The Daley Dose

Can’t Fight City Hall in Illinois Special

Posted November 17, 2008 at 6:00pm

Already settled into his new role as President-elect Barack Obama’s chief of staff, Rep. Rahm Emanuel (D-Ill.) on Monday remained uncommitted as to when he will formally relinquish his House seat.

“No decisions have been made,” a spokesman said.

But as Emanuel helms the presidential transition — and plots his Congressional exit — behind the scenes, Chicago Mayor Richard M. Daley (D) undoubtedly is busy vetting replacements for Emanuel, a City Hall ally who for three

terms has held a seat long considered the Windy City Democratic machine’s outpost in Washington, D.C.

“In addition to everything that he did for the Democratic Party, Rahm did a lot for the city,” an Illinois Democratic operative said. “And the mayor is going to make sure that somebody gets into that spot that’s going to do a lot to help the city.”

Once Emanuel formally resigns his seat, by state law Gov. Rod Blagojevich (D) has five days to call a primary and special election, which must be held within 115 days — a relatively short amount of time to determine who will steer federal cash back to the city of nearly 3 million people. Several local Democrats are seen as potential candidates for the seat, though in a special election particularly, the desires of Daley and the machine are expected to carry great weight.

According to Chicago political lore, the importance of the North Side seat originates with former Ways and Means Chairman Dan Rostenkowski (D-Ill.), who was exiled to Washington, D.C., 50 years ago on orders from the current mayor’s father, Richard J. Daley (D).

The elder Daley allegedly gave the lawmaker two orders: Represent Chicago’s interests and stay out of local politics.

“The tradition in Chicago is to send your problems to Washington,” local Democratic political consultant Kitty Kurth said. “He was afraid that Rostenkowski was going to run against him for mayor.”

Rostenkowski, who ultimately went to jail in the 1990s for his role in the House Post Office scandal, was defeated by Rep. Michael Patrick Flanagan (R). The then-freshman lawmaker went on to lose in 1996 to Blagojevich, who is married to the daughter of a prominent Chicago alderman.

Another Democratic political consultant agreed privately that Emanuel, who succeeded Blagojevich in the House, has “filled that Rostenkowski position” and has been “the guy who really delivered on the big projects consistently.”

“There are a lot of people in the delegation that don’t necessarily get along with the mayor or haven’t delivered as much to the city as the mayor would expect them to do,” the source said. “The city doesn’t have a very sophisticated operation [in Washington, D.C.], so they really rely on the Members.

“All of them have helped in some ways, but not as much as they mayor would like,” the consultant added. “Rahm was his own person ultimately, but he loved the city and wanted to do as much as he could.”

And like Rostenkowski, Emanuel sits on the powerful Ways and Means tax-writing panel.

So far, Democratic operatives who spoke with Roll Call said three candidates are competing for Daley’s blessing for the job: Alderman Patrick O’Connor, Cook County Commissioner Mike Quigley and state Rep. John Fritchey.

O’Connor is considered by some to be the early frontrunner.

“He’s got good relations with the mayor,” Kurth said. “He’s been in the City Council for a long, long time.”

But through a complicated string of local political alliances, the tide may turn in Quigley or Fritchey’s favor, said Kurth, who added that although the “mayor’s backing would be a huge asset,” there is not expected to be a shortage of candidates.

“Every smart and political ambitious person in the 5th district will be looking at running for this seat,” she said. “It’s a quick election. People are not going to have to spend the kind of money that they normally would have to in a Congressional election.”

Other local candidates who may harbor Congressional ambitions include Alderman Manny Flores (D), former Emanuel aide John Borovicka, state Rep. Sara Feigenholtz (D), Cook County Commissioner Mike Quigley (D) and ex-state Rep. Nancy Kaszak (D), who lost Congressional primaries to both Emanuel and Blagojevich.

Adding intrigue to City Hall’s coronation of Emanuel’s successor were recent press reports that Emanuel expects his job back after he leaves the White House.

Chicago Sun-Times columnist Michael Sneed and other news reports proposed placeholder scenarios late last week.

“Top Dem wags are whispering Rahm Emanuel, President-elect Barack Obama’s new chief of staff, plans to exit the White House in two years in hopes of reclaiming his Congressional seat — thereby enabling him to work toward becoming speaker of the House, his dream job,” Sneed wrote.

But with Emanuel’s successor still unknown, a Democratic operative disputed that the Congressman would demand his job back, arguing that “anyone who gets that seat is going to try and keep it.”

“I don’t think anyone would do it as a placeholder,” the source said. “I can’t imagine anyone going into it with the intention of giving it up in two years.”