Rahm shows softer side, describing part of job that ‘rips the soul out of you’
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Four years ago, Mayor Rahm Emanuel put on a sweater, openly acknowledged that he can rub people the wrong way and admitted he needed to listen more and talk less.
On Thursday, Emanuel did a live update of what has become known as his “fuzzy sweater” commercial.
He answered questions from his longtime friend and campaign contributor, Economic Club Chair Mellody Hobson in a way that top mayoral aides proudly proclaimed showed an authentic, vulnerable, emotional side that Chicagoans don’t often see.
It happened when Hobson asked Emanuel what he hates most about the job.
There was no hesitation. It’s the calls and home visits that he has to make to console the parents and grandparents of children gunned down on the streets of Chicago.
“My staff gives me the card with the name and the number. And [assistant] Jasmine knows this. About an hour later, she’ll come in and say, ‘Have you made the call?’ And I say, ‘I haven’t.’ She goes, ‘You’re gonna have to.’ And I say, ‘OK.’ And then, she just stands there and she dials it because she knows I don’t want to do it. It rips the soul out of you,” Emanuel said.
“It is the most miserable thing in this job because all you have is a shoulder. … It sucks. I’ll take any fight you want to give me on politics. But, any one of you can take this. I don’t want to do it anymore. Sometimes, it’s just the hardest piece of crap of this job. … It’s the thing that gets me down the most.”
The mayor said he reflects on his own three children.
“I would be so devastated if anything happened to Zach, Ilana or Leah knowing that I couldn’t do as a parent what I’m supposed to do,” the mayor said.
That’s why it pains him so much to console the parents of other peoples’ children because of Chicago’s unrelenting problem of gang violence.
“I can sit there and tell you what we’re doing right and that we have a lot of work to do as a city,” the mayor said.
Hobson is married to movie mogul George Lucas, whose plan to build a Lucas Museum on a lakefront site that remains a surface parking lot near Soldier Field was shot down by a legal challenge filed by Friends of the Parks.
She responded to Emanuel’s rare show of emotion by saying, “Thank you for being so authentic there. … It’s unimaginable that you would do that regularly. So I, for one, am grateful and appreciate it.”
Emanuel has spent much of his second term trying to shed his image as “Mayor 1 percent.”
Still, vanquished Democratic gubernatorial challenger Chris Kennedy accused the mayor of being part of a “strategic gentrification plan” to intentionally push black residents of Chicago.
On Thursday, Emanuel said Chicago is not a “tale of two cities.” It’s a “tale of two investments. … One was invested in. The other was not.”
He exhorted business leaders in the audience at the Union League Club to help change that and join the city in training and hiring “whoever is on the street corner that wants to join the legitimate economy.
“When I became mayor, people were looking for work. Today, I stand in front of you and companies are looking for workers. That’s a big difference,” the mayor said.
“Let us not look back at this window … and have lost this opportunity to get [help for] people who don’t want to be where they are. … Let us take these numbers and move ‘em to the South Side and the West Side. Make people on the outside part of the inside. Let us collectively set a goal, use this wind at our back. Whoever wants to be swept up in the success of our city — our doors are open. Our hands are open. And we’re ready to meet ‘em where we are.”
Hobson closed the candid discussion by asking “how long it’ll be from now” when Emanuel can envision himself no longer being mayor of Chicago.
Emanuel said it’s not a matter of time. It’s a matter of whether the job is done and whether he has “the oomph” to do it.
“I’m not here to do this and only this. … We’re all writing a story. There’s many more chapters to Chicago’s future. I’m writing my chapters,” he said.
“My goal as mayor is that, whoever … comes [next] as mayor, they’ll have said, ‘Thank God that mayor did that so I don’t have to do it.’ “