MEDIA WATCH: Napoleonic ambitions -- but with what artillery? Rahm worship continues from the plutocracy's highest perches as Financial Times features Chicago's diminutive chief executive as the Napoleon to blast away the rabble for the plutocrats of the 21st Century

You won't learn about potholes across Chicago during the worst winter in decades reading about Chicago's mayor in the mid-February weekend edition of the Financial Times, one of the publications that's a required reading for the one percent of the one percent. Nor will you learn how the city's mayor carefully selects his media events to avoid the crowds that routinely assemble to boo him for his dozens of attacks on democracy, from closing a massive number of real public schools to escalating city borrowing to unprecedented heights -- while the potholes across the city descend to unprecedented depths.

The pseudo-cover of the Financial Times's 'FT Weekend Magazine' for February 15 - 16 2014 doesn't actually have this cover, but the hagiographic puffery devoted to Rahm Emanuel does begin on the front page of the second section of the newspaper Rahm used to deride as "That pink paper..." There is little evidence that the author of the latest propaganda coup e'etat by Rahm's propagandists spends much time in Chicago, but now the world of "The City" (London's Wall Street) and the bankers and other master of the universe know that Rahm's their guy. As if they didn't already...The man dubbed "Mayor One Percent" by many (and in a recent book) has gotten the nod from the bankers of the City of London, following the nod he had already received from the pundits of Washington and the Hollywood crowd. Has ever an unindicted big city mayor gotten so much ink in so few years than Rahm Emanuel, who has been Mayor of Chicago since May 2011? Consider: The Atlantic; Time; Chicago; and, as Kurt Vonnegut would have said, and so it goes RAHM THE MAGNIFICENT stories pour out regularly from the pens of the plutocracy's pundits, where clearly a sharp-eyed copy editor has long ago been replaced by a "content management system."

In a lengthy story "Boss of Chicago", the hagiographic literary orgy penned to celebrate Rahm Emanuel's brief tour as Chicago's mayor (he was inaugurated less than three full years ago, in May 2011) continues.

For those who don't want to read through the more than 2,000 words that the world's ruling class will be reading about one American big city mayor this weekend, the summary, according to the voice of the one percent of the one percent is the following quote:

"What then is Chicagos new machine? The answer lies inside the Loop. The age of the precinct captain and door-to-door politics is waning. In its place comes sophisticated voter micro targeting. The era of the union-funded machine is also fading. Their substitutes are the millionaires and billionaires with whom Emanuel rubs shoulders. Deep pockets are essential to US electoral success and few can tap them as effectively as Emanuel."

While it's not surprising that Financial Times (to which this reporter subscribes joyously) would praise Rahm on behalf of the billionaires and trillionaires who now work the precincts of Chicago's 50 wards on behalf of guys with the right stuff to become "Mayor America", there is a problem with a feature story from a publication that many count on for factuality rushes with so much gush and so little fact checking.

So let's take a few closer looks at the FT article on Rahm, in honor of A. J. Liebling, who dubbed Chicago Second City, and A. A. Dornfeld, the famous night city editor of the City New Bureau of Chicago, who reportedly coined the slogan for reporters: "If your mother says she loves you, check it out!"

According to the Financial Times, we have:

Rahm Emanuel: the CV

1959 Born in Chicago

1981 Graduates with BA in liberal arts, after turning down ballet scholarship

You can tell this "CV" was provided by Rahm's handlers. Otherwise someone would have noted that Rahm "left Chicago before high school, lived in one of the wealthiest suburbs in the USA, and attended one of the world's wealthiest public high schools, New Trier.

There has been a kind of macho structure to the Rahm The Magnificent narratives that have infested national (and some local) corporate media since Rahm left the White House to return to Chicago and Save The City. Rahm (or his vast media team) provides the narrative structure, and the reporter is then directed towards "sources" (almost always Rahm's people or corporate shills) elaborate on the Rahm version of reality.

