King of the Crumbling Castle: Why Rahm May Want to Rethink Chicago

Why would someone want to leave a high profile post like Chief of Staff and get back into local politics, especially in Chicago?

The winner of the mayoral-free-for-all will inherit a budget shortfall of about half a billion dollars. It's so bad that wage increases for city workers have not all been paid.

The next mayor will also face the likelihood of raising taxes and cutting services at the same time, then trying to win a second term.

"If you hang out at the corner bars, like I do sometimes, they'll tell you the winner of the next race is the loser," political analyst Thom Serafin quipped.

The attraction of course is to be the Boss of Bosses in a long line of power brokers. Richard J. Daley is credited with boosting JFK to the presidency and Richard M. Daley is credited with giving President Obama a needed leg up.

Chicago is a big business town and a transportation hub. Carl Sandburg called it Hog Butcher for the World, the City of the Big Shoulders.

"It's the hub of this country. Literally, when you are moving any kind of product in or out, exporting, importing," says Serafin. "We've got the banks. We've got the board of trade. We've got everything in this town. Washington? What do you have? A lot of government."

So the boss in Washington runs government, and the boss in Chicago gets things done?

"It's a wonderful position, because it has relatively unlimited power. It's an executive position," says Greg Hinz of Crain's Chicago Business. "You can pretty much do whatever you want. It's kind of like being local president in a sense."

The most difficult task for a candidate will be charming voters across bitter ethnic divisions in Chicago. No one can win without attracting significant votes from the African American or Hispanic voting blocs.

In the case of Rahm Emanuel, there is no guarantee that President Obama will do much to help with the minority vote beyond saying Rahm will make a good mayor. State Legislator Rickey Hendon argues, "All he will do is put his own reelection in jeopardy, and people worked hard for Obama. You've got 90 percent of the black vote in this town. He will not get it next time if he endorses Rahm Emanuel."

And by the way -- I did some checking of the laws, and it looks like Rahm Emanuel can test the waters for his potential new job while still serving as chief of staff and collecting a check from the taxpayers. The Hatch act was passed in 1939 and amended in 1993. The layman's interpretations of the law say that a political operative can advance his own political agenda, so long as he does it on his own time, outside of his 40 hour work week. Other interpretations take into account the fact that Cabinet level appointees like Emanuel work more than 40 hours a week. So, if they spend some time making phone calls, as long as they don't run up a phone bill, it's not worth calling out the FBI.