CHICAGO (CBS 2/WBBM 780) – Rahm Emanuel isn’t officially running for mayor yet, but the former Congressman and White House Chief of Staff is already meeting and greeting Chicago residents on a “listening tour.”
Monday was the first day of Emanuel’s “Tell It Like It Is” tour. But he refuses to answer point-blank if he’s running for mayor. He began at the Roosevelt Road CTA Red Line stop, followed by a stop on 79th Street in the Chatham neighborhood, and later the Pilsen neighborhood, among other locations.
As CBS 2′s Mike Puccinelli reports, Emanuel was like a political pied piper as he led a large media horde around the streets of Chicago today as he kicked off his tour.
It was the high energy display of a political rock star as he posed for pictures, signed autographs and shook hands with people on the train platform, at bus stops and on the street.
While Emanuel has not officially declared himself a mayoral candidate, it was clear Monday he is in everything but name.
“People are enthusiastic; energized. They love their city. They know it’s got challenges, and I think that’s what they want to talk about,” Emanuel said after his stop in the South Loop.
In Chatham, Emanuel sat down for breakfast with a group of men at Izola’s Restaurant, 522 E. 79th St. They talked about their ideas to improve the city.
But while Emanuel was sitting down, a man started asking him loudly why the federal stimulus program, in his view, had failed to create jobs on the South Side. Emanuel promised to meet the man, and said they would talk about his concerns afterward.
Outside Izola’s, a somewhat angry throng of protesters followed Emanuel down the street and almost chased him to his car.
In Pilsen, Emanuel was escorted through the business district there by United Neighborhood Organization CEO Juan Rangel. Some welcomed him. Others did not.
Tony Menchaca’s brief encounter with Rahm Emanuel made his day. It’s why the Bridgeport resident rode his bike to Pilsen. He believes Emanuel has what it takes to run the city. He’s a fan.
Not everyone Emanuel met on his tour, though, was. One Pilsen resident says she finds it insulting that he hasn’t lived here for two years and decides to come back to run for mayor when there are other qualified candidates who’ve never left the city.
Divided opinions and skeptical voters are just two challenges Emanuel will face if or when he officially announces he’ll be a candidate, which he didn’t do today. Emanuel’s lack of clarity about where he stands on many issues is a concern for some voters – disappointed they didn’t learn more today.
City worker James McDonald wants to know where he stands on organized labor, handling the deficit and furloughs for workers.
Gilbert Cabello wants to know more about how he’ll treat veterans. Emanuel says he wants to debate all those issues.
But the flip side of skepticism is enthusiasm, and some voters already have that. Linda Matos says if he’s clear on the issues and pro-reform, he already has her vote.
It wasn’t until much later in the day, on the city’s North Side, that Emanuel stopped to take questions from CBS 2′s Dana Kozlov about the mayor’s race.
When asked why he wants to run for mayor, Emanuel said, “Because it’s a great city, with great people. Today, when we’re going all around, you see the energy, and the love and affection for the city, and peoples’ sense of what we can do and the potential of what we can do.”
In response to those questioning Emanuel’s residency, he said, “I was born here. The Board of Elections will decide this, that’s the proper place. So let’s say for the next five, six weeks, or seven weeks before the Board of Elections decides, let’s have a debate about the issues that the residents of the city of Chicago care about, not about my residency.”
Emanuel lived in Washington for the past two years and just flew back into Chicago over the weekend.
Some Chicagoans say that makes Emanuel too much of a D.C. insider and out of touch with the pulse of people here. They want specifics on what he’ll do as mayor and where he stands on almost every issue. It’s also a potential legal issue that looms over his expected mayoral campaign.
Monday evening, Emanuel continued deflecting questions about his current address, other than to say he lives within the city now. But such questions don’t bode well for his campaign, according to election lawyer James Nally.
“Illinois law, as far as residency, is pretty clear,” he told CBS 2’s Jim Williams. “In order to run for office in Illinois, you must be a registered voter within the municipality in which you’re seeking to run. And you must also be a resident for one year prior to the election.”
Lawyer and election expert Burt Odelson has been advising other mayoral candidates. He agreed with Nally that Emanuel has a problem, under the municipal code.