Almost all of these stories center around a kind of Salvation Narrative of almost mythical proportions. And they always raise the question, which the reporter never asked: Saves Chicago from whom or what? In the case of the Rahmreality, Rahm has saved Chicago from years of Daleys -- and THE MACHINE (mostly, that's the UNIONS). But since Rahm knows that the Daleys are not going to take on the Rahm propaganda machine in public, Rahm is home free to craft the stories as he wishes -- at least for now. And the falls guys are working class Chicagoans, the city's unions -- and the Daley family and its place in history.

It helps if the person spinning the saga of Rahm the Magnificent knows little about Chicago history and less about Chicago georgraphy.

Take the following Financial Times version of the geography of Chicago's South Side: "Around the now-demolished Michael Reese Hospital, where the young Obama organised unemployed steel workers, gangs have long since ruled."

As everyone who actually knows Chicago, even those who don't frequent communities like Roseland, Pullman, and Altgeld Gardens, the area around Michael Reese Hospital's former site is not -- a big NOT -- where the young Barack Obama organized "unemployed steer workers..." Nor have gangs long since ruled Lake Meadows and Prairie Shores. The communities where Obama did more writing about than organizing in (and which are still in desperate shape decades after Barack Obama gathered some biographical talking points out in them) are several miles physically and light years away economically from the area where Michael Reese Hospital once stood.

But if a story is going to be reported in all of its macho fantasy fullness about Rahm the Magnificent it helps if the reporter knows little about Chicago and less about the realities of the most racially segregated urban areas in the USA. A cold-eyed copy editor might have helped, but it's becoming more and more obvious that no A.A. Dornfeld is now on the staff of the publications that are taking the script from Rahm and his handlers and recycling that script for the nation.

Another Financial Times version of Chicago: Emanuels largely unrecognised success has been won in the face of drastic budget cuts - a consequence of Chicagos spendthrift noughties.

Whoever said that Rahm's been shy about the "unrecognized success" of his admistration? If anything, Rahm began crafting the media narrative from the day he was inaugurated, after operating a slick media campaign at "L" stops in Black Chicago to get his expensive TV ads. The formula there and then was simple: Rahm showed up to shake hands with Black people, usually at the safely middle class 95th St. L stop (he was rarely seen along the Lake Street Line for obvious reasons). Rahm, was surrounded by his media and security teams (and the ever-ready PURELL, as noted by many and immortalized by singer songwriter Matt Farmer). The cameras rolled -- LIGHTS, CAMERA, ACTION! -- and Rahm shook a few Black hands, leaned in to look like he was listening to Black people, and then was spirited away to the editing room. Within a few days, there was another TV ad.


When Rahm Emanuel became mayor of Chicago in 2011, he proclaimed: I will not be a patient mayor. It was an understatement. The former chief of staff to Barack Obama returned home with a near-legendary reputation for his take-no-prisoners style of operating. That is how he acquired the nickname Rahmbo. He once famously mailed a dead fish to a pollster with whom he had fallen out. There are few significant Washington figures who have not felt the lash of his tongue. In Emanuels lexicon, the word f*** is almost an endearment. Emanuel, 54, lost half a middle finger in a kitchen accident when he was a teenager. It was an amputation that in Obamas unforgettable phrase rendered him practically mute.

It was with the first black presidents blessing that Emanuel quit Washington to audition as Boss of Chicago an endorsement that helped him greatly with the citys African-American vote. Obama gave him a big wet kiss, says Delmarie Cobb, a South Side activist who helped manage Jesse Jacksons 1988 presidential bid. Emanuel got more votes than the other four candidates combined (two of them African-American).

A ferociously ambitious, sharp-suited policy wonk, Emanuels mayoral style gels with the spirit of the age. Having nearly chosen a career as a ballet dancer, he is also a man of surprises. He served as a civilian volunteer for the Israel Defence Forces in the 1991 Gulf war (Emanuels father, Benjamin, emigrated to Chicago from Israel in the 1950s). Denizens of Chicagos new economy identify with his workaholic, wisecracking persona (in our first interview, he asked what I preferred to be called and after I said Ed, took great amusement in enunciating Edward in a Downton Abbey accent). But he does not click with everyone.

