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.
By Jason Horowitz
Monday, October 4, 2010; 3:02 AM

IN CHICAGO On Thursday afternoon, Rob Halpin came to the door of the blue-shingled house he rents from Rahm Emanuel in the leafy North Side of Chicago and politely explained that he couldn't say anything about the outgoing White House chief of staff and incoming mayoral candidate.

A term of the lease he renewed just days before Mayor Richard M. Daley announced his retirement prevented him from talking to the media, whether it be about Emanuel's unsuccessful efforts to move back in or anything else concerning the house. But as he closed the door, he noted that Emanuel would return to Chicago over the weekend.

"He's here to learn what the city is all about," said Halpin.

Despite the East Room send-off from President Obama and sub rosa assists from the White House media operation, Emanuel's carefully orchestrated rollout has slammed into the granite reality of Chicago politics.

Far from Emanuel receiving any deference, his opponents literally couldn't wait for his return to start defining him in the harshest terms. They've called him a carpetbagger, a bully, an enemy from within the White House who subverted immigration reform, the public option and gay-equality initiatives. Detractors are printing ABRE (or Anyone but Rahm Emanuel) buttons. They relay punch lines about his scramble to find housing in Chicago.

"We're not going to let people from outside our city explain how our township should be run," said Cook County Sheriff Tom Dart, who has yet to declare his candidacy but is leading a crowded pack in early - and largely meaningless - polls.

That refrain is common among a roster of congressmen, aldermen, ministers and City Hall officials who are clamoring to seize the office, which is up for grabs for the first time in two decades. In sounding out city leaders about his own bid, Dart encountered a litany of grievances from liberal constituencies about Emanuel, whom, accurately or not, they blame for the shortcomings of the Obama administration.

"I have already heard from a lot of those different people, Dart said. "It's going to be an issue."

After nearly two years as Washington's bad lieutenant, Emanuel has to make nice. On Monday, he will start a humble, Hillary Rodham Clinton-like "listening tour" in doughnut shops and L stops through eight city neighborhoods. It will be the first step in his effort to navigate the complicated and cutthroat ethnic, racial and special-interest politics of a city facing what Andy Shaw, executive director of the Better Government Association, called its worst crisis "than at any time since the Great Fire" of 1871.

"These are the same attacks opponents attempted when Rahm ran for Congress," said Lori Goldberg, a spokeswoman for the Emanuel campaign, "but they weren't effective because they are distortions. Rahm takes nothing for granted and works hard for every vote."

This time, Emanuel can argue that he played an instrumental role in the passage of an impressive list of the president's agenda items, including a health-care overhaul, financial regulatory reform, education reform, auto-industry assistance and the economic stimulus efforts. But the attacks already seem to be seeping in with voters.

"Rahm would be nuts in the mayor's office," Laura Loeger, 48, said as she picked some red coxcomb flowers in a farmers market in Daley Plaza across the street from City Hall.

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