DO WE KNOW RAHM YET?

Though out of the spotlight, Emanuel still both archvil­lain and ‘Yo! Mr. Mayor!’

Chicago Tribune (Sunday) - - FRONT PAGE - By Christo­pher Bor­relli

MANCH­ESTER, N.H. — Rahm Emanuel, Chicagoan, shark, bully, pit bull, leviathan, sledge­ham­mer, for­mer mayor, for­mer Demo­cratic op­er­a­tive and fundraiser, for­mer con­gress­man, for­mer White House chief of staff, for­mer Hil­lary Clin­ton headache, “Rahm the Im­paler” (Esquire), “the bas­tard’s bas­tard” (also Esquire), “a po­lit­i­cal John McEn­roe” (The New Yorker), “lead­ing pur­veyor of fourlet­ter words” (The Washington Post), “rene­gade mayor of a rene­gade city” (Newt Gin­grich), “Rahmbo,” “Mayor 1 Per­cent,” in­vest­ment banker, fa­ther, hus­band, bal­let dancer, Sunday morn­ing TV talk­ing head and now author, moved ef­fi­ciently, tightly, as if pro­grammed to the step.

He walked out of swirling cur­tains of snow here and onto the wide, spot­less car­pet that ABC had un­rolled along­side its cam­eras, light­ing tow­ers and makeshift news set.

He ar­rived to his new day job. Or rather, aside from join­ing the bou­tique in­vest­ment firm Cen­ter­view Part­ners, his other new day job, which is sit­ting on a stool be­side the for­mer New Jersey gov­er­nor Chris Christie and dis­cussing pol­i­tics for ABC News. This, so far, has been the post-may­oral ca­reer of Emanuel.

When he stands with Christie, they make an oddly per­fect match, one slen­der and rigid, the other round and an­i­mated, two out­sized per­son­al­i­ties so in­stantly rec­og­niz­able I could ID them by the sil­hou­ettes they cast. Oth­er­wise, Emanuel seemed un­char­ac­ter­is­ti­cally low key.

He ar­rived with­out the usual se­cu­rity de­tail, flanked in­stead by his daugh­ter, Ilana, a stu­dent at Brown Univer­sity in nearby Prov­i­dence, and her col­lege friend. He wore a dark quilted down coat, and be­fore he had a chance to set­tle in and look around, a re­porter from Time ap­proached with a pen and pad and thin river of sweat slalom­ing down the side of his face.

Then came an­other re­porter, and an­other.

In the past 72 hours alone, an im­peach­ment trial col­lapsed, an Iowa cau­cus im­ploded and a pres­i­dent de­liv­ered a con­tentious State of the Union. They wanted Emanuel’s hot, in­sider takes, and for the most part

Emanuel obliged ev­ery one. “Cav­alry‘s not com­ing,” he said. And, “Midterms are when you test a the­ory.”

Also, “Let’s be clear. There’s a long way to go.”

He tried to walk on, but a re­porter stopped in front of the fa­bled politi­cian and held a big, know­ing smile that might sug­gest a long history. Emanuel’s tight rep­til­ian smirk, how­ever, sug­gested a re­la­tion­ship with more pro­fes­sional dis­tance.

“Who’s your fa­vorite for the de­bate tonight?” the guy asked. “Ev­ery­one has a fa­vorite. You’ve been to a few rodeos.”

Emanuel stared into the car­pet, then said the can­di­dates at that night’s Demo­cratic de­bate just came out of Iowa as if fired from a start­ing pis­tol; now they’re fly­ing along. He didn’t of­fer much (or a fa­vorite), but what he of­fered sounded with con­vic­tion.

He spoke to re­porter after re­porter with both an off-the-record can­dor and a reg­u­lar can­dor that grew dif­fi­cult to dif­fer­en­ti­ate. A young re­porter ap­proached: “Rahm! Who is to blame for Iowa, Rahm?”

