Rahm Emanuel

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Rahm Emanuel

b. November 29, 1959

Chicago Mayor (2011-)
United States, White House Chief of Staff (2009-2011)
United States, Illinois' 5th Congressional District (2002-2009)
United States, White House Deputy Chief of Staff (1993-1998)

Rahm Emanuel's career really began to take shape when he became finance director for aspiring mayoral candidate Richard M. Daley. But before that, he was a scrappy volunteer and then fundraiser on campaigns where David Axelrod consulted in the early 1980's. When Axelrod was hired by Richard M. Daley to manage his successful 1989 mayoral campaign, Emanuel was brought on as the campaign's finance director where he cemented his reputation as a relentless fundraiser with a penchant for rampant cursing.

While some of his childhood was spent on Chicago's North Side, Emanuel mostly grew up in North Shore Wilmette, graduating from New Trier High School. An accomplished ballet dancer, he was offered a scholarship at the Joffrey Ballet, but instead chose college at Sarah Lawrence University. His brothers are also highly accomplished. Ari Emanuel is a top Hollywood agent and co-CEO of William Morris Endeavor and his brother Dr. Ezekiel Emanuel is a bioethicist at the University of Pennsylvania School of Medicine.

Before Emanuel became famous for his drive and unrelenting demeanor in the Bill Clinton and Barack Obama White Houses, where he served respectively as Deputy Chief and Chief of Staff, he headed up Clinton's fundraising operations. In between his White House terms he served in Congress, where he brought his White House and fundraising rolodex to play and helped elect a Democratic majority to Congress in 2006.

Throughout his career, three early Chicago political friendships have endured: David Axelrod, Pete Giangreco and Forrest Claypool. Axelrod and Giangreco, who each have their own political consulting firms, have worked with various Emanuel political campaigns, while Claypool has served as both a policy advisor and during Emanuel's tenure as mayor, his go-to man for running city government.

Another consistent consistent thread throughout Emanuel's career is his prodigious fundraising ability, rising to levels of almost mythical proportion as stories about how he treats prospective donors with distain, only making them want to give more. As Chair of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, he raised huge sums for Democrats, helping his party take back the Speakership. Running for Mayor reelection in 2015 he created a super PAC, Chicago Forward, that raised over $3 million on top of a mayoral campaign that raised a stunning $13 million in a nine month period. With the ability to pour in so much cash to political operations, Emanuel clears out a great deal of opposition before it even starts.

Unlike many Chicago politicians, Emanuel lacks a true Chicago political patron. Possibly Richard M. Daley could be called a mentor, but Emanuel's unique fundraising abilities have set him apart and given him an ability to operate without the historical ties other Chicago pols have to work with. As he attempts to resolve the tremendous debt and pension problems Chicago took on during the Daley years, his lack of ties to labor or any particular Chicago political fiefdom gives him freedom to make cuts and changes others could not. But, his lack of "history" in Chicago politics makes it so he doesn't have a political home to fall back on either.

Emanuel proved he's much more than a political animal during a two-year period between working in the White House and running for Congress, when he reportedly earned millions of dollars working as an investment banker for Wasserstein Perella. His foot in investment banking and his global rolodex has fueled conjecture that this is Emanuel's last term as mayor, and instead he'll head off to make his millions rather than establish a Daley-like dynasty.

Emanuel's second term has been much harder than his first. Growing pension deficits and inadequate funding for Chicago Public Schools finally came to a head, and long-delayed reforms to Chicago's criminal justice system demanded attention following revelations of police dash cam videos of the shooting of Laquan McDonald by Chicago police. Making matters worse, unresolved allegations that Emanuel knew about the video prior to his difficult 1995 reelection, and encourage suppression of the video, has resulted in a dramatic decline in confidence of him from minority communities. Meanwhile, the U.S. Department of Justice is conducting a review of the Chicago police with a report due in mid-2017.

To win reelection in 2019, Emanuel will need to convince voters that massive property tax increases to pay for pensions and schools were necessary and not his fault. And he will need to enact meaningful police reform that broadly satisfies minority communities, while actually affecting a decrease in crime.


  • 1981, Sarah Lawrence University, B.A.
  • 1985, Northwestern University, M.A. Rhetorical Theory

Important Political Events

  • 1989, Appointed Finance Director for Richard M. Daley campaign
  • 1991, Appointed Director of Finance Committee for Presidential Candidate Bill Clinton
  • 1993, Appointed Deputy Chief of Staff for President Bill Clinton
  • 2002, Elected Congressman, IL-5, in open seat race, defeating Nancy Kaszak and replacing Rod Blagojevich
  • 2005, Elected Chair of Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee by House Democratic Caucus
  • 2007, Elected Chair of House Democratic Caucus
  • 2009, Appointed Chief of Staff for President Barack Obama
  • 2011, Elected Mayor, defeating Gery Chico and replacing Richard M. Daley
  • 2015, Reelected Mayor, defeating Jesus "Chuy" Garcia