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Rahm Emanuel’s chief of staff ‘not afraid to make difficult decisions’

TheresMintle is Bridgeport native.

Theresa Mintle is a Bridgeport native.

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Updated: August 25, 2011 12:31AM

How would you like to be chief of staff for a hard-charging Chicago mayor facing an intractable set of problems who recently held the chief of staff job for the president of the United States?

That’s the challenge facing 46-year-old Theresa Mintle, Rahm Emanuel’s surprise choice to occupy City Hall’s hottest seat.

A Bridgeport native who’s a distant cousin of Mayor Daley, Mintle has been preparing herself for this moment her entire life.

After getting an undergraduate degree from the University of Illinois and a masters in public administration from the University of Wisconsin, she went to work as a legislative aide to former Congressman Marty Russo (D-Ill.).

That was followed by stints as a liaison to aldermen for the Mayor’s Office of Intergovernmental Affairs, Chicago Metropolis 2020, the Aspen Institute and at the CTA, where she currently serves as chief of staff to Board Chairman Terry Peterson.

Former CTA Board Chairman Carole Brown thinks so highly of Mintle, she helped orchestrate her hiring as Emanuel’s chief of staff.

Mintle was hired by former CTA President Frank Kruesi, Daley’s longest-serving adviser. But it was Brown who made her chief of staff — and directed bus traffic with Mintle after the July 3rd fireworks extravaganza that used to draw more than 1 million people to Grant Park.

“Theresa was always in the room when we were making the tough decisions about service cuts and layoffs. She’s incredibly smart and developed incredibly thick skin. She’s not afraid to make difficult decisions or give difficult directives,” Brown said.

“She was also never afraid to tell me when she thought I was wrong. But even when she disagreed with a decision I made, she still executed it. Theresa will be respectful, loyal and honest. But she won’t be intimidated. That’s what you need in dealing with a strong leader like Rahm.”

Russo described Mintle as a well-organized workaholic and the perfect fit for the notoriously demanding Emanuel.

“She’ll work her tail off. She’s been around Chicago politics for a long time and understands the inner workings of government. She’ll make sure the ship runs every day and runs on time,” Russo said.

Mintle did not return calls. She is married to architect Mike Toolis, chairman and CEO of VOA Associates. The couple have no children, which is probably a good thing, given the 24/7 job that Mintle is inheriting.

Friends say the couple start each day doing yoga together to relieve stress, are learning to sail, love to travel and make a weekly dinner date at RL and a handful of other favorite restaurants.

Several times a year, Mintle also hosts dinners and arranges get-togethers with a close-knit group of college friends that includes Lora Engdahl.

“If one of us was in a relationship with a guy who wasn’t treating us right, she was always the one who said, ‘You need to move on.’ She was very direct about it. She’s tough, but also caring,” Engdahl said.

Mayor Daley spit out chiefs of staff almost as often as most people spit out gum. In 22 years, he went through a dozen of them, generating a one-liner at his last City Council meeting.

“I’d like to thank my chiefs of staff — all of them,” the mayor said, laughing along with Chicago aldermen.

Only time will tell whether Emanuel has a similar revolving door. But one thing is certain: Mintle is prepared for the challenge of a lifetime running a city on the brink.

“It’s where she’s been heading since college. She enjoys the stress. She enjoys the constant stimulus. She likes being needed,” Engdahl said.

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