Crudely measured, Chicago is roughly a third white, a third black and a third Hispanic. Most Chicagoans seem to accept it that way. We are the most segregated city in America, goes the joke. Aint it great? Since Emanuel took office, however, things have polarised. Most white Chicagoans support him as do a majority of Hispanics, according to the polls. Most African-Americans no longer do. The corporate world within Chicagos elevated rail loop has rarely had it so good. The same goes for pockets inside its largely Hispanic West Side. But Chicagos South Side, where a young Obama cut his teeth as a community organiser, continues to fester. A rash of school closures last year did little to help. Black families who can leave Chicago are still leaving, says Cobb. They call it degentrification.

Rahm Emanuel: the CV

1959 Born in Chicago

1981 Graduates with BA in liberal arts, after turning down ballet scholarship

1988 Campaign director of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee

1989 Senior adviser to Richard Daleys campaign to become Chicago mayor

1992 Director of the finance committee for Bill Clintons campaign

1993-1998 Senior adviser to Clinton administration

1999-2002 MD at Wasserstein Perella

2003-2009 Illinois Congressman in the House of Representatives

2009-2010 Chief of staff for Barack Obama

2011 Mayor of Chicago

Emanuels often testy relations with Chicagos black neighbourhoods could be pivotal to his re-election next year. The gulf between the two Chicagos is at least as big as that between the two New Yorks, which Bill de Blasio, the new mayor of the Big Apple, has promised to bridge. De Blasio comes from the Democratic partys liberal (Sandinista) wing and promised to make New Yorks Upper East Side pay more to make life better for its underclasses. Emanuel is closer to Michael Bloomberg, de Blasios predecessor, who drew on his philanthropic networks to revitalise New Yorks economic heart. Both are enthusiasts for non-union charter schools. De Blasio, on the other hand, is a champion of the unions.

Emanuels Chicago versus de Blasios New York may be the closest America has to an experiment in how to make its cities both liveable and competitive in the 21st century. Look, we face international forces that are far bigger than us, Emanuel told me in an interview in Mexico City, which he was visiting to inaugurate a city-to-city partnership (almost a quarter of Chicagoans were born in Mexico). I had asked him whether he and de Blasio were rivals. We both have a great amount of concentrated wealth and great poverty, he replied. My challenge is to make it a still-great city for the middle-class families that are the bedrock of Chicago.

Emanuels impact so far depends on whom you ask. Along Chicagos Magnificent Mile department stores, the city is once more doing brisk business after suffering worse from the Great Recession than either New York or Los Angeles (Chicago is Americas third-largest city with 2.7 million people). Inside the Loop, Emanuel is in his element. Between his time in the Clinton administration, where he was a senior adviser (and inspiration for the West Wing character Josh Lyman, minus the expletives) and his four terms in Congress representing the fifth district of Illinois encompassing a well-heeled portion of Chicagos North Side Emanuel returned to Chicago to make his fortune.

In just two years at the boutique investment bank Wasserstein Perella, he netted $18.5m. It may not come close to Bloombergs estimated fortune of $31bn, but it was plenty. Emanuel spent $450,000 of it on his first election to Congress. Six years later, he raised record sums for his party to help obliterate the Republicans in the 2006 midterm elections. You might call it the Abba phase of his career. The first third of your campaign is money, money money, Emanuel told Democratic staffers. The second third is money, money, money. The final is votes, press and money.

Since taking over from Richard M Daley, who was Chicagos mayor for the preceding 22 years and the most powerful city boss of late-20th-century America, Emanuel has put these skills to good use. Daley, whose father, Richard J Daley, ran the city between 1955 and 1976 (totalling 43 years of Daley rule in the last 56) had good relations with Chicagos business community, but Americas business elites see Emanuel as one of their own. Among those who contributed the maximum $50,000 to his 2011 campaign were the late Steve Jobs of Apple and Donald Trump, whose Trump International Hotel & Tower is one of Chicagos tallest skyscrapers. Other donors included Steven Spielberg and David Geffen courtesy of Ari Emanuel, Rahms younger brother, a Hollywood agent, who is as big in entertainment as Rahm is in politics.

