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The mayor's millionaire club 

Who has access to Rahm Emanuel’s inner sanctum

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click to enlarge RAY NOLAND

The third week of July was a busy time for Mayor Rahm Emanuel—he was working with police brass to reassign cops, announcing a competition between city workers and private firms to provide recycling pickup, and, of course, battling teachers over implementing a longer school day.

But he still found an hour to slip away for breakfast at the exclusive Chicago Club with a couple of millionaire bankers—Bill Downe, the CEO of the Bank of Montreal, and Mark Furlong, the CEO of Harris Bank.

That might not seem like much time. But it amounted to one of the longest meetings of the week in the dusk-to-dawn schedule of the mayor who can't sit still.

In fact, Downe and Furlong are the kind of guys Mayor Emanuel often makes time for: rich, influential, and frequently at odds with organized labor and other progressive groups that historically made up the base of Emanuel's Democratic Party (see "Rahm's A-List").

Downe earned more than $10 million last year, landing a 28 percent raise during a period of economic stagnation, and Furlong made $24 million when Harris Bank took over Marshall & Ilsley, the bank he led previously. While Downe has largely steered clear of party politics, Furlong has donated money to Wisconsin governor Scott Walker, a Republican who made headlines this year for ending the collective bargaining rights of state employees.

What Emanuel and the bankers discussed is anybody's guess—none of them would comment for this story. That's also the case with dozens of other, similar meetings Emanuel held with business elites over the summer.

These meetings are not listed on the mayor's official public schedule disseminated daily to members of the media, which includes scripted press conferences in neighborhoods around town. Instead, they're buried in the mayor's in-house calendar, which details nearly every minute of his working day, including the people he sets aside time to meet with or call on the phone.

Over the summer we submitted a Freedom of Information Act request for copies of the mayor's in-house schedule. After months of haggling, promises, and delays, city officials provided copies of the schedule for June, July, and August.

In contrast, President Barack Obama regularly posts the monthly meeting logs for all White House visitors, letting the public know who's visiting whom, at what time, and even the room where they met.

That means it's easier to determine who Emanuel met with when he served as the White House chief of staff than who has access to him as mayor, despite his promise to bring "unprecedented transparency" to City Hall.

What the mayor's staff did release offers a revealing snapshot of Emanuel's style, starting with who gets face time in the inner sanctum of his fifth-floor office or in his favored cafes, restaurants, and nightspots around town.

Give Mayor Emanuel this: the dude puts in some serious hours—12 to 14 a day, including weekends. He starts most days at 7 or 8 AM and doesn't stop until well into the evening. He can also be counted on to send a string of off-the-schedule texts or make spur-of-the-moment calls at all hours of the day or night, staffers and aldermen tell us.

His staffers have joked—at least we think they're joking—that he's ADD. At the very least, the mayor's schedule makers know enough to subdivide his day into short frames. It's rare for a meeting to go longer than 45 minutes—and many visitors get what's called a "stop by," which typically lasts no more than 15 minutes.

This is clearly not a mayor who spends a lot of time holed up in his office poring over documents and policy papers. On most days he devotes no more than 30 minutes to what his staffers call "desk time."

In many ways, Emanuel's schedule strikingly contrasts with his predecessor's. Richard M. Daley is a Chicago guy, born and raised. Except for his college years in Providence, Rhode Island, he's stayed here all of his life. And it shows in the people who had his ear: in addition to pols and big-shot business leaders, his meeting schedule was packed with the ministers of small churches, local school leaders, and owners of neighborhood businesses like the local sausage shop (see "Daley's A-List").

Emanuel, on the other hand, grew up in the north suburbs, went to college in New York, and spent the better part of the last two decades in Washington, first as an aide in the Clinton White House, then as a congressman, and finally, for almost two years, as Obama's chief of staff.

Much of his mayoral schedule is taken up by meetings and calls with wealthy out-of-towners, many of whom have donated to his campaign. Indeed, it seems Emanuel has learned from his mentor, President Clinton. Under Clinton, the White House was open to big donors who got to spend the night in the Lincoln bedroom. In Emanuel's case, he either invites them into his City Hall office or makes time to hang out at one of his favorite haunts.

For instance, on June 9 Emanuel met for half an hour in his office with Larry Fink, CEO of BlackRock, one of the world's largest money-management firms. Fink donated $25,000 to Emanuel's mayoral campaign.

