© JOHN GRESS / Stringer/Getty ImagesFormer White House Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel (R) shakes hands as he campaigns for Chicago Mayor at an 'L' station October 4, 2010 Chicago, Illinois. Emanuel resigned from his White House position October 1, in order to run for mayor of Chicago.
Progressive Democrats and civil rights leaders are ridiculing reports that former Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel is being considered for a Biden administration Cabinet position, and critics are honing in on Emanuel's role in the cover-up of a 2014 police shooting as evidence he cannot help combat systemic racism.
Democratic Party members who are wary of President-elect Joe Biden simply becoming a "not-Trump" administration have organized petitions and blasted speculation that Emanuel is being considered to lead the U.S. Department of Transportation. Black and Hispanic lawmakers ranging from local Chicago alderwomen to members of Congress say Emanuel is a "divisive" pick that would foreshadow a Biden presidency that panders to moderates too afraid to fight racial issues from the White House.
Backlash to Emanuel's unconfirmed Cabinet consideration comes from progressive leaders, including New York congressman-elect Mondaire Jones, congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and Chicago alderwoman Rossana Rodriguez-Sanchez. They highlight Emanuel's role in the cover-up of the fatal shooting of 17-year-old Laquan McDonald by Chicago police in 2014. In 2019, the inspector general investigation recommended punishment for 16 police officers tied to the incident, and one, Jason Van Dyke, was convicted for the second-degree killing and sentenced to seven years in prison.
Newsweek reached out Sunday to the Biden transition team, which has not confirmed Emanuel is being considered for the transportation Cabinet position. Emanuel, who was formerly President Barack Obama's chief of staff, is now a frequent ABC News contributor.
As the Chicago Tribune reported at the time, Emanuel was complicit, and allegedly proactive, in assisting Chicago Police Department efforts to hide dashboard camera video of the deadly incident-characterized by many as murder. The long-suppressed video showed McDonald walking away from officers before he was shot 16 times in the back while "posing no clear threat."
Chicago alderwoman Rodriguez-Sanchez created a Change.org petition on November 10 which implores Windy City residents to "make sure Joe Biden knows Rahm is on our DO NOT HIRE list." The petition cover photo shows a Black woman declining to shake hands with Emanuel on the city's elevated train platform.
NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund director-counsel Sherrilyn Ifill expressed shock at Emanuel's apparent consideration for the Biden Cabinet role, tweeting "I'm sorry, what?" Friday, in response to a CNN report. This prompted hundreds of responses, including one labeling the prospective move as utterly "tone deaf."
"Someone like Rahm Emanuel would be a pretty divisive pick," Ocasio-Cortez told The New York Times earlier this month. "And it would signal, I think, a hostile approach to the grass-roots and the progressive wing."
The Chicago Tribune editorial board took on a more resigned approach to Emanuel potentially landing a Biden administration job, noting in a Friday op-ed piece they "could see it" happening.
"'Divisive' works too, but not for the reasons Ocasio-Cortez would cite. Emanuel's record is easy to cherry-pick to seem better or worse," the Tribune board wrote, highlighting his ups and downs as the city's mayor from 2011 to 2019. "Does the Laquan McDonald case disqualify Emanuel from going back to Washington? That will be for Biden administration officials to decide-to weigh against Emanuel's governing and political experience, