“Did you expect him to run for president?” I asked him.
“No,” Emanuel said.
But the former White House chief of staff and newly minted Chicago mayor wouldn’t bite when I asked if he agrees with what other Democrats have told me – that Obama’s former employee could become his strongest challenger.
“There will be an assessment of the president versus whoever. And I think if they’ll look at the country he inherited, worst economic conditions since the Depression, an auto industry that was on its back, and actually, a lot of people– even some of the national leaders of the Republican Party were advocating of let it go,” Emanuel said.
It was the president going against those “naysayers” that saved 1.2 million jobs, he said. If Obama wants to win in the Midwest the mayor’s advice is to keep his focus on the kitchen table.
“People are economically distressed. They’re trying to make ends meet. They’re trying to get a paycheck from the beginning of the month to the end of the month and pay the bills and still have stuff left over,” he said.
“He knows what he has to do, which is the same thing I’m trying to do on [a] much, much, much smaller playing field. Hear their concerns and make sure that we’re addressing them and we’re focused on the stuff that matters most,” he told me.
Three weeks ago Emanuel was sworn into a tough economic situation of his own – a $700 million shortfall.
“I put a ten percent cut in the mayor’s office. Day two, the City Council for the first time, fewest committees since World War II and a ten percent cut in the City Council budget,” he said. “Everybody will have skin in the game when it comes to belt-tightening.”
Rahm also has some reputation rebuilding to do when it comes to Chicago politicians. One viewer, Tom Nealon from Midlothian, Illinois asked, “How do you plan on changing that image?”
Emanuel said he started that right after his swearing in ceremony.
“I shut the revolving door. You work for me, you cannot lobby for two years when you leave. And there were five other executive orders, banning lobbyists from contributing to the campaigns…in addition to that, the City Council passed its own ethics ordinance, which I had asked them to do. Which is that if you’re a former City Council member and you’ve committed a felony because of public service, you’re not allowed on the floor of the City Council anymore or in the back room,” he said.
Emanuel said his number one constituent – the president of the United States – has also given him some advice.
“Yeah, he has. We have talked with repeatedly on both education — he was proud of what we accomplished on the new policies, for the length of day and year and tenure reform, public safety — but also he was impressed when we did, I announced last week, General Electric has a thousand jobs in the city. They’re adding another thousand jobs. They’re doubling down on the City of Chicago,” he told me.
After serving in two administrations and becoming a top Democrat in the House, if Emanuel does a good job as mayor Democrats will talk about him for a 2016 presidential run.
“I got a job to do here and that’s all I’m focused on,” he said.
You never think about it?
“You know my wife. No,” he said, laughing.