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Choice called wily, with a fierce will

Chief of staff has aggressive style

Associated Press / November 7, 2008
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CHICAGO - Rahm Emanuel combines political instincts, White House experience, and a Chicago tough-guy attitude - traits that should come in handy as President-elect Barack Obama's chief of staff.

The selection of the hard-charging No. 4 Democrat in the House marked a shift in tone for Obama, who chose more low-key leadership for his presidential campaign.

Emanuel's combative style as political director in the early days of the Clinton administration earned him the nickname "Rahmbo." He didn't always produce results, though. Emanuel lost that job but stayed on as a senior adviser and oversaw some of Clinton's top initiatives, including NAFTA and an assault-weapons ban.

Emanuel, 48, grew up in the ritzy Chicago suburb of Wilmette, the son of an Israeli doctor who moved to the United States. His brother Ari is a Hollywood agent and the inspiration for Ari Gold, the Type-A superagent on the HBO series "Entourage."

The congressman himself has been cited as an inspiration for presidential aide Josh Lyman on the drama series "The West Wing."

His start in politics came after college, when he worked for Paul Simon's 1984 Senate campaign and Richard Daley's run for Chicago mayor in 1989. Then he went to work for a little-known Arkansas governor who wanted to be president.

Emanuel's fund-raising skills are credited with helping keep Bill Clinton's campaign afloat during some rocky times, particularly the scandal over whether he had an affair with Gennifer Flowers.

In 1999, Emanuel left the White House to work in investment banking in Chicago. The firm he joined was soon sold and Emanuel made millions, giving him the financial security to get back into politics.

Emanuel was elected to Congress in 2002 and quickly became a major power. He eventually oversaw the party's House election efforts in 2006 and won a majority for Democrats through tireless fund-raising and candidate recruitment.

"He's a good tactician. He's a creative thinker. But I think what probably makes him most successful is that he has the will to follow his convictions," US Representative Danny Davis, a fellow Illinois Democrat, said after the 2006 victory.

The single biggest source in the record fund-raising effort was other members of Congress, which irritated some members who faced fierce pressure to contribute. The additional money allowed House Democrats to expand the field, going into districts that hadn't previously been considered competitive. That sometimes meant recruiting more conservative candidates, an Emanuel strategy that generated some complaints.

But his success in electing a Democratic majority soothed most hard feelings and confirmed Emanuel as a major force in the House - perhaps even a future speaker. Now, he will have to resign his seat, relinquish his position in the House Democratic leadership, and put aside hopes of becoming House speaker. Once he resigns, a special election will be held for his seat.

Emanuel and his wife have three children. He told Chicago's WLS-TV on Wednesday that he needed to consider the impact of the job on his family before accepting.

In a statement yesterday, Emanuel said, "I know what a privilege it is to serve in the White House, and am humbled by the responsibility we owe the American people. I'm leaving a job I love to join your White House for one simple reason -- like the record amount of voters who cast their ballot over the last month, I want to do everything I can to help deliver the change America needs. We have work to do, and Tuesday Americans sent Washington a clear message -- get the job done."

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