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House of Blues

Rahm Emanuel, in the midst of a rough-and-tumble campaign, was just denied a spot on the mayoral ballot. Was the move Chicago politics as usual, or has Emanuel’s Judaism come into play?

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Rahm Emanuel at the House of Blues event earlier this month. (Daniel Boczarski/Getty Images)
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Out of the Loop

Rahm Emanuel won’t be Chicago’s next mayor, because the city won’t elect a Jew

Live From the Rahm Residency Hearing

How Goliath became David (for a day)

Will the real Chicago please stand up? Is it the post-racial, post-ethnic, post-religious mecca of hope—the city from which President Barack Obama is launching his re-election campaign? Or is it the corrupt place that is called Chicagoland, where police brutality, cronyism, and prejudice run rampant?

This morning, an appeals court reversed the decisions of the circuit court of Chicago and the Board of Elections commissioners. Rahm Emanuel is not a resident of the city of Chicago and cannot be on the ballot for mayor, the appeals court said. The ruling was 2-1. Judge Thomas Hoffman and Judge Shelvin Louise Marie Hall sided with Burt Odelson, the attorney for the objectors, who argued that state municipal code dictates that mayoral candidates must live in the town where they are seeking election for one year prior to election day. Judge Bertina Lampkin dissented.

Emanuel’s attorneys, who will appeal immediately, have argued that according to state election code, Emanuel was a Chicago resident who qualifies for an exemption because he was serving his country in one of the most literal and direct ways imaginable—as President Obama’s chief of staff.

But Judge Hoffman, one of the appellate judges, wrote: “neither the [election] board nor the party have, however, referred us to any Supreme Court opinion ratifying, adopting or directly addressing this approach.”

The appellate court’s ridiculous decision may be overturned at the state level. But it may not matter.

The dynamic of the race, which until today was focused on Emanuel’s enormous Hollywood war chest and 44-percent lead in the polls, has been permanently altered. If the Illinois Supreme Court rules in his favor, he’s a master of the dark arts who used his money and political pull to get back in the race. In the mean time, he’s been legally certified as a carpetbagger, which gives political cover to all those who—for whatever reasons—have labeled him an outsider.

Flash back a few weeks to a Rahm Emanuel benefit starring Jennifer Hudson at the House of Blues. It’s just before 6 p.m. and the line stretches around the block. The crowd is young, prosperous, and mostly white. Tickets cost $30. It’s freezing.

On the corner, a short, middle-aged white woman who I recognize as one of the objectors from the residency hearings—the hearings held earlier this month in which nearly three dozen community activists, irate Chicagoans, and lawyers tried to eject Emanuel from the mayoral ballot—is holding one edge of a large banner. A young woman in a wool cap holds the other end. The banner reads “Rahm Says F *** the Black Caucus,” which refers to Emanuel’s supposed contempt for progressive Democrats and African-Americans on Chicago’s South and West Sides.

The older woman, who is wearing a headband with a tribal design, is shouting “Rahm Emanuel, he’s a carpetbagger, he’s going to steal your water, he’s a wheeler-dealer.” She is handing out flyers listing allegations about Emanuel’s tenure on the board of Freddie Mac and his involvement in NAFTA. “Rahm is a criminal,” she yells cheerfully. “He’s another Mayor Daley, do you want that?”

People take pictures with their cell phone cameras. The line inches forward.

“Jennifer Hudson didn’t know. Ari got her,” the woman shouts, referring to Rahm Emanuel’s brother, the talent agent Ari Emanuel. “She’s innocent.”

Inside the House of Blues, it’s warm and packed. Everyone is sleek and happy. There are vanilla Alexanders for $8, there are event staff in yellow shirts and earbuds, and advertisements for upcoming events are projected on a screen on stage: “Rebelution, Winter Greens tour.”

The crowd is about 70 percent white and 30 percent African-American. Some of the African-American women have slung their gorgeous fur coats over chairs with “reserved” signs on them.

The words “unity in diversity” are carved into the proscenium arch. Underneath that are images of icons from all the religions. The star and crescent, the Jewish star, the Madonna.

At 7:30, Walt Whitman and the Soul Children Choir of Chicago, a celebrated 23-year-old gospel choir that Hudson requested as her opening act, marches on stage. The choir is comprised of Whitman and about 30 African-American students in orange taffeta vests and white shirts and gray pants. They have performed all over the world, including in Israel, and have recorded a version of “Ose Shalom.”

But tonight their first number is a duet of “I Believe.” After that, they perform one or two gospel numbers. One short kid has an enormous voice.

