WASHINGTON -- White House chief of staff Rahm Emanuel, considered a possible candidate for mayor of Chicago, met privately Rep. Jesse Jackson Jr., a potential rival, and agreed that everyone in the race should run civil campaigns, Jackson said in an interview Thursday.
Emanuel, known as a fierce political competitor, did not reveal whether he will jump into the race to succeed longtime mayor Richard M. Daley, Jackson said.
But President Obama’s top aide is “being thoughtful and reflective about his options,” the congressman said outside the House chamber.
The 90-minute meeting took place Wednesday night at an undisclosed location in Washington, D.C.
“Rahm and I have not always seen eye-to-eye on everything,” said Jackson, who also has not decided whether to run for the post. “But both of us agree that Chicago is at a tipping point and the economic destiny of Chicago hangs in the balance.”
Though he said the two are friends, Jackson made clear that an Emanuel candidacy would “nationalize” the race, entangling it in Obama’s agenda.
He said Emanuel would make a formidable candidate. Emanuel has nearly $1.2 million in campaign funds left over from his days as a Chicago congressman. As a former chairman of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee and as the incumbent White House chief of staff, he has a vast fundraising network and a raft of political contacts at his disposal.
“No one entering this contest should be under any illusion that if Rahm Emanuel comes to town, he’s [not] bringing an A-game,” Jackson said. “This will not be a B-game. And those who would be mayor need to recognize that. I say this with respect, but not unafraid to be in the ring with him myself. Rahm Emanuel is a heavyweight championship player and it would be a heavyweight fight.”
During the meeting, both men agreed the campaign should be conducted “on the highest moral ground possible,” Jackson said.
Stories of Emanuel’s combative streak are a rich part of Washington lore. Before Obama became president, he appeared at a roast of Emanuel and noted that Emanuel’s brother, Ari, was the model for a lead character on the HBO series " Entourage.” Rahm Emanuel, Obama quipped, was the inspiration for another HBO character: " Tony Soprano,” the mob boss.
The meeting with Jackson followed Emanuel’s decision to commission a poll testing his viability as a mayoral candidate. Emanuel wanted to survey Chicago residents to test his name recognition and standing and “get the pulse of the issues that are important to constituents,” the person said.
Jackson, a Chicago Democrat, is one of many people Emanuel is speaking to as he weighs whether to leave one of the most powerful jobs in Washington for an uncertain shot at becoming mayor, a person close to Emanuel said.
“Rahm is … talking to a number of people, including political, neighborhood and civic leaders — and Jesse is one of those people,” the person said.
Emanuel’s desire to be mayor at some point is well known.
After Daley announced he would not seek another term, Emanuel told colleagues at a White House senior staff meeting that they should stay focused on their work and not discuss his future, according to one person who was present.
Still, White House aides are curious.
“People are wondering about what Rahm will do,” one White House aide said.