The emotional Rahm Emanuel who Tuesday morning ruled out running for re-election was back to his relaxed, self-assured mayoral self four hours later as he nixed endorsing anyone to replace him and predicted other candidates will join the race now that he’s out.
Emanuel did not respond directly when asked if any candidates are seeking his support, but he said some have already reached out to his key supporters.
The mayor declined to name names and said he would advise those supporters to “just wait a while until you see who’s in. You don’t know who’s in.”
Not surprisingly, the mayor said he is confident he would have been re-elected if he had chosen to run — and he acted like it. Most of all, he seemed very comfortable with his decision, after having choked up several times during his morning announcement while tightly gripping his wife’s hand for support.
Although Emanuel made his announcement the day before the start of the murder trial of Chicago police officer Jason Van Dyke for killing Laquan McDonald, the mayor said the much-anticipated trial “had no bearing” on his decision.
The 58-year-old Emanuel was evasive about whatever “next chapter” he and wife Amy Rule are contemplating after he leaves office, but made it clear he expects the remainder of his term to be action packed.
“I told the cabinet: We’ve got nine months. We’re going to put two and a half years of work into those nine months,” the mayor said. “I really am focused on squeezing all the pulp out of the orange.”
For emphasis, the mayor pulled a 3×5 notecard with his to-do list from his suit coat pocket, although he was careful to cover some of the items that he said he has yet to make public.
Before next April, Emanuel said he wants to finish the Lakefront bike and running paths, pick an architect for the new international terminal at O’Hare Airport, wrap up a contract for a new high speed train linking the airport to downtown and expand the international baccalaureate program at Chicago Public Schools, among other things.
“There’s a lot on there we haven’t talked about,” Emanuel said, refusing to be reveal those plans.
Because he was running late, Emanuel conducted his interview with the Sun-Times from the backseat of his security team’s SUV while en route to a late afternoon visit to Duke Ellington Elementary School in Austin.
On the way, the mayor sipped ice tea from a plastic cup while his cell phone buzzed constantly with phone calls and text messages. Among those texting him were state Rep. Christian Mitchell, the new state Democratic Party chairman, and Cook County Treasurer Maria Pappas. Emanuel took no calls during the interview.
The mayor did not cite his proposal to sell $10 billion in pension obligation bonds as something that’s on his must-have list before leaving office.
But he said it remains a consideration.
“I’ve got to make sure it’s financially do-able, meaning it saves us money,” Emanuel said. “I’m going to evaluate how to secure people’s pensions and protect the taxpayers. Now if other people have ideas they can bring those forward. But there’s a lot of silence on that side.”
He was asked if Chicagoans need to face the reality that there will be more tax increases in the near future to pay for the pensions?
“One of the reasons I’m exploring these pension stabilization funds, [is] that would both, one, secure the pensions, and two, lessen the pain of future taxes,” Emanuel said.
Emanuel said his decision not to seek a third term came together over the summer in conversations with his wife and was finalized over the long holiday weekend.
“I hope you see this as heartfelt,” Emanuel said, explaining that this is the first time that his political career and family life have “lined up,” now that his youngest child is off to college.
“What drove this was that Amy and I are young enough as empty nesters to go write another chapter,” he said.
He then volunteered: “If you’re worried about my electoral, I ran six times, and I’m 6-0. Nobody has ever come within 10 points of me. I was chair of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, I flipped the House. I’ve worked on three successful presidentials.”
Asked if he would have won the election, “Yes, and I say that with some confidence.”
Did he think he could have lost? “No.”
I asked Emanuel what is the most important question that should be asked of the 2019 mayoral candidates?
“Do you have the leadership to do the whole job, not a piece of it? Do you have the character to do it, the judgment and the capacity?” the mayor said. “My view is you’ve got to have the vision, the capacity and the character to do that.”
Does he see a candidate with those traits?
“That’s not for me. That’s for the voters to judge. And I don’t think all the candidates are in the field yet,” he said.
Emanuel paused before answering when I asked if the next mayor of Chicago is already in the race?
“It’s way too early. It’s a fair question. But my guess is we’re in the first pitch of the first inning of something that has to shake out for a while,” he said.
Emanuel said “a lot of people are asking key supporters of mine for their support of their candidacies.” He said he’d been too busy doing media interviews to take any such calls.
Emanuel dismissed the possibility of him joining the parade of presidential candidates visiting Iowa or New Hampshire.
“I’m not spending any time there. I think that’s ridiculous,” he said.
While ruling out a campaign for president, Emanuel said he would continue to oppose President Donald Trump as necessary.
“I want to be clear. I’m not thinking about him unless he gets in the way of the city.”
Emanuel also labeled as “ridiculous” any speculation that his decision to leave office is a sign that Amazon is not coming to Chicago, an effort on which the mayor has devoted considerable energy and political capital.
He said Amazon remains on his to-do list.
“Chicago’s attractiveness is bigger than Rahm Emanuel,” he said.