The for­mer Chicago mayor’s eye­balls seemed to sigh. But he an­swered, then looked around: “Heather!” he shouted, call­ing after an ABC News ex­ec­u­tive and mak­ing a hasty es­cape.

He looked un­like the Rahm that left City Hall last spring. He looked less haunted and tired, nearly ca­sual now.

Last spring, Emanuel’s name briefly ap­peared on the mast­head of the At­lantic as a con­tribut­ing editor for the pub­li­ca­tion, but he was bounced from the largely cer­e­mo­nial post be­cause of an in­ter­nal cam­paign by the staff of the At­lantic, which was crit­i­cal of Emanuel’s han­dling of the mur­der of Laquan McDon­ald. And say his name in Chicago to­day, and you have a very good chance of get­ting a mostly neg­a­tive re­sponse with a gen­er­ous side dish of cyn­i­cism and anger. But the man him­self, said Paul Be­gala, a for­mer ad­vi­sor to Pres­i­dent Bill Clin­ton who worked with Emanuel in the White House and re­mains close, “has def­i­nitely changed.”

“He’s still the driven Rahm, but as much as he loved be­ing mayor of Chicago, as much as I wor­ried what

“As much as he loved be­ing mayor of Chicago, as much as I wor­ried what would hap­pen to him after (his term ended), this is the hap­pi­est he’s been since I’ve known him. And I doubt he ex­pected it.”

— Paul Be­gala, who worked with Emanuel at the White House

would hap­pen to him after (his term ended), this is the hap­pi­est he’s been since I’ve known him,” Be­gala said. “And I doubt he ex­pected it.”

Mayor of Chicago, Emanuel said of­ten, was his dream job. But what do you do when you get that job and re­sults were — by many stan­dards, in­clud­ing the high prob­a­bil­ity he would have strug­gled to win a third term as mayor — mixed?

If you’re Rahm Emanuel, never known for half-mea­sures, you write a new book ti­tled “The Na­tion City: Why May­ors are Now Run­ning the World.” Which is about …

“How bad he was at mayor?” asked Ald. Jeanette Taylor, 20th, when I told her ear­lier this month about the book.

No, ac­tu­ally, it’s about … “Oh, the hell with him,” Taylor said. “I hope his next job is mayor of pick­ing up poop.”

Emanuel, of course, has been on the re­ceiv­ing end of strong opin­ions for sev­eral decades now, at least since emerg­ing into the public eye as an un­apolo­get­i­cally con­tentious, al­most joy­fully com­bat­ive fundraiser for Bill Clin­ton’s pres­i­den­tial cam­paign. And yet, “The Na­tion City,” re­gard­less of your feel­ings to­ward Emanuel, is a com­pelling ar­gu­ment for why may­ors can no longer rely on the fed­eral gov­ern­ment for fresh ideas, fi­nan­cial sup­port or even a vi­sion of the fu­ture, forc­ing them to be­come the only in­no­va­tive, work­able branch of ex­ec­u­tive governance re­main­ing, in the United States and in­ter­na­tion­ally.

It’s also, for bet­ter or worse, a bold ar­gu­ment for Emanuel him­self and how he has left Chicago in his own im­age — richer, friendly to busi­ness, colder and cer­tainly gen­tri­fied. Still, should he be the one writ­ing this?

When I told Chicago-based po­lit­i­cal his­to­rian Rick Perl­stein that “The Na­tion City” be­gins with Emanuel’s strong and no­tex­actly-mis­guided case that in­come inequality has be­come the most press­ing prob­lem fac­ing big cities to­day, he burst out laugh­ing.

Though Chicago clearly had had enough of Mayor Rahm, the peo­ple of Chicago, at least the ones we ran into, seemed to re­ally like the guy.

A week after New Hamp­shire, Emanuel — this time with a se­cu­rity de­tail and a com­mu­ni­ca­tions per­son — met me at Peaches, a small cafe in East Garfield Park housed in­side of a for­mer cur­rency ex­change. He walked in and was warmly greeted by the only two ta­bles oc­cu­pied by cus­tomers on an early Fri­day morn­ing. He worked their hand­shakes as if he were still the mayor, and when he fi­nally sat down I asked if he had stocked the room. He laughed.

