Rahm for Transportation secretary?

Rahm Emanuel’s allies say he transformed the transportation network in Chicago. | Matthew Stockman/Getty Images

Former Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel has amassed some high-profile support for his bid to run President-elect Joe Biden’s Transportation Department and seems to be making inroads toward a nomination despite growing howls from some on the left.

Former DOT Secretary Ray LaHood said he personally contacted Biden’s chief of staff Ron Klain to recommend Emanuel for the job as soon as he heard he was under consideration. “Hands down, I think Rahm would be the best choice for secretary because of the way he transformed transportation in Chicago,” LaHood told POLITICO in an interview Tuesday.

A former Democratic administration official and infrastructure advocate who said that Emanuel knows the subject also noted that he’s “so close to all these people making the decisions” and that “Biden really likes him.”

As President Barack Obama’s chief of staff, Emanuel also helped craft and shepherd one of Obama’s signature pieces of policy: A massive, job-creating economic stimulus package that doled out just over $48 billion to transportation programs and projects. Emanuel’s experience could serve as a model, or perhaps a cautionary tale, for another crack at a big-spending stimulus package under Biden to help lift the country out of a coronavirus-fueled recession.

LaHood, who used to co-host bipartisan dinners with Emanuel when both represented Illinois in the House before they left Congress to join the Obama administration, said Emanuel has told him personally that he wants the top spot at DOT. “I think he feels that one of his big legacies in Chicago is transportation,” he said.

But segments of the Democratic Party’s left wing, including progressives and the NAACP, have ignited against him over the way he sought to suppress 2014 dashcam footage of a Chicago police officer killing a Black teenager, Laquan McDonald, until after he had won reelection.

“Rahm Emanuel helped cover up the murder of Laquan McDonald,” Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez tweeted. “Covering up a murder is disqualifying for public leadership.”

LaHood dismissed the idea that the incident could tank Emanuel’s chances, though, asserting that “every major mayor in every major city” has had to face criticisms related to race and policing. LaHood added that list includes Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti, another top contender for the DOT job who has been the target of continuous Black Lives Matter protests in the last week.

Some transportation unions have also railed against Emanuel due to his hard-knuckled showdown with teacher’s unions in Chicago. “DOT is effectively the labor department for aviation,” tweeted flight attendant union president Sara Nelson. “We do not need a union buster setting the rules for workers in aviation.”

John Samuelsen, international president of the Transport Workers Union of America, told The Intercept that “Rahm Emanuel would be a nightmare. And a betrayal.”

“The trade union movement in transportation worked extremely hard to get Joe Biden elected,” he said. “We didn’t work our asses off to have Rahm Emanuel as the Secretary of Transportation. He’s anti-trade union, he’s anti-worker.”

But Emanuel’s allies say he transformed the transportation network in Chicago. LaHood pointed to Emanuel’s billion-dollar expansion of Chicago O’Hare International Airport, his improvements to the Chicago transit agency’s red and purple lines, his successful redevelopment of the Chicago Riverwalk and his construction of more than a hundred miles of new and upgraded bike lanes and the launch of a new bike-share system.

“Rahm makes a lot of sense for Transportation because, one, he really knows it and two, if the administration is going to put a lot of focus on transportation, he’s the strongest person to do that,” said the former Democratic official.

Allies like LaHood point to Emanuel’s previous roles in the White House, in Congress and as mayor as evidence that he knows how to work the system to get things done, like an infrastructure-heavy stimulus package to pull the country out of the coronavirus-related economic downturn.

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