Emanuel’s Unofficial Announcement
Emanuel made an unofficial announcement of his mayoral campaign in a video posted Sunday on his website, ChicagoforRahm.com. He had been careful not to launch his candidacy from Washington and headed to Chicago immediately after his resignation was announced by President Barack Obama on Friday.
In the video, Emanuel said he’s embarking on a “Tell It Like It Is” listening tour of Chicago.
“As I prepare to run for mayor, I’m going to spend the next few weeks visiting our neighborhoods — at grocery stores, L stops, bowling alleys, and hot dog stands,” Emanuel said.
Meanwhile, Emanuel has been receiving widespread attention in the national spotlight.
On Saturday Night Live, the opening sketch this past Saturday night featured Andy Samberg as Emanuel delivering his resignation announcement. At the real White House, where President Obama said, “We are all very excited for Rahm as he takes on a new challenge for which he is extraordinarily well-qualified.”
With so much attention, one might be led to conclude that Emanuel is a shoo-in for mayor. But don’t tell that to other potential candidates.
“The national press will go away,” said mayoral candidate Gery Chico. “This election is about local contact with voters.”
Also, potential candidates say Emanuel’s name recognition in Washington power circles may actually work against him in the Windy City.
“The hoopla is in the beltway; the hoopla is not in Chicago,” says U.S. Rep. Danny Davis (D-Ill.), who is also an anticipated mayoral candidate.
Emanuel’s announced “listening tour” of the city in advance of his mayoral run is already a target for criticism from likely contender Ald. Bob Fioretti.
“I don’t have to go on a listening tour because I have been on a listening tour throughout my years on City Council,” he said.
Indeed, one of the challenges facing Emanuel in a mayoral run is reconnecting with Chicago voters after his time in Washington. Emanuel highlighted his ties to Chicago in the video Sunday, noting his three terms representing a North Side district in Congress before serving as Obama’s chief of staff.
“It was a great honor to work for (Obama), but I’m glad to be home,” Emanuel said.
In Chicago, Emanuel will return to a rich tradition of tribal politics that prompted The Wall Street Journal to dub the city “Beirut on the Lake” back in 1984, when Mayor Harold Washington was battling with a bloc 29 aldermen led by Ed Vrdolyak for control of the legislative process.
That bare-knuckled political style is something that Emanuel should be prepared for as he prepares to swing his nationally recognized sharp elbows in what’s sure to be a quintessentially local campaign. That may be why there were no trappings of power on display in Emanuel’s announcement Sunday.
But there are other issues that Emanuel’s potential opponents are raising. Although his spokesman denies any illegal deal-making, published reports indicating Emanuel pushed the scandal-plagued Blagojevich administration to consider certain candidates to fill Barrack Obama’s Senate seat are also being called into question by rivals.
“We are entitled to full disclosure about those conversations, the voters of Chicago are, before anybody will be considered for mayor,” Chico said.
With his reputation as a take-no-prisoners politician, it will be interesting political theater to see how he responds.
Suburban Residents Starts Anti-Emanuel Web Site
Meanwhile, some Chicago area residents are decidedly not enthused about an Emanuel candidacy. The owner of an ant-Rahm Emanuel web site says he’s getting lots of hits, and donations, to try to keep Emanuel from winning the mayor’s office.
LISTEN: WBBM’s Bernie Tafoya Reports
As WBBM Newsradio 780′s Bernie Tafoya reports, Joe Sanchez, 34, doesn’t live in Chicago. He lives in southwest suburban Plainfield. But, Sanchez said he’s tired of Illinois and Chicago being the country’s political laughingstocks…and he’d like to help elect a fiscal conservative as Chicago’s next mayor.
He says he started his web site, www.notorahm.com because he figures Rahm Emanuel will be the frontrunner in the race.
Sanchez claims to have had hundreds of donations totaling about $5,000 since he started the web site Friday morning. He figures about 75 percent of the donations have come from the city of Chicago while most of the rest have come from the suburbs, with some from elsewhere in the country.
Sanchez says he launched his web site on Friday morning, as President Obama was giving Emanuel a White House send-off
Sanchez says the incumbent-less mayoral race gives Chicago “a unique opportunity to elect someone with conservative fiscal values”.
CBS 2′s Vince Gerasole, Mike Puccinelli, Dana Kozlov and WBBM Newsradio 780′s Bernie Tafoya, and The Associated Press contributed to this report.
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