When it comes to being the guy behind the guy, there is no one more conspicuous than Rahm Emanuel.
As chief of staff for President-elect Barack Obama, he’s usually at Obama’s news conferences, standing off to the side, glowering like some fiercely loyal mini-me.
But Emanuel wasn’t there Thursday when Obama faced reporters to answer questions about federal charges against Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich, D-Dead Meat, accused of trying to sell Obama’s Senate seat to the highest bidder.
“I have never spoken to the governor on this subject,” Obama said. “I am confident that no representatives of mine would have any part of any deals related to this seat.”
Wow. No staffers tried to make a deal for his Senate seat?
“I’ve asked my team to gather the facts of any contacts with the governor’s office about this vacant seat, so that we can share them with you over the next few days,” Obama said.
He could have just asked Emanuel, but he wasn’t there, and reporters kept wondering, “Where’s Rahm? Where’s Rahm?” What they should have been asking is, “Where’s Jimmy?”
As in state Sen. James DeLeo, D-How You Doin’?
DeLeo is an extremely powerful politician. You know this because he’s hardly ever quoted in newspaper stories.
Emanuel and DeLeo have a relationship. Emanuel is the congressman from the 5th Congressional District, where DeLeo is the Democratic state central committeeman. What hasn’t been reported on much is that Emanuel has not yet resigned from the House. And if you want to play politics in Jimmy’s sandbox, you need his OK.
DeLeo is also considered by some to be the real governor of Illinois. Blagojevich is the nutty guy who makes the speeches and gets the federal slap. They’re so close that if Jimmy suddenly stopped walking, Rod would chip his teeth on the back of Jimmy’s head.
It’s reasonable to assume that if there’s one fellow Rod would talk to about the Senate seat, it’s Jimmy. And given their relationship, Jimmy could talk to Rahm. I’m not suggesting money was offered. There is nothing illegal about politicians horse-trading to fill seats. Only when such deals are monetized — as the governor is alleged to have done — is it illegal.
I’m just talking about putting political pieces on the board the Chicago Way. A vacant Senate seat and a soon-to-be vacant House seat in Illinois would be a package deal. Consider this mathematical equation: Jimmy/Rod plus Jimmy/Rahm equals Happy Rod, Jimmy and Rahm. Get it?
Before he became so powerful, Jimmy was a lowly traffic court bailiff making a measly $20,000 a year. Yet he was able to own shiny new Cadillacs, Jaguars and Mercedes, astounding federal agents, who in 1989 charged him with taking bribes to fix tickets in the Operation Greylord probe of judicial corruption.
Later, his former roommate told a federal grand jury that there was $35,000 in cash in their freezer, carefully wrapped in butcher paper so the bills wouldn’t get freezer burn. But the roommate came to Jimmy’s defense, saying the money was his, not Jimmy’s, and that it came from the roommate’s stolen-car business.
At Jimmy’s trial, Outfit gambling boss Ken “Tokyo Joe” Eto emerged from the witness protection program to testify that he passed cash to Jimmy via handshakes. Eto had been hiding since Outfit hit men tried to kill him. They used cheap bullets, and three slugs failed to fully penetrate Eto’s diamond-hard cranium.
The jury didn’t believe the feds. They believed Jimmy and acquitted him, so he rose to political prominence, and now Obama’s chief of staff is the congressman in the district Jimmy controls.
Jimmy didn’t return my call to his office, so we checked other joints. “DeLeo?” said Glenn, the manager at Carmine’s. “I’ve never heard of the name. Who?”
At Tavern on Rush, a hostess said, “I haven’t seen him today.” A woman at Cafe Bionda simply said, “No, he’s not here.”
So I phoned the Excelsior Casino in Aruba, where Jimmy takes politicians to gamble, including Illinois Secretary of State Jesse White. I figured Jimmy might be there.
“Who’s calling please?” asked a secretary in the office of Michael Posner, the casino boss who has Chicago connections.
Tell him John from Chicago is calling, I said. Posner picked up and was quite chirpy, for about three seconds, until he realized I was a newspaper guy.
“If you want to find him, call him yourself,” Posner said. Click.
Later, Jimmy’s attorney phoned, upset that I’d called all over looking for him. She told me that Jimmy had nothing to do with any deal for Rahm’s seat or Obama’s seat.
“The answer is no,” said Jimmy’s attorney. “No.”
OK, but I’m still waiting to hear from Jimmy, so I can ask him about Rod and Rahm. I won’t hold my breath.
You never hear from the real guy behind the guy.
That’s how they remain the guy behind the guy.