“What? No! “he said. “That guy said hello! My mother taught me to be po­lite.”

In­deed, for the next three hours I learned, though Chicago clearly had had enough of Mayor Rahm, the peo­ple of Chicago, at least the ones we ran into, seemed to re­ally like the guy. Not a sin­gle passerby curses or flips him off or shouts him down. They hug and kiss him.

And yet it wasn’t so long ago that, ac­cord­ing to Politico, the Hil­lary Clin­ton cam­paign avoided Emanuel at a 2016 cam­paign stop, fear­ful of ugly po­lit­i­cal residue left after the McDon­ald shoot­ing; at the time, a Tri­bune poll found that 74% of Chicagoans didn’t be­lieve Emanuel told the truth. Just last year, as the for­mer mayor left of­fice, Chicago Teach­ers Union boss Jesse Sharkey said that Rahm had played an “ef­fec­tive archvil­lain.”

Eric Garcetti, mayor of Los An­ge­les, told me about at­tend­ing a con­fer­ence of may­ors sev­eral years ago, and at din­ner “it ended up be­ing just the two of us be­cause maybe (other may­ors) thought Rahm was toxic. But this is a lonely job and it’s help­ful to have a peer in tough times, when your star is not shin­ing its bright­est. Even when you’re mak­ing de­ci­sions not pop­u­lar in the short term, those can be the most im­por­tant de­ci­sions in the end.”

“The Na­tion City” isn’t quite the naked at­tempt at rep­u­ta­tion re­pair that you might as­sume — it’s much too pol­icy-minded, de­bat­able and baldly self-ag­gran­diz­ing. Laquan McDon­ald barely ap­pears in its pages, race in gen­eral of­ten feels side­lined and mas­sive in­stances of se­lec­tive mem­ory abound — for ex­am­ple, Emanuel fig­ures it’s a good thing that New York City lost Ama­zon’s HQ2 be­cause he’s not en­tirely for mas­sively sub­si­dized cor­po­rate projects con­structed on the backs of con­stituents, some­how manag­ing to for­get how fever­ishly Chicago wooed Ama­zon.

But it does get across an as­pect of Emanuel that was of­ten lost dur­ing his tu­mul­tuous time in City Hall: how thought­ful and nu­anced the Rah­mi­na­tor can be, how he is more than a smug, one-di­men­sional ab­strac­tion. It won’t win over de­trac­tors, but it may com­pli­cate their hate.

Bruce Katz, who served in the

Obama ad­min­is­tra­tion’s De­part­ment of Hous­ing and Ur­ban De­vel­op­ment and wrote “The New Lo­cal­ism” with the late Jeremy Nowak, said: “In my view, I think Rahm is one of the few may­ors in the U.S. who un­der­stood the role of mayor. A lot of may­ors are wait­ing for the na­tional gov­ern­ment to kick back into gear, but Rahm seems to have un­der­stood early this was never go­ing to hap­pen, and even if feds did any­thing half­way in­tel­li­gent, he would have to develop a broad net­work of sources to get things done. I don’t think he gets credit for that. You have to go back to 1980s and Rea­gan scal­ing back the gov­ern­ment to see the roots of it. The re­sult now is that be­ing mayor may be the hard­est job in Amer­i­can gov­ern­ment.

“The chal­lenges are com­plex be­cause you seem to be the last layer of gov­ern­ment that func­tions. Ex­pec­ta­tions are huge and you’re so close to the ground (that) you have to act. I don’t think it’s cycli­cal; I think ground has shifted. Rahm was one of the first to see that.”

Emanuel said he wrote the book be­cause, yes, he feels “we are in the early stages” of a more may­oral-cen­tric na­tion, one in which cities are less re­liant on the fed­eral gov­ern­ment.

