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Rahm Emanuel For Mayor? No. The Anatomy of a Rumor

5 years ago
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There's been a lot of chatter lately about White House Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel quitting his job in a few months to move back to Chicago to run for mayor. Maybe one day in the future Emanuel, a former House member who was on a path to be Speaker before joining the Obama White House, will be a Chicago mayor, or a governor or a senator from Illinois, but that time is not now.

Monday morning update:

Emanuel was asked about his future on the Monday debut of MSNBC's "Daily Rundown." Asked if he will pledge to stay in the White House thorugh 2010, Emanuel said "Yes. I'm staying."

On whether he will run for mayor of Chicago, Emanuel said, "The reason I left Congress to join the president is because I think it is a historic time with great challenges. And I was pleased to get offered to do this job and I'm pleased to stay here as long as the president wants me to stay here. And I plan on staying as long as he has me here."

(end update)

Looking at the anatomy of how the gossip mill churned regarding Emanuel can be instructive into how a rumor can take on a life of its own in the press and blogosphere.

On Saturday, Emanuel, 50, hoping to douse the gossip, urged Mayor Richard M. Daley to run for re-election in 2011. "Mayor Daley is a great mayor for a great city. He has my full support and it is my hope that he will seek re-election," Emanuel said in a statement.

Ground zero for stories and posts speculating about Emanuel's supposed interest in occupying the mayor's office on the fifth floor of Chicago's City Hall can be found in one 26-word sentence buried in the Washington Post.

"Emanuel is said to have told people that the chief-of-staff role is an 18-month job and that he is considering a run for mayor of Chicago," wrote Post columnist Sally Quinn on Jan. 5, not attributing that to any sources. Because Quinn is a mainstream journalist -- and a figure in Washington society, a ranking hostess, married to former Post executive editor Ben Bradlee-and well connected, the sentence, as they say in the business, had legs.

Emanuel's office sent out this statement Tuesday to anyone who asked about Quinn's story: "We are saying the same thing we've been saying about this since this rumor started more than a year ago: 'Rahm is 100 per cent focused on the job at hand – serving President Obama as his Chief of Staff.'"

But that didn't slow things down. Just type "Rahm Emanuel" and "mayor" in Google to see how many bloggers jumped on Quinn's nugget.

The notion of Emanuel leaving the White House to go home and run for mayor at this time is screwy. Even if Emanuel were not to last through the first term -- the job is grueling -- it is inconceivable he would depart in 2010 to jump into a mayoral primary that is only a few months off. He just moved his family to Washington from Chicago's North Side this past summer. Anyway, Mayor Richard M. Daley has not said whether or not he will seek a seventh term.

Daley has been in office for 20 years and is up for re-election in 2011. Because he is mum about re-upping, folks are trying to read his tea leaves. His wife, Maggie, is battling cancer. He had a terrible year last year. As Fran Spielman, the long time Chicago Sun-Times City Hall reporter wrote last month, "Mayor Daley has endured countless highs and lows in his 20-year reign, but the seesaw seemed to stop in 2009: It was one gigantic downer."

But the most important thing to know is that Emanuel is an ardent Daley loyalist, as is White House senior adviser David Axelrod, Daley's former media consultant. In 1989, Emanuel, then a fund-raiser, helped haul in more than $7 million for Daley's first mayoral campaign. Emanuel would not have been elected to Congress in 2002 without the help of Daley's political muscle.

On Wednesday, the Chicago press corps had their first chance to weigh in on Quinn's Emanuel item at a Daley press conference.

"I don't talk to gossip columns," Daley said when asked about Emanuel. "You're not in the gossip column business. You have asked me a lot about gossip columns all the time and I don't respond to 'em."

Spielman wrote, "Given the deep ties between Emanuel and Daley, it's almost inconceivable that the former North Side Congressman would challenge his political mentor."

Also on Wednesday, the Chicago Tribune columnist John Kass made hay out of Quinn's report, devoting 773 words to chewing over the notion of a Washington paper speculating on Emanuel as a Chicago mayoral candidate. "With Hollywood continuing to suck up to the Obama administration, imagine the benefits of a Rahmsian mayoral campaign. HBO's 'Entourage' could film here. The lead character, a charismatic Hollywood agent named Ari, is based on Rahm's brother, Ari," wrote Kass.

Over at WBBM-AM Newsradio 780, reporter Regine Schlesinger interviewed Quinn.

"He's said, 'The job of chief of staff is an 18-month job, it's a burn-out job.' He's made it quite clear that he's not happy and that he's totally stressed all the time and that he's thinking of running for mayor of Chicago," Quinn told WBBM-AM.

The Sunday Sun-Times carried the story about Emanuel urging Daley to run again at the top of page 3. Using Quinn for a peg, the Sunday Tribune ran a piece by Katherine Skiba that looked at how long White House chiefs of staffs stay on the job.

All that from 26 words.

Axelrod told me Sunday he could not imagine Daley not running again. As for Emanuel, Axelrod said, "He has one of the greatest jobs in the world right now. I don't think he is looking around for other jobs. He loves Chicago. I think if he has a chance to serve in the future, I'm sure he will look into that, but that's not for now. Now, he's serving a president he has a wonderful relationship with at a critical time for our country. All we talk about is that job."
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