Santiago Covarrubias/Sun-Times Media
Mayor Rahm Emanuel during a press conference in mid-December
If you want to know one of the reasons why Donald Trump won the election—or, more to the point, why Hillary Clinton lost—check out the thousands of e-mails Mayor Rahm Emanel released this week—kicking and screaming—thanks to a lawsuit filed by the Better Government Association
Democrats are struggling with a basic contradiction that hurts their outreach to ordinary citizens: at least as far as public perception goes, they've aligned themselves with the one percent on issues like trade, jobs, and wages, even though they're supposed to be the party of the poor and the dispossessed.
This is by no means the only
reason Clinton lost an election she actually won—by more than 2.8 million votes, last time I looked.
But the contradiction comes out loud and clear in these "Mayor 1 Percent" e-mails, especially from his first years in office.
Reading Rahm's e-mails reminded me of the stories Mick Dumke and I used to write about the mayor's first-term appointment book
. He'd set aside time to meet with bankers, CEOs, and other money men, but rarely met with labor leaders, activists, or ordinary citizens.
Apparently, these rich guys not only get access to the mayoral office, but to the mayor's private e-mail as well. So many rich guys had Rahm's personal e-mail address, I'm starting to think it must have been scribbled in the locker rooms at the East Bank Club.
These guys turned to the mayor for help on things like zoning disputes and tax breaks, or urged him to get tough on pensioners and teachers.
If there's one thing that's comes out crystal clear in these e-mails, it's that lots of rich guys hate pensioners and teachers.
Before I take a deeper dive into the e-mails, let me say a word of thanks to the BGA, which filed a Freedom of Information Act request back on September 14, 2015, seeking e-mails from the mayor's private address that pertained to public business.
The mayor's lawyers—who are actually paid for by the taxpayers—argued that the e-mails aren't in the public record because they were sent and received from the mayor's personal e-mail address.
To which the BGA's lawyers said: Gimme a break, man, you're the fuckin' mayor!
Well, they might have put it a little more delicately.
Back and forth they wrangled. They might be wrangling still, except that on December 9, the mayor lost a similar courtroom battle over his e-mails, this one with the Tribune
. In that case, a judge essentially ruled that the mayor's e-mail argument is a bunch of malarkey.
Again, I'm paraphrasing.
Finally, on December 21, the mayor agreed to give the BGA those e-mails—and only those e-mails—that pertain to some matter of public interest.
So if you want to know what the mayor thought about something like, oh, Beyonce's outfit at the Super Bowl, tough luck.
Of course, by letting the mayor determine which e-mails are public, it raises the possibility that, as the Tribune
so euphemistically put it, "Emanuel's attorneys have incorrectly determined some of the mayor's personal emails are not public record."
"Is it possible that there is some material that we might have seen at the end of a long court fight, but can't see right now? Sure," BGA president and CEO Andy Shaw
told the Trib
That just might be the understatement of the century. I mean, having wasted almost five hours of my life slogging through the mayoral e-mail dump—which is padded with press releases and newspaper clippings—I can assure you that a lot of good stuff is missing.
Think about it: These e-mails cover five momentous years in Chicago history—including two teachers strikes, a bitter mayoral election, school closings, school scandals, and ceaseless shootings—and the mayor has almost nothing to say about any of it?
My guess is he either tries hard not to put anything of substance in writing, or these e-mails have been scrubbed. It will take a federal subpoena—or perhaps intervention from one of Putin's hackers—to find out.
Not that the e-mails we do have access to are without value. If nothing else, they're life lessons for the rest of us. If you want to get ahead in life, you can't be afraid to bug the guy at the top.
In particular, Bruce Rauner treated Rahm like hired help. This was before Rauner became governor and they had their little "spat
Too bad there are no Rahm/Rauner e-mails dealing with that.
In the early years of Rahm's administration, Rauner bombarded the mayor and his aides with e-mails, basically asking Rahm to get tough on teachers and go easy on taxing rich guys.
Then, for a couple of weeks in the fall of 2011, Rauner sent the mayor several e-mails asking him not to raise the hotel tax. "I love you," the mayor responded. "I am giving tax cut to hotel industry. keeping city hotel cheaper than new york city, san antonio, philadelphia, los angeles, seattle, san francisco. We are still less."
This e-mail came in October of 2011, as the mayor was preparing to close six mental health clinics
in poor, high-crime neighborhoods. None of the mental health activists could get a meeting—much less an e-mail exchange with the mayor, even as they pleaded with him to keep the clinics open.
The e-mails also trace Rahm's political rise and fall. In the early days of his administration, many e-mails shower him with praise for the great press he'd been receiving, especially in the New York Times
. (Let's hope they do a better job covering Trump.)
By this year, however, the tides had changed as the papers filled with horror stories about murder and fiscal uncertainty in Chicago. Over the last few months, Emanuel resorted to sending out e-mail blasts to movers and shakers in the civic and business world, outlining his talking points as a counter to what they read in the papers.
On October 10 at 8:51 PM, one of these blasts was e-mailed to public relations mastermind David Axelrod, Rahm's old pal from the Obama White House.
Coincidentally, October 10 happened to be the night the Cubs were battling the Giants in a 13-inning nail biter of a playoff.
"You send this out DURING the game?" Axelrod wrote back to Emanuel.
"First the game is not the high holidays and second still in the office," Emanuel responded.
To which Axelrod wrote—well, I can't tell you what he wrote cause it's redacted. As is Rahm's follow-up response.
I can't possibly imagine what state secrets are contained in a couple of wisecracks between old friends. But, you know, it wouldn't be an Emanuel FOIA response without redactions
In another exchange from August 31, 2015, Emanuel gets an e-mail from my old pal, master publicist Peter Cunningham. As far as I can tell, one of Cunningham's chief duties—as a flack for Mayor Daley, former schools CEO Arnie Duncan, and now Rahm—is to act as a liaison to left-of-center malcontents like yours truly, who'd never be pen pals with the mayor in a million years.
As such, Randi Weingarten, president of the American Federation of Teachers, turned to Cunningham and Axelrod in her hour of need. Specifically, she was hoping Emanuel would intervene on behalf of the hunger strikers
who wanted to save Dyett School.
"Sorry to write this way, but I wanted to make a personal plea," Weingarten wrote Cunningham and Axelrod. "I called the mayor on this. Of course, he ignored my call."
There was no response from Axelrod, but Cunningham passed her e-mail on to the mayor.
"FYI—Randi reached out to me and Ax regarding Dyett," Cunningham wrote. "I'm on BEZ this morning talking about it. I have your talking points."
I wish I could tell you how Rahm responded, but his message is redacted. My guess is that he dropped an F-bomb or two as he let Cunningham know exactly how he felt about Weingarten.
Don't tell Cunningham, but I'm planning to take him to lunch and ply him with booze until he blurts out Rahm's secret e-mail message. It's my only hope since even suing the mayor doesn't get the little people access to what's really going on.