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Bill Clinton: I knew Rahm Emanuel was big time decades ago

 Mayor Rahm Emanuel former President Bill Clintmade an announcement about infrastructure economic development job creati Chicago Regional Council

Mayor Rahm Emanuel and former President Bill Clinton made an announcement about infrastructure, economic development and job creation at the Chicago Regional Council of Carpenters Apprentice and Training Facility, 2141 S. Union Ave. | Rich Hein~Sun-Times

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Updated: April 3, 2012 8:17AM

Former President Bill Clinton said Thursday he knew almost as soon as Rahm Emanuel arrived in Little Rock, Ark., more than 20 years ago that the hard-charging young man from Chicago was an “executive by nature.”

“First of all, I liked him because our campaign was broke and he was a genius at raising money — even as a young person without any money himself,” Clinton said Thursday in Chicago. “I liked him because people said I was too young to run for president and I was too ambitious and Rahm made me look laid back and passive.”

The image of Emanuel as a future leader grew exponentially after the election — when the Clinton team arrived at the White House and “got to work,” the former president said.

“He spent 10 times as much time worrying about what we were gonna do than worrying about the politics. I’m not exaggerating. He was the only person [who] rivaled me in the number of new ideas he came up with,” Clinton said.

“He was always concerned about how you can take an idea that was new and actually make it work. Talk is cheap in politics and business and life. Anybody can say anything. It’s quite another thing to turn your good intentions into real changes. When he was very young — before he ever got elected to anything — Rahm was good at figuring out how to take a good idea and turn it into a real change.”

Clinton’s gushing didn’t stop there.

“I was thrilled when he ran for Congress, thrilled when he got a chance to serve President Obama in the White House and over the moon when he got a chance to run for mayor of Chicago,” he said.

“He’s by nature an executive and he loved sitting in the White House coming up with ideas when we were there that we could actually get something done with. We need more of that in America….Lots of people can think and even more people can talk than think. Not everybody can do. The doing makes all the difference.”

Emanuel stood behind Clinton smiling as the testimonial dragged on. When the former President finished and the audience applauded, the mayor joked, “I hate to call on another one of you [reporters for a question]. I’d kind of like to end it right there.”

The ties between Clinton and Emanuel run deep.

After raising $7 million in just 13 weeks for Richard M. Daley’s 1989 mayoral campaign, Emanuel moved to Little Rock, Arkansas to put his Type A personality and relentless fund-raising skills to work for Clinton before becoming a key member of Clinton’s White House staff.

When Emanuel left the White House after a sometimes rocky tenure that included passing the crime bill, the Brady Bill and NAFTA, Clinton appointed Emanuel to the board of mortgage giant Freddie Mac.

That and the “golden Rolodex” built during the Clinton years helped Emanuel rake in $18.5 million in just 2.5 years as an investment banker.

During the 2008 Democratic presidential primary campaign between then U.S. Senators Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton, Emanuel was virtually alone among Illinois Democrats in refusing to endorse Obama. He famously joked about “hiding under his desk” to avoid taking sides.

In January, 2011, Bill Clinton returned the favor — big time. He came to Chicago for a Cultural Center rally and campaign fund-raiser for Emanuel and made the case for Chicagoans to elect Emanuel their mayor.

Emanuel made a television commercial out of the argument that Clinton made on that day that a “big city” needs a “big mayor” who had made “big decisions” and that Emanuel and his “gale force of leadership” would fit the bill.

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