Thursday, January 5, 2006

Emanuel & Gutierrez

NOTE: [Latest article appearing in The Wanderer, the nation’s oldest national Catholic newspaper]

CHICAGO—The ancient prayer of Chicago ward bosses--that the Almighty brings confusion to their enemies—was answered last week but with a slight deviation. Wrangling and disunion came but it was the Democratic party that reeled from internecine disputes and inner discord. And it engulfed the suburban district represented by Cong. Henry Hyde where Democrats who want to succeed him fell to squabbling, endangering post-primary unity that is required to elect a Democrat in nominally Republican terrain.

Snapping up the Hyde district for Democrats in 2006 would bring national liberal attention and acclaim to Cong. Rahm Emanuel, chairman of the House Democratic Campaign committee. The wiry non-gay ex-ballet dancer who served as key apologist for Bill Clinton during the Monica Lewinsky scandal, picked a legless female Iraq war veteran to run against pro-life leader State Sen. Peter Roskam. Roskam had been adjudged the likely winner until Emanuel made the call. With Duckworth, the race would be tighter. But, alas, no sooner was Emanuel celebrated as an astute campaign strategist than his candidate became embroiled in a dispute with other Democrats over how to end the war. Moreover on his home front, he was blasted by a Hispanic House colleague for racist actions. Being tagged as anti-immigration is terrible for one who is the Dems’ top U.S. House campaigner.

Emanuel stepped into the Hyde district as the straw boss because he was dissatisfied with the previous Democratic nominee who gave Hyde a bit of a scare in 2004 holding the 80-year-old ailing Congressman to a 56 percent win. Those who know the district think Hyde did very well considering that he was hospitalized and engaged in tough Washington hearings on Iraq. Realizing the district needed to see more of him, he sped through the area disregarding his fragile health and out-debating his opponent, businesswoman Christine Cegalis, younger than he by four decades. All in all, however, Cegalis did better than expected. But list Emanuel among the unimpressed. He bluntly snubbed her and announced that there was an opening for another Democratic candidate. He acted very much the music hall impresario who auditions candidates from a back row in the theatre and then curtly tells them, “that’s all, thank you, we’ll call you.”

Emanuel is dissatisfied with Cegalis for many reasons: George W. Bush carried the suburban district over John Kerry 53 to 47 while Cegalis run behind Kerry by three percentage points. A poll taken by Emanuel shows that only 28 percent of likely Democratic primary voters know her name and that only 15 percent have a favorable view of her. Also Cegalis was not raising the amount of money Emanuel dictated. With that curt summary, Emanuel and his alter ego, Sen. Dick Durbin, turned the official party machinery over to one Tammy Duckworth, the legless former helicopter pilot who fills the bill as a genuine war hero.

While their fawning over Duckworth strikes some as opportunistic, Emanuel and Durbin are right to enthuse over Duckworth’s potential. She had commanded and trained B Company 1-106 Aviation for three years when she was transferred to battalion headquarters to be a staff officer. But Tammy refused to be sidelined. When her old unit was sent to Iraq, she said she felt “my duty” to join it. She did and was in her ninth month in Iraq when her helicopter was struck by a rocket-propelled grenade, the explosion costing both her legs and shattering her right arm. Indeed, interviewed in an army hospital she volunteered that she would like to return. Duckworth’s criticism of the war only sounded after Emanuel took over her campaign.

Emanuel’s high-powered press operation got Duckworth front-tier billing on ABC-TV’s “This Week” where she made her announcement for Congress on national television and in Sunday AM prime-time. And in her analysis of how to get disentangled from the Iraq war, Duckworth the soldier took a moderate and step-by-step approach. She sounded not unlike a moderate Republican. She called for “aggressive benchmarks” to bring U.S. troops home involving the recalling of one U.S. battalion for every Iraqi battalion that reaches security-force capability. That is a conservative position that is privately recommended by some sources in the Pentagon. Unfortunately, it is not the preferred strategy for the national Democratic party which seeks to capitalize on widespread discontent about the war and wants the U.S. out as soon as possible, the position supported by Rep. Jack Murtha (D-Penn.). Murtha initially called for an instantaneous pull-out which he then modified. But Nancy Pelosi, the House Minority Leader, makes no bones in appealing to the anti-war Democratic base by stressing a quick pull-out, totally unlike the Duckworth proposal. Emanuel, cognizant of the shaky posture of the Dems on national security issues, may have influenced the Duckworth position—but Duckworth’s stand reflects the solid soldierly person she is.

