Carol Felsenthal
On politics

Could Rahm Emanuel Have Sent a Goat’s Head To Wrigley?

In spite of his track record, you can probably remove the grown-up mayor off the list of usual suspects.

wrigley field goat

Scott Strazzante/Chicago Tribune

I’ve followed Rahm Emanuel since the 1980s when he was working for the DCCC, pulling out all the stops to elect democrats. Once, he sent a pollster a dead fish. Another time, he repeatedly stabbed a steak knife into a restaurant table. So when news broke this week that a box containing a severed goat head, addressed to Tom Ricketts, was left outside Gate K at Wrigley Field, I couldn’t help but consider the possibility that our very own Mayor Emanuel sent it.

For those who still need the details: The box, which had no return address, was handed to a security guard by a man who requested that it be delivered to the Cubs chairman. The man quickly got back into his unmarked truck and drove away.

Animal lover that I am, I felt sorry for the goat and hoped it was already dead when its head—described in the press as blackened, a U.S Department of Agriculture tag still hanging off its ear—was lopped off. Still, I had to smile at the thought that the zebra never really changes its stripes. Can the heart and soul of a man who has previously exhibited such Mafioso-like tendencies ever really change?

In this case, I’d bet the house, my family’s house, that Rahm had nothing to do with the delivery of the goat’s head.

That’s despite the fact that he is engaged in contentious, slow, knotty negotiations over the Ricketts’ family proposal to spend $300 million of its own money on a Wrigley Field renovation. And despite the fact that Rahm had, last May, petulantly cut off talks with Tom Ricketts when news broke that tied Tom’s father, Joe, to a proposed (but never implemented) $10 million ad campaign aimed at defeating President Obama by, in part, tying him to the Rev. Jeremiah Wright. 

The new Rahm—he of the slow, monotonal, deliberate, unnaturally un-profane manner—has, it seems, grown up. Besides, he’d never risk messing up his chance to run for President, or at least a place on the ticket as Vice President.

That said, Rahm can’t escape that creepy, brutal, and extremely well-documented past.

First the dead fish: In 1988, Rahm, then working for the DCCC as national campaign director, sent a two-and-a-half-foot-long rotting fish to pollster Alan Secrest, whom Rahm blamed for a bad poll that kept his candidate from winning the Buffalo, New York seat once held by Jack Kemp. Rahm was furious, and,  with two staffers, put the stinking fish in a white box tied with a black ribbon. An enclosed note read, “It’s been awful working with you. Love, Rahm." 

According to a report in the Washington Post, Secrest responded to the “gift” with a letter to Rahm: “So often, those who fail most spectacularly in our business are those for whom the involvement in politics becomes a desperate (and ultimately doomed) attempt to prove their manhood.” More details of Secrest’s letter appeared in a 1992 article in Chicago magazine in which Secrest “diagnosed” Rahm as suffering from “star-fucking,” “hubris,” “immaturity (personalizing conflict),” and “lying.”

I had contacted Secrest in 2010 at his Northern Viriginia firm, Secrest Strategic Services. He declined to discuss Rahm and the fish: “I’d prefer to put this (him) in the rearview mirror.” 

The steak knife incident occurred in November 1992. With Rahm’s invaluable help as national finance director, Clinton had just won the White House. Rahm and a bunch of his young colleagues, including George Stephanopoulous and Mandy Grunwald, went to a celebratory dinner at Doe’s in Little Rock. As Rahm recited the names of the people who had betrayed him and/or Clinton during the campaign, he plunged his steak knife into the restaurant’s wooden table, hissing “Dead!” after each name.

He named, among others, Clifford Jackson (source of draft-dodging stories), William Donald Schaefer (the Democratic governor of Maryland who had endorsed incumbent George H.W. Bush), and Democratic fundraiser Nathan Landow, who backed Paul Tsongas, although later came around and supported Clinton.

In speaking of the steak knife incident in 1997 to the Tribune’s William Neikirk, Rahm said, “If somebody screws me, I’ll remember it.” 

I hope that the police solve the mystery of what they called an “intimidating package.” (The delivery is reportedly on surveillance tape.) And as I get older, I get more superstitious: Perhaps the deliverance of a severed goat’s head will somehow lift Billy Goat Tavern owner William Sianis’s 1945 curse against the Cubs (a result of Cubs officials not allowing Sianis to bring his goat Murphy into a World Series game). If that happens, the Cubs will win it all in 2013. 

But if you believe that, I guess you might also believe that Rahm took time out from hosting Michelle Obama Wednesday to choreograph the goat-head stunt.

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