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Rahm Emanuel, Bruce Rauner break the ice

The big thaw began with Rauner texting Emanuel during the former mayor’s bike trip around Lake Michigan after Mayor Lori Lightfoot’s inauguration. There have been several contacts since, including Diana Rauner’s attendance at the funeral for Emanuel’s father.

Former Mayor Rahm Emanuel is interviewed Friday by Sun-Times City Hall reporter Fran Spielman.
Rich Hein/Sun-Times

The cold war between old friends Rahm Emanuel and Bruce Rauner will take time to end, but the ice has been broken. The big thaw has begun.

Emanuel said so, during a wide-ranging interview with the Chicago Sun-Times that was part of his whirlwind book tour.

“He sent me a text while I was on my bike trip” around Lake Michigan after Mayor Lori Lightfoot’s inauguration on May 16, 2019, Emanuel said.

“He was not in town. [But] when my father passed away, Diana [Rauner] came to the funeral.”

Emanuel was tight-lipped about the contacts that followed, except to say, “I’ve talked to Diana … He and I have — I try to leave things private. But we’ve had some communication.”

Bruce Rauner (left) and Rahm Emanuel at the opening of the Digital Manufacturing and Design Innovation Institute in Goose Island in 2015.
Bruce Rauner (left) and Rahm Emanuel at the opening of the Digital Manufacturing and Design Innovation Institute in Goose Island in 2015.
Sun-Times Media

Will they ever re-kindle their once-close friendship?

“I’ll never say never on that … It’s gonna take time … I don’t think we’ll be vacationing any time soon,” Emanuel said.

Emanuel and Rauner are longtime friends and former business associates. They made millions together. Their families vacationed together and shared expensive bottles of wine.

Their inability to make that friendship work for the good of both the city and the state will go down as one of the great mysteries and failures of both of their administrations.

Emanuel was forced to override multiple Rauner pension vetoes and persuaded the Illinois General Assembly to give the Chicago Public Schools a $450 million cash infusion and bankroll teacher pensions going forward over Rauner’s strenuous objections.

Former mayor Rahm Emanuel is interviewed by Fran Spielman February 28, 2020.
Former mayor Rahm Emanuel is interviewed by Fran Spielman Feb. 28, 2020.
Rich Hein/Sun-Times

CPS was literally on the brink of bankruptcy before an override of yet another Rauner veto finally ended the state’s budget stalemate.

“There’s nothing worse than a friend who becomes a foe,” Emanuel said Friday.

In his book, “The Nation City: Why Mayors Are Now Running the World,” Emanuel talks openly about the feud with Rauner that became “personal and acrimonious.”

He accuses Rauner of being “determined to drive CPS into bankruptcy” and having an “ideological objective” of “breaking” the Chicago Teachers Union.

On Friday, Emanuel said the “straw that really broke the camel’s back” was Rauner’s decision to sabotage an $875 million CPS borrowing by floating a plan to take over the Chicago Public Schools and pave the way for CPS to declare bankruptcy.

“I’m not a wallflower. I fight hard when I believe [in something.] But I think I have boundaries. He was willing to put at risk 300,000-plus kids and their education so he could have his vision of bankruptcy,” Emanuel said, noting the empty threat “rattled the markets” so much that the borrowing was cut in half.

Bruce Rauner could not be reached for comment.

In his book, which is part political rehabilitation, Emanuel calls income inequality the “biggest challenge” facing cities today.

That’s ironic, considering the “Mayor 1%” label he never managed to overcome.

“I understand from my political, kind of New Democrat philosophy and the short stint that I did in investment banking that you would say, ‘[Mayor] 1%,” Emanuel said.

“But if you ride the Red Line South, the first major train system we built [with] $1 billion, not a lot of 1%. If you take the Chicago Star Scholarship, not a lot of 1%. Minimum wage. Raised it to $13 [an-hour]. One of the first cities. Universal pre-K and full-day kindergarten. So, I know what the record is, and I know what the politics of a charge is without substance.”

Former mayor Rahm Emanuel is interviewed by Fran Spielman February 28, 2020.
Former Mayor Rahm Emanuel is interviewed by Fran Spielman Feb. 28, 2020.
Rich Hein/Sun-Times

As for the presidential race, Emanuel said former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg didn’t rebound nearly enough in his second debate to make up for his disastrous performance in the first.

He argued, yet again, that Democrats would be making a grave mistake by nominating front-runner Bernie Sanders, arguing that Sanders’ path to victory flies in the face of six winning elections for Democrats.

“Given Donald Trump. Given what’s at risk in the [U.S.] House, the Senate, the governorships and state house, it is too much a roll of the dice to take six successful national elections, throw ‘em away and try the [British Labour Party leader] Jeremy Corbyn strategy that you’re gonna get young voter, blue-collar turnout that has never been done in 60 years for Democrats,” Emanuel said.

The former mayor said it’s too soon to say what impact the coronavirus and the stock market plunge that it triggered will have on Trump’s re-election chances.

But the “incapacity of the federal government to respond” could become an issue if it becomes a “full-fledged pandemic” that starts to impact domestic travel, he said.

“Remember, this is a person who has now spent 3 1/2 years tearing down scientists, academic and medical professionals, the government as an instrument of delivering services,” he said.