But this gets Duckworth and Emanuel in trouble with the left-leaning Democratic base. Cegalis’ people in the district are fuming at the Duckworth-Emanuel “go slow” stand. They want to lambaste Republicans on the war, not endorse a step-by-step strategy to get out. Besides, the Cegalis people think their candidate did nobly against Hyde, which she did. After all, she was running for the first time against a House legend, chairman of the International Relations committee, former chairman of Judiciary who has been regarded as a kind of folk hero for forty years. Then the Cegalis people attacked Emanuel’s poll, criticizing its tiny size and questionable weighting. They come very close to insisting that the Democratic campaign chairman has been fooling around with the polling numbers in order to disqualify Cegalis. A Democrat getting creative with polling numbers in Chicago? Perish the thought!

All the while, Emanuel is waiting to hear another shoe dropping in his own district. It turns out he had the benefit of regular Daley administration patronage workers in his earlier elections and dogged prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald is giving this a look-see. Daley himself is heavily involved in the Fitzgerald probe although for reasons unclear to many, the Bush administration is exceedingly favorable to Daley. While Emanuel juggles these problems, Cegalis may well draw a line against her opponent’s go-slow withdrawing from Iraq strategy as Emanuel’s and build a firestorm among the grassroots on the inflammatory peace issue. The Democratic base sounds less like Duckworth on the war and more like Pelosi, with variants of Howard Dean thrown in.

While Emanuel has his hands full in the Hyde district and his own, his Democratic colleague, the number one-ranking Hispanic in the Illinois House delegation, is accusing him of playing politics with the immigration vote. Cong. Luis Gutierrez, chairman of the Democratic Caucus Immigration Task Force and the Congressional Hispanic Caucus Immigration Task Force, who is the key to the burgeoning Latino vote in Chicago, is charging that Emanuel has been privately advising Democrats facing tough reelection races in 2006 to vote for a Republican-authored immigration bill.

Gutierrez has the world’s shortest fuse, having blown up from time to time at Daley himself. Democrats rush to pacify Guitierrez whenever he blows because Hispanics are soon to be the largest single group of voters whether registered or not in loosely-run Chicago where the election board smiles warmly at indiscretions such as non-citizens voting. Now what was once an Emanuel-Gutierrez alliance has ruptured. The fiery Puerto Rican-born congressman charged last week that “As painful as it is for me to come to this conclusion, after careful examination of all the events [when the Republican immigration bill passed the House] I find that indeed the chair of the DCCC either asked, encouraged or cajoled people to vote for the Sensenbrenner bill,” Gutierrez told the press. Emanuel responded with a muffled reply handled by an aide. There’s more than just immigration behind their battle. Gutierrez wants to run for Mayor of Chicago and Emanuel is close to Mayor Richard M. Daley. Contrary to some supposition, if Gutierrez runs against Daley in 2007 along with Cong. Jesse Jackson, Jr., Daley could be the loser. Gutierrez would strip off Hispanics who generally would be expected to fall into line behind Daley and who wouldn’t vote for Jackson.


While Emanuel was busy trying to pacify warring Democrats in Hyde’s district, the venerable Congressman attended a sad funeral—of his son Henry, Jr., who died at age 55 of liver cancer. Republicans and Democrats from across the nation flew to Chicago to mourn with a patriarch of the House who is genuinely beloved on both sides of the aisle. As my wife and I approached the seated Hyde in the chapel, he looked up, gave her a searching look and said in a stage whisper to her, “Is he [nodding to me] behaving himself?” Only a genuine article can treat his own sadness with such grace.


A battle with which Cong. Hyde has long been identified is slowly turning the right way with the abortion rates declining. Women across the country of childbearing age were spurning abortion, federal researchers have pointed out. At the last tally, 14 percent of recent births were unplanned but nevertheless achieved, a stunning improvement from 1995 when only 9 percent of the births were unplanned, signifying that abortion was utilized to a greater degree. In 1995 for every 100 pregnancies that ended in abortion or birth, almost 26 ended in abortion. In 2002, 24 ended in abortion.

“I don’t think there is any mystery here,” said Susan Wills of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops. She said the nation is undergoing “a pro-life shift” and credited ultra-sounds and other information showing “it’s a baby from an early time.”

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