Edit Module
Edit Module
Edit Module
Edit Module
Carol Felsenthal
On politics

Rahm’s Emails: Billionaire Friends, Curt Replies, and Plenty of Loopholes

Not satisfied with the lack of juicy details in Mayor Emanuel’s newly released emails? Wait ’til next month.

Mayor Rahm Emanuel with top campaign donor, confidante, and friend Michael Sacks  Photo: Antonio Perez/ Chicago Tribune

In case you weren’t convinced that “Mayor One Percent” has lots of rich friends, last week’s dump of 2,700 pages of emails sent to and from Rahm Emanuel’s personal accounts is chock full of names of Chicago billionaires and near-billionaires. If you browse through them (and by all means, take our Rahm Email Quiz if you want to test your knowledge), you’ll spot Michael Sacks, Ken Griffin, Michael Polsky, Tom Ricketts, and Penny Pritzker, for example—but nothing to prompt summoning the ethics police.

When the email release forced by a Better Government Association lawsuit hit, the first name I searched was GCM Grosvenor chairman and CEO Michael Sacks, “the shadow mayor,” as he’s often called. Sacks is a close friend, adviser, confidante, and top donor of Rahm’s whom I’ve written about and continue to follow closely. My search yielded 30 hits, but nothing hat comes close to shocking, or even particularly interesting.

More like the thinnest of gruel. In one email dated April 21, 2012, Sacks brings to the mayor’s attention the fact that “White Sox pitcher Philip Humber pitched a perfect game in a 4-0 win over the Mariners … Only 20 other pitchers have tossed perfect games, in which no opposing batter reaches base by hit, walk or error, in Major League history, according to MLB.com.” Most often, Sacks’s name appears because he’s copied on emails sent to others. When Bruce Rauner wants Rahm to participate in a Harvard Business School program, he copies Sacks, among others. An email from Bill Daley invites Rahm and wife Amy, Sacks and wife Cari, and Penny Pritzker and husband Bryan Traubert to dinner at Piccolo Sogno. Another involves an invitation to the mayor to have breakfast with the president and CEO of General Electric.

You get the idea.

Then again, the BGA/Rahm settlement is marred by gaping loopholes. The mayor’s lawyers—including his personal attorney Michael Forde—rather than a judge, got to decide which emails were public-service related and thus subject to release.

To suggest an analogy: it’s as if Hillary Clinton’s long-time lawyer and loyal retainer, David Kendall, had been given the power to decide which emails from her Department of State tenure were released for public consumption. (The analogy is admittedly imperfect because after her exit from State, Hillary’s lawyers did, in fact, sort through her emails to decide which were work-related and which had to do with such private matters as Chelsea’s wedding and Hillary’s yoga schedule. But later, after Citizens United filed a Freedom of Information Act lawsuit, it was a judge who determined release of emails.)

The mayor’s lawyers also got to decide which words and sentences within those emails selected for release were eligible for redaction.

On the subject of Michael Sacks, the Chicago Tribune reported that “Emanuel’s attorneys heavily redacted many of their conversations.”

Also, consider this striking fact practically invisible in news coverage and not noted when the mayor’s lawyers released the emails: emails sent to Rahm’s personal accounts were deleted after 90 days. Those in last week’s dump that are older than 90 days were mostly plucked from the city of Chicago server used by City Hall staffers.

Be patient. The real juice might come from the pending Chicago Tribune lawsuit, filed in September 2015, which charges that the mayor violated the state’s open records laws and demands release of text messages as well as emails sent from personal devices. Earlier this month, according the Tribune, a “Cook County judge ordered the city and Emanuel to produce [by January 27] an index of certain emails and text messages that the mayor sent and received on personal devices.” Given Rahm’s reluctance to put anything important in emails, texts might be more telling.

The Tribune asks particularly for electronic exchanges between Emanuel and Sacks.

That said, the Sun-Times editorial board correctly extended “many kudos” to the BGA for pursuing this lawsuit. And even if it did result in a loophole-laden settlement, it also prompted a reform that is nothing but good for Chicago’s citizenry: from now on, city officials are prohibited from using private email accounts to conduct public business.

For those who find the inner workings of government as intriguing as they are appalling, the 2,700 pages serve up a large portion of entertaining emails.

There’s Bruce Rauner for starters—the best exchange was from 2011 when Rauner still headed GTCR, his private equity firm, as well as the Chicago Convention & Tourism Bureau, and Rahm had recently been inaugurated as mayor. The future governor and Rahm buddy was upset about a hotel tax hike. The two sound like a young couple encountering a pothole on the road to matrimony. Rahm: “I love you a lot.” Rauner: “We’ve got to start communicating better than this.”

For the most part Rahm forwards the emails of supplicants to others on his staff or offers the briefest responses. He’s too smart to be anything but a man of very few words.

Consider the funniest exchange—between Rahm and 49th Ward Alderman Joe Moore, a Rahm ally in the City Council, who shows himself to be hilariously and verbosely obsequious. Moore offers a stream of suck-up-laden paragraphs commiserating with Rahm for the heat he’s taking over the Laquan McDonald video. That elicits from Rahm, simply, “OK thanks.”

Check back for more late next month.

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.

Share

Edit Module
Submit your comment

Comments are moderated. We review them in an effort to remove foul language, commercial messages, abuse, and irrelevancies.

Edit Module