Emanuel has persuaded many companies, including United Airlines and Google Motorola Mobile (recently bought by Chinas Lenovo) to shift to Chicagos stunning business district. They joined big brands such as Boeing, Exelon and Hyatt. Others, such as Kraft Foods, McDonalds and Walgreens are based in Chicagos suburbs. Emanuel has also helped to create 10,000 digital jobs, most of which are based at 1871, a thriving incubator housed in the citys venerable Merchandise Mart. The company is named after the year of the great fire of Chicago, which marked the start of its ascent to become middle Americas so-called third coast. Large chunks around it are gentrifying. Chicago has a higher share of graduates in the workforce than any other large city in the US. If Rahm fails and I dont believe he will it will not be for lack of trying, says Michael Sacks, a Chicago financier, who co-chairs World Business Chicago (WBC), the citys de facto economic steering committee.

At Emanuels request, WBC commissioned a 10-point plan from McKinsey and the Brookings Institution to revitalise Chicagos economy. Emanuel has also asked The Chicago Council on Global Affairs, the Midwests leading think-tank, to devise a foreign policy for the city. It will draw on Chicagos global roots, says Ivo Daalder, Obamas savvy former ambassador to Nato, who heads the council. Chicago is Mexicos fifth-largest city, Polands second-largest and home to Americas largest population of Ukrainians, Serbs and Koreans. From Greektown to Chinatown, Emanuel is fond of describing Chicago as the most American of American cities. Unlike New York or LA, each of which are built around one industry finance and entertainment it is diversified. No single industry accounts for more than a seventh of its jobs. We have hardly begun to leverage Chicagos diversity, says Daalder.

On the other side of the tracks, few of Emanuels successes are much in evidence. In the decade before he became mayor, Chicago haemorrhaged 200,000 people almost all of them African-American. Under Richard Daley, most of the South Sides notorious housing projects were levelled. Nothing was built in their place. Upholstered neighbourhoods such as Bronzeville one of the so-called minx ghettos were gradually taken over by the dispossessed. Well-to-do African-Americans continue to flee to the suburbs in a black flight that mirrors the white flight of the 1960s and 1970s.

Around the now-demolished Michael Reese Hospital, where the young Obama organised unemployed steel workers, gangs have long since ruled. The two Chicagos rarely intersect. Yet the South Sides murder rate mortally impinges on Chicagos global image. From within the Loop, crime is chiefly a problem of perception. The streets of Chicagos North Side are among Americas safest. At 415 homicides last year, Chicagos fatalities were less than half their peak. Reducing it further and ending Chicagos reputation as Americas murder capital is one of Emanuels three obsessions. His shorthand is safe streets. The other two are stable finances and strong schools.

In his recent memoir, Robert Gates, the former secretary of defence, described Emanuel as a whirling dervish with attention deficit disorder. A private family man, Emanuel has two daughters and a son, whom he rigorously shields from the media. His wife Amy, who converted to Judaism when they married, also keeps a low profile.

Emanuel, who gets up at 5.30am every day and is frequently seen jogging along Chicagos Lake Shore, puts as much energy into fighting crime as he does rejuvenating the business district. Given Chicagos reputational problem, they are two sides of the same coin. I need stronger gun laws and I need stronger parents, Emanuel tells me. One I can work on and one I can ask for. From after-school mentoring to expanded summer youth-jobs programmes, Emanuel puts the same emphasis on social work as he does on flooding the zone with police. Although still considerably higher than LA or New York, Chicagos crime rate fell last year to its lowest since 1965. This is in spite of Emanuels efforts to convince adjacent jurisdictions to tighten their gun laws. Guns are banned in the city itself but Chicagos environs do a roaring trade.

Emanuels largely unrecognised success has been won in the face of drastic budget cuts - a consequence of Chicagos spendthrift noughties. This is where his stellar Rolodex makes a difference. In 2011, he raised $50m from donors to fund a public safety initiative.