“Rahm Emanuel is gonna take you up to the next level,” Whitman shouts out at the audience, as he tries to get it to clap. He does a call but gets little response. And then: “We know that Rahm Emanuel has a lineage of Jewish descent,” he says. “We got some Jewish songs. How many Jewish people do we have in the house?”

I don’t see anyone raising a hand.

***

A few days earlier, although the Board of Election Commissioners had ruled unanimously in December that Rahm Emanuel was a resident of Chicago and thus eligible to run for mayor, Odelson, the lawyer for the objectors, was taking his case up the food chain. On the 17th floor of 50 West Washington Street, in the courtroom of Mark Ballard, a judge in the Cook County Circuit Court, Odelson repeated the argument he had made in front of the board of elections—that Emanuel was not a Chicago resident. Now he claimed that Emanuel “rewrote history,” now he repeated the allegations he had raised during the first residency hearing: As chief of staff, Emanuel was making $172,000. And he rented out his house, Odelson said.

The charge that Emanuel isn’t “one of us” comes up in many different places. As does “outsider.” And “arrogant.” And sometimes, behind closed doors and on blogs, other less-appealing epithets.

Even the announcement that Bill Clinton would appear in Chicago to campaign for Emanuel was trailed by protests about the candidate’s outsider status—except that in this case, outsider was said to mean Washington insider. “President Bill Clinton does not live or vote in Chicago,” Carol Mosely Braun, one of the other candidates, told the Daily Caller. “He’s an outsider parachuting in to support another outsider.”

Clinton addressed these charges in his remarks last week at a glamorous event at the Chicago Cultural Center. “We all knew where his heart was,” Clinton said, implying that the former Clinton Administration aide and Obama’s chief of staff was secretly pining for Chicago while in Washington. “But we were glad to have his mind.”

***

Some observers of the political scene here told me that the use of words like “outsider” to characterize Emanuel might reveal Chicago’s racial divide, but it is hardly evidence of anti-Semitism.

“It’s dirty politics,” says Don Rose, a longtime political consultant, who concedes that anti-Semitism might play a “minor” role in the election. He dials back “minor” to “inconsequential” and “fringe.” He concludes: “You’d have to be nuttily sensitive to see what has been said as anti-Semitic.”

Later, Rose emails me to remind me that in 2002, when Emanuel was running for a congressional seat, Ed Moskal, a supporter of Emanuel’s opponent, Nancy Kaszak, made a speech containing anti-Semitic slurs.

“We’ve been watching this election very closely,” says Lonnie Nasatir, the Anti-Defamation League’s Midwest regional director. “Chicago is not New York, where there’s a history of Jewish mayors.” Nonetheless, “I’ve been surprised that there hasn’t been more anti-Semitism.”

Asked if he cared that Rahm Emanuel was Jewish, Levi Notik, rabbi of the Friends of Refugees of Eastern Europe, a Chabad organization with a branch in Chicago, emailed me: “Rahm is not running for Rabbi, or treasurer, of a local synagogue. People should vote for the most qualified individual for the job. I wish him and all the candidates lots of Mazel!”

***

Still, some Chicagoans have wondered if the language being used to describe Emanuel is more than generic Chicago politicking. In early January, Laura Washington, in her column for the Chicago Sun-Times, asked whether in a city where one third of the voters are African-American, the fact that 28 percent of African-Americans “hold anti-Semitic beliefs”—more than double the national average—would make a difference in the election. But ultimately Washington, who is African-American, backed away from her own question, concluding that “I suspect that in the end, most Jewish voters will see Emanuel as the gravy, not the grime.”

Neil Steinberg, also a political columnist at the Sun-Times, sees anti-Semitism’s role as more powerful. “People who are bigots speak in code,” he said.

Asked whether calling Emanuel an outsider was anti-Semitic, Steinberg said, “That’s code.”

There’s nothing coded about the anti-Semitic slurs in the blogosphere. On a YouTube page showing Emanuel’s North Side Chicago house, one commenter wrote: “There are plenty of pure US citizens that only work for America that you could put in that office.”

Another, “Emanuel was a sorry excuse piece of shit zionist.”

Last week, in The New Republic, David Greenberg, writing about Jared Lee Loughner, referred to a “gnawing worry about anti-Semitism.” The public silence about Emanuel’s Jewishness is itself worrying. If we have entered an era of post racial politics—why the silence?

