• Sun-Times Media
  • Rahm Emanuel speaks at a 2005 press conference with former mayor Richard M. Daley, whose patronage machine had helped send Emanuel to Congress three years earlier.

For a few seconds the other day, I thought I’d been transported by a magical time-travel machine to the early 2000s, when Mayor Daley ruled the land.

What prompted my journey to the past was the testimony of Jay Stone at a federal court hearing regarding the Shakman decree, which prohibits patronage hiring by the city.

Stone was in court to beg and plead that U.S. Magistrate Judge Sidney Schenkier keep the decree in place for the simple reason that Mayor Rahm Emanuel is the last person in the universe to be trusted with protecting the city from patronage abuses.

As Stone pointed out, Emanuel owes his political career to the Daley machine.

Or, more specifically, to the hundreds of city employees—most of them water or sanitation department workers—dispatched by political bosses Donald Tomczak and Daniel Katalinic to work the precincts for Emanuel in his 2002 congressional campaign.

That was Emanuel’s first run for office, which launched the career that took him to the top of our fair city. Gulp.

“Emanuel is part of the problem—not part of the solution,” Stone said in court. Allowing him to police against political hiring is like “something out of Kafka or a George Orwell novel.”

By the way, as Stone spoke, the mayor was sitting in court listening.

So say this about Jay Stone: the dude’s got guts.

As a voter in Emanuel’s Fifth congressional district in 2002, I recall Tomczak’s goons on the corner pressing me to vote for Rahm because he was the mayor’s guy.

Like that would go over big with me.

Stone’s testimony got me thinking about one of my favorite questions regarding the amazing career of Rahm Emanuel. And that is this:

Would he have defeated Nancy Kaszak, his chief rival in 2002, without the help of Tomczak, Katalinic, and their patronage armies?

I doubt it. In fact, Daley probably realized this, which is why the old mayor—who rarely endorsed candidates in Democratic congressional primaries—deployed the troops in the first place.

Back then Emanuel was virtually unknown in the Fifth congressional district, though he was well known in Washington for his years as a Clinton White House aide. In fact, he was so thirsty to establish a local connection that he went around telling voters his uncle was a retired city cop—just in case anyone were inclined to write him off as another transplant from Wilmette.

So I’d say Stone is right. Mayor Rahm owes it all to Donald Tomczak. Not that the mayor’s expressing much in the way of gratitude these days.

Tomczak’s persona non grata around here since he pleaded guilty to federal corruption charges in the Hired Truck scandal.

As far as I know, Mayor Emanuel’s never coherently answered any question about Tomczak’s role in his campaign.

He certainly wasn’t doing so after Monday’s court hearing. When Sun-Times reporter Fran Spielman pressed him for a comment, Emanuel said: “It’s 12 years ago. It’s been spoken to.”

If you say so, Mr. Mayor.

Well, like someone said—”the past is never dead. It’s not even past.”

I’m pretty sure William Faulkner said that—or maybe it was Donald Tomczak.

In any event, it applies as much to Chicago as it does to Faulkner’s Mississippi.