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Brown: Rauner-Rahm "friendship" tested

Gov. Bruce Rauner (left) and Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel at the opening of the Digital Manufacturing and Design Innovation Institute in May. File Photo. Christian K. Lee/ For Sun-Times Media

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Political friendships aren’t like real friendships.

They are more like business relationships, built on the premise that you can do something for me and I can do something for you.

That more than anything may explain why Gov. Bruce Rauner signaled a shift this week in his relationship with Mayor Rahm Emanuel, sticking the knife to his old “friend” in a pair of public appearances this week.

Simply put, Rauner doesn’t believe Emanuel is doing enough for him, even as the embattled mayor prepares to press the state for more help.

Just in case anybody missed the import of Rauner’s statement to reporters Monday that he supports legislation allowing Chicago voters to recall their mayor (not Emanuel specifically), the governor doubled down Wednesday by telling radio listeners Emanuel is “out of touch” and “failing the people of Chicago.”


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Frustrated over Emanuel’s unwillingness to help him publicly take on Illinois House Speaker Mike Madigan, the governor accused the mayor of being “afraid” of Madigan, coupling that with the police shooting controversy as matters in which Emanuel has “disappointed” him.

The mayor’s response, though restrained, did not hide his irritation that Rauner would add his voice to those piling on him at this time.

Clearly, political friendship has its limits.

People ask me whether the escalating friction between Rauner and Emanuel is real, assuming instead there is something mutually advantageous in their public feud.

While I can appreciate the theory, the best I can tell from checking around is that it is quite real.

That doesn’t mean it should be taken as a sign of some irretrievable breakdown in their ability to work together — or that they won’t be seen spooling pasta again soon at some local trattoria.

But it’s hardly good news for anyone hoping that Emanuel holds the key to striking a compromise between Rauner and Illinois Democrats to keep the doors open at Chicago Public Schools.

In truth, few outside their circle really know the extent of the personal relationship between Rahm and Rauner.

Both men take pains to be secretive about anything outside the four corners of official government business. In fact, they’re pretty secretive about the official stuff as well.

So even though we know Emanuel and Rauner and their wives used to socialize together, visiting the Rauners’ Montana ranch and sharing swell bottles of Rauner Reserve, it doesn’t mean that their bond is the stuff of buddy movies. After all, that bond was originally forged in a business deal that helped Emanuel bank his first million after leaving Bill Clinton’s White House.

Rauner and Emanuel have been known in the past to confer often by telephone, and to argue — even before Rauner became governor. But as I understand it, they’re not talking much these days.

Both Rauner and his wife Diana have been trusted advisers to the mayor on education issues, sharing an interest in charter schools and early childhood education. But Rauner’s philosophical differences with the mayor predated the governor’s budget standoff with Madigan over his insistence on anti-union measures.

You may say nobody cares whether they’re real friends, and I’d agree, except that the city is in real trouble right now if Emanuel can’t get some help from Springfield — and his ability to talk to Rauner offered some possibility for a meeting of the minds.

I don’t doubt Rauner truly believes Emanuel has mishandled the city response to the McDonald case and its aftermath.

I can’t quarrel with Rauner’s characterization that the mayor has been “tone deaf” in regards to what a U.S. Justice Department investigation will and will not include.

Normally, though, someone in the governor’s position would have been expected to finesse his public comments about Emanuel’s handling of the Laquan McDonald case to avoid poisoning their working relationship, even if they weren’t friends.

That is, unless Rauner really believes Emanuel’s troubles run deeper, and he wouldn’t mind getting some distance from his old friend.

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