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Emanuel owes voters some answers

Carol Marin

Carol Marin

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Updated: March 1, 2011 1:09AM

Rahm Emanuel’s new radio ad hit the airwaves on Friday. The soundtrack is a cross between an old Edy’s ice cream commercial and a Ken Burns documentary.

The announcer has the deep, gravelly voice of a caring grandfather blended with a background of majestic horns hitting heart-swelling notes of heroism and high purpose.

One day after the Illinois Supreme Court put Emanuel on the Feb. 22 mayoral ballot, the campaign rolled out the ad, which replays the words of President Obama as he bid farewell to his chief of staff late last year. In the commercial, titled “By My Side,” Obama praises Emanuel for his selflessness and sacrifice. And Emanuel emotionally pledges “as I leave the White House I will never leave that spirit of service behind.”

No, the president doesn’t come right out and say, “Vote for Rahm.” He hardly needs to.

There is seamlessness between the Rahm Emanuel for Mayor campaign and the Obama re-election engine.

There is the same discipline and digital sophistication. There is the staggering mountain of campaign money so high that few, if any, competing candidates can make the climb.

And there is the absolute, unwavering message control that we witnessed in the first Obama bid now tightly enforced by the Emanuel team.

You can argue — rightly —that those are marks of a winning campaign. But not necessarily of a transparent campaign when it comes to unwelcome questions that don’t meld well with the message.

In an earlier Emanuel television ad called “Hard Truths,” the candidate makes a stark declaration: “It’s high time the politicians start working for the people that elected them rather than have people workin’ so politicians get rich off this system.”

Emanuel goes on: “City government isn’t about making sure those who are best connected or have friends are getting jobs. There’s a lot of hard truths we’re going to have to tell.”

Hard truths.

Thursday night at the City Club-Tribune mayoral debate, co-moderator Bruce Dold asked for the hard truth about Emanuel’s part-time job in 2000 and 2001 as a board member of the now-disgraced mortgage giant Freddie Mac. He was paid $320,000 to attend six meetings a year.

“Did you earn the money?” Dold asked.

Emanuel, who likes to number his arguments, listed three points, the third of which was that he wasn’t identified by name in a scathing report of Freddie Mac’s abject failures, some of which occurred under his watch.

Dold persisted: “You have an ad that says politicians shouldn’t get rich on the backs of people. Did you earn $320,000 for six meetings?”

“That’s what they paid at the time,” said an expressionless Emanuel.

“Did you feel bad about it?” asked Dold.

“Did I feel bad about it?” Emanuel repeated.

“Did you earn it?” Dold persisted.

Emanuel never answered.

Let’s number some hard truths.

One, Emanuel’s job on the Freddie Mac board was a high-end patronage job given to him by his former boss and friend, then-President Bill Clinton.

Two, Emanuel’s most recent boss and friend, the current president, has refused to release the minutes of Freddie Mac board meetings during Emanuel’s tenure.

Three, Rahm Emanuel is talented and smart. But not smart enough to see the potential hypocrisy in launching an ad about how clout-heavy politicians hand out jobs to their friends and not see himself in that story.

Hard truths.

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