Some muttered about a Chicago shakedown (an offer you cannot refuse). But in an era of austerity, there can be few better examples of philanthropic democracy in action. It is catching on at the federal level. In his State of the Union address last month, Obama announced corporate funds for faster broadband in schools. In addition to financiers, Emanuel has befriended people like Magic Johnson, the LA-based former basketball star, who has invested a lot of his fortune in venture philanthropy on Chicagos South Side. I think you can do well and do good at the same time, said Johnson, at an event with Emanuel in January.

Emanuel is also making extensive use of the Chicago Crime Lab, a research unit set up under Daley that is largely privately funded. Its not just police, Emanuel says. Its summer school programmes, its midnight basketball, its Becoming a Man [a mentoring programme] so teenagers have a place to go with an adult who will mentor and supervise them. Mostly it is about squeezing what he can from dwindling resources. Rahm is pushing at the margins of what he can do within the constrained limits of what he can control, says Roseanna Ander, head of the Crime Lab. Chicago is becoming a laboratory on how to prevent crime before it happens. Call it the pre-crime, or Minority Report phase of Emanuels career. A lot rides on its success.

But it is Emanuels most pedestrian-sounding goal - to achieve stable finances - where his path is most hazardous. Plugging Chicagos vertiginous pensions gap is also where he is likeliest to make the most enemies. To judge by how union leaders talk about him, he already has. It is also where Emanuel parts ways with Daley, who gave the young North Sider his first break in 1989, when he made him finance chair of his mayoral campaign.

In an interview with Daley, the former mayor waxed lyrical about Chicagos past and present. In his awkward, trademark lisp, he talked about much else besides. When the subject turned to Emanuel, however, his expression froze. I dont talk about Mayor Emanuel, he said. Emanuel responded to my question about Daley in much the same vein. I wont talk about my predecessor, he said curtly. Then he changed the subject: When I became mayor I decided: we cannot afford another lost decade?.?.?.

Whichever way you look at it, Chicagos lost decade cost a lot of money. Chicagos funding ratio the difference between what it owes in pensions and what it has set aside is 35 per cent. Actuaries say a 70 per cent ratio is safe. No other big US city ranks so poorly. By comparison, New Yorks is 60 per cent and LAs is 77 per cent. Chicagos funding gap is a big red flag, says Elizabeth Foos, an analyst at Morningstar, the research firm. It is far bigger than that of Detroit, which declared bankruptcy last year (the difference being that Chicago has a thriving corporate economy, whereas Motown is a shell of its former self).

Some of Chicagos future was frittered away on Daleys 2016 Olympic bid. Obama even flew to Copenhagen in 2009 to try to sway the International Olympic Committee. His home town came an ignominious last. It was not Obamas finest hour. Ironically, given its history, the IOC cited Chicagos reputation for corruption as a minus point.

Daleys Olympic bid was a very expensive piece of hubris, says Paul OConnor, a senior partner at Skidmore, Owings and Merrill, the renowned Chicago-based architecture firm, and a former chairman of World Business Chicago. Daley mortgaged Chicagos future and got nothing but embarrassment in return, he adds. We will be paying the bill for decades.

In fairness to Daley, he did a great deal to rejuvenate downtown Chicago, which had been dubbed Beirut on the Lake before he moved into City Hall. Among his legacies are the Millennium Park and the renovated Navy Pier, which have turned the citys lake front from a wasteland into a world-class venue, with free culture in the park events during summer evenings. Unfortunately, Daleys largest bequest was his pay awards to the unions. Terrified they would ruin Chicagos Olympic chances by striking, Daley brought labour peace by awarding the citys 33,000 employees double-digit pay rises, shorter working hours and plusher benefits. It was a big punt that would have exacerbated the citys budget even had it won the bid.

Instances of City Halls beneficence abound: police officers who retire on a full pension at 48; firemen who take Cadillac healthcare years before retirement. My favourite are the hoisting engineers at the department of streets and sanitation, who get $90 an hour in overtime; among the cognoscenti it is known as grease time. To politicos, such perks lubricated the famous Chicago machine, by which City Halls largesse was spread among unions, alderman and ethnic community leaders in return for their how to put it? electoral enthusiasm. The machines get-out-the-vote operation, which Daley inherited from his father, got him re-elected five times. It was a blue-collar operation. The machine is a Robin Hood mechanism that keeps the Haves from enslaving the Have Nots, said a Fortune article in 1938.

