He started by seeing Rahm Emanuel through the marathon residency challenge that nearly knocked the mayor off the ballot.
He ended, nearly six years later, on the witness stand in federal court, denying that bodyguards who had volunteered on the mayoral campaign landed their jobs because of politics.
In between, Mike Faulman was at Emanuel’s side — a bottle of water in one hand, a leather-bound folder in the other and both of the mayor’s cellphones in his pocket — during the euphoric highs of two mayoral elections and the darkest days when protesters were demanding the mayor’s resignation for his handling of the Laquan McDonald shooting video.
Now, Faulman, the mayor’s $82,500-a-year “body man” and longest-serving aide, has cut the umbilical cord to the man he accompanied from the Obama White House to Chicago’s City Hall.
After a summer off, Faulman is joining Shinola, a Detroit-based maker of watches, leather goods and bicycles that wants to open a South Side factory to expands its leather operations.
It’s almost like getting divorced. For nearly six years, Faulman has been with Emanuel morning, noon and night, tending to his every need.
“If the mayor had four hands, I would be two of them. You’re usually two steps behind — altering his schedule and speeches, reading briefs, highlighting things, alerting commissioners about follow-up items in the community,” Faulman said.
“You’re anticipating problems before they become problems and helping to solve problems before they get bigger. It’s advocating for your boss and looking out for your colleagues to protect their blind side,” he said. “There is no defined roll. You are expected to handle anything and everything and make sure it gets done.”
Out of loyalty, admiration and, perhaps, a bit of fear of Emanuel, Faulman refused to tell stories out of school about what it was like behind closed doors in the days that followed the court-ordered release of the Laquan McDonald shooting video and the mayor’s abrupt decision to fire Police Supt. Garry McCarthy.
He would say only that he is amazed by the mayor’s ability to keep his cool, rally the troops and see through the fog of a major crisis.
“Even during the most difficult times, there is a calmness to him. He’s been through big things before in the Clinton and Obama White House. The crashing economy. He’ll say, `We’re gonna have to alter how we get there. But we know where we have to land.’ He sees through the fog,” Faulman said.
“During the teachers’ strike and even during Laquan McDonald, it was almost like, when the issues get bigger, he gets calmer because he’s somehow able to see through it. He’s like a Bobby Fischer chess player,” he said. “He can see 10 moves ahead. He can see options B, C and D. It’s amazing. Even when things are really bad, he’s able to see it’ll get better.”
Faulman acknowledged that he’s gotten more than his share of flak — most probably with a healthy dose of profanity — while spending all those long days and nights with his notoriously demanding boss.
Emanuel is controlling and thin-skinned. He demands follow-through and wants things done yesterday. He’s like an elephant — he never forgets.
But Faulman managed to survive, essentially by remembering an infamous line from the classic movie “The Godfather”: “It ain’t personal. It’s business.”
“A person in my position has to realize that, you’re in the line of fire, but it’s not about you. It’s about the larger problems. The sooner you realize, ‘This is not about me,’ the sooner you can last,” Faulman said.
The advice came in handy on the day Emanuel was invited to do a segment on “The Late Show with David Letterman,” presumably to talk about “The Gatekeepers,” a documentary about all of the living presidential chiefs of staff, including Emanuel.
Instead, the first question out of Letterman’s mouth was about crime in Chicago.
Emanuel hates being blindsided. He prides himself on his meticulous preparation for any and all media questions.
Guess who got the heat when the mayor came off stage?
“He’s not happy. He was asked to come there for one thing and they lambasted him for something else. The frustration was directed at me. You have no control of that situation. You almost act like Teflon. Like a rock. Let it roll off your shoulders,” Faulman said.
“I was taught in the White House, ‘If something goes wrong and you exude calmness in the midst of chaos, that helps the situation. If you freak out as well, nothing good comes of it. They’re looking to you to provide calmness. So, I talked to the publicist. I made it known that I didn’t appreciate the line of questioning. Not that you can change it. It was over and done with,” he said. “But there’s a level of decorum and respect. You advocate for you boss when they can’t.”
Faulman has been with Emanuel since late 2010. In September of that year, he was approached by Alyssa Mastromonaco, a top deputy Emanuel, who was then White House chief of staff. Richard M. Daley was retiring from politics after 22 years. Emanuel, Daley’s political protege, was planning to return to Chicago to run for mayor and needed a personal aide.
Faulman didn’t know the man. He knew only Emanuel’s reputation.
He accepted the job, then got two pieces of advice from Liz Sheer Smith, who had served as Emanuel’s chief of staff in Congress.
“Make sure you read the newspapers in the morning before he does, because by 7 a.m., he’s already read at least five. And remember that he’s done every job you have done. So, before you say, ‘No, you can’t do something,’ try to be creative and figure out a way to do it,'” Faulman recalled.
Now 32, Faulman will take that advice and other lessons learned with him into the business world.
“It’s like the pinnacle of politics to work for a guy you’ve never met moving to a city you didn’t know. Standing next to people who’ve been on the world stage, it’s a fascinating learning experience. A lot of young people don’t get that chance,” he said.
“I was a 26-year-old political junkie sitting right next to a guy with successful track record who was running for a powerful office,” Faulman said. “We had no foundation before the first day. He asked me what I wanted to do. I said I wanted to be chief of staff to somebody really powerful. And he said, doing this job will open up doors to a world you never knew existed.”