The NAACP has joined a number of labor unions and progressive activists in speaking out against Rahm Emanuel, the former mayor of Chicago and Barack Obama’s former chief-of-staff. Multiple news outlets have reported in recent days that Emanuel is being considered for a position within Biden’s cabinet, either as transportation secretary or U.S trade representative.
“As the former Mayor of Chicago, Rahm Emanuel has shown us that he is not a principled leader or person,” Derrick Johnson, president of the NAACP, told HuffPost. “His time in public service proved to be burdened with preventable scandal and abandonment of Chicago’s most vulnerable community. How can we expect him to do better on a federal level? His actions and approach to governing are detrimental to the Biden Administration and, more importantly, the American people.”
Emanuel left office last year after first taking office in 2011, reversing an earlier announcement that he would run for a third term as mayor of Chicago. His handling of the police killing of 17-year-old Laquan McDonald made him the most unpopular mayor in Chicago history at one point, with 4 out of 10 Chicagoans calling for Emanuel to resign, including half of all Black and Latinx voters.
The former mayor blocked the release of dashcam footage showing former Chicago Police officer Jason Van Dyke shooting McDonald 16 times in October 2014. As the Chicago Tribune reported at the time, nearly three out of four Chicago voters didn’t believe his explanation about how he learned about the teen’s death, with a majority saying Emanuel wasn’t justified in withholding the incriminating footage.
“I can’t find a stronger word than ‘disqualifying,’ but whatever that word is, that’s what it ought to be,” former Georgia state Senate Whip Vincent Fort, a labor union lobbyist and Black progressive Democrat told HuffPost about Emanuel’s suppression of the police shooting video. “I can’t imagine a worse [Cabinet] nominee at this point.”
Emanuel has been floated as a possible Biden pick since late November. Ishena Robinson wrote for The Root last month that such an act would be an act of betrayal on Biden’s part—dismissing the concerns of the very same bloc of voters that twice saved his bid for the presidency (The Daily Beast appears to have agreed).
Labor unions said they also consider an Emanuel cabinet post a “betrayal.”
“Rahm Emanuel would be a nightmare,” John Samuelsen, international president of the Transport Workers Union of America, AFL-CIO told The Intercept. He noted that the trade union worked “extremely hard” to get Biden elected, particularly in Pennsylvania, a decisive battleground state. The union represents Philadelphia’s SEPTA transit, rail and bus workers, the Intercept writes.
This bad blood is rooted in Emanuel’s repeated clashes with unions during his time as mayor. From the Intercept:
Emanuel pursued legislation making it harder for teachers to strike, laid off hundreds of teachers and school staff, closed some 50 schools, and threatened to lay off hundreds more city employees to cut costs in favor of privatizing city services.
We didn’t work our asses off to have Rahm Emanuel as the secretary of transportation,” Samuelsen said. “He’s anti-trade union, he’s anti-worker.”
What’s the argument to consider him then? As Slate aptly summarizes, he’s considered politically uncanny—although the merits of that label are in dispute, to put it lightly. But what he really might offer is a kind of identity politics, as Slate writes, he appeals to “educated, financially successful people who think of themselves as proud Democrats, but were put off by ‘liberals’ in the Howard Dean era and are put off by ‘leftists’ now.”
But critics of Emanuel’s note that the GOP has changed its tactics markedly since Emanuel first took a seat in the Oval Office alongside Obama. And in any case, if the ultimate goal is to appeal to centrist, well-moneyed Democrats—there are many other candidates to pick from. Maybe don’t select the man who closed Black schools and suppressed the murder of a Black teen.