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Was Emanuel’s membership in influential business club key to win?

I posted this on P365 recently about RahmBo aka King Emanuel:

Not too long ago, some were calling Oprah Winfrey the Kingmaker for using her power and influence to convince people who they should support during the 2008 presidential elections.  After then-candidate Obama appeared on her show, a few prognosticators said it was all he needed to convince millions of white women to feel comfortable voting for the man who would become the first black president of the United States.

After Rahm Emanuel’s hurdle-filled road to victory in the Chicago mayoral race, some have said it was President Obama’s influence that helped Emanuel best the broad slate of candidates competing for that top job. They say Obama was the king, at least in the City of Chicago anyway.  Perhaps, they are all wrong and need to take a step back and trace the lineage of high ranking, connected Chicagoans to membership in the very influential Commercial Club of Chicago.  The website of the 134 year old club says it “is a membership organization comprised of senior business, professional, educational and cultural leaders who seek to address social and economic issues of importance to the Chicago region.”  Clearly, it is more than just that.

Area Chicago wrote a  piece about the club not long ago, looking into the long-standing institution which is comprised of those with power and money and has membership comprised of a veritable “who’s who” among fortune 500 companies headquartered in Chicago, like Walgreens, Kraft, Sara Lee, and the Tribune company.

The article also quotes Pamela Strobel, head of the Commercial Club’s spin-off organization, the Chicago Consulting Alliance, saying “Business and government have always worked hand in hand in Chicago. There is a long history of Mayoral leadership in fostering collaboration with the business community. Put simply, it’s just what you do in Chicago when you are in a leadership position.”

Area Chicago wrote of the club, “under monikers like ‘civic improvement club’ and ‘good government group,’ the Commercial Club has released studies and initiated plans that have transformed Chicago.”

In recent years, members who have elected to move beyond Chicago have been fortunate enough to have a fellow member holding the top spot in Washington.  For example, newly crowned Chicago mayor Rahm  Emanuel’s most recently was the White House Chief of Staff before leaving that post to run for mayor.

The connections can appear eerie but in Washington, like Chicago, it is all about connections and relationships.

Club member, Valerie B. Jarrett is a senior adviser for the Obama White House; a friend of Michelle Obama; the great niece to President Bill Clinton adviser and confidante Vernon Jordan; and was a 2004 supporter of Carol Moseley Braun, the  first black woman elected to the U.S. Senate, who just lost a bid against Rahm Emanuel for Chicago Mayor.

Club Member William Daley is the new White House Chief of Staff, a member of the Council on Foreign Relations; and is a director at the Chicago Council on Global Affairs.

Cyrus F. Freidheim, Jr.  also a club member, is an honorary life director at the Chicago Council on Global Affairs, an organization where Michelle Obama sits as a director.  He is also an honorary trustee at the Brookings Institution.

Another club member John W. Rogers, Jr. is a friend of Michelle Obama; was the co-chair and a major contributor for the Barack Obama Inaugural Committee; and is a board member for the Rainbow PUSH Coalition, founded by Rev. Jesse L. Jackson Sr. and his son, Congressman Jesse L. Jackson Jr., who Michelle Obama used to babysit.

The woman who had the best chance of defeating Emanuel was Carol Mosely Braun, who was once an advisor to former Chicago mayor Harold Washington.  Interestingly, Washington holds as an advisor Rev. Jeremiah Wright, the senior pastor at Trinity United Church of Christ in Chicago, who at one time had among its parishioners:  Barack Obama and Oprah Winfrey!  So there you have it. It all comes full circle to Kingmakers Obama and Oprah after all.

In all seriousness though, one of the most critical assessments of the Club is that the interests of business in keeping the city globally competitive has created an overreliance on market forces.  The residual impact of that is many low -wage and unskilled workers were displaced from work, something that group which was more susceptible to a volatile market couldn’t afford.  Another impact was a decrease in the  living wage, quality education and public transportation options.

The goal of global competitiveness and promotion of public/private partnerships and the free market sounds a lot like the President’s “Winning the Future” initiative.  For sure, those who are most vulnerable in America today may not want to be casualties of a policy that repeats models that leave them out and behind as some say happened in Chicago.  There is a fine line that must be toed when implementing steps for recovery focused with business interests only in mind because the unintended consequence can and has been fragile groups sometimes suffer.

It appears though that the President’s message is focused on education and training so perhaps he is taking lessons from previous recovery models so not to repeat the perilous past.  I hope so anyway.  How much can hope buy these days though?

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Jeneba “JJ Ghatt”,is editor at, an online hub where she helps social media butterfly who empowers digital entrepreneurs and professionals to create great things online at her online learning platform Digital Publishing Academy.  She is an editor of tech blog and founded the annual 200 Black Women to Follow On Twitter List. Read her bio, then get all of her online & digital biz startup advice and tools in one spot here!

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