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Private emails show a retiring Emanuel is still working — on building his legacy

Mayor Rahm Emanuel and his wife, Amy Rule

Mayor Rahm Emanuel, joined by his wife, Amy Rule, at his announcement in September that he would not seek re-election. | Rahul Parikh/Sun-Times

As his eight-year mayoral reign winds to a close, Rahm Emanuel has been all about legacy-building. He’s been making announcements at such a frenzied pace, one might think he was still campaigning for the job he’s about to relinquish.

Now, records show Emanuel used his private email accounts to do what he does best: lobby the friends he has cultivated in the national media to tout his record of accomplishments and, just maybe, lay the groundwork for a future run for office.

Private emails released to the Chicago Sun-Times in response to a Freedom of Information request show Emanuel lobbying for favorable coverage even after Sept. 4, when he announced he had chosen political retirement over the uphill battle for a third term.

“Here is the latest data on our children’s nation-leading academic progress,” Emanuel wrote in a Sept. 20 email to David Leonhardt of the New York Times that included 2.5 pages of “data points,” as the mayor loves to put it.

In yet another email to Leonhardt that same day, Emanuel wrote: “New data on college acceptance.”

Leonhardt replied, “Thanks, I will read.”

Five days later, Emanuel wrote a similarly self-promoting email to Clifton Leaf, editor-in-chief of Fortune magazine.

“Nice seeing you. Would like to follow up re: a public schools turnaround piece. Enjoy Chicago,” Emanuel wrote.

Leaf replied, “Thank you for being here, Mr. Mayor. I thoroughly enjoyed your talk this afternoon and will follow up with your staff on extraordinary school turnaround story. Congratulations again, Cliff.”

Yumi Ross

Yumi Ross sent a glowing email to Mayor Rahm Emanuel after hearing him speak. | Sun-Times file photo

Emanuel didn’t have to offer his normal sales pitch to Yumi Ross, who serves on the board of directors of the Art Institute of Chicago’s Architecture and Design Society, the Hyde Park Art Center’s board of directors and the advisory board of CPS Lives.

On Sept. 14, Ross wrote a gushing email to Emanuel after hearing him speak at the Chicago History Museum.

“You did a fantastic job speaking. I was literally moved to tears. Fought to regain my composure when you addressed your reasons for not running. Your announcement shocked me and I remain shocked,”  Ross wrote.

“I cannot imagine anyone else as mayor. A New Yorker asked me, `Do Chicagoans know how respected Rahm is around the world?’ You’ve turned Chicago into a world-class city. You are irreplaceable. Many people have expressed to me their shock and worry that you aren’t running again. … You are a great mayor, a phenomenal elected official. Nobody can fill your and the First Lady’s shoes.”

Hedy Ratner, president emeritus of the Women’s Business Development Center, was more focused on making the most of Emanuel’s final months in office.

“What fabulous things we can do together until May,” Ratner wrote on Sept. 7, three days after Emanuel set off the political equivalent of an earthquake.

“How about minimum wage for tipped workers?”

On Aug. 9, less than a month before Emanuel’s announcement, Howard Tullman, founder of the technology incubator 1871, wrote to the mayor with an idea to help City Hall change the subject from the media’s laser-like focus on Chicago violence.

Tullman was inspired after listening to a so-called “community leaders violence call.”

Rahm Emanuel, Howard Tullman

Mayor Rahm Emanuel joined 1871 CEO Howard Tullman (speaking) in 2014 for an event at Tullman’s tech incubator, 1871, in the Merchandise Mart. | Sun-Times files

“Here’s what I would do: Get a city video crew on the street to visit some of these places where things are working. Capture two minutes of the video [B-roll], which shows what the various community leaders are doing that is helping block [by] block,” Tullman wrote.

“Make these media a–holes run some of these little pieces to off-set when [they] run all over the crappy shooting stories and tell them it’s their job to balance the news. This way is the best way to help share good ideas and successful solutions. Bad news generally pushes out good news. But, we can tell the story better.”

Emanuel replied with a simple, “Thanks.”

Dr. Eric Whitaker, a close friend of former President Barack Obama, also offered the mayor advice on July 19, more than six weeks before Emanuel’s shocking announcement.

“Dude, you had me crying today! I think more people need to see that side of you,” Whitaker wrote after hearing Emanuel give what he thought was a particularly poignant speech about his efforts to recruit college graduates to start their careers in Chicago.

“Can we [city, WBC] initiate a targeted campaign to recruit African-American and Latino students to Chicago post-graduation? We can profile individual members of our diverse business and social sector community. … In my view, we need a concerted effort to reverse the exodus of black folks from Chicago. … Here’s to middle children.”

Emanuel replied, “Call me tomorrow.”

Even the mayor’s own brother, Hollywood super-agent Ari Emanuel, used the mayor’s private emails to pitch an idea.

“Rahm, I have worked with One World Academy both personally and through the company. This is something I think you should do for the public schools in Chicago. Please let me know a good time to discuss,” Ari wrote to his older brother on Aug. 22.

On July 22, the mayor got a personal email from billionaire Ken Griffin, Illinois richest man and one of his most generous campaign donors.

“Thank you for including Citadel in your trade delegation trip to China and Tokyo,” Griffin wrote.

“I caught up with Jamil when he returned. He found the trip extremely informative and really appreciated your hospitality. All the best, Ken.”

Eddie Johnson, Ken Griffin and Rahm Emanuel

Chicago billionaire Ken Griffin is shown in April 2018 discussing his $10 million donation to reduce gun violence in the city. Also there were Mayor Rahm Emanuel (right) and Chicago Police Supt. Eddie Johnson (left). | Ashlee Rezin/Sun-Times

Emanuel replied, “It was a real success for the city. He was a great member of the delegation.”

The mayor couldn’t resist a little chest-pounding.

“Chicago was named for the sixth consecutive year in a row No. 1 city for foreign direct investment and fifth worldwide and only American city in top ten for the last six years.”

Eight days after the mayor’s announcement, personal injury attorney Bob Clifford wrote the mayor an email asking if the two men could “chat about two matters.”

Emanuel was at the dentist, but promised to call Clifford, adding, “Problem?”

Clifford replied, “No problem. In one situation, trying to help someone who several people say is getting a raw deal that maybe you can correct. And, in the other, re: a situation where one of my experts says city getting screwed by BCBS,” the acronym for Blue Cross-Blue Shield.

On Aug. 31, Chicago real estate broker Erik Schwab wrote a private email to the mayor after having read a front-page story in the Chicago Sun-Times with the headline, “What is he waiting for?” The story hinted strongly that Emanuel might not seek a third-term.

“I read the article in Thursday’s Sun-Times regarding when/if you’ll announce and I couldn’t help but shake my head. I would imagine there are other things they could write about instead of an election that is over six months away. I personally hope you wait until the end of the petition filing period before you make any announcement,” Schwab wrote.

“The pile of mayoral wannabes is doing nothing to set themselves apart from each other yet, let alone you. You are doing what you should be doing: governing, circulating petitions and raising money. The moment you announce, all the TV ads and pointless back and forth on everything but the issues facing our city will begin and become annoying by week’s end. … Best of luck in 2019. Hope to see your name on the ballot.”

Five days later, Emanuel announced his political retirement.