A spokeswoman for Fink declined to describe what Fink and Emanuel discussed. "No comment," she says. "It was a private meeting."

On June 13 Emanuel met for 30 minutes with Howard Gottlieb, a retired partner of the finance company Glen Eagle Advisors. Gottlieb donated $100,000 to Emanuel's campaign. He didn't return our call.

By the way, both Fink and Gottlieb also met with Emanuel in the White House during his days as chief of staff, according to the White House visitor logs.

Some days, Emanuel meets with more multimillionaires within an afternoon than most of us will cross paths with during our entire lives. On June 30, for example, after the mayor spent 30 minutes in his City Hall office with U.S. Treasury secretary Timothy Geithner, he took 15 minutes to meet with Marc Lasry, the billionaire CEO of Avenue Capital Group, a hedge fund operation. That was followed by 45 minutes with Stephen Ross, a New York-based real estate mogul and owner of the Miami Dolphins.

Lasry, by the way, is a familiar face to the mayor. He met with Emanuel last year at the White House, and he and his wife, Cathy, each donated $50,000 to Emanuel's mayoral campaign.

"A lot of the people who are contributors are also people who make CEO-type decisions that affect the city and the region, and having those people like you and your city is not a bad thing," says Congressman Mike Quigley, who holds the north-side seat previously held by Emanuel. "I meet with people who have given money to me too, but I also meet with the Salvation Army. I think Rahm understands that balance."

Maybe so, but Emanuel hasn't met with the Salvation Army, and he doesn't regularly hold face-to-face meetings with social service organizations, community groups, or neighborhood activist types.

To be fair, Emanuel does meet with multimillionaires who have not donated to his campaign.

On June 22, for example, he met for a half hour in his office with his old friend Bruce Rauner, a venture capitalist and charter school advocate. Rauner has not donated to Emanuel's mayoral fund, but his wife, Diana, served on Emanuel's education transitional team.

And Bruce Rauner played a pivotal role in Emanuel's brief but lucrative career as an investment banker. In 2001, Emanuel's investment firm represented Rauner's company in a $500 million deal with SBC Communications. (Later that year SBC tapped William Daley, Mayor Daley's brother and Emanuel's eventual successor as White House chief of staff, to serve as its CEO.)

Still, Emanuel doesn't just meet with the rich—he also meets with political operators, many with little direct connection to Chicago. On June 27 he had breakfast with New Hampshire senator Jeanne Shaheen at the Four Seasons Hotel—just in case he wants to run in a New Hampshire presidential primary sometime.

Incidentally, the Four Seasons is apparently one of his favorite breakfast joints—that's where he met Kenneth Tuchman, a former investment banking colleague, on July 27. Don't tell Shaheen, but Tuchman got ten more minutes of Emanuel's time than she did.

On July 18 Emanuel met in his office with John Podesta, a big-time Democratic operative since his days in the Clinton White House.

And speaking of Clinton—on June 29 Emanuel got together with the big poobah himself.

The mayor has also kept lines open with former colleagues in the Obama administration. For instance, in June and July he had more scheduled chats (two) with Kathleen Sebelius, the U.S. secretary of health and human services, than with Chicago health department commissioner Bechara Choucair (one)—even as Emanuel was preparing a budget that would close all seven of the city's health clinics and half of its 12 mental health facilities.

In between networking with donors and national political operatives, Emanuel does make some time for locals. Before every City Council meeting, he sits down for a "pre-meeting" with council leaders: finance chair Ed Burke; housing chair Ray Suarez; council president pro tempore Michelle Harris; budget committee chair Carrie Austin; and mayoral floor leader Patrick O'Connor. All have been reliable mayoral supporters.

Emanuel also manages to squeeze in a minute or two for the council's self-declared independents. Twenty-second Ward alderman Rick Munoz, for example, got a 30-minute meeting in the mayor's office on July 18. "We're talking," Munoz says of Emanuel. "We text each other too."

Whatever time he's giving the aldermen seems to be working. So far, the City Council has been even more compliant under Emanuel than it was under Daley—a total of four dissenting votes were cast in the mayor's first 100 days, a dissension rate of about 0.1 percent.

Also filing into the mayor's office is a steady stream of state legislators including house speaker Michael Madigan, senate president John Cullerton, and state rep. Lou Lang, who's shepherding the mayor's casino bill through the General Assembly.