The machine had a good run but it is now dead, according to Emanuel. It is tempting to take him at face value. Considering his awkward relationship with the unions, it is hard to see how he could keep it ticking over, even if he wanted to. Given the trajectory of Chicagos budget - a seventh of which will be eaten up by pension payments in 2014, rising to a fifth in 2015 and approaching half within a decade even Daley would struggle to grease its cogs. Austerity and urban machines do not mix well. The moment of reckoning is here, says Emanuel.

It is a bold stance that could yet see him unseated in his re-election bid next year. I have never heard Rahm flinch from confronting the pension challenge, says David Axelrod, Obamas former senior adviser, also now back in Chicago, whom I interviewed at his lakeshore apartment. Its views of Lake Michigan and the Loop are as panoramic as his apartment is sparse. Axelrod, who lost his trademark Gallic moustache in a bet during the 2012 campaign, managed Emanuels first race for Congress and was instrumental in persuading Obama to hire him in 2008. He was also chief witness at Emanuels wedding in 1994 (yes, its a small world).

He is nevertheless blunt in describing the mayors challenge. Rahm cant pretend the pensions problem doesnt exist, otherwise he will lose credibility with the markets, he says. But he cant talk too much about what it will cost to fix, or he will never get re-elected. He needs to walk a very fine line.

In an interview in his capacious fifth-floor City Hall office, Emanuel tiptoes around my questions with uncharacteristic caution. Most of the time he talks in a rapid stream of statistic-laden bullet points. Occasionally he leans forward to say something more bluntly off the record. Every now and then he raises nine-and-a-half fingers to drive a point home. On Emanuels office walls hang contemporary Chicago works of art. He proudly shows me his desk, which once belonged to Anton Cermak, the Czech-American mayor who is credited with having invented the machine (Daley took his desk home with him).

Projections show that Emanuel would have to raise property taxes by up to 150 per cent if he were to leave Chicagos pensions untouched, which would cripple its economy. Alternatively, he would have to eliminate essential services to keep pensions intact; Beirut on the Lake would return with a vengeance. Reality dictates he must cut the pensions themselves. The unions will be sure to fight it bitterly in the courts and at the ballot box.

Everyone faces the same problem, Emanuel says. We [Chicago] face it in spades. One of the things Ive tried to do is show that if you give a little, you get a win-win situation. If you try to hold on to what you have, you wont progress. You cant tax your way out of this, or cut your way out of this. We are kind of the same as New York and Los Angeles. Our economy is incredibly strong, our fiscal picture is weak and the combination to the lock that Im trying to work through is how to fix the fiscal piece without derailing the economy. Time is scarce: Chicagos pension-funding holiday ends in 2015.

Emanuels final promise is strong schools.

If crime is Chicagos most notorious problem and pensions its most hazardous, education is its least tractable. In the long run, it will be the arbiter of its success as a global city. Here, Emanuels record is murkier. Shortly into his term, he fell out with Karen Lewis, head of the powerful Chicago Teachers Union. Lewis, who declined to be interviewed, told colleagues that Emanuel said f*** you to her face. She returned the compliment. From then on a teachers strike looked preordained. In his campaign, Emanuel had pledged to extend Chicagos school day the shortest in America. Last year he also closed 47 schools in Chicagos most depopulated areas. Both may have made fiscal sense but their brunt was felt on the South Side.

The teachers strike in late 2012 ended with a longer day an extra hour and 15 minutes. But it left Lewis as a much-strengthened force in Chicago politics. In contrast to City Halls expectations, polls showed that a majority supported the teachers. Emanuel had recently lobbied Illinois to pass a law requiring a three-quarters threshold of teachers for a strike to go ahead: almost 90 per cent endorsed the strike. Relations with the African-American community have never recovered. Meanwhile, 24 charter schools have opened since Emanuel took office, some of them lavishly funded.

