Brandon Johnson speaking into a microphone
Mayor Brandon Johnson at a campaign event in 2023 Credit: Vern Hester

Quick—name Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s first chief of staff!

You probably can’t—unless your name is Mick Dumke.

I mention Mick (a Block Club Chicago editor and my former writing partner here at the Reader) because he actually knew the answer when I asked him about it the other day.

Then he sort of apologized, apparently a little sheepish for knowing such trivia.

The thing is there’s no compelling reason you should know the name of Mayor Emanuel’s first chief of staff, as Mick would be the first to tell you.

And no, it’s not Joe Deal. He was Mayor Emanuel’s last chief of staff.

Chiefs of staff are the nameless, faceless technocrats in the back rooms of City Hall who make sure that the mayor’s initiatives get carried out—even, gulp, Mayor Rahm’s. As in . . . close more schools, dammit!

So, again, there’s no compelling reason you should remember the name of Mayor Rahm’s first chief of staff. And, no, the answer is not Eileen Mitchell. She was the one before Joe Deal.

I mention all of this as a segue into what I really want to talk about: the embarrassing hoopla mainstream Chicago made over Mayor-elect Brandon Johnson selecting Rich Guidice as his first chief of staff.

Before I go further . . . 

This is no dig at Rich Guidice. Don’t know the man—never met him. I’m sure he’s a wonderful guy. He’s been around City Hall for the last 30 or so years in one job or another. I hope he does a great job for Johnson.

Point is, the exhilaration that greeted Guidice’s appointment says less about him and more about us. Or at least the “us” that jumped for joy over his appointment.

Specifically, it says a lot about the journalists, editorial writers, lakefront liberals, and chamber of commerce types who comprise mainstream Chicago, and their anxieties and prejudices about the prospect of Johnson—a 46-year-old Black leftie who got his political start with the Chicago Teachers Union [CTU]—in charge of city hall.

Not sure what scares them the most about Johnson—the fact that he’s a leftie, a former CTU staffer, or a Black man. Probably a combination of all of the above, but especially the latter.

It definitely reminds me of the anxieties of mainstream Chicago back in 1983, when Mayor Harold Washington took over. Washington was the last Black leftie on the fifth floor.

Will the garbage get collected? Will the snow be removed? Will the police and firefighters answer calls? Will the trains run on time? Where’s Mussolini when we need him?!

When I mention things like this to mainstreamers, they go into spasms of denial, telling me,

This is not about race! It’s about the fact that Brandon has no experience running a multibillion-dollar operation like the city of Chicago.

To which I say . . . neither did Mayor Rahm. Or Mayor Daley. And I didn’t see you panicking when they first got elected. Didn’t see you worrying about who they picked as chief of staff.

And no, the answer is not Forrest Claypool. That’s the chief of staff Mayor Rahm hired before Eileen Mitchell.

No, you assumed that Mayors Rahm and Daley would know how to run City Hall because you had voted for them and—c’mon, be honest—they kinda looked like you. 

Even though in the case of Mayor Rahm, he clearly knew very little about Chicago when you elected him.

I mean, Rahm only got the job because Michelle Obama told President Obama that she couldn’t take another day of having him in the White House, where he was, coincidentally, chief of staff. 

So they cooked up this fantasy that Rahm was leaving the White House to fulfill his lifelong dream of being mayor of Chicago.

You certainly didn’t wait with bated breath to see who he’d hire as chief of staff. And, no, it wasn’t Lisa Schrader. She was the one before Claypool.

You just trusted Mayor Rahm cause you saw him as an insider who could get things done. Even though the things insiders generally get done are stuff no one wants. Except other insiders.

Consider the three dumbest, biggest wastes of money that Chicago mayors either did or tried to do in this century. They would be . . .

The parking meter deal, the Olympics, and the Amazon corporate headquarters.

In one deal, Mayor Daley sold an asset worth about $10 billion for $1 billion. In the other, Mayor Daley essentially gave a blank check to the International Olympic Committee to finance a boondoggle that would have lost billions. And with Amazon, Mayor Rahm and his pal, Governor Rauner, offered Amazon a handout of untold billions of dollars plus the pick of any prime real estate if they would build their headquarters here.

And now here we are four years later, facing a bit of a commercial real estate crisis because more and more workers are working at home.

Apparently, no one in mainstream Chicago ever imagined such a situation when they were offering Amazon the sun and the moon to build office space for 50,000 employees.

They just went along with the mayor like lemmings. As they did with Daley’s Olympic bid and the parking meter deal. 

Maybe who we really need as chief of staff is someone who’s not afraid to say no to the boss.

Noticeably absent from the list of foolish mayoral proposals is any by Mayor Lightfoot—though the jury’s still out on NASCAR. Guess that makes her the greatest mayor of this century. Admittedly, the bar is low.

Yet mainstream Chicago bailed on her. Like they bailed on Kim Foxx, who’s undoubtedly the greatest Cook County State’s Attorney. To paraphrase Gil Scott-Heron, it follows a pattern if you dig what I mean.

Well, at least they can’t bail on Johnson. As they never supported him to begin with.
By the way . . . Theresa Mintle was Mayor Rahm’s first chief of staff. Oh, don’t act like you knew that. Unless your name is Mick Dumke.

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