Still, Emanuel doesn't just play politics with politicians. He also spends a substantial amount of time managing his image in the media.

Emanuel is deft in how he handles journalists. A number of reporters have said that in interviews and conversations with him, he started off by buttering them up—then went off the record to dish some dirt, shifting responsibility for whatever's wrong.

Incidentally, the mayor's press office didn't respond to our requests for an interview—no breakfast at the Four Seasons, no invite to City Hall, not even a stop by. They also didn't respond to our request for a comment on this story.

According to the mayor's schedule, there are two categories of meetings with reporters: interviews and off-the-record chats—or OTRs, in the scheduler's parlance.

One reporter who had an off-the-record chat says they're clearly intended to soften up the press rather than answer questions. "There was nothing I could use," says the reporter. "He was very charming. We were supposed to talk for 30 minutes but we went an hour. He said a few things about Governor Quinn, but that was it."

Among those Emanuel scheduled for off-the-record sessions were NBC Chicago reporter Mary Ann Ahern; Fox Chicago political editor Mike Flannery; an unnamed reporter for the Tribune; and a string of writers for the Chicago Sun-Times, including reporters Fran Spielman, David Roeder, and Abdon Pallasch, as well as columnists Mark Brown, Mary Mitchell, and Neil Steinberg.

At least one of the Sun-Times journalists believes Emanuel may have been trying to win over the staffers in advance of a panel discussion before the City Club in early September that included Spielman, Pallasch, Brown, and Mitchell. If so, the results were mixed—some of their comments were critical, while others were adulatory.

"He brings with him a personal touch to City Hall that we just haven't seen in a very, very long time," Mitchell said during the panel discussion. "I had more conversations with Mayor Emanuel in his first 100 days than I ever had with Mayor Daley in decades." Mitchell concluded that Emanuel "doesn't have anything to hide."

Columnist David Brooks was one of several New York Times staffers granted on-the-record interviews. Six days after their June 21 meeting, Brooks wrote a column titled "Convener in Chief" in which he declared that Emanuel had begun his administration "in spectacular fashion."

CNN's anchor Wolf Blitzer not only got a 30-minute interview on June 29—during which Emanuel revealed that he worked out every day—but dinner at the Italian bistro Coco Pazzo.

Bruce Dold, editorial page editor of the Tribune, may even have topped Blitzer—he got 45 minues with Emanuel over drinks at the Billy Goat on July 27.

Noticeably absent from Emanuel's schedule are meetings with neighborhood leaders.

About the only person who comes close is Father Michael Pfleger, the high-profile south-side priest who counts Mayor Daley as one of his best friends. Emanuel and Pfleger met in the mayor's office on July 1 and had lunch there on July 29. Four days after that, Pfleger joined Emanuel at a press event where the mayor issued yet another call for a longer school day.

Earlier, on July 1, Emanuel did meet with what his schedule makers called "community leaders"—who turned out to be some of the most prominent black members of Chicago's business and social elite: Frank Clark, CEO of ComEd; Marty Nesbitt, one of President Obama's best friends; Terry Peterson, Mayor Daley's former campaign manager and current president of the CTA board; Avis LaVelle, spokeswoman for the company that owns Chicago's parking meter system; and James Reynolds, CEO of Loop Capital Markets, one of the most successful minority-owned investment banking firms in Chicago.

Of course Emanuel always seems to find time for Juan Rangel, CEO of the United Neighborhood Organization, which receives $27 million a year in public funds to operate nine charter schools. On June 23, Emanuel visited one of UNO's schools, where Rangel joined him in his pitch to lengthen the day for the city's regular public schools. The two met up again on July 25 for lunch.

As a matter of fact, amid his busy summer schedule, Emanuel continued to rip the teachers union for not immediately going along with his longer-school-day campaign. But it wasn't until August 2, nearly two months after he cancelled scheduled teacher raises, that the mayor finally got around to meeting with teachers union president Karen Lewis. That was the infamous get-together where he yelled at her, "Fuck you, Lewis."

It's unclear if he delivered the same message to any of the bankers, hedge fund operators, Hollywood producers, or generous donors that he met with this summer. So far David Brooks and Wolf Blitzer haven't reported on it.

Thomas Gaudio and Mark Bergen contributed to this story.

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