January 11, 2012
The Chicago Tribune
Obama in Chicago just days after William Daley, of city's political dynasty, quits White House
President Barack Obama will be accompanied by outgoing White House chief of staff William Daley when he flies into their Chicago hometown Wednesday for the president's first campaign fundraising trip of the year.
The visit may not have produced the most timely homecoming for the president. It comes just two days after the resignation of Daley, a member of the city's most famous political family, and as a new book claims first lady Michelle Obama had a sometime tumultuous relationship with Rahm Emanuel, whom Daley replaced as Obama's top aide when Emanuel left to successfully run for Chicago mayor.
The visit also comes amid concern about whether Chicago residents, who left by the busloads to campaign around the country for the then-U.S. senator in 2008, remain enamored enough to do the same for Obama this year.
But political observers and Democratic officials said they don't sense any tensions that would deter the city's powerful political forces from turning out for Obama's re-election campaign — even as some were left scratching their heads over Daley's abrupt White House departure. It came nearly a year earlier than expected and amid doubts that the former bank executive and commerce secretary was ever right for the job.
White House officials said Daley will be "very involved" in Obama's re-election campaign, serving as co-chairman. But his stint in the White House had been a powerful display of the city's continued influence in Washington and that Obama could depend on the Daley family's political dynasty.
Although Daley has not detailed why he left Washington after pledging to stay with Obama through the 2012 election, many believe the decision was more personal than political. Daley's brother, recently retired longtime Chicago Mayor Richard M. Daley, lost his wife in November after her long fight with cancer. Daley decided to resign over the holidays, which he spent in Chicago and Mexico.
"You have to think he's thinking, 'How much have I seen (my family) and how often have I been able to just kind of drop whatever and stop by for dinner or even a cup of coffee,'" said Danny Davis, a Chicago congressman who has been part of the city's political scene for decades.
Emanuel defended Daley, saying the White House chief of staff is "a grinding job" with a typical turnover of 18 months. "It's the toughest job in America," he said.
White House spokesman Jay Carney reiterated on Tuesday that Obama was surprised by Daley's decision to leave but "extremely grateful" for his leadership and friendship in a year that included the Arizona shootings that injured U.S. Rep. Gabrielle Giffords, the killing of Osama bin Laden, and the signing of several international trade deals.
But Daley's year as Obama's chief manager and gatekeeper also featured stumbles with Congress and grumbles that he was not the right choice to coordinate an intense White House operation of ideas, egos and decisions. So in a city where the art of political maneuvering was nearly perfected by Daley's father, legendary Chicago Mayor Richard J. Daley, there is nagging suspicion that there was more to his decision.
"People are talking about it," said Cliff Kelley, a former city alderman and radio talk-show host who often deals with political themes. "They don't think he would walk away at this very important time."
Obama on Wednesday is scheduled to appear at the University of Illinois-Chicago and two private fundraising events at the homes of Chicago media mogul Fred Eychaner and Bear Stearns executive Stuart Taylor.
Davis said he wasn't worried that a new book written by New York Times reporter Jodi Kantor would impact Obama's relationship with Emanuel. The book, released this week, contends that tensions developed between Michelle Obama and Emanuel while he was chief of staff, particularly over the White House's management of health care reform agenda.
"It does not appear to me that there is a great conflict," the congressman said.
Emanuel said last week that his relationship with the Obamas remained strong. The new Chicago mayor and his wife attended a private party at the White House a few weeks ago, and Emanuel said he and the president spoke as recently as Saturday. Emanuel also recently made a joint appearance with Michelle Obama in Chicago as part of a campaign to eliminate "food deserts," or areas with few or no grocery stores.
Emanuel also remains a staunch defender of the president, but has said his duties as mayor would make it impossible for him to campaign for Obama as he has in the past. Still, he spoke at the Iowa Democratic Party's largest annual fundraiser in November, and a few weeks earlier during his appearance on NBC's "Meet The Press," he touted Obama's accomplishments and took shots at Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney.
Obama's campaign said other Chicagoans also are rallying behind his re-election campaign. "In Illinois alone, volunteers have already made over 260,000 phone calls, have held over 900 events," Ben Finkenbinder, a spokesman for Obama for America, said in an email.
Illinois Sen. Terry Link, a Chicago area Democrat who is a close friend of Obama, said Daley's departure was a good sign for the campaign.
"You're never going to see a 2008 again, that was a special, special year," he said. "But you're still going to see the enthusiasm. The thought of (Republican candidates) Newt Gingrich or Rick Perry, I think, will excite people to get out and work harder for Barack Obama."
But others doubt Obama would see the outpouring of support he received in his hometown in 2008. Dawn Clark Netsch, a prominent Chicago Democrat who once served as state comptroller and now teaches at Northwestern University's law school, wonders whether young people will campaign like they did when they felt they were part of history.
"What I hear is the young people aren't talking about this as much," she said. "This is not the transformational moment it was then."