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How Rahm Emanuel might reinvent Chicago politics

He takes over a city that will test his legendary toughness and may become a laboratory for addressing the problems that plague urban areas in hard times.

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Still, Emanuel is no neophyte to Chicago's ways. In Congress, he represented the Fifth District, which includes Old Town, Lincoln Park, Lakeview, and Uptown, where the city stores much of its most delicious real estate and influence. He raised money for Richard M.'s campaign. He was a confidant for legions of Chicago politicians, among them President Obama.

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He made millions as an investment banker after his years in the Clinton White House. He knows where all the unmarked political graves and land mines are. He's going to need all that knowledge, and more, not to mention the pepper he delights in bringing to every job he has held.

Emanuel will have to come in charging, his reputation for toughness and aggression on full display, says Paul Green, a political scientist at Roosevelt University in Chicago and a stalwart on the mayoral watch for many years. "The pretty card has been played," says Dr. Green of Daley's determined campaign to beautify what had once been the grittiest city in America with parks, flowerpots, rooftop gardens, and bike paths. The city sparkles, but the problems loom just beneath the surface.

"Now he's going to have to deal with the financial stuff. That's where it's at," says Green. "I think the big thing with Emanuel is, can he keep intimidating people? I think his intimidation skills are stupendous."

"It's a weak mayor/strong council situation, so the only way you get the council to not act like a bunch of idiots is to intimidate them. I think that is what you have to do, and blowing your top at the correct time is a real advantage.... The city council's the Pips and Rahm's going to be Gladys Knight."

Green, who co-wrote "The Mayors: The Chicago Political Tradition," believes the only time the city progresses is when it has a strong leader in city hall. Throughout history, when the city council was in control, Chicago "went down the tubes."

Traditionally, it has been all but impossible to weld the city's 50 wards – whose aldermen make up one of the largest city councils in the country – into a single identity because they remain as ethnic and unique today as they did during the Great Depression, when Mayor Anton Cermak created the first genuine Democratic machine.

"You could never have a real vision for the city, or a real reformer, because the people's idea of reform stopped at the boundary line of their own ward or parish," Green says. "But once Cermak got in and that machine got rolling, it was a democracy – but they played with a different card. They showed that machines could provide services as part of the machine, just as long as it was your guys providing the services."

Then and now, fear has a lot to do with it.

Both Daleys became forces of nature. This was very effective over the four decades father and son held the mayor's office, interrupted for just a while after the old man's death during a frenzied interregnum that included Chicago's first woman mayor, Jane Byrne, and its first black mayor, Harold Washington.

"The mayor has to crack the whip," Green says. "That used to be Emanuel. But now he's acting like Mother Teresa. I don't know how long that is going to last."


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