The long (and amazing) feud between Rahm Emanuel and Howard Dean
As it became clear on Tuesday night that Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel wasn’t going to get the 50 percent he needed to avoid a runoff, a fiery statement landed in the Fix inbox.
It was from Democracy for America — the liberal advocacy organization that grew out of Howard Dean’s unsuccessful 2004 presidential campaign. “Tonight, Chicago’s progressives not only forced Rahm Emanuel to become the first mayor in Chicago history to face a primary run-off election, they also beat back his SuperPAC and its corporate funders’ efforts to kneecap the Chicago City Council’s progressive champions,” said Jim Dean, brother of Howard and the head of DFA. “Rahm Emanuel and his corporate cronies have awoken a massive grassroots army across the city committed to ending his agenda of privatization, public school closings, and pension cuts.”
Corporate cronies! Kneecapping! Whoa!
Those harsh words represent only the latest chapter in the long-running feud between Emanuel and Dean, a fight that goes back almost a decade to when the former was chairman of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee and the latter was chairman of the Democratic National Committee.
It all began with Dean’s much-ballyhooed (and much criticized) “50 State Strategy”, an effort to put staff and resources into every state in hopes of bolstering the party’s grassroots in every corner of the country. Establishment Democrats, led by Emanuel, were openly skeptical of a strategy that took critical resources and spent them in Republican strongholds like Idaho or Nebraska — particularly as the party was battling to retake the majorities in the House and Senate.
Here’s Jeff Zeleny, writing in the Chicago Tribune about the fissure way back in July 2006:
Relations between Dean and other party leaders have reached hostile levels, according to interviews with more than two dozen well-placed Democrats. And some fear the tensions could give Republicans an advantage in on-the-ground mechanics and money for the midterm elections.
At the party’s new headquarters, the friction is so palpable that during a recent fire drill staffers worried that Dean and Emanuel might bump into each other on the curb. In addition to questions about campaign organization, there is no consensus about whether an official agenda should be previewed before Labor Day.
This exchange, reported by the Chicago Tribune in late 2006, details just how nasty things got.
On a late-spring day in 2006, Emanuel and Charles Schumer, the New Yorker in charge of winning the Senate for the Democrats, walked into the office of party Chairman Howard Dean.
Emanuel, once again, was ready for a fight.
For months, he and Schumer had been imploring the iconoclastic former presidential candidate to channel more money into congressional campaigns. Dean had been pushing a “50-state strategy” to build a Democratic operation in every part of the country.
The national party usually spent millions to help House candidates, but Dean was instead using the money to build this far-flung operation, to Emanuel’s immense frustration. He felt Dean’s strategy wasted money in unwinnable places.
According to Emanuel, the meeting devolved into a confrontation over resources. Emanuel said that the Republicans planned to heavily fund key races and that if Dean refused to do the same, it would amount to unilateral disarmament. Dean replied that he was fielding activists in every corner of every state.
Ridiculing the effort, Emanuel told Dean that he had seen no sign of it. “I know your field plan. It doesn’t exist,” he recalled saying. “I’ve gone around the country with these races. I’ve seen your people. There’s no plan, Howard.”
Democrats won everything that election and both Emanuel and Dean proclaimed victory. Many people assumed the feud was over. The two principals did everything they could to give that impression, meeting for lunch in April 2009 — soon after Emanuel became chief of staff to newly-elected President Obama — and insisting that any conflict had been squashed. “I think that (tension) was always somewhat exaggerated,” Dean told The Hill newspaper at the time. “Look, we’re both very fierce competitors and very strong-minded people. But I don’t think there’s a lot of ill will between myself and Rahm Emanuel.”
Um, wrong. Soon after that lunch, Dean began to emerge as one of the leading liberal voices against many of the policies advocated by the White House — most notably the Affordable Care Act. “If you don’t have a public option, this is not reform, and you shouldn’t pass the bill, because it’s a waste of a trillion dollars, or $600 billion in the case of the House’s bill,” Dean said of the Affordable Care Act in July 2009.
Lloyd Grove, writing in the Daily Beast in October 2011, detailed the vindictiveness between the two: “As White House chief of staff, Emanuel made sure to publicly humiliate Dean by banning him from the DNC announcement ceremony when Obama appointed Virginia Gov. Tim Kaine as Dean’s replacement. Media guru [David] Axelrod was equally scornful—and an April 2009 White House lunch did little to bury the hatchet.” Once Emanuel left as chief of staff in late 2010 to run for his current post, Dean told Grove “since Rahm left [to become mayor of Chicago], I get over [to the White House] a fair amount.
While the two mens’ distaste for one another went into hibernation once Emanuel took over as Chicago’s top elected official, it never went away. “We obviously have a difference of opinion about how you get people elected,” Dean said at the University of Chicago in the fall of 2014. “When I came to the Democratic National Committee we didn’t control the House, the Senate or the presidency. When I left after four years, we controlled the House, the Senate and the presidency. So I would say the results speak for themselves.”
So, when Emanuel began to look somewhat vulnerable in his re-election bid this year — due to policing issues and clashes with teachers’ unions — the Dean machine leapt into action. “I’m sure you know as well as anybody that as mayor of Chicago, Rahm has unleashed an unprecedented attack on working families, especially the poor and people of color,” Jim Dean wrote in an email to DFA supporters late last month as part of a pledge to spend $50,000 to support liberal candidates for city council.
Dean and DFA claimed a partial victory in their long-running battle against Emanuel on Tuesday and promised to finish the job in the April 7 runoff. “In the weeks ahead, Democracy for America will not only work hard to help Chuy Garcia defeat Rahm…but harness that grassroots energy into a broad-based progressive movement that will bring Elizabeth Warren-style, populist progressive reform to Chicago in the years to come,” Dean promised.
Same as it ever was.