Is Rahm Emanuel Good for New York?

Just about every story written about Rahm Emanuel since Barack Obama selected him to serve as White House chief of staff has described him as the tough Chicago operative who became the consummate Washington insider.

But how sensitive will the bulldog at Mr. Obama’s gate be to New York interests?

“We’re fortunate to have a president-elect who represents a big state, who lives in a big city, who understands the needs of cities like ours,” Hillary Clinton told The Observer during a conference call on Nov. 11. “I think we are going to have a strong ear in the White House.”

When asked specifically if Mr. Emanuel would be accessible, Mrs. Clinton said, “Rahm Emanuel? Well, he’s going to be accessible to me.”

(This is the same Mrs. Clinton who once said at a charity roast that Mr. Emanuel and the Clintons were “mishpocheh.”)

Mrs. Clinton’s fellow New York senator also expects to have an open dialogue with Mr. Obama’s chief of staff.

“I’ve talked to him a few times already,” said Senator Chuck Schumer in an interview this week. “And he is going to keep [the administration] focused.”

Asked if Mr. Emanuel’s appointment meant that Mr. Schumer, who like just about everyone else in New York backed Mrs. Clinton’s presidential bid, would have a direct line to the White House, Mr. Schumer said, “Rahm and I always get along and we think similarly in certain ways. And yeah.”  

In announcing the appointment, Mr. Obama said, “No one I know is better at getting things done than Rahm Emanuel.”

Local members of Congress interviewed for this article uniformly expressed optimism that Mr. Emanuel would be forceful and efficient in advocating positions beneficial to New York, though Ross Baker, a professor of political science at Rutgers University, said that as a Chicago native, Mr. Emanuel would think of the Second City first.

“Emanuel would certainly understand the kinds of problems this city would have,” said Mr. Baker. “But he would be a lot more sympathetic to Mayor Daley than Mayor Bloomberg. It’s not just where is urban, it’s who the mayor is. And Bloomberg doesn’t have that Democratic hand stamp.”

Mr. Emanuel, who worked as political director in the Clinton White House, had a famously strained relationship for much of the time with Mrs. Clinton and several other key power brokers. They actually pushed to get him fired, but he persevered, refusing to step aside unless Mr. Clinton, no fan of confrontation, got rid of Mr. Emanuel himself. In the end, he played a critical role in passing the North American Free Trade Agreement, a crime bill and welfare reform.

Mrs. Clinton’s office argues that those hard feelings are ancient history and that the two have a “very solid” relationship. The office also pointed out that Mr. Emanuel remained neutral in the presidential race despite sharing a home state with Mr. Obama, and recalled that Mrs. Clinton gamely participated in that roast of Mr. Emanuel, organized by Mr. Obama’s senior strategist, David Axelrod, in 2005, during which she sarcastically paid tribute to his gentle bearing before confessing, jokingly, “He scares the heck out of me.”

Still, several members of Congress suggested that the New Yorkers would have Mr. Emanuel’s ear. 

“I think he’s developed relationships with members from New York and he’ll be accessible—we’ll be able to call him and he’ll respond,” said Representative Gregory Meeks of New York, who says that he worked out with Mr. Emanuel in the House gym. (“He’s a little lightweight but he’s in great physical shape; he watches what he eats.”)

“We’re fortunate that we know who the chief of staff is,” Mr. Meeks said. “It’s not somebody that we have to get to know, or who has got to get to know us, so he’ll be responsive as we move forward. I’m sure of it.”

“Rahm Emanuel and I are good friends,” said Representative Nita Lowey of New York, who chaired the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee a couple of cycles before Mr. Emanuel occupied the post. “I think he is sharp, energetic, terrific, and we agree on almost every issue.

“In terms of New York, I am thrilled because I have such a close relationship to him. And he gets it. Coming from Chicago and having headed the DCCC, he really understands how important the economic recovery is.”

jhorowitz@observer.com

Is Rahm Emanuel Good for New York?