The mayor's millionaire club | Feature | Chicago Reader

The mayor's millionaire club 

Who has access to Rahm Emanuel’s inner sanctum

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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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