Election 2020

Emanuel: 'I'd Rather be a Democrat Today Going Into 2018 Than a Republican'

Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel speaks during a press conference Jan. 25, 2017, in Chicago. (AP Photo/Matt Marton)

WASHINGTON – Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel said he would rather be a Democrat than a Republican heading into the 2018 midterm elections, predicting that the Democrats might be able to win back the House of Representatives.

“Sure, it can happen. Anybody that tells you it will happen this far out hasn’t been in campaigns. It’s too far to predict. I’d rather be a Democrat today going into 2018 than a Republican, and you didn’t pay me to say that, OK?” Emanuel said during a luncheon at the National Press Club on Tuesday. “Every time the House of Representatives ever flipped has been a midterm election, that’s a fact. No party has gone into a midterm with a president this unpopular at this point, 18 months, 17 months, without a severe consequence to that party’s position in the House. You have three factors: maps, voting rights, and money that are different than any other time before. We don’t know the consequences.”

“In ’06, in the sixth year of a presidency, which is not the first time, when we did it last time, you had beginnings of a recession, two unpopular wars, an unpopular president and a corruption scandal,” he added. “It was enough, and enough candidates in all the places, to create a wave and then to ride that wave. I don’t know what is happening across ’18, but I also want to say, as somebody who has spent my life building the party, we are a thousand seats shorter today than we were in 2009 or 2008.”

Emanuel emphasized that the Democratic Party’s strategy should not be based on a single upcoming election.

“This is not about one election; it’s about building a party, building an apparatus. And what I mean by that: Chris Murphy out of Connecticut, the class of 2006 to Congress. Kirsten Gillibrand, class of 2006. Joe Donnelly, the class of 2006. I’m about building a party. So if it’s not about one election, it’s about making sure that we win statehouse seats in North Carolina, Georgia and New Mexico, in all these areas, and other people and promote them, not just to Congress,” he said.

“When anybody says what’s happening in 2018, OK, what’s happening in 2018, 2020, 2022, 2024? And are we doing what’s necessary intellectually, organizing and party-building to make sure that we’re prepared for the next decade, not for the next election?” he added.

Emanuel’s speech at the Press Club focused on various local education initiatives he is implementing in Chicago. The former chief of staff to President Obama was also asked for his response to supporters of limited government who do not want to pay more in taxes in Chicago.

“The Chicago STAR, which is if you get a B average, community college is free. We spend today at community colleges around – I’m doing this round – $30-plus million on remedial education. So we took a portion of it into if you get a B average or better, you get free community college. Why? I’m rewarding success rather than purchasing an insurance policy on failure. So we just channeled the dollars differently,” he said.

“I think we’ve proven, and I’ve raised taxes for public schools, not only for the teachers’ pension, for school modernization facility and I have no gumption. You want a 21st century education? I cannot have kids in hallways, stairwells without air conditioning,” he added.

Emanuel said he had attended a meeting in a public school room with no air conditioning and made sure that was not the case by the beginning of the following school year.

“By the start of the next school year, they got air conditioning. It was in the middle of summer. By this summer, we’ll complete every classroom in the city of Chicago – it hadn’t been done since 1963 – will have air conditioning. I’ve raised taxes to pay for modern facilities. I’ve got no problem and I’ll be up front about it,” he said. “Now what I will also be up front about, if you want more revenue, I want more quality. I think that’s a fair trade and people will make that trade, and I have been up front about it and we succeeded in finding the revenue. I’m not just for more revenue. I’m for more revenue that succeeds quality versus mediocrity.”

Emanuel recalled meeting a high school student who earned a B average, which allowed him to attend community college at no charge.

“He said, ‘I’m the first in my family to go to college,’ an immigrant, DREAMer, and he says, ‘I could not do it without what you did, Mr. Mayor, and I want to thank you.’ I got to that podium and I could barely hold it together. I cannot think of anything better in public life than to know you can make an imprint, put your thumb on the scale and tip it towards justice and equity,” Emanuel said.

“In a time in which we live with greater polarization, a period of time where people want more sense of an ability to influence their own lives in the democratic process, local government is where that’s possible. Right now, the rest of us look at this city as Disneyland on the Potomac and I will just tell you, if you look around the world, there’s 100 cities that are driving the economic, intellectual and cultural energy of the world economy and Chicago is one of them,” he added. “And I plan on intending to continue to keep it in the top 10 as a global leader economically, culturally and intellectually.”