“But I want to be clear: I would pre­fer an affirmativ­e fed­eral gov­ern­ment,” he said. “I would rather have a part­ner than an an­tag­o­nist. That said, you can’t wait. You can’t wait for the min­i­mum wage to be raised or high­school grad­u­a­tion rates to im­prove. You have to, say, build a train sta­tion so peo­ple can get to jobs and schools.

“In the book I men­tion how, in the ’60s, (Pres­i­dent Lyndon B.) John­son sees trou­ble in the cities and gives may­ors Head Start. (Barack) Obama, try­ing to get fed­eral sup­port for univer­sal pre-K, has to call 200 may­ors and ask them to get it done. He can’t do it, which is how things have changed.”

It’s an in­trigu­ing ar­gu­ment, par­tic­u­larly from some­one who, be­fore serv­ing as Chicago mayor, rose to promi­nence mainly through na­tional pol­i­tics, of­ten within steps of two Oval Of­fices.

A quick re­fresher: In the early 1990s, Emanuel be­comes in­fa­mous for his brash, hard­ball tac­tics as di­rec­tor of fi­nance for Bill Clin­ton’s first pres­i­den­tial cam­paign. Once in the White House, he re­port­edly clashes with Hil­lary and is shown the door, but, with true Emanuel panache, he re­fuses to quit un­less Pres­i­dent Clin­ton fires him. He’s later made se­nior ad­vi­sor of pol­icy and strat­egy to Clin­ton and be­comes in­stru­men­tal on NAFTA and the still-con­tro­ver­sial crime bill.

In 1998, Emanuel leaves the White House to join an in­vest­ment bank­ing firm, makes mil­lions, then wins three terms in the House, rep­re­sent­ing most of Cook and DuPage coun­ties. Then as head of the Demo­cratic Con­gres­sional Cam­paign Com­mit­tee, he crafts the Democrats’ 2006 takeover of the House. He then serves al­most two years as chief of staff in the Obama White House, where his rep­u­ta­tion as a cal­cu­lat­ing, foul-mouthed po­lit­i­cal crea­ture is ce­mented.

By his Obama ten­ure, Emanuel had be­come such an in­flam­ma­tory fix­ture and go-to car­i­ca­ture in ruth­less Washington pol­i­tics that it’s widely as­sumed he pro­vided in­spi­ra­tion for the ar­ro­gant

Josh Ly­man on “The West Wing.”

“No doubt a car­i­ca­ture grew up over the years that prob­a­bly was true early on, but I served un­der him (at the Obama White House), and for all this stuff about tem­per­a­ment his door was mostly open,” said David Ax­el­rod, se­nior strate­gist for Obama and now di­rec­tor of the In­sti­tute of Pol­i­tics at Univer­sity of Chicago.

“You might walk out with your head in your hands, but watch­ing him keep a lot of balls in the air at a dif­fi­cult time for the coun­try — two wars, fi­nan­cial cri­sis, a very dif­fer­ent po­lit­i­cal en­vi­ron­ment — was re­mark­able. I ac­tu­ally thought that (Chicago mayor) was tai­lor-made for him and he might go for it.”

Emanuel re­turned to Chicago and ran for mayor just as Washington’s re­la­tion­ship with large cities seemed to have reached its thinnest point in decades. Melissa Green, who ran Chicago’s D.C. of­fice for Emanuel and worked with him in both the Clin­ton and Obama ad­min­is­tra­tions, said: “When he asked me to work for him as mayor? I’d been in two White Houses. But here’s what I’ve learned: The White House is the ivory tower of pol­i­tics, and you don’t do much in there where you can see the im­pact on a sin­gle life. Rahm, as a mayor, was con­stantly drilling into us that ev­ery­thing we did would im­pact spe­cific Chicago peo­ple.”

Which, to those Chicagoans who grew to ac­tively dis­like Emanuel, might read like re­vi­sion­ist history.

