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How Rahm Emanuel might reinvent Chicago politics

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He is, perhaps even more so than any other Chicago mayor, a pragmatist with a question at the center of the administration he is about to lead: "What do we need and where can I get it?"

Despite the city's reputation as a solid blue Democratic political playground (there have been no Republican mayors since Big Bill Thompson, the most corrupt in the city's history, was dumped during the Great Depression), Chicago seems to work best when political labels are ignored and real dealing steps in. That pragmatic philosophy fits the city like a good winter boot.

Chicago remains a segregated city by race (not as segregated as that description would suggest), but it was segregated by nationality long before African-Americans began arriving in vast numbers in the early 20th century. Emanuel and every successful politician before him reaching back into the 19th century recognized that reality.

No one wins in Chicago without building coalitions that stretch across every description imaginable, the very process Emanuel used in structuring his February victory. He captured 3 of every 4 wards. Keeping that connection with all the slices in this most ethnic American city will help determine whether Emanuel succeeds, or succumbs to dreaded one-termer's syndrome.

This is not yet Emanuel's city. No one erases the legacy of a Daley very quickly or very easily in a Chicago that is wedded to both their names and their styles.

Even the younger Daley, the outgoing Richard M., was just marginally regal enough, without the polish, to make it seem that he was at the top of a machine, although that was not actually the case. Where his father, Richard J., "the Boss," was as much of a brute as he needed to be and had lots of levers to pull to prove it, Richard M. was almost wonky, more a technician of city government than commander of it.

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