CHICAGO — Nearly one year removed from a frenetic eight years as Chicago’s mayor, and two years before that as chief of staff to a president, Rahm Emanuel is back in the spotlight.
He said he has no regrets about leaving office when he did.
“This is Chicago,” he said. “You can’t be mayor for a third term without the energy every day to say ‘Go ahead, give it your best shot.’ I didn’t have it and I knew that.”
Emanuel is now working at an investment firm, providing political punditry, promoting a book and pushing a new narrative on politics in which local mayors have more power than the federal government to effect change on everything from education, income inequality and climate change.
“Those were things the federal government used to do and because they’ve walked away from that responsibility, cities are mandated to take on more parts of what used to be the real estate of the federal government,” he said.
Emanuel isn’t endorsing in the Democratic primary for president but he has high praise for former South Bend Mayor Pete Butigedge and serious concerns about Senator Bernie Sanders, who he thinks is unelectable.
“If Donald Trump gets re-elected, you think this has been bad, there’s nothing to hold him back because he doesn’t have a re-election,” Emanuel said. “I think there’s a lot at risk, not just economic but political for this country.”
Emanuel has been in politics for the better part of 30 years.
He earned a reputation as a street fighter but also a transactional politician who believed even losing hands had winning cards.
Now, on the sidelines, Emanuel admits to playing a role in the extreme partisanship that exists today.
“I think redistricting, making it a science where you write the rules for your benefit to screw the other side has been a real detriment to bi-partisan compromise,” he said. “I practiced these dark arts. I’m a reformer and I’ll tell you it’s wrong.”
The former mayor still feeds on feistiness and he hopes to one day return to the ring.
“I’m not done with public service,” he said.
Emanuel said he’s using this break to recharge and refocus on the issues he cares about most.
A return to public service in some form is inevitable, whether that means running for office remains to be seen.