Column: Why Biden betrays Black voters in rewarding Rahm Emanuel

Rahm Emanuel close-up
Rahm Emanuel, former mayor of Chicago, is President Biden’s choice for ambassador to Japan.
(Kiichiro Sato / Associated Press )

For more than 30 years Rahm Emanuel has been a faithful servant of the Democratic Party. On Friday, President Biden nominated Emanuel to be ambassador to Japan.

From his days as a senior advisor to President Clinton to being President Obama’s chief of staff, Emanuel’s breadth of political experience makes him an attractive person to add to the Biden administration.

Except for one tiny thing: Based on Emanuel’s time as mayor of Chicago, adding him is a slap in the face to people who voted to have a Biden administration.


Where do we start?

How about the time Emanuel engineered the largest number of school closings in the city’s history. In 2013, he shuttered 49 schools all at once, presumably because of low enrollment. Most of these closures were in poor Black neighborhoods. Emanuel said the money saved would be used to invest in better schools for those children, most of whom lived in poverty.

Instead, researchers in Chicago found the school closures had negative effects on the neighborhoods, families and students. In the following years, Emanuel’s efforts to build and improve schools disproportionately benefited white middle-class families.

This is just one of many reasons Emanuel was nicknamed “Mayor 1%.”

In addition, because of the closings, students were forced to cross gang boundaries, something Emanuel did not initially consider. His solution? Creating safe passage routes using police and school employees. Eventually, he had to bring in the city’s firefighters to double as security guards.

“Should an armed or violent altercation break out or erupt, we are not trained or equipped to deal with that,” Tom Ryan, chief of the firefighters union, said.

Good times.

But the biggest reason Emanuel should not be brought into the Biden administration is his handling of the police murder of 17-year-old Laquan McDonald.


Police reports said McDonald charged at police with a knife, but dash-cam video showed McDonald was walking away with a closed knife when Officer Jason Van Dyke fired 16 shots, mowing the teenager down. The Chicago inspector general’s office concluded that 16 officers and supervisors were involved in the cover-up.

The shooting happened Oct. 20, 2014, in the middle of Emanuel’s reelection campaign. The prosecutor’s office obtained the dashcam video on Nov. 4. City officials fought for months to keep the video from the public. Emanuel was reelected in April 2015. The video was made public in November 2015 after a judge ruled the city must do so. Emanuel did not seek a third term.

Draw your own conclusions.

Now, I understand Biden’s desire to want to repay Emanuel for his years of service to the Democrats with a high-profile, prestige position. But Biden sends a horrible signal on police reform and institutional racism in rewarding a politician with a record like Emanuel‘s.