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No one expected Daley to leave when he did. But Emanuel wasted no time assembling an organization that has operated with the discipline and stealth of a presidential incumbent with a lead. Famous for his invective and epithets, Emanuel knew that the image of a coarse hothead might be useful in a fixer but could unnerve voters choosing an executive. Thus the man who once sent a dead fish to a pollster has been on his best behavior, taking extreme care not to flash his trademark temper in public. (Though he can still occasionally get snippy, as he did during an appearance at a charter school, curtly telling one loquacious host to stop talking so that he could hear from the teachers.) He won't engage rivals in rhetorical combatEmanuel has skipped several candidates' forumsand prefers to appear, much like a President does, at only one message-specific public event per day. He is selectively minimalist about when to engage with the press.
Emanuel has also brought a political version of Colin Powell's concept of overwhelming force to bear on the race. The nearly $12 million he raised in just the three months following Daley's September decision dwarfed the combined total funding of his rivals. It was five times that of his prime critic and opponent, Gery Chico, a wealthy lawyer and former Daley aide whom Rahm has managed to recast as a compromised insider. Moguls such as Steven Spielberg, Steve Jobs and Chicago hedge-fund billionaire Ken Griffin help finance an all-star team of local consultants and young sharpies lured from the Obama Administration. Entertainers such as Jennifer Hudson and Jeff Tweedy of Wilco have headlined fundraisers. The comedian Andy Samberg, who memorably impersonated a cartoonishly obnoxious Emanuel on Saturday Night Live ("Do I lack even basic social skills? Absolutely"), stumped for Emanuel at a train stop in January, declaring that Emanuel would be "the most overqualified mayor of all time."
Behind the scenes, meanwhile, Emanuel employs the most cutting-edge techniques. A focus on social networking and demographically targeted e-mails is part of "using the Internet in ways not previously used in a municipal campaign," says Chicago-based Democratic consultant Eric Adelstein. Emanuel is harnessing Google Analytics to micro-target voters based on their Web surfing. "So you look for 'Chicago Bears' and there may be an Emanuel message that might interest you, a sports fan between the ages of 40 and 60," Adelstein says. While Emanuel has more than 40 paid staff members, a well-known Latino candidate, city clerk Miguel del Valle, has six. And the control Emanuel's team exerts can sometimes befit a national candidate: when a local television news station recently interviewed his parents, the campaign insisted that its own crew film the interview as well. And then there are the effective TV ads, one featuring Obama and another, Bill Clinton.
The shrewd, muscular campaign is the natural product of a career that has always been somewhat exceptional. Born to a hard-driving pediatrician father who served in a Jewish paramilitary organization that operated in Palestine and a psychiatric-social-worker mother, Emanuel moved to the Chicago suburbs as a youth with his equally ambitious and successful brothers, prominent Hollywood agent Ari and bioethicist-oncologist Ezekiel. He attended summer school in Israel and, eschewing a scholarship with the Joffrey Ballet, attended Sarah Lawrence College and quickly found his place in Chicago politics, working in 1989 as chief fundraiser for Richard Daley's first winning mayoral bid. (The revolving Daley-Obama door now features Daley's younger brother William, who hired Emanuel for that 1989 fundraising job, replacing him as White House chief of staff.)
Emanuel's ascent to the national scene began when he was one of the first hires at Clinton's fledgling Little Rock, Ark., presidential headquarters in 1991. He proved a prodigious fundraiser and joined Clinton as a White House adviser for six years; next came those two-plus lucrative years in investment banking, in which he impressed many with his contacts, judgment and capacity for work. In 2002 he won the congressional seat vacated by Rod Blagoje-vich, who went on to glory and then disgrace as governor. Emanuel took on what he calls "a job nobody wanted," he says, as chairman of the Democratic Congressional-Campaign Committee, where he was praised for selecting mostly moderate candidates and shepherding the party's 31-seat gain in 2006. It seemed entirely possible that Emanuel would succeed Nancy Pelosi as House Democratic leader until Obama asked him to take his mix of White House and Capitol Hill expertise into the Oval Office.
For a man barely acquainted with failure, the mayor's race could have been a humbling experience. Yet fortune shone upon him. His strongest potential white rival blinked and didn't run. The city's black political elite chose Braun as its "consensus" candidate, a move that proved disastrous: Braun has been uninspiring and erratic, most notably when she declared at a February candidates' forum that a black female rival had previously been "on crack." The public's attention has been elsewhere the Bears' playoff run, the epic blizzard drowning out the attacks of rivals like Chico, who has sought to exploit the vagueness of Emanuel's proposal to broaden Chicago's tax base. (Chico calls it "the largest sales tax in the city's history"; Emanuel counters that his plan would not raise overall taxes.)