Several of Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s 10 challengers slammed the prominent Democrat for the city’s soaring crime and blamed him for everything from an understaffed police force to a lack of investment in Chicago’s economically downtrodden neighborhoods.
Emanuel left his mayoral post in 2019, deciding not to run for a third term after controversy around his handling of an officer-involved shooting of a Black teenager.
Emanuel, who served as White House chief of staff for President Obama, is reportedly under consideration for transportation secretary or U.S. trade representative.
“As the former Mayor of Chicago, Rahm Emanuel has shown us that he is not a principled leader or person,” Derrick Johnson, president of the NAACP, told the Huffington Post in a statement. “His time in public service proved to be burdened with preventable scandal and abandonment of Chicago’s most vulnerable community. How can we expect him to do better on a federal level? His actions and approach to governing are detrimental to the Biden Administration and, more importantly, the American people.”
Emanuel was accused of engaging in a coverup to bury police camera footage after an officer-involved shooting of a Black teenager, Laquan McDonald, in 2014.
McDonald was shot 16 times by former Chicago Police Officer Jason Van Dyke, who was sentenced to nearly seven years in prison.
The incident took place in the middle of Emanuel’s second-term run for office, and the city settled with the family for $5 million without releasing the tape. It wasn’t until Emanuel he was reelected in 2015 that the video was made public due to a judicial order.
An investigative report from the state’s inspector general later concluded that 16 other ranking officers in the department had destroyed witness testimonies and made false statements to exaggerate the threat that McDonald posed.
In an op-ed for the Chicago Tribune, Emanuel defended his handling of the tapes.
“What I strongly reject is the suggestion that the videotape of the McDonald shooting was withheld from the public because of the election,” he wrote.
“The videotape was handled in precisely the same way such tapes and evidence have been historically. Longstanding practice has been to release such material only after prosecutors and city investigators have finished their investigation. The reason for that was to prevent potential witnesses from tailoring their stories to fit the evidence,”’ Emanuel continued.
But the flamboyant mayor has voiced other opinions that may make him even less attractive to leftist flank of his party. In 2019, he called Democrats’ “Medicare-for-All” push “insane.”
Known for his campaign to court moderate swing voters, Emanuel proudly declared the 2020 election cycle “The year of the Biden Republican” in August.
Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, D-N.Y., said that picking the former Chicago mayor would signal hostility to her wing of the party.
“Someone like Rahm Emanuel would be a pretty divisive pick,” Ocasio-Cortez told the New York Times.
“And it would signal, I think, a hostile approach to the grass-roots and the progressive wing of the party.”
But Sen. Chris Murphy, a liberal Democrat from Connecticut, co-authored the Green New Deal with Ocasio-Cortez, and took no issue with Emanuel.
“I have no issues with Rahm,” Murphy told the Huffington Post. “He has a history of rubbing some folks pretty roughly but I think he brings some good ideas to the table.”
Sen. Tim Kaine, D-Va., spoke highly of Emanuel. “I think very highly of Rahm. He could do that job very, very well,” Kaine said of the transportation job.
Ray Lahood, the former Republican Congressman who was transportation secretary under Obama, said Emanuel would be a prime candidate to push through the infrastructure bill Biden wants tacked on to COVID relief.
“There’s nobody better than Rahm,” Lahood told Mass Transit Magazine.
“He’s very well-respected throughout Congress,” LaHood said. “He has a lot of friends on the Republican side, and obviously a whole lot of friends on the Democratic side.”
Lahood noted Emanuel’s key role as chief of staff in 2009 in setting fuel economy standards to force automakers to make more fuel-efficient vehicles.
“That was Rahm’s priority, to get that done,” LaHood said. “If he gets named transportation secretary, this is a guy who will get us back on a track to a clean green plan. It’s personally important to him to achieve that, and that’s something people may not know.”
But union heads remain opposed to the former mayor.
Shane Larson, senior director for government affairs at the 700,000-member Communication Workers of America, said that picking Emanuel for transportation head would be “ perceived as a slap in the face to labor ― across the labor movement.”
Sarah Nelson, president of the Association of Flight Attendants, said that the Department of Transportation is “effectively the labor department for aviation.”
“We do not need a union buster setting the rules for workers in aviation,” she wrote on Twitter of a potential Emanuel pick.
Fox News’ Vandana Rambaran contributed to this report.