/ 9 September 2010

Is the White House tough guy about to leave town?

Rahm Emanuel, President Barack Obama’s famously fierce and foul-mouthed chief of staff, has a sudden opportunity to run for a job back home that he’s confessed to coveting for a long time — mayor of Chicago.

Emanuel hasn’t announced his plans, but Obama’s most senior advisor is already endorsing him.

David Axelrod told CBS Radio that Emanuel would be “a great mayor because he’s a larger than life personality, a personality who loves the city. He’s not afraid to make decisions and to tackle hard problems.”

A promising ballet dancer in his teens, Emanuel at age 50 still has the lean build that once got him a spot on People Magazine‘s list of the world’s most beautiful people.

He’s also still got the nickname “Rahmbo,” after the 1980s Sylvester Stallone screen character. The lore that surrounds him suggests he’s earned it.

As a teenager, he sliced off part of his middle finger working at a restaurant. He didn’t seek medical attention until the wound got so infected that part of the finger had to be amputated.

With only half a middle finger, Emanuel could no longer make a particular rude gesture familiar in many countries. Years later, Obama joked that it “rendered him practically mute”.

It’s no coincidence that Emanuel and many others in the administration — from the president on down — began their political careers in Chicago.

The city is famous for its take-no-prisoners politics and also the dynasty that dominated them. The late mayor Richard J Daley held office for 21 years. His son Richard M Daley has been mayor for 21 years as well and was expected to seek re-election again, until he surprised the city this week with plans to retire.

With Obama slumping in opinion polls and Democrats looking ahead with dread to Congressional elections now less than eight weeks away, Emanuel’s departure could help the president make a new start, midway through his once-promising term. The timing could be good for all concerned.

Chicago’s election is just six months away and nominations close even sooner, in November. That makes it a sudden sprint that could favour a well-known candidate who could gather campaign money and support quickly.

Rahmbo’s reputation in Washington is that he’ll do anything to win. The best guess is that he wants to run and win in Chicago.