Photo: Jamie Bernstein
Chicago’s sociopathic mayor sat down for a breakfast interview this Wednesday at a tony club on the 66th floor of the 106-story Willis Tower, hosted by POLITICO Playbook, the website tout Washington scans every morning to learn what they’re supposed to talk about that day, indifferent or oblivious to the fact that monied interests pay to bias coverage therein.
Poor Rahm Emanuel: how could he have guessed that the interview would fall the morning after he received Police Superintendent Garry McCarthy’s resignation, following the release of video evidence of a nearly execution-style shooting of 17-year-old Laquan McDonald, then the apparent erasure of the evidence of the crime gathered by security cameras at a nearby Burger King—this all coming out 400 days after the death and the erasure occurred. The tape was only released when a judge ruled against the city on a Freedom of Information Act Request. The talk here is of cover-up at the highest levels, old-school Chicago style. “First public remarks about it, right?” says one man in an expensive suit. “Maybe he’ll leverage it,” says another.
The event is a kickoff celebration for POLITICO’s new Illinois edition, and the two interviewers are their new chief correspondent, Natasha Korecki, late of the Chicago Sun-Times, and Playbook’s sachem Mike Allen, Washington’s reigning king of speaking fluff to power. The event also has a cosponsor, their logo displayed prominently next to POLITICO’s on all the signage: Bank of America. “Tweet your questions to #PlaybookBreakfast,” invites the M.C. I oblige, tapping out, “#PlaybookBreakfast how the hell can you fairly cover politics when sponsored by a huge political actor like Bank of America?”
Korecki comes out of the box swinging, though—evidence enough that a perennial favorite of D.C.’s political fashionistas is on the outs.
“Let’s get right to it . . . why did you not watch the video before it was released?” Korecki asks. Rahm burbles out the same mumbo jumbo Chicago media consumers have been hearing for days—“evidence in an ongoing investigation.” (He repeated the words “Justice Department” and “FBI” frequently; I guess he’s counting on this crowd not to know that a day earlier the Justice Department said they’d never asked the city to hold back the video.) “Protocols,” naturally. “Integrity,” of course. And then, absurdly: “If I get to watch it, people like you would say, ‘How come the public doesn’t get to see it?’”
This, remember, is thirteen months after the event. And six months after the city showered the grieving family with a $5 million “settlement,” which was not really a settlement because the family hadn’t even filed a lawsuit. (So the city writes out $5 million checks without the mayor ever reviewing the reason why? “Rahm is an utter liar,” one of my most city-government-savvy friends says. “I do not say that lightly, either.”)
That settlement—a crucial detail to a what-did-he-know-and-when-did-he-know-it-starved city—came a day after Rahm’s reelection in a landslide against a reform candidate.
But Chicago will have to wait for a full accounting of all of this, and any reform proposals, he keeps on burbling, until the blue-ribbon commission he just hand-picked comes back with their report—this year’s blue-ribbon panel, not the one he empaneled a year ago to study police misconduct.
Korecki asks, “Aren’t you hiding behind a blue-ribbon panel? You’re the mayor. This video has been out there; this incident was over a year ago. Why do you have to wait for a blue-ribbon panel?”
This is an excellent question. Indeed, Chicago didn’t have to wait for the video of the shooting of Laquan McDonald to know something was rotten at police headquarters. There was news of the investigation, last February, of the two police detectives who reported at least a dozen officers stealing proceeds from drug dealers. Only two ended up investigated, for the shakedown of (oops) an undercover operative. The whistleblowers? “My life, my safety, my freedom was threatened . . . I was subject to daily harassment.” There’s the officers allegedly sex-trafficking a 14-year-old. Not to mention the astonishing story of Lorenzo Davis, which says a lot about why, since 2007, there have been 400 shootings of civilians by police officers and only one was ruled unjustified by the body laughingly known as the “Independent” Police Review Authority. Davis, an IPRA investigator, was fired because, he says, he refused to falsify reports. Mayor Emanuel of all people knows this.
But he, or his consultants, figured out a clever way not to answer the question. He shot off a one-liner instead: “You are reflecting the immediacy of cable television.”
In black and white, the words read pretty damningly, don’t they? They didn’t to this room, full of Chicago elites. You had to be there. Instead of a collective shudder—“he did not just blame the fact that evidence is available to the public for keeping evidence from the public”—he earned appreciative guffaws. Rahm just got off a zinger! He sure showed her!
