It was the third game of the Giants-Cubs National League playoffs, going into extra innings. The winner of the best-of-seven series, which the Cubs led 2-1, would go on to the World Series.
All of Chicago was watching on that Wednesday evening, October 10, praying for the Cubs’ first World Series appearance since 1945 — but for one hardworking municipal leader toiling late into the night.
From City Hall, Mayor Rahm Emanuel chose that moment to blast out an email to key friends and supporters.
“While the whole city is enraptured with our Cubs’ postseason run,” he wrote, “I wanted to make sure you didn’t miss several other key pieces of news coming out of Chicago recently. Last week S&P announced they upgraded their outlook for the financial future of the City of Chicago from negative to stable. This is a major milestone for the city…. There’s also more good news about continued progress of our students. Following recent record-setting achievements by [public school] students, this year more than 80% of schools in the district were rated in one of the top three ratings levels — compared to just 70% of schools last year.”
The mayor also kvelled about the opening of a Whole Foods in the south side Englewood neighborhood, previously a food desert, and about the relocation of several corporations, including Wilson Sporting Goods, to his city.
And from somewhere in the world, Chicagoan David Axelrod, President Obama’s former top political adviser, shot back an incredulous reply: “You send this out DURING the game?”
Emanuel, who served as Obama’s chief of staff in the White House at the same time Axelrod was there, didn’t back down on his work ethic.
“First, the game is not the High Holidays,” he retorted. “Second, [I’m] still in the office.” The rest of the exchange between these two Jewish politicos is redacted, covered by black boxes, reflecting Emanuel’s claim that it dealt with purely personal or social matters.
The exchange was probably the most stereotypically Jewish one in a trove of some 2,700 pages of emails that Emanuel released recently to settle a lawsuit the Better Government Association filed against him in September 2015. The settlement required the mayor to release all emails concerning city business that he had sent or received on his personal email account, thereby shielding them, until the settlement, from public scrutiny.
The release showed that other recipients of Emanuel’s playoff night email responded more politely. U.S. Secretary of Commerce Penny Pritzker, a member of the Chicago family that has been among Obama’s strongest Jewish backers, wrote back: “Great news. We are watching the Cubs in SF. Miss u.” In a second message, she added, “Hoping for the best,” referring to a threatened strike by the Chicago Teachers Union; in previous correspondence with Pritzker, the mayor had discussed fundraising for the Chicago Public Schools.
“I am in the office, waiting on the teachers,” the mayor wrote back at 2:30 a.m. Three hours later he updated her on the resolution to the contract dispute.
Emanuel is Chicago’s first Jewish mayor. But a perusal of these emails, which date back to the start of his first term, in 2011, suggests that any interactions he had with the Jewish community on his personal server didn’t qualify as city business, making them eligible for exclusion from the great email dump.
The only other messages of particularly Jewish interest are a draft of a 2011 Washington Post op-ed in favor of President Obama’s Israel policy; one from Andrew Schapiro, U.S. ambassador to the Czech Republic, in which Schapiro reported seeing a security guard at Rosh Hashanah services in Prague wearing a yarmulke from Emanuel’s daughter’s bat mitzvah, and one from Roey Gilad, the Israeli consul general to the Midwest, concerning Emanuel’s wish to include Chicago on the El Al flight network in 2015. (According to an attached letter from David Maimon, the airline’s CEO, this was impossible because of El Al’s relationship with American and United, though he would welcome the mayor’s help in changing their minds.)
The BGA initiated the lawsuit after growing frustrated with the Emanuel administration’s reluctance to release public records in response to Freedom of Information Act requests. At the start of his term, Emanuel had pledged that under his leadership, Chicago would have one of the most transparent governments in the United States. But the group soon found otherwise.
There was very little in the emails that could be considered scandalous, or even particularly interesting, much to the disappointment of Emanuel’s detractors. Many messages were blacked out or redacted. Many more alluded to earlier conversations that were not explained. What the messages do offer, however, is a glimpse into the administration’s inner workings. They show the wheeling and dealing, the catering to the interests of business leaders, and indifference, and even disdain, toward the people who are most affected by his administration’s program cuts and school closings — the behavior that earned him the nickname “Mayor 1%.”
To some of those business leaders, Emanuel could be warm and friendly. “I love you a lot,” he wrote to the current governor, Bruce Rauner, in 2011, when Rauner was still chairman of the private equity firm GTCR. “I am giving a tax cut to the hotel industry. Giving McCormick [Place, the city’s largest convention center] $1 million in new money.”
But with other correspondents, he could be terse. In April 2015, Emanuel received a heart-rending message from the Rev. Michael Pfleger, the white pastor at St. Sabina’s Church on the south side, who was portrayed in Spike Lee’s recent film “Chiraq” as that black community’s unstinting advocate. Pfleger asked Emanuel to intercede with Rauner about restoring funding to a summer jobs program.
“The young folk are angry and desperate,” Pfleger wrote. “With resources being cut by the state, I believe the violence will spike and it will come back on Chicago not the State…. Please use whatever influence you have with him to help.” Emanuel responded only with, “I know.”
Chicago’s murder rates in 2016 and 2015 were the highest since the 1990s, and many of the murders were gang related.
One of Emanuel’s most regular correspondents was Michael Sacks, chairman and CEO of the global investment firm GCM Grosvenor and vice chairman of World Business Chicago, a public-private partnership whose goal is to bring more businesses to the city. The bulk of their communiqués that have not been blacked out are mundane. But in April 2012, another baseball matter popped up: White Sox pitcher Philip Humber pitched a perfect game against the Seattle Mariners. This was, Sacks wrote, a “big deal.”
“Twenty in major league history you should probably do something,” he wrote. Sacks urged Emanuel to call personally to congratulate Humber.
The mayor called. And it even appeared to pay off publicly.
“He was really excited,” Humber told the Seattle Times, referring to Emanuel’s call. “I had never talked to him before, but he sounded like he was really excited. I was definitely honored by it.”