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 in this case was the king, at least in the City of Chicago. But, perhaps, the observers are all wrong and need to take a step back and take a look at the real source of influence behind successful Chicagoans–the Commercial Club of Chicago.
Touting a lineage of high ranking, connected Chicagoans who ooze influence, the Commercial Club of Chicago, at least according to the 134-year old club’s website, “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.” But given it’s long list of members, the “club” seems to be more than just that.
Area Chicago, not long ago, ran an investigative article looking into the dynamics of the long-standing institution whose membership is comprised of the Chi-Town’s power and money elite. It’s roster reads as 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.” Further, according to Area Chicago, “under monikers like ‘civic improvement club’ and ‘good government group,’ the Commercial Club has released studies and initiated plans that have transformed Chicago.” In addition to a maintaining a powerful membership base, the Club relies on the clout of its members to promote an aggressive business agenda.
The connectivity of the Club runs deep, especially when you line up its membership to current leadership in Washington, D.C. Newly crowned Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel, who recently served as President Obama’s White House Chief of Staff is a member. So too is Valerie B. Jarrett, a Senior Advisor for the Obama White House, friend of Michelle Obama, great niece of President Bill Clinton advisor and confidante Vernon Jordan, and 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 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, a co-chair and a major contributor for the Barack Obama Inaugural Committee, and 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.
A line of coincidences? Maybe. But given some of the Commercial Club’s ties to present-day Washington, D.C., it seems more than plausible that Rahm Emanuel’s recent win had to do with more than just his dynamic smile and charismatic personality. If the goal of the Club is to promote the commercial interests of Chicago, who better to lead the city as its new mayor than someone who holds a foot both in Chicago and Washington, D.C.
Interestingly, the person who had the best chance of defeating Emanuel, Carol Mosely Braun, was not a member of the Club. And she only registered 9% of the vote, a figure that left her decimated by Emanuel’s sophisticated campaign operation.
During his tenure in Washington, D.C., both as a member of Congress and as President Obama’s Chief of Staff, Emanuel developed a reputation as a true power-broker with a keen appetite for negotiating ‘his way, or the highway.’ Now, as Mayor of Chicago with ‘friends in high places,’ he will no doubt be positioned to operate with Chicago, Washington…and the Commercial Club in mind.