Mike Allen tries to chime in. It’s pathetic: Mr. Playbook doesn’t exactly have an instinct for the jugular, and lacks command of certain details. He asks His Honor why he doesn’t plan to resign. In response, the bully has some fun flicking away this obsequious supplicant who’s pathetically trying to puff out his chest: “Because I was looking forward so much to this interview.”
Huge laughs. Which Rahm leverages for maximal humiliation—“I just so enjoyed the chance to say that to you!”—then turns to the crowd to bathe in their appreciation for the nice play.
What about the charge you’re obsessed with your image? Rahm responds that just yesterday he attended a ribbon-cutting at a playground—would someone obsessed with image do that?
Allen asks him about one of his local critics demanding an account of the missing Burger King footage. Rahm answers, “He’d probably appreciate it if you didn’t mispronounce his name.”
Again he gets so many laughs he never has to answer the question. (A fellow named Connor Kelly—“Freelance Events Producer – #YoungIrishFC President – Passionate Chicagoan – Tropical House Fan – Taco Lover,” a picture of himself with the mayor, and a respectable 695 followers, throws up a tweet: [email protected] drilling Rahm with Q’s, trying to put words in his mouth. The Mayor is shooting them down, making crowd laugh.” Kick ass!!!)
Asked why he didn’t go public with his professed outrage over Laquan McDonald’s shooting during the campaign, he says—really!—“No one asked me about it.”
He boasted of reducing the Police Review Board backlog by 60 percent. Given the experience of Lorenzo Davis, it’s not hard to imagine how they managed that.
He bragged about working directly with the ACLU to stop racially biased cop stops. It wasn’t exactly a gift out of the goodness of his heart: the ACLU had just come out with a report finding Chicagoans were stopped four times more often than in New York’s nationally notorious “stop and frisk” program.
Mike Allen: “You have a fairly heartless image . . . To what do you attribute that?” He answered, “I always go to a family whose son or daughter has been a victim of a shooting . . . You want to call that heartless?”
At that, I laughed. Though for some reason I was the only one.
Of course he pulled out the Rahm Emanuel Big Lie. Why don’t people recognize his tender side? Because I’ve “never pulled back from a tough decision.” Which is objectively absurd. Emanuel’s operative principle as Barack Obama’s chief of staff was never to fight any battle that they didn’t know they could win in advance—to always avoid the tough decision. That was why he wanted the administration to give up on pursuing a comprehensive health care bill; thankfully, Obama was saved from Rahm’s cowardice by Nancy Pelosi.
Other lies were smaller—but you be the judge.
He said 2014’s homicide rate was historically low—as if a blockbuster Chicago magazine investigation had never blown the city’s statistical lies out of the water.
He bragged about record high school graduation rates—as if, um, a blockbuster Chicago Public Radio investigation hadn’t blown the city’s statistical lies out of the water.
He said the city’s “financial situation is better than when I inherited it.” Allen didn’t know enough to follow up with the fact that two bond-rating agencies this year have downgraded Chicago to junk-bond status.
But Allen did know how to pronounce celebrity Chicago architect Jeanne Gang’s name right—he bragged about that, before asking about her idea that police stations be built to complement a community policing strategy.
Rahm: “I fundamentally believe in community policing. . . . You can either patrol a community or be part of a community.” Why, at one precinct, he observed, there’s a basketball court in the parking lot. “We need to get to a point where kids . . . don’t just see a uniform and a badge but a mentor and a coach.”
Well, yes. Yes, we do.
It was almost time for breakfast to be over. Mike Allen asked one last question—about his plans to take his family on vacation to Cuba over Christmas break. Mayor Emanuel went unexpectedly ballistic. “Well, first of all thanks for telling everybody what I’m going to do with my family,” in a frigid tone that made asses clench. “You just had a private conversation with me and now you decided to make it public. I really don’t appreciate that.” As if a pol ever tells a gossip columnist anything in confidence without setting ground rules first.
It was something to watch Allen immediately abandon all journalistic self-respect. Obsequiously, he began stammering out an apology. Smelling weakness, Rahm came back with a Corleone bark: “It’s not going to work.” He abruptly thanked us for coming, though several “ers” and “ums” came first. Watch, and see Mike Allen twitch, thoughts of his suck-up card’s revocation plainly dancing through his head.
I grabbed a few of the granola bars Bank of America had so generously bought for me, and headed out into a different sort of blustering Chicago wind.
Rick Perlstein is the Washington Spectator’s national correspondent.