Posted by | September 8, 2010 18:08 | Filed under: Top Stories

By Yashwanth Manjunath

With Chicago Mayor Richard Daley’s recent surprise announcement that he will not run for re-election, the mayoral race will be competitive for the first time in two decades. A natural candidate to replace Daley is White House Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel, who not only grew up in Chicago, but represented the Illinois 5th Congressional District in Congress and worked for Daley’s first mayoral campaign.

Speculation quickly increased that Emanuel will leave Washington when David Axelrod seemed to be campaigning for him when discussing the possibility with Joe Scarborough this morning. Axelrod not only praised Emanuel’s ability and skill set to be a “big-city mayor,” but also made sure to kiss Daley’s ring by describing how shocked he was that a man who “loved his job” as much as Richard Daley would quit. More relevant to progressives, however, is who the replacement for Emanuel would be, should he decide to run. The early reports are that his successor will be Deputy National Security Adviser Tom Donilon.

Tom Donilon’s career in politics dates back to the Carter administration where he worked in the White House Office of Congressional Liaison. His career as a Washington insider is well-documented, having served as a political adviser for Joe Biden and Michael Dukakis back in the late 80’s, and later working for the State Department under Bill Clinton. However, his career in the private sector is what should trouble liberals hoping for a more progressive shift. As much of a thorn in the side of progressives as Emanuel has been, Donilon may be even worse.

Prior to his current position in The White House, Donilon worked as Executive Vice President for Law and Policy at Fannie Mae, the federally-chartered mortgage finance company. His work there involved lobbying against increased regulation for the mortgage giant, while making millions of dollars a year.  Donilon’s most recent work before his appointment by Obama was as a partner for the Washington law and lobbying firm O’Melveny and Myers. According O’Melveny and Myers, Donilon’s job there was to “advise companies and their boards on a range of sensitive governance, policy, legal, and regulatory matters.” His income for his last year at the lobbying firm was 3.9 million dollars and his clients included Goldman Sachs and Citigroup.

Many progressives have wanted Emanuel out of the White House for months because of his efforts to push Obama in a more corporate-friendly direction, particularly during the health care debate.  But the man who might replace him may provide even more headaches than Emanuel. This moment can signal a new direction in Barack Obama’s governance, and possibly be a chance for him to energize his base before the midterms. Imagine if he were to chooise as his new Chief of Staff a true progressive fighter like Howard Dean, for example. Unfortunately, it looks like the choice may be not just a Washington insider, but an ex-lobbyist to boot, which would further cement Obama’s image as a “pocket change president.” Change we can believe in…

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