“But any­one who has had his suc­cess, they don’t have one club in the bag; they han­dle a lot. They’re com­pli­cated,” said Christie. “Yes, he’s bit­ing, but (he is) also thought­ful, charm­ing and with a big heart. Any­one who cares to look be­yond stock char­ac­ter­i­za­tions sees it.

“Thing is, some­times it’s eas­ier to go with stock char­ac­ter­i­za­tions. I think I can safely say I know what I’m talk­ing about.”

“OK, let’s go,” Emanuel said, jump­ing up from his seat with­out warn­ing. Within mo­ments, he’s bound­ing across four lanes of traf­fic, headed for the Garfield Green Line sta­tion, a $43 mil­lion project that was com­pleted last year and which Emanuel re­gards as a “gate­way” for tourists who ar­rive in Washington Park, headed for the fu­ture Obama pres­i­den­tial li­brary.

The sta­tion is all pol­ished tile and fresh mo­saics and Nick Cave­cre­ated splashes of color. Emanuel be­gan, “I was in Ber­lin and I saw that while ev­ery train sta­tion has art; some sta­tions are pieces of art.” But within a mo­ment CTA work­ers and pas­sen­gers are sur­round­ing him.

“So I re­turn to Chicago and —

How’s it go­ing! How’s the fam­ily?

— I gave this project to — You good? Great! — I gave it to the head of — What’s hap­pen­ing! How do you like this?” he said.

He turned to me, fin­ish­ing his thought: “As I wrote in the book, may­ors learn from each other.”

Ac­tu­ally, I re­minded him, in the book he wrote that they

“steal” from each other.

He punched my right shoul­der: “Steal­ing and learn­ing.”

After a cou­ple of min­utes at

Garfield we climbed into the SUV driv­ing him around town. Con­trived as this sounds, the drivin­garound-town thing was my idea: I asked him to se­lect a few places that il­lus­trated his book, his suc­cesses and fail­ures. And then for weeks, he sug­gested ideas and re­jected places.

I was hop­ing the ex­er­cise might open an in­ti­macy, but the guy is pri­vate, fa­mously con­trol­ling, doesn’t want me to see him in the makeup room be­fore the New Hamp­shire de­bate, doesn’t want me with him if he’s with his kids, nixes ev­ery at­tempt to visit his Ravenswood home.

Poll­ster Stan­ley Green­berg told me Emanuel is much more fam­ily-cen­tered than peo­ple might think, and that dur­ing the six years Emanuel lived in his D.C. base­ment when he served in the House, “Rahm would be out of here like a shot and headed back to his fam­ily in Chicago the sec­ond Congress went on break.” Pri­vacy is not un­rea­son­able, but pri­vacy alone doesn’t chip apart the im­age of a steely po­lit­i­cal crea­ture.

In the SUV, he never stopped cam­paign­ing.

Headed west on Garfield, he said: “Let’s see how com­pli­cated I can get. There’s new hous­ing over there with re­tail. There’s KLEO (Com­mu­nity Fam­ily Life Cen­ter). This here” — he points to a large build­ing cov­ered in plas­tic sheet­ing — “was a bak­ery and it’s go­ing to be a data cen­ter. You think I don’t lis­ten? You think I thought of all this? No.”

Data for what, I asked? “Com­put­ers …” he said. “Do I need to help you? Do I need to be gen­tle? Let me start again: This, da-ta cen­ter — got it? OK, and I’m not dis­re­spect­ing Dunkin’ Donuts but here, there’s a cof­fee shop with real food. A food desert is not just about gro­cery stores.”

He steam­rolled as he spoke, or to be gen­tler, he’s a cheer­leader as he speaks — which, of course, is part of the pro­fes­sion, said James Brainard, mayor of Carmel, In­di­ana, one of sev­eral Repub­li­can may­ors Emanuel cites in his book as an in­no­va­tive, non-par­ti­san­minded thinker.

“Be­ing chief cheer­leader, get­ting peo­ple ex­cited about where they live, that’s a mayor’s job to an ex­tent,” Emanuel said.

