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Carol Felsenthal
On politics

Rahm Endorses Hillary for President, But Bill DeBlasio Isn’t Ready to Yet

New York City mayor Bill de Blasio declined to endorse Clinton, but she’s getting a lot of love from Rahm at least.

 Photo: Nancy Stone/Chicago Tribune

Chicagoans may think of Hillary as their hometown girl—she was born, after all, at the old Edgewater Hospital and she grew up in Park Ridge.

That was then. Now Hillary is a New Yorker. Former congressman Dan Rostenkowski told me that, as Bill’s tumultuous second term was drawing to a close, the former head of the House Ways and Means Committee attempted to persuade Hillary to come home to Illinois to run for the U.S. Senate. Hillary was intrigued, but, she told Rosty, Bill wanted to live in New York.

The Clintons quickly bought their house in Chappaqua to establish the residency that gave carpetbagger Hillary two terms in the U.S. Senate from New York and a launching pad to run for the White House (she would eventually leave early from her second senatorial term to become Obama’s secretary of state).

Sunday’s announcement that she’s running again for President was marred by a real shocker: Her hometown mayor, Bill de Blasio, declined to endorse her. Not quite yet, the populist de Blasio told Chuck Todd during an appearance on NBC’s “Meet the Press”—not until she details how she plans to govern as President. 

Will she ride herd on the big banks? Will she do anything about income inequality; about the fact, as she herself noted, that “the average CEO makes about 300 times what the average worker makes"? How about affordable housing, reining in the growth of urban charter schools? “We need to see the substance,” said de Blasio, who after taking office had pushed for a tax on the wealthy.

When de Blasio made those statements Sunday morning, he was hours away from seeing that afternoon’s slick announcement video: “Americans have fought their way back from tough economic times, but the deck is still stacked in favor of those at the top. Everyday Americans need a champion, and I want to be that champion.”

That wasn’t enough for the new mayor of New York. He didn’t hold a press conference Sunday afternoon and say, “Oh, okay, now I’m ready for Hillary.” And he’s not the only progressive who wants more. The Hill’s Niall Stange interviewed “liberal activists” in Iowa, where Hillary is reintroducing herself today to Iowans who rejected her in 2008 (she took third place behind Obama and John Edwards in the first caucus state), and they seem to want Hillary to pledge that she’ll become a clone of Massachusetts lefty Sen. Elizabeth Warren. 

Back in Hillary’s real hometown, there’s much more love coming her way. Rahm Emanuel, mayor of the city that shaped her, has already endorsed her; and he did so last spring, almost a year before she announced on Sunday that she’s taking the plunge again into the frigid, roiling waters of presidential politics.

Rahm has put his money where his mouth is. He headlined two fundraisers for the Ready for Hillary SuperPAC. And Hillary has returned the favor in June 2014 by enthusiastically endorsing Rahm for a second term as mayor before an “Ideas Week” audience at the Harris Theater. Tribune reporters Rick Pearson and Bill Ruthhart described the exchange between the two old friends as “a mini-version of the play Love Letters.” She called him “his own form of an energy source: I’ve often thought if there were ever a blackout in Chicago, have Rahm hold some kind of cable and Chicago would electrify again.” And he was kind in return, enumerating her stops along the way to the “world stage,” but declaring her “forever…a Chicagoan at heart.” Last June, Bill Clinton also hosted a fundraiser for Rahm’s reelection campaign.

When I interviewed Congressman Emanuel in 2006 for a book I was writing about Bill Clinton, Rahm boasted that he talked to Bill almost every day and that they were “best friends.” Their relationship does indeed go way back. Rahm worked for Bill, starting as a 1992 fundraiser who helped to save Clinton’s candidacy as the Gennifer Flowers and draft dodging scandals threatened to destroy it. Rahm rose to senior adviser in the Clinton White House. An early clash with then-First Lady Hillary resulted in Rahm being demoted—she thought him too aggressive and brash—but that humiliation has long been forgotten and forgiven.

De Blasio’s ties to the Clintons are just as strong and just as career enhancing, which is what makes his decision to rain on Hillary’s parade so surprising. During his first term, Bill Clinton appointed the unknown de Blasio as a regional director at the federal Department of Housing and Urban Development. In 1996, de Blasio coordinated Bill Clinton’s reelection campaign in New York. In 2000, running for her first term as senator from New York, Hillary hired the Brooklynite to be her campaign manager. The Daily Beast’s David Freedlander wrote that Hillary that year “plucked [de Blasio] from obscurity.” 

Hillary and Bill both endorsed de Blasio for mayor in September 2013. Hillary raised money for de Blasio, joined him on the campaign trail, and, on January 1, 2014, Bill swore him in as mayor. De Blasio gushed at the time, “I am proud to come from the Clinton family.” In 2013 at a “closed-door fundraiser” for de Blasio, according to the New York Post, Clinton called the candidate for mayor, “a partner who always had my back.”

Earlier this month, Hillary came to Brooklyn, home of her new campaign headquarters, to lend her star power to Bill de Blasio’s wife, Chirlane McCray. Meeting at a Brooklyn preschool, the two women launched a joint Clinton Foundation/City Hall initiative, focusing the importance of parents talking and reading to their babies from birth on up. Hillary had done the same, last year with Chirlane and Mayor de Blasio in Harlem.

Had Bill de Blasio endorsed Hillary last Sunday, he could have helped to bridge the real gap between the Hillaryites and the people who won’t let go of the dream of Wall Street’s nightmare, Elizabeth Warren, jumping into the race. (She has said repeatedly she won’t.)

Rahm has a much better record on the Clinton family ledger. And also a centrist streak that fits better with the Clinton tendency toward triangulation. Who knows, perhaps Hillary will offer Rahm a place on the ticket. Or, much more likely—Rahm would be a shockingly controversial choice for VP—a cabinet spot; say transportation or commerce or, most likely, HUD. It’s one of a few options he has if he decides to move on from being mayor soon.

Carol Felsenthal is a lifelong Chicagoan and self-proclaimed political junkie. She writes occasionally for Politico Magazine and The Hill. Her books include biographies of Bill Clinton, Katharine Graham, and Alice Roosevelt Longworth. Among her many stories for Chicago are memorable profiles of Michelle Obama and Bruce Rauner. Follow her on Twitter at @csfelsenthal.

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