Rahm misjudged the public on this, says Bill Daley, Richards younger brother, who briefly replaced Emanuel as Obamas chief of staff (it is indeed a small world). I interviewed Daley at his offices at JPMorgan Chase in Chicago. What he didnt seem to grasp was that the only good, middle-class jobs left for blacks in most of the neighbourhoods are teaching positions in the schools, said Daley. The closures cut deeply into whole communities. He could have shown greater empathy.

It is this perceived lack of sensitivity to the underclass that is Emanuels real Achilles heel. For all his faults, Daley knew Chicagos community leaders intimately. Emanuel conducts events with an impressive grasp of facts and the structures underlying them (in one interaction with schoolchildren he gave the best description of hydraulic fracking I have heard). But his delivery lacks soul. You earn what you learn, is a phrase he is fond of telling students. You might call him a McKinsey Democrat. Daley was a lunch bucket [blue-collar] Democrat, Kari Lydersen quotes a senior elected official as saying in her recent book, Mayor 1%. Daley knew the streets, he knew the drivers of the garbage trucks, he knew their parents. Rahm has no clue who the drivers are. But you ask him who the head of the Chicago Mercantile Exchange is, and hell have him on speed dial. The criticism is as harsh as it is anonymous: the head of the CME would have been close to Daley as well. And Emanuel makes strenuous efforts to hold events on the wrong sides of town. Over several days, I observed him interact competently with callow eighth-grade students, weather-beaten city aldermen and passengers on the morning Brown Line commute from his home in Ravenswood, North Chicago. But in politics, perception is king. It was Chicago, after all, that popularised the regular American. You dont see that every day, said one besuited commuter to another as Emanuel boarded the train at 7am. Chicagos mayor spent most of the rest of the 20-minute journey reading on his iPad. Yeah, said the other. They paid no more attention.

What then is Chicagos new machine? The answer lies inside the Loop. The age of the precinct captain and door-to-door politics is waning. In its place comes sophisticated voter micro targeting. The era of the union-funded machine is also fading. Their substitutes are the millionaires and billionaires with whom Emanuel rubs shoulders. Deep pockets are essential to US electoral success and few can tap them as effectively as Emanuel.

But they come with baggage. One of them is a strong bias for charter schools. The old neighbourhood model has been replaced by a new business machine that Rahm has perfected, says reporter Don Rose, who has covered Chicagos politics since the late 1940s, when the mafia still ran many wards. The old order was city patronage through the wards and the city departments. The new order is pinstripe patronage, which is channelled through the contractors, the consultancies and the charter schools. It is less corrupt than the old machine. But it has less need to be.

Emanuel is nothing if not pragmatic. He neither invented the 1 per cent economy, nor is he its cheerleader. He is merely harnessing it to his will. Yet nothing ever comes for free. Bloomberg showed in New York that philanthropic democracy can achieve impressive feats, winning big investments, rebuilding dilapidated neighbourhoods and launching new schools. It can also underwrite bigger ambitions. Recall the record-breaking financial prowess of Emanuels former boss in the White House. Observe, also, Obamas reluctance to challenge the interests that funded him.

Before being hired by Obama, Emanuel used to say he wanted to be Americas first Jewish Speaker. Now he is Chicagos first Jewish mayor. If he succeeds, chiefly by fixing the citys troubled finances, money would be no object. I have never heard Rahm say he wants to be president, says Axelrod with conviction. I am done in this job, says Emanuel, when I ask him if he wanted to be Americas first Jewish president. I am done. Period. I have achieved my lifetimes ambition.

Emanuels answer left me with no room for doubt. I was almost tempted to believe him.

[Substance Editor's Note: The following appears in front of the Rahmstory in today's FT. High quality global journalism requires investment. Please share this article with others using the link below, do not cut & paste the article. See our Ts&Cs and Copyright Policy for more detail. Email to buy additional rights.].

Edward Luce is the FTs chief US columnist. To comment on this article, please email


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