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Emanuel quits second job to focus on governing city
The Chicago Teachers strike was both talk of the town and the nation. What was a local dispute between union leaders and city government became a national debate about education.
In response to the Chicago teachers strike, one prominent politician had this to say: “I am disappointed by the decision of the Chicago Teachers Union to turn its back on not only a city negotiating in good faith but also the hundreds of thousands of children relying on the city’s public schools to provide them a safe place to receive a strong education.”
This is not a quote from a Chicagoan but a statement made Sept. 10 by Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney. President Obama has avoided the issue, but numerous articles asked if the strike would hurt Obama’s campaign or insinuated that the strike presented a conflict of interest. Obama campaign spokeswoman Jen Psaki said the issue was not “representative of the national debate we’re having about education.”
She’s right. This was a Chicago issue, although you wouldn’t know it from all the national coverage it got. The New York Times ran numerous editorials and op-eds condemning the strike, and many non- Chicago journalists were curious to hear Obama’s thoughts on the dispute. On Sept. 14, the eve of what seemed like a resolution to the labor dispute, Crain’s Chicago Business columnist Greg Hinz speculated that Obama had secretly stepped in to resolve the issue and protect his campaign. After all, that was the big issue: Will the strike hurt Obama’s chance
This is hardly a new phenomenon. Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s presence in Chicago has been transforming city issues into national political battles long before the teachers went on strike.
Chicago’s increasing homicide rate made national news this year and not simply because it is 30 percent higher than 2010. “Chicago crime wave hits even Obama’s neighborhood,” read a Sept. 1 New York Daily News headline. The media continue to politicize Chicago’s affairs. The question is always this: How will this Chicago issue affect the Obama campaign?
“In Barack Obama’s liberal citadel of Chicago, there’s little hope that anything will change anytime soon,” read an editorial from Investor’s Business Daily referring to the recent homicide numbers. Obama doesn’t live or govern in this “liberal citadel,” however. He has a house in Hyde Park that is likely gathering cobwebs. This city is not what Fox News and numerous blogs like to call “Obama’s Chicago.”
Emanuel left the White House almost two years ago, and Obama left Chicago to become a senator almost eight years ago. Yes, Obama is from Chicago. Yes, Chicago’s mayor worked in the Obama White House. But that’s all in the past. It’s time to get over it.
But our mayor hasn’t gotten over it. He intended to spend an entire week out of the city at the Democratic National Convention. He left early, possibly because of media accusations that he was abandoning the teacher negotiations or pressure from the Obama campaign to avoid more bad press. Emanuel was even a co-chair of the Obama campaign until Sept. 5 when he left to take a job as a fundraiser for an Obama-aligned super PAC.
He stepped down once the strike officially started, but in the absence of this crisis, Emanuel would have been spending a considerable amount of time schmoozing for Obama instead of governing his city. Imagine his disappointment when he was told he would have to deal with a strike rather than fundraising events.
Then there’s the gossip that Emanuel is positioning himself for the presidency. While the mayor was in Charlotte, N.C. for the DNC, Illinois House Speaker and influential Democrat Mike Madigan said to ABC, “I think clearly that Rahm Emanuel has the potential to be the president of the United States.” Emanuel is quick to deny that he wants to move to the White House, saying he loves his job.
It’s easy to see how Emanuel could get distracted by constant speculation about a presidential bid and a fundraising gig, but if he really loves “working for the tax payers,” as he told NBC Chicago, he ought to spend less time helping Obama’s campaign and more time dealing with city violence or negotiating with teachers, a process that he was involved with on a mostly indirect basis.
Maybe Emanuel wants to be president someday. Maybe he and Obama chat on the phone all day long. Regardless, the citizens of Chicago elected Emanuel to be the mayor and nothing more.
Thankfully, the mayor appears to be taking a break from being a national political operative. If we can all stop asking about Obama’s assessment of Emanuel’s performance or the mayor’s 2016 plans, maybe he can get back to work.