We ar­rived at the 50,000square-foot XS Tennis Vil­lage at 54th and State, in Washington Park, one of his large tan­gi­ble suc­cesses, as much about ed­u­ca­tion as tennis, with 2,300 stu­den­tath­letes a year, and founded by the tennis coach Ka­mau Murray, who is long and rail thin. Greet­ing the com­pact Emanuel, Murray is the def­i­ni­tion of reedy. As they hugged, Emanuel said: “Look what the wind lit­er­ally blew in. Know what you need? You are short one Jewish mother. I’m go­ing to send you some corned beef from Manny’s.”

We walked around, and Emanuel said: “Ka­mau is the great­est sales­man. Says, ‘I don’t need money, I want you to hear my idea.’ And $9 mil­lion later … Did I bring this to you?”

“No, I brought it to you,” Murray said, “and Rahm says (call­ing for an as­sis­tant) ‘Where’s Meghan! She’s in the bath­room? Tell her to get out of the bath­room! I want her to take this from con­ver­sa­tion to com­ple­tion!’ I don’t have a huge net­work of folks to tap into and a lot of the donor com­mu­nity (to build the tennis fa­cil­ity) came from his re­la­tion­ships.”

“He’s be­ing mod­est,” Emanuel said.

We piled in the SUV and headed south, stop­ping at the new En­gle­wood STEM High School. Emanuel noted, as if re­mem­ber­ing past head­lines, the school is the re­sult of three con­sol­i­dated schools, open on week­ends, “and more than a high school, but like a com­mu­nity an­chor.”

Clearly he was try­ing to show how, dur­ing his ten­ure, he lis­tened, how the con­stant re­frain of “Rahm only heard cor­po­ra­tions and ig­nored un­der­served neigh­bor­hoods” wasn’t the re­al­ity. When I noted a fa­mil­iar crit­i­cism, which the En­gle­wood High School visit had al­ready some­what ad­dressed — that clos­ing 49 schools mostly on the South and West sides desta­bi­lized many fam­i­lies — he said: “And if I did noth­ing, would my life, pro­fes­sion­ally, per­son­ally, have been bet­ter? Yes, but it was my re­spon­si­bil­ity to do some­thing.”

As his book ar­gues, may­ors take hits for do­ing the right thing, not the easy thing. Of course, that’s not wrong: Even Leah Levinger, di­rec­tor of the Chicago Hous­ing Ini­tia­tive, said, when it comes to public hous­ing, the feds aban­doned cities.

“But if it leaves a lo­cal­ized con­trol many feel does not care about vul­ner­a­ble com­mu­ni­ties? And maybe doesn’t want them in the city?” she said. “It sounds con­spir­a­to­rial, but the pop­u­la­tions I’ve de­voted my life to felt aban­doned by Rahm. He was ter­ri­ble.”

When I re­lay a few judg­ments, he looked away and watched the city rush past. He’d heard it be­fore.

“Mayor 1 Per­cent”? He un­der­stands it, he said, but it’s “a cheap shot,” the sort that ig­nores the kind of neigh­bor­hood in­vest­ments we’re vis­it­ing.

Per­haps some peo­ple just don’t like him? Look, he said, be­ing uni­ver­sally loved is not a mea­sure of suc­cess.

“If that’s your goal as mayor of the city of Chicago, you’re in the wrong pro­fes­sion,” Emanuel said. “My goal was to make a dif­fer­ence on the tra­jec­tory of Chicago. I walk in, un­em­ploy­ment is 11%, the city budget is out of whack, pen­sions are un­der­val­ued, in­fras­truc­ture is crum­bling, we have the short­est school day in the na­tion. That’s not a recipe for find­ing love in a per­son.”

We stopped at the Whole Foods in En­gle­wood.