Although Emanuel did not return phone calls seeking an interview, he is not exactly keeping quiet. During the residency hearing, he joked about his bar mitzvah. At an education forum held last week at the studios of WTTW’s Chicago Tonight, asked if he had ever been bullied, Emanuel told a story about returning from Israel with a dark tan and some kids stealing his bike, beating him up, and shouting “on a racial basis.” Ari saved him. But the appellate court’s decision is another matter.

In her dissent, Judge Lampkin argued that Judges Hoffman and Hall ignored established law and precedent. “An opinion of such wide-ranging import,” Lampkin wrote, should not be based “on the whims of two judges” and “should not be allowed to stand.”

She also wrote, “the candidate never voted in Washington, D.C., never changed his driver’s license to Washington, D.C., never registered his car in Washington, D.C., never purchased property in Washington, D.C., never conducted personal banking in Washington, D.C., and never demonstrated an intent to sell his Chicago home.”

At a press conference held at the Berghof restaurant this afternoon, according to USA Today, Emanuel told reporters, “I have no doubt that we will in the end prevail at this effort. As my father used to say, nothing is ever easy in life.” Especially not in Chicago.

Rachel Shteir, a professor at the Theatre School of DePaul University, is the author of three books, including the forthcoming The Steal: A Cultural History of Shoplifting.

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If you are citing the comments from a youtube posting as evidence of anti-semitism, than the argument isn’t worth making.

Dig a bit deeper – I’ll bet that videos of kittens have some sort of offensive comment underneath them.

Furthermore, to hint that the judicial decision was based on the fact that emmanuel is a Jew, and then to offer up slurs from youtube commenters and a 2002 incident from a supporter of Emmanuel’s opponent in a congressional race is nonsensical.

And then there’s a comment that another writer worries because Emmanuel hasn’t played up his Jewishness as well as this quote from an official with the ADL: “I’ve been surprised that there hasn’t been more anti-Semitism.”

What exactly is the point of this piece? The sub-headline looked ominous, but he content is a dog’s breakfast.

Fluffy de Crossharbour says:

Absolutely on the mark. By the way, the woman carrying the placard about saying F the black caucus…she was one of the demented geniuses allowed to question Rahm at the Board of Elections hearing. She’s succeeded in the genius category by Judge Shelvin Louise Hall….appearing before her, when she was a Cook County Judge, I recall her quantity of walnuts for brains, and now, she’s an appellate court judge. What a travesty.

Rachel – it seems simple to me – if the only way some folk think they can beat Rahm is by questioning his residency then this is an easy admission that they have already lost the stump on genuine political argument.

Isnt it ironic that the City that provided our current president should unlease a fresh batch of pseudo-birthers on the nation.

i read every word of the court’s majority and minority decision. Not once but twice. This is a close call. Attributing corruption to one side or the other is pure nonsense. I am somewhat puzzled by the majority’s failure to certify the question to the Supreme Court. I am unaware of the religious or racial makeup of the panel but I cannot conclude that just because Rahm is Jewish there must be an anti-semitic element to the decision. Playing that card too often will dilute its effect.

JCarpenter says:

Not a resident of the city, but yet live in the region and so I have some interest: the issue is plain and simple, the prevailing definition of the word “residency.” Judge Lampkin’s dissent spells out Rahm’s case. Chicago, Sandburg’s “City of the Big Shoulders,” needs a big persona as mayor (witness the career of current Mayor Daley). I don’t see the others having the persona nor political astuteness to be mayor; the other candidates and local pundits talk about the “black vote” or the “Hispanic vote” more than about a united Chicago seeking positive reform.

TEM HORWITZ says:

PERHAPS WE SHOULD LOOK AT THE CONTEST IN TERMS OF THE IRISH POLITICAL INTERESTS AT PLAY?

Tuesday, January 25, 2011 B”H How might I praise the editorial where all sense of justice lacks from the basic criteria of knocking the checks on the government, such as requiring a valid residential identification in order to serve as Mayor of Chicago. Would it have been anti-Semitic had he been apprehended for driving without a license? I have another question; about how people could overlook ten millions of dollars invested in a guy who had known he would be called to task, knew the risk but dragged his tale of apprehension along, excuse me, but like the typical politician who is raised in the land to which his national affinity has habitually dismissed any bureaucratic procedure as an obstacle to be overcome. Let his name go among the failures of people to avert the strictures of democratic procedures and other nuances required to run a civil society, and he should report home that things are much different in a society that accepts the premise of law and order. Not that I believe in it all that much but when big Jewish men hit the dust the rest of choke over his public self- defamations . As may be gleaned from my writings the answer to Jewish survival begins and end with a modest but determined earnestness to keep the message alive by virtue of our identify with Jewish ethics. You may read my earnest efforts to portray a vision towards a secure freedom at http://www.englishquickly.com , pg. 2

Michael says:

What a self-obsessed whine. Could it be Rahm doesn’t qualify under the law, which says he must live in Chicago for a year? Naa — too simple. And anyway, since when does the law apply to the brilliant Progressives entrenched in Illinois, and now Washington?

