- By Rebecca Frankel
Rebecca Frankel is deputy editor at Foreign Policy. She is the author of War Dogs: Tales of Canine Heroism, History, and Love a New York Times bestselling book about canines in combat, the subject of her regular Friday column "Rebecca's War Dog of the Week," featured on The Best Defense. She has appeared as a guest on Conan O'Brien, BBC World News, and the Diane Rehm Show among others.
Today, former Clinton advisor and Illinois Rep. Rahm Emanuel accepted Barack Obama’s offer to be chief of staff for the incoming president.
The pick of Emanuel is our first glimpse into the future Obama White House, and it has already thrown apprehensive Democrats and jaded Republicans alike into a tizzy.
Perhaps for good reason. With the nickname “Rahmbo” and a disposition likened to that of a mobster, Emanuel, though widely respected for his moxy and get-it-done record, isn’t exactly Mr. Nice Guy. A dynamic mix of talent and brawn — he was offered a scholarship to the Joffrey Ballet company and volunteered for the Israeli Army during the Gulf War — Emanuel’s the real-deal pitbull Democrat (lipstick not included).
What follows is a list of the five most infamous Rahmbo tales. It’s the stuff legends are made of:
1. Mailing a Dead Fish
Emanuel is known for his panache for treating donors right. He sends them cheesecakes from Eli’s, the famous Chicago bakery. But the one pollster who notoriously ticked off Rahmbo received a 2 1/2 foot decomposing fish in the mail — ripe, stinky, and to the point.
2. Fundraising the Bugsy Siegel Way
His foray into fundraising started in Chicago while campaigning for Mayor Richard Daley’s reelection, when Emanuel raised a record number of donations. His sales pitch was simple enough: He’d tell contributors he found their offers so low it was embarrassing and then hang up on them. Mortified, the donors were shamed into calling back and giving more.
3. Nearly Losing His Finger
When he was a senior in high school, he sliced his finger while working at Arby’s. But instead of seeking medical attention, he decided to celebrate prom night by swimming in Lake Michigan. The bone and blood infection that resulted was so severe it practically killed him. Scrappy and determined, even at death’s door with a fever of 106 degrees, he pulled through, only losing part of his finger.
4. Threatening Tony Blair
Never a mincer of words, Emanuel didn’t couch his meaning when he offered Tony Blair counsel just before the then British prime minister appeared with President Clinton during the Monica Lewinsky scandal: “This is important. Don’t —- it up.”
5. Knifing the Dinner Table
The most infamous Rahmbo story of them all is the one that begins with the dinner the night after Bill Clinton was elected in 1992. Among those present at the dinner table was ABC News anchor George Stephanopoulos, who watched while an overwrought and clearly exhausted Emanuel began ranting at a long list of Clinton “enemies.” As he shouted each name, he stabbed the table with his steak knife: “Nat Landow! Dead! Cliff Jackson! Dead!” Apparently, others joined in.
The bottom line: If Emanuel’s appointment is a signal of anything, it is that the genteel, arugula-eating president-elect is coming to play hardball.
Photo: Brendan Smialowski/Getty Images