Former Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel told WTTW News that he would not allow the person who spray-painted the word “Nazis” on the fence outside his Michigan vacation home to change how he views humanity.
Instead, Emanuel in his first extended remarks on the incident said he and his family were heartened by the outpouring of support they have received from their friends and neighbors as well as religious groups of all denominations. Emanuel is the U.S. ambassador to Japan and one of the nation’s most prominent Jewish politicians.
“This is not the first time I have ever dealt with antisemitism,” Emanuel said, adding that his family is fine and grateful that police in Union Pier, Michigan, were taking the incident seriously.
“The most fundamental thing is you don’t allow someone’s hatred to infiltrate how you see people,” Emanuel said. “There is a fundamental goodness in people. I have seen it, I have been a product of it. Have I had antisemitism directed at me? Yes, but I’ve also had the American story.”
Emanuel said he would not allow the incident to make him “full of hate.”
“Do I like what happened? I think you can hear what I would like to say, no,” Emanuel said. “All of us should not let any type of that ugliness become the only way we see people or understand things.”
Since the Oct. 7 attack on Israel by Hamas, which triggered a full-scale invasion of the Gaza Strip by the Israeli armed forces and a concerted bombing campaign, antisemitism and Islamophobia have spiked in the United States.
Emanuel, who served as Chicago’s first Jewish mayor from 2011 to 2019, said he was enjoying being an ambassador in a wide-ranging interview in which he called himself the “undiplomatic diplomat.”
The former White House chief of staff for former President Barack Obama brushed off suggestions he should leave his post and return stateside to run President Joe Biden’s reelection campaign. Emanuel said Biden would make an “optimistic” case to voters next fall.
Emanuel declined to comment on the ongoing criminal case against former Ald. Ed Burke. For much of Emanuel’s tenure as mayor, Burke led the City Council’s most powerful committee and worked closely with the former mayor to push his policies and initiatives through the City Council.
Emanuel was mentioned several times during the opening statement by Burke’s attorney in connection with the most elaborate scheme the former alderperson is charged with orchestrating, which involves the Old Post Office, the massive building that straddles the Eisenhower Expressway at the edge of the Loop.
Vacant for nearly 25 years after the departure of the U.S. Postal Service, the building sank into disrepair making it a perfect setting for director Christopher Nolan’s bleak depiction of Gotham in 2004’s “Batman Begins” and its sequel, 2007’s “The Dark Knight.”
It was Emanuel who championed the $800 million renovation of the Old Post Office, and ensured it got an $18 million subsidy and a tax break worth $100 million from the city to move forward, attorney Chris Gair said. Burke is charged with holding up that effort in an attempt to force the developer to hire his private law firm.
“When Rahm Emanuel wants something, Rahm Emanuel gets something,” Gair said.
Emanuel, who is not set to be called as a witness in the case, said he was not following it closely.
“I’m not going to answer any questions about an ongoing trial,” Emanuel said. “That’s ridiculous. I have plenty of thoughts. I’m just not answering the question.”
Emanuel praised Mayor Brandon Johnson as someone who loves Chicago and has a “great heart.”
In his first public remarks on the defeat of former Mayor Lori Lightfoot, who succeeded him as mayor, Emanuel noted that she earned 17% of the vote in the first round of the 2019 mayoral election, before demolishing rival Toni Preckwinkle in the runoff.
In February 2023, Lightfoot once again earned 17% of the first round of the mayoral election, and finished third, failing to advance to the runoff.
“I think people take people’s measure, that’s what happens in politics,” said Emanuel, who did not run for a third term as mayor. “They take your measure. That’s all I am going to say.”
The full interview airs on “Week in Review” at 5:30 and 7 p.m. Friday, Nov. 24, on WTTW and our streaming platforms.