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As Emanuel returns home to run for mayor, some in Chicago say he has a lot to learn

Rahm Emanuel has been quickly building a network for his official entry into the Chicago mayoral race.

The city's large African American population is centered in the South Side, and although there are several potential black candidates, the most formidable appears to be state Sen. James Meeks, who presides as the Rev. Meeks at the Salem Baptist Church of Chicago.

The megachuch is as capacious as a sporting arena, features a giant blue sign on the facade reading "House of Hope," and is surrounded by a vast parking lot that accommodates his 20,000-member congregation.

Joe Jordan, a mechanic down the street, said Meeks is "active in the community," but added that the president's preference matters.

"If the president picked him," Jordan said, "he's probably a good guy to think about."

Can he go local?

The same day of Obama's and Emanuel's affectionate farewells, members of Chicago's Finance Committee held a routine meeting in City Hall's Council Chamber. The chairman cracked gum and banged his gavel and asked for explanations about "Item 5," a request for approval for funds for the "Montclair senior residence." Distracted aldermen swiveled in their leather chairs.

And yet Emanuel is determined to go local and add his familiar sly grin to the rows of black-and-white head shots of past mayors on display in the mayor's fifth-floor waiting room. They begin with men sporting woolly beards and end in 1989, the year Daley took over. Emanuel has been working the phones to remove as many obstacles as possible.

About a month ago, Emanuel started showering attention on Rep. Mike Quigley (D), who replaced him in the House and has flirted with the idea of running for mayor. After years of talking to Emanuel less often than he talks to the president, by his count, Quigley recalled that Emanuel initiated their fourth extended conversation in as many weeks on Wednesday. In almost all the discussions, Emanuel eagerly talked about Quigley's pet project to bring transparency to the city's Tax Increment Financing.

"Rahm calls and asks all the right questions," said Quigley, as he reclined under the rumbling L train near Wrigley Field. Quigley understood Emanuel's sudden interest owed to the fact that he "wanted to be mayor," but nevertheless found him serious about the tax issue.

The upshot of the talks, he said, was that Emanuel would champion the issue even if he didn't run. "It made me more comfortable that I don't need to worry about who the next mayor is."

Earlier last week, Emanuel rang up Marilyn Katz, a local Democratic activist, to remind her of his commitment to the housing problem.

Emanuel has also reached out to prominent leaders of the gay community, but with limited success, according to one gay donor who hasn't bothered to return his call.

While the famously thorough politician has torn through call lists, he has been just as studied in his decisions about whom to avoid.

"It has not hurt my feelings that he hasn't called," Dart said. "I'm not going to be intimidated."

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