The Rahm Emanuel we 'knew all along'—but chose to ignore

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The Tribune backtracks on its previous endorsements of Mayor Rahm Emanuel. - BRIAN JACKSON/SUN-TIMES
  • Brian Jackson/Sun-Times
  • The Tribune backtracks on its previous endorsements of Mayor Rahm Emanuel.

We should establish a new rule in our politics: When you know a candidate's immense flaws, yet choose to endorse him or her anyway, you don't get to piggyback when the tides turn—at least not without owning up to a major miscalculation.

Now that Rahm Emanuel's approval rating has slid towards the single digits, far too many of the leaders, officials, and organizations that previously endorsed him have become some of the embattled mayor's most vocal opponents.

For a snapshot of the most flagrant violation so far, look no further than the editorial pages of the Chicago Tribune. The paper endorsed him twice—both in the general mayoral election and in the runoff against Jesus "Chuy" Garcia.

But in a column late last week, Tribune editorial board member Kristen McQueary said that the Rahm we see post-Laquan McDonald is "The Rahm Emanuel we knew all along."

I only wish our vinyl record player could've scratched when I clicked on that headline.

You might remember McQueary from her controversial, racially clueless fall op-ed on the anniversary of Hurricane Katrina, in which she romanticized the devastation in New Orleans as the rebirth of a great American city—and "prayed" for a similar (figurative) disaster in Chicago. But the southern city's black and poor residents were hit the hardest, and much of the so-called "rebirth" has left them behind. (Even with what was "in her heart," in a follow-up clarification, we have to separate intention from impact.)

Well, McQueary's gotten what she's asked for in more ways than one: the Trib editorial board's endorsement of Emanuel helped push him towards a second term despite a stunning runoff election. And Chicago got a storm of its own, also at the expense of black people—namely, the public airing of the Laquan McDonald case.

But now that the storm rages, McQueary would rather Chicago believe that she (and likely others) saw this coming all along? She wrote, "The secrecy, the incessant spin machine, the focus on damage control, Emanuel's weak grasp of this city's DNA and his bouts of tone deafness—none of that is information that voters didn't have prior to his reelection last year to a second term."

Nope. Nah-ah. You don't get to say "told you so" when you knew better, but didn't do anyone any favors by endorsing the pol.

To be fair, the original endorsement wasn't without clear hesitation, as the Tribune cited his administration's achievements with a lot (and I do mean a lot) of hedging.

The paper praised his balancing of the city's budget for four consecutive years, while lamenting the many varied tax hikes, parking ticket increases, the red light camera program, and a failure to end the city's dependence on borrowing. McQueary and her colleagues highlighted a longer school day, a full day of kindergarten, and improved high school graduation rates at Chicago Public Schools (rates that were later revised downward after WBEZ and the Better Government Association called the district's calculations into question), while acknowledging the mayor's battle with the Chicago Teachers Union and the loss of public-sector jobs and neighborhood schools that resulted from mass closings.

The city's most-read daily even mentioned the very issue that's now got Emanuel on the ropes: failure to implement promised ethics reforms, and his team's propensity to "control information [rather] than sharing it with the public."

"We have the legal bills to prove it," the paper said.

So the Tribune writers told readers to opt for the "devil we know" approach, as opposed to rolling the dice on the other candidates—and they repeated it during the runoff, cautioning that Emanuel is "still the best choice." But with what they knew, the Tribune, and many others, could have opted against offering an endorsement.

To be fair though, McQueary and the Tribune editorial board aren't the only ones who deserve a collective side-eye from Chicagoans tired of the mess at City Hall.

"He's earned your vote," the Sun-Times told its readers.

Many black ministers and activists were divided in endorsing the two candidates. Even as the Reverend Jesse Jackson threw his backing behind Garcia in the runoff, a considerable chunk of the city's black business elite, a number of members of the City Council's Black Caucus, big names such as Representative Bobby Rush—even President Barack Obama went to bat for Emanuel.

Congressman Luis Gutierrez ruffled feathers with his somewhat surprising endorsement of Emanuel, leaving many wondering if it signaled division amongst the city's Latino leadership. Senator Mark Kirk supported Emanuel, issuing an inflammatory (and racialized) warning that if the contest went any other way, Chicago "could end up like Detroit." After losing in the initial election, former alderman Bob Fioretti, often billed as the mayor's "toughest critic," eventually endorsed Emanuel as well, citing the city's finances. The list goes on, and on, and on.

Some might argue that these folks had no choice, especially in the case of the commander in chief. But this is politics we're talking about—and more often than not, these leaders know that they always have the right to remain silent or avoid flanking anyone at a press conference.

Every influential leader and organization that got behind Emanuel now needs to take serious stock of how they've enabled his divisive regime to continue, and how playing establishment politics comes at expense of the issues—and people—that matter.

It's one thing to sharply criticize the mayor on his handling of police accountability issues, and by extension, policies that failed the city's most economically hard-hit communities.

But it's just plain malarkey to use this moment to score political points without confessing to writing Chicago voters a check that Emanuel couldn't cash.

You don't get to have it both ways. Either stay silent, sadistic, scared, and out of the way or—better yet—fess up, and help fix this mess.


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