“So,” he said, step­ping from the SUV, “did I solve ev­ery­thing? No. Did I lever­age my of­fice on be­half of, say, build­ing this Whole Foods? I did. None of this” — he casts an arm around, at a strip mall stocked with fa­mil­iar na­tional chains —”was here be­fore. I know what was here.”

He de­scribed him­self as a “heat-seek­ing mis­sile” who bad­gered cor­po­rate CEOs to in­vest in En­gle­wood. He rat­tled off the first names of the CEOs he pestered. We walked into the mar­ket and barely reached the ap­ples when a shout came: “Mr. Mayor! You’re still my mayor!”

We never did visit the fail­ures. Emanuel, as Ax­el­rod once said about his close friend, is “al­ler­gic to fail­ure.” But to be fair, it’s hard to visit some­thing that doesn’t ex­ist — the pro­posed Lu­cas Mu­seum or Elon Musk’s 12-minute tun­nel from the Loop to O’Hare or the Red Line ex­ten­sion to 130th Street.

Any­way, it’s be­yond Emanuel now.

In New Hamp­shire, you never hear about Chicago, good or bad. In­stead, old friends, jour­nal­ists, ex­pect the Rahm of Washington lore: the Chicago (then Wil­mette) kid who got his start with the Illinois Public Ac­tion Coun­cil, learn­ing pol­i­tics at the block level; who spent sum­mers in Is­rael, then served as a civil­ian vol­un­teer for the Is­raeli army in 1991, rust-proof­ing brakes; who grew up in a com­pet­i­tive, com­bat­ive fam­ily.

His fa­ther was a pe­di­a­tri­cian whose “nurses called him ‘Speedy Gon­za­lez,’ ” said Ezekiel Emanuel, Rahm’s older brother. “Dad would take one look at a kid and go ‘OK, no strep throat — next! OK, I’m just go­ing to re­move these stitches and — all right, next!’ And our mother, was an ac­tivist, and she was equally in­tense.

“To­gether, they drilled in to me, Rahm and Ari (the youngest) that you would be held ac­count­able in this world for what you do.”

Emanuel was ini­tially known as a fundraiser, but by his late 20s he had be­come a ris­ing Demo­cratic star with an al­most-car­toon­ish aura of ruth­less­ness. Some of the sto­ries were true (mail­ing a dead fish to a poll­ster,

stab­bing a ta­ble while recit­ing the names of van­quished ene­mies), some apoc­ryphal (lob­by­ing con­gress­men in the House locker room while fully nude).

Re­gard­less, the point was al­ways the same: Emanuel had a fear­less tal­ent for climb­ing be­neath the skin of old-school D.C., al­beit a tal­ent that would even­tu­ally ob­scure a much-less-writ­ten­about thought­ful­ness. A foul­mouthed rolling stone, he gath­ered no short­age of de­trac­tors.

After decades of ser­vice, his tough-guy leg­end mostly hides that.

“Rahm picks fights he knows he can win,” said Rick Perl­stein, a steady critic. “His bravado looks pa­per-thin to me. At the first sign of trou­ble (in City Hall), he de­cides not to run for a third term?”

(Mayor Lori Light­foot, asked to weigh in on Emanuel’s ten­ure, did not re­spond to re­quests.)

These days as an ABC News talk­ing head, Emanuel, 60, is more prag­matic and mild, of­ten plainly old-fash­ioned, never the ide­o­log­i­cal lib­eral the Trump White House likes to sug­gest.

As can­di­dates in New Hamp­shire de­bated in an ad­ja­cent au­di­to­rium, he did what he does at these things: He left the green room and Christie and his fel­low com­men­ta­tors, strolled to the floor of the news set and watched the de­bate by him­self. He stood alone for nearly the two-plus hours of the de­bate, pac­ing be­fore a floor mon­i­tor, fold­ing his arms and tex­ting with Ax­el­rod, Be­gala and his daugh­ter, who was watch­ing from in­side the au­di­to­rium.

