Emanuel's own ethics storm

Rep. Rahm Emanuel (D-Ill.) is about to learn what it’s like when people who live in glass houses begin throwing stones at their neighbors. As a former Clinton White House aide and chairman of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, Emanuel believes Democrats can win back the Congress by throwing as much mud as they can dig up at their Republican opponents. He is a bare-knuckle politician who relishes the hand-to-hand political combat so many of his colleagues abhor.

Rep. Rahm Emanuel (D-Ill.) is about to learn what it’s like when people who live in glass houses begin throwing stones at their neighbors.

As a former Clinton White House aide and chairman of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, Emanuel believes Democrats can win back the Congress by throwing as much mud as they can dig up at their Republican opponents. He is a bare-knuckle politician who relishes the hand-to-hand political combat so many of his colleagues abhor.

The constant attacks on House Majority Leader Tom DeLay (R-Texas) are part of his strategy, and Emanuel has no intention of stopping with DeLay. He believes he and his compatriots in and out of Congress can, with a little help from the media, convince voters that Republicans are congenitally crooked abusers of power who ought to be sent packing.

The problem he’s faced, however, is that neither he nor his friends have been able to come up with a smoking gun in DeLay’s case and that most of those he has recruited to wage the ethics war come to the battle with problems of their own.

DeLay’s Democratic counterpart, Rep. Nancy Pelosi (Calif.), for example, has at the very least been involved in a couple episodes identical to those included in Emanuel’s indictment of DeLay and has, in addition, actually had to pay a fine for her involvement in an illegal fundraising scheme.

Moreover, other Democrats on the House ethics committee have similar problems and may themselves end up facing charges similar to those Emanuel uses to condemn the Republican leader. And last week, developments in Illinois put Emanuel himself in what must be an uncomfortable position, for the man clearly has “some ’splainin to do.”

Chicago hasn’t changed much over the years. Mayor Richard Daley may be smoother than his dad, but the machine Daley inherited from him works pretty much as it did in the good old days. Anyone who doubts that need only glance through the indictments being handed down as a result of an ongoing federal investigation of the city’s water department.

The department, through a fellow who has run the place ever since young Daley took office, has been operated as a “racketeering enterprise,” according to federal investigators. It seems that over the years the folks appointed by hizzoner have been enriching themselves and their friends while running the department as a quasi-political committee only incidentally responsible for delivering water to Chicago’s citizens.

Department officials have since the ’90s been extorting money from anyone and everyone doing business with them, skimming a little for themselves and channeling the rest to political campaigns viewed with favor by the mayor and his machine. In addition to millions of dollars in cash contributions, it seems that a shadow division of the department was set up to organize city workers and send them out to help certain politicians.

Department officials running this operation would receive word from on high as to which campaigns to help and then swing into action. The deputy head of the department who has been indicted, along with a half-dozen of his cronies, tells prosecutors that, once word came down, he would call his boys together (on city time and in their Water Department offices), devise a campaign plan and fan out to mobilize their employee army.

Last week, investigators revealed the boys from the Water Department were heavily involved in Mr. Clean’s 2002 primary. That is important because Emanuel may be sitting in Congress today only because of the illegal contributions and help he received from the Daley machine back then.

Anyone who thinks that’s a stretch should ponder the situation young Emanuel was facing back then. He was one of eight Democrats fighting for his party’s nomination in a district the Democratic nominee was almost certain to win. It was a bitter primary that he finally won by only 11,058 votes. His major advantages were money and the support of the Daley machine. Still, he was forced to spend nearly $2 million and put hundreds of “volunteer” workers onto the streets of his district.

Emanuel denies any knowledge of all that. One assumes he must have just thought his message was really resonating with water department workers as they streamed in to help.

So the man the Democrats have chosen to fight the ethics war was himself elected only as a result of the machinations of a corrupt machine that he must have known was operating on his behalf, and he, like those he attacks, will be forced over and over again to argue that he just didn’t know what was going on around him.

Keene, chairman of the American Conservative Union, is a managing associate with Carmen Group, a D.C.-based governmental-affairs firm (www.carmengrouplobbying.com).

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