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Carol Felsenthal
On politics

Nationally Ambitious Rahm Opens Up to the New York Times

The savvy politician gives personal details to the Times, likely betting that he’ll emerge from this mess of a strike as the reasonable reform-minded man—both on the local and national stages…

Rahm Emanuel knows that his nemesis, Chicago Teachers Union President Karen Lewis, having whipped her members into a fury, may have lost control of them. He also knows that parents are out of patience with teachers, that the sunny, carnival-like, late summer picket lines of last week are over. He’s betting that he’ll emerge from this mess of a strike as the reasonable reform-minded man—both on the local and national stages.

Rahm was, it seems, in a good mood when he opened up with personal details (which he rarely does) to Monica Davey of the New York Times. Not only that, but he allowed his aides to offer the reporter additional details. The result ran page one in today’s paper, under the headline “As Chicago Strike Goes On, the Mayor Digs In.” Davey reports that Rahm was in his City Hall office on Sunday night watching Lewis emerge from the meeting in which the delegates voted to continue the strike. She also writes that when Rahm took one of his daughters to the Bruce Springsteen concert at Wrigley Field earlier this month, “…a man approached them and started to speak to the girl. `Your father is,’ he began, finishing the sentence with an expletive.” Davey gleans from Rahm and/or his aides that since the strike started last week, he has conferred with both President Obama and with David Axelrod—although Rahm insists that neither man pressured him to bring the strike to a stop so that it does not impact the coming election. The Times writer even captures a comment from Rahm about his elusive wife, Amy Rule. The mayor told the reporter that, bidding him goodbye last week, Amy told him “….she had never seen him look calmer.”

Rahm also told Davey that he regretted nothing about his “tactics” during the ongoing crisis—and that, for him, it was all about getting “the kids of Chicago to the starting line with other kids.” He added the intriguing line, “I did not come to the office of mayor at this point in my career so I get the glory of running for re-election.” Had I been in the room, I would have asked him which office was next for him.

The decision to go to the Times makes sense for the nationally ambitious politician who knows his reflections as the strike winds down will land on the breakfast tables of the rich guys who support him—“Rahm Republicans,” I call them. The story is also more likely to be seen by—and this assumes the delegates call off the strike Tuesday—those Rahm will soon be asking to contribute to SuperPACS supporting Obama and other Democrats running for the House and Senate.

The Times has been all over this story, offering daily news coverage. One would think it was the New York City schools on strike. The paper’s op-ed writers—David Brooks, Nicholas Kristof, and Joe Nocera—have written columns notably friendly to Rahm. Nocera has addressed the Chicago strike twice; in the earlier column, he roundly derided Karen Lewis and came down on the side of reform, as in Rahm Emanuel and his superintendent Jean-Claude Brizard. Brooks wrote in terms that can only be called adoring. Kristof stated flatly, “…while the Chicago teachers’ union claims to be striking on behalf of students, I don’t see it.”

The paper has also run two editorials since the strike’s start. In the first, it blamed the strike on “union discontent with sensible policy changes” and challenged the CTU if it has “legitimate suggestions for how to improve the fairness and accuracy of the evaluation system…., [to] bring them forward in a way that does not involve holding the city hostage.” It bashed Lewis, whom it described as “basking in the power of having shut down the school system,” and who “seems more inclined toward damaging the mayor politically than in getting this matter resolved.” 

An editorial in today’s Times blamed both Emanuel and Lewis, proclaiming the latter as “more than a match for Mr. Emanuel when it comes to verbal battle.” It concluded that the CTU must ultimately approve the contract so “…Chicago will move into the age of school reform.” That would be the cue for Rahm Emanuel.

Karen Lewis, last week, was also the subject of a front-page Times profile. Unlike Rahm, she apparently did not talk to Davey or cowriter Steve Yaccino.

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