Mayor Rahm Emanuel arrives for a naturalization ceremony at the Cultural Center in downtown Chicago on May 5. (Antonio Perez/ Chicago Tribune)
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Mayor Rahm Emanuel was back in Wise Man of Washington mode in an interview released Tuesday, the latest in a national media tour of sorts giving his take on President Donald Trump’s America and the state of the Democratic Party.
This time, the mayor sat for the Politico “Off Message” podcast, calling on reporters in the capital to focus more on Trump’s policies and less on political theater, as well as saying Democrats should recruit candidates who reflect the values of voters.
It was an opportunity for him to slip back into a comfortable role as a knowledgeable Beltway player. Since Trump’s election, Emanuel has raised his profile, positioning himself at the vanguard of anti-Trump, pro-immigrant mayors and offering Democrats advice on how to find their way out of the wilderness.
In addition to the podcast appearance, Emanuel has in recent months turned up at the Brookings Institution to discuss the election, and sat for an interview with public radio’s "Marketplace." He also embarked on a college tour of sorts, speaking to students at MIT, Harvard, Stanford and the University of Illinois, and he appeared with a Trump administration official to talk infrastructure at a breakfast meeting hosted by The Wall Street Journal.
“Rahm Emanuel is the mayor of Chicago now, but he still looms in people’s heads in Washington in a real way,” host Edward-Isaac Dovere said during the interview’s lead-in, ticking off Emanuel’s posts as President Barack Obama’s chief of staff and head of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee.
During the interview, the mayor highlighted the unsuccessful ways he has tried to get Trump to change his antagonistic position toward immigrants.
During a discussion with Trump in New York after the election, Emanuel said he pointed out to the president-elect that as a real estate developer, he invested in cities that welcome immigrants because of their dynamism. It’s in America’s self-interest to invest in welcoming cities, Emanuel said he told Trump.
Did the argument get through to Trump? “Obviously no,” he said. “Given the – I thought I was persuasive. I felt really good at the moment.”
The mayor enjoys pillorying his former congressional colleagues, playing to his Chicago constituents by referring to Washington as “Disneyland on the Potomac” as he faces problems like crime back home.
Emanuel rattled off many of his favorite talking points about Chicago’s recent economic successes, seeking to do as much cheerleading as possible during the interview.
As for the Democratic Party, Emanuel said the battleground is suburban America, arguing for the tactic he used while heading up the DCCC to look for candidates who reflect the moderate values of voters in those districts rather than seeking Democratic purity.
“Talking to ourselves or persuading ourselves is not going to get us to a majority,” he said. (John Byrne)
What’s on tap
*Mayor Emanuel’s has no public events scheduled.
*Gov. Bruce Rauner has no public events scheduled.
*The Illinois House and Senate meet but could knock off early. They’re expected to play their annual softball game.
From the notebook
*Emanuel, Part 2: Mayor Emanuel appears to relish weighing in on national political strategy, both in off-the-cuff chats with reporters and in the formal settings where think tanks and journalists invite him to share his views.
Emanuel said the press corps is struggling to cover Trump because it’s “so stark a break from past administrations of both parties.” He said the brewing conflict with North Korea and the bare bones explanation the Trump administration released last week on its massive proposed tax cut would have been much bigger stories if there wasn’t so much attention on the extraneous noise from the White House.
“You guys would never have allowed President Obama or President Bush to get away with either one of those things, either one of those,” he said. (John Byrne)
*Alderman comes to mayor’s defense: A key African-American alderman on Tuesday defended Mayor Emanuel in a Department of Water Management scandal that sources say involved emails containing racist and sexist references.
Ald. Carrie Austin, 34th, the longest-serving African-American member of the City Council, said the mayor should not be held responsible for any alleged failings of former Water Department Commissioner Barrett Murphy.
Austin was asked if the scandal harmed the mayor because Murphy is a friend of the mayor’s whose wife, Lynn Lockwood, is the former chairman and treasurer of an Emanuel political fund. And the mayor is still trying to repair his image in the African-American community that was harmed with the late 2015 release of a police dashcam video showing black teen Laquan McDonald being shot 16 times by a police officer.
“How does that harm the mayor?” Austin, 34th, asked, of the Water Department scandal first reported by the Tribune last Friday. “Does he have control of (Murphy’s) thinking and his actions?
“If you are the commissioner and you are the head, you act accordingly, not because you’re (a) friend to the mayor or your wife is a friend to the mayor," she said.
Emanuel said Monday he was made aware by Inspector General Joseph Ferguson’s office of a problem with "one particular employee" and "in that process, it exposed a culture in the Water Department workplace" that doesn’t represent city values.
Emanuel said Murphy, the water commissioner, agreed there should be a reset in the culture at the agency, which is now headed by Randy Conner, who moved over from the Chicago Department of Transportation.
Austin expressed faith that Conner, an African-American man who according to public records is a resident of Austin’s South Side ward, will help get rid of “a culture of racism” in the Water Department.
“Randy is not the savior. OK?” Austin said. “But I think he will work in a fashion to make sure that that department is above board. And I don’t know him to do anything else, because he’s done that in every department that he’s been in.”
Also defending the mayor was Ald. Patrick O’Connor, 40th, the mayor’s council floor leader, who said Emanuel’s "response was a very adequate, responsible response.” (Hal Dardick)
*Taxpayer-funded campaigns? The second time was the charm for Democratic governor hopeful Sen. Daniel Biss, who was able to pass legislation Tuesday that would allow for taxpayer funding of political campaigns.
An earlier effort to win approval of the legislation fell flat amid concerns that Illinois could not afford to finance campaigns given larger budget issues.
The measure passed after Biss watered down language to give lawmakers the option to provide money to cover the program instead of making it mandatory. It calls for giving candidates running statewide the option to participate in a matching system for small donors.
“Everyone who is frustrated today by the influence that corporations and billionaires wield over politicians and the policy decisions they make should support the concept of small donor matching,” said Biss, from Evanston. (Monique Garcia)
What we’re writing
*Rauner, Madigan start annual push to avoid blame for lack of budget (with cameo by special guest star Cullerton).
*Rauner’s DCFS chief pledges reform, weighs job offer in Florida.
*Photo gallery: Protesters march to Springfield for a state budget.
*Alderman on CPS funding: "Take Rauner by his neck and wring it."
*Mel Reynolds says feds dragged his name through mud with sex tape talk.
*CPS to recommend merger of Ogden and Jenner schools.
*And school officials cancel a presentation as they continue talking about a financial rescue plan.
What we’re reading
*Man caught on video punching female security guard apologizes after surrendering.
*Aldi will spend $180 million remodeling most of its Chicago-area stores. You’ll still need a quarter to get a cart.
*Knock knock. Who’s there? A process server. Conan O’Brien accused of stealing jokes from Winnetka-raised writer in lawsuit.
Follow the money
*Ald. Ed Burke’s Burnham Committee reported $71,000 in contributions.
*Track Illinois campaign contributions in real time here and here.
*Comey memo says Trump asked him to end Flynn investigation, NYT reports.
*Tempers and confusion at the White House as Trump turns against staff.
*Trump, McMaster say the sharing of classified intelligence was appropriate.