“I don’t want to be dis­tracted by ev­ery­one talk­ing (in the green room),” he told me later. “I also don’t want to hear what oth­ers are say­ing be­cause then you’re just driv­ing in their lane. I’d rather lis­ten and see how I can of­fer my own opin­ion, out­side of the pack.”

Christie told me later that

Emanuel has too much fire left in­side him to spend the rest of his ca­reer as a TV com­men­ta­tor; he as­sumes Emanuel will run for of­fice again. Oth­ers nixed this idea. They said Emanuel was done with elected of­fice but might ac­cept an ap­pointed role in a left-lean­ing White House.

When I asked Emanuel him­self, he said that he wasn’t fin­ished with public ser­vice. But that could mean chief of staff or grade-school cross­ing guard.

At home in Chicago he has more quiet time now. He pulled out his iPad and scrolled through the stream of books he had al­ready read — “The Bomb: Pres­i­dents, Gen­er­als, and the Se­cret History of Nu­clear War,” “In Hoffa’s Shadow,” his­to­ries of an­thro­pol­ogy, bi­ogra­phies of Grant and Nixon, “Sab­bath’s Theater” and “There There.” He hosts a Shake­speare-themed book club at his home about ev­ery five weeks.

He swims, does el­lip­ti­cal. The morn­ing after Light­foot was sworn in as mayor, Emanuel and Richard Mintz, an old friend and for­mer Clin­ton ad­min­is­tra­tion of­fi­cial, set out on bikes from Mon­trose and rode the cir­cum­fer­ence of Lake Michigan in ex­actly 14 days, av­er­ag­ing 68 miles a day.

“As soon as we got to the bike path, it started to pour,” Mintz said. “And with the wind, it was maybe the cold­est May in years. We rode down to the South Side and met a cou­ple of al­der­men for cof­fee and it was nice, then we got on the path and did 90 miles that first day.

“Rahm was very Rahm, rid­ing very ag­gres­sively. I kept say­ing slow down, but each day we got fur­ther from Chicago, he calmed. By day three or four he fi­nally re­laxed. But it got frus­trat­ing. We would get into these rhythms and he would want to stop and take pictures of barns. I would kind of joke, ‘Rahm, there’s a beau­ti­ful barn!’ ”

Emanuel would get rec­og­nized. At a restau­rant in the Up­per Penin­sula, a guy wear­ing an

NRA hat ap­proached: “You who I think you are?” Emanuel in­vited him to have a beer. They talked gun leg­is­la­tion.

Headed south into Wis­con­sin in early morn­ing, they knocked on a door and asked where they could find a cup of cof­fee and were in­vited in for a pot. Mintz said that Emanuel be­gan the trip wor­ried if his legacy and changes in Chicago would be un­der­stood, but by the time he re­turned, “I think he shed that bur­den some­what.”

I asked Emanuel what he learned.

He told me about the rel­a­tively young trees at the Wis­con­sin shore­line, the re­sult of ear­lier gen­er­a­tions of trees be­ing farmed to aid Chicago after the 1871 fire. He told me the worse the cell­phone ser­vice, the nicer the peo­ple. He cast a fa­mil­iar dead­pan, the smile of a man-eater, and he said: “I don’t know if you are aware, but there are a lot of barns out in the world.”

E. JA­SON WAMBSGANS/ CHICAGO TRI­BUNE

E. JA­SON WAMBSGANS/CHICAGO TRI­BUNE PHOTOS

CTA worker Alicia Smith and for­mer Chicago mayor Rahm Emanuel look at art­work by Nick Cave in the Garfield Green Line sta­tion on the South Side.

Rahm Emanuel tours spots in Chicago sig­nif­i­cant to his term as mayor, about a year after leav­ing of­fice.

E. JA­SON WAMBSGANS/CHICAGO TRI­BUNE PHOTOS

Tennis coach Ka­mau Murray wel­comes Rahm Emanuel to the XS Tennis Vil­lage in Washington Park.

For­mer Chicago mayor Rahm Emanuel walks through the En­gle­wood Whole Foods store on Feb. 14.

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