parking tickets. The mayor’s response to Griffin’s gripe about the bike path was to persuade him to cough up $12 million to fix the problem, which is nice. The mayor did not get giddy when Moore stroked his ego. He replied: “ok.”

But the influence game at City Hall likely works more subtly, which is all the more reason the mayor’s emails have proved to be of great interest to civic watchdog groups, reporters and the general public. The mayor often did nothing more than forward a request or gripe, without comment, to a staffer or city agency head, which begs the question of what happened then. In every workplace, emails from the boss are treated as priorities.

In November 2015, for example, a top executive at the ride-hailing service Uber, David Plouffe — who had worked with the mayor in the Obama administration — sent Emanuel a note that the City Council was weighing regulations that would impact Uber’s ability to make pickups at city airports.

Emanuel forwarded the message to underlings. Two weeks later, as the Sun-Times reported Thursday, Uber and its competitors were free to make pickups at Chicago’s airports.

How’s that for door-to-door service?

As Sun-Times reporter Fran Spielman notes, the mayor’s emails reveal a particular obsession with his media image and Chicago’s street violence. He shot emails constantly to his police superintendent for updates and explanations after every new spate of shootings. And he loved to work the media, both locally and nationally, which comes as a surprise to nobody in this business.

But let’s get back to how much Rahm loved Bruce.

In October 2011, Rauner, who was then chairman of the city’s quasi-public convention and tourism bureau, expressed frustration that the city had hiked a hotel tax. Emanuel tried to calm Rauner down, noting that he had given a tax break to the hotel industry and writing “I love you a lot.”

But the future governor remained unhappy, not unlike in his dealings with Emanuel to this day, writing back, “We’ve got to start communicating better than this.”

Love is funny that way.

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