TEM – where are you going with a comment on Irish Political Interest? We put in Belfast-born Chaim Herzog as President of Israel, without any issue of nationality or residency. I am sure the Chicago “Irish” can reciprocate (somewhat belatedly) and have Rahm as their mayor.

Doug Hoffman says:

When I saw this, I assumed the headline could not represent the intent of article written by such an academic author. Then I read the article, and I was sorry I did, because the arguments in the article are so weak. Whether or not there are anti-semites who would not like to see Rahm elected, the anecdotes from the folks in line at the House of Blues and the couple of websites hardly make the case.

I expected the author to tell us religions of the members of the Board of Election Commissioners, because they must all be Jewish members because they voted unanimously to keep Rahm on the ballot. I expected her to say that Judge Mark Ballard is Jewish because he decided to keep Rahm on the ballat. I expected her to say that Judge Thomas Hoffman and Judge Shelvin Louise Marie Hall are anti semites because they voted to put Rahm off the ballot.

Dr. Michael Zidonov says:

I am a Frum Jew for over Seventy years Rahm Emanuel is a Jew in name only and is not to be trusted,any more than he was in Washington He is pro-Arab/Moslem and is an embarassment to Jews everywhere He was dragged into the Obama camp to draw in support from Liberal Jews everywhere, for the Arab/Moslem called Obama … Where did he Worship? What Synagogue did he help build? I won’t be fooled again …

The only Anti-Semite here is Mr. Emanuel. He has been an accomplice and advisor to the most destructive Anti-Semitic president in our history

Yaakov Hillel says:

Not every nation needs an Independent state, especially not the palestinians. When Ariel Sharon pulled the Jewish population out of Gaza(70% of them are living like refugees in clapboard homes to old for anybody to hire them, Many with psychological problems, after the homes and farms they built and supported close to 5000 Muslim workers from Gaza was destroyed by the Gazan’s themselves,the home destroyed by the Israeli govt. The deal was called Gaza first. If Gaza could live in peace with Israel we will speak with the other Palestinians, If not not. since the pullout over 30,00 projectiles have been shot across the border into Israel, with Haniye their P.M. saying he will never make peace with Israel. The experiment failed meaning no continuation of land for peace. once bitten twice shy. when you have the safety of a nation at hand you cannot play games. When in a room full of people are asked any Jews and you know there are at least 30% Jews, and no body is willing to admit he is a Jew. If another Jew has to find legitamacy by laughing at his Jewishness this is a sign that in Chicago or the USA there is a problem and makes it necessary for there to be an Israel where Jews are not ashamed of their religion. Arabs on the other hand have a State called Jordan which the largest segment of the population is Palestinian. They already have two Palestinian entities they do not need a third if they are a danger to the existence of another state. The Americans have proven over the last 63 years to be a poor partner to depend on. Israel had nine conflicts with the Arab states. The way America came to the help of kuwait, Egypt, Saudia Arabia, Bin Laden against the Russians,and other countries has not happened with Israel. the Americans made an Arms embargo on Israel practically every time it was forced into war, and if it gave Israel in the end help it was not in armaments but in uniforms and whatever else it had in excess of.USA cannot be depended on. We cant play anymore.

R.E. Prindle says:

“People who are bigots speak in code.” Yes, they do.

le jas says:

Based on the logic of the court, how many Senators and Congressional Representatives would be disqualified because they now spend most of their time on “the other Washington?” Religion aside, the ruling is flawed and probably will be overturned upon review by the next-level court.

Grow up already!! As a Holocaust survivor who never got to know any of my grandparents; any of my mother’s relatives, and few of my father’s, I feel comfortable telling you that you reach for the anti-Semite label with too much ease and far too often. Also, as someone who lived in Chicago as a poor refugee and as a landed citizen with some involvement in local politics, I tell you — without equivocation — that you are full of s–t.
For most people, it matters not what his lineage is. For that matter, who knows anyone’s lineage for sure. To my knowledge, he has not identified himself with the community of Jews: not in Chicago, Washington or elsewhere.
Rahm Emanuel, what he stands for and what he is, is despicable enough to be opposed.
If it was fair for him to use legislative loopholes to push strategies to enact laws which were clearly contrary to the spirit, if not the letter of the law, he shouldn’t cry when people use any loophole — fair or foul — to use against him.
He is also the man who declared that the death of thousands of people on 9/11 should be used to push his and his sponsor’s political agenda. Based on that, anyone should be able to use anything to push his/her political agenda. For some, it is is anti-Rahm Emanuel.
And stop seeing anti-semitism everywhere. It is far too important and too potentially a matter for you to use as a means of building circulation.

naomi weinberg radtke says:

ABSURD! This makes me remember that when my Father, Harry Weinberg, went to Germany in WWII as
a sharp shooter and left my Mother & I at home. Somehow, the Truman & Roosevelt Administration thought
it best to not DROP my father’s State of Residence. He was serving America and did get shot down.

After his return to San Francisco, no one ever questioned his residency status.

Rahm Emanual has the same reason to be a CITIZEN of Chicago. My Dad remained a Patriot until he passed
13 years ago. His 2 devoted daughters were both raised in our hometown, without any question.

Shalom, Naomi Weinberg-Radtke

Dr. Michael Zidonov says:

NAOMI: Don’t try and compare Apples and Oranges … Your Dad was a Mensch !!! Just like my Dad, who went the same way as yours … Rahm Emanuel doesn’t even qualify as a Secular Jew … Blessings Upon You Dad’s Memory …

JackieFour says:

Get real, Rachel, Rahm Emmanuel was booed in Israel while there for his son’s Bar Mitzvah. Racism has nothing to do with anything Like Stupidama who worked for a criminal before he ran for the Senate, Rham’s a Chicago gangbanger. Both think they are empowered to play with the law. I hope both creeps are voted out of public office in 2012.

JCarpenter says:

Nothing like religion or politics to bring out the venom and bile—then, mix the two together: God help us all.
Peace and blessings—

Rabbi Tony Jutner says:

I am opposed to Mr Emanuels candidacy for mayor because he did our country a great disservice. When he took his son for his Barmitzvah in Jerusalem, he was protected by Israeli, not Palestinian security. This action in a way went against the wishes of our president in that it suggested a legitimacy to the zionsit occupation of Jerusalem. Thus, Mr Emanuel is no longer COS. His lack of judgement should exclude him from being a candidate for an important job in Chicago

Dorothy Wachsstock says:

Did anyone think that Rahm Emanuel would not get on the ballot in Chicago by hook or crook?

To those who thought he wouldn’t..read a book but stay away from politics. Emanuel, don’t care if he is Jewish and wish he wasn’t as he represents a Pres. who hates Jews and Israel. Even Mayor Ed Koch said he was sorry he endorsed him and wrote columns saying what I just wrote.

Wake up, my fellow Jews. Rahm Emanuel knows where the bodies are buried and Pres. Obama will make sure he wins as Mayor of Chicago.

After all, Obama’s campaign will be run for his second term in Chicago where the Al Capone guys will make sure he wins in Ill.

TAYLOR says:

I WILL VOTE FOR RAHM.
TELL ARI HELLO, HE WROTE A GREAT ARTICLE ON HUFPO SUPPORTING BARACK.
I WILL GIVE RAHM A CHANCE, AS HE AND AXELROD GAVE BARACK AND MICHELLE.
HE WILL GET A GOOD PORTION OF THE AA COMMUNITY WITH ME AND OTHERS LIKE ME. I DON’T LIKE BURKE AND MADIGAN RUNNING A SLEATH OPERATION SAYING; “ANYBODY BUT RAHM”

Oh Geez! So now Rahm is goning to play the race card!! A disgusting man! He was denied the ballot because of the rules, no other reason. But now he gets ‘special’ exception?? Disgusting!

Our country is BROKEN!

Im not going to say what everyone else has already said, but I do need to comment on your knowledge of the topic. Youre really well-informed. I cant believe how much of this I just wasnt conscious of. Thank you for bringing far more data to this topic for me. Im genuinely grateful and truly impressed.

I’ve said that least 1583398 times. The problem this like that is they are just too compilcated for the average bird, if you know what I mean

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House of Blues

Rahm Emanuel, in the midst of a rough-and-tumble campaign, was just denied a spot on the mayoral ballot. Was the move Chicago politics as usual, or has Emanuel’s Judaism come into play?

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