Virtually tied with progressive challenger Jesus "Chuy" Garcia in the polls, Chicago Mayor Emanuel finds himself in an unexpected fight for political survival. The very real possibility that he could lose the April 7 runoff election may be getting to the notoriously abrasive mayor, who now finds himself at the center of a firestorm over his alleged mistreatment of two mental health activists in a closed-door meeting Wednesday night.
Matt Ginsberg-Jaeckle and Debbie Delgado, both with the Mental Health Movement, met privately with Emanuel after questioning him during a neighborhood meeting in Wicker Park last night. While video of their public encounter with Emanuel shows the mayor appearing impatient at times, he maintained his cool before a packed room of community residents. But behind closed doors, Ginsberg-Jaeckle charges, "the real Rahm" emerged.
"Now that we’re done with that circus in there, we can talk about the real issues," Emanuel is said to have told Ginsberg-Jaeckle and Delgado. Under further questioning from the pair, the mayor grew increasingly agitated, according Ginsberg-Jaeckle.
Emanuel "got in my face," he said, screaming, "You're gonna respect me! You're gonna respect me! You're gonna respect me!"
For its part, the mayor's office denies that any yelling occurred. One aide at the meeting told the Huffington Post that the meeting "ended very cordially,"with the mayor promising to follow up on their concerns. Delgado corroborated that the mayor vowed to adddress their issues, but she told the she was "angry" with the mayor's treatment of Ginsberg-Jaeckle.
Delgado's son was shot and killed in 2006.
Emanuel's alleged eruption came one day after the endangered mayor hit the airwaves with an ad in which he admits that his brashness has gotten him into trouble. "I can rub people the wrong way. Or talk when I should listen. I own that," Emanuel tells voters, conceding that he's "not always going to get it right."
That Emanuel ran the ad underscored how much danger he is in ahead of Election Day next month. Emanuel's hot temper is the stuff of political lore, with documented cases of profanity-laden tirades dating back to the beginning of his political career in the 1980s. At times, Emanuel's pugnaciousness has served as a punch line; then-Sen. Barack Obama cracked in 2005 that when Emanuel had to have a middle finger partially amputated, it "rendered him practically mute."
But Emanuel's belligerence has also landed him in hot water, and it has often hampered his political relationships more than it has made him an effective, if grating, operator.
As Obama's White House chief of staff in 2009, Emanuel told a meeting of liberal groups that it would be "fucking retarded" for them to run ads attacking Democratic senators skeptical of the administration's health care reform efforts; the sparked an outcry from advocates for the intellectually disabled.
Two years later, after leaving the White House and becoming mayor, Emanuel was meeting with Chicago Teachers Union president Karen Lewis, who opposed Emanuel's proposal for longer school days. After listening to Lewis air her concerns, Emanuel thundered, "Fuck you, Lewis!" The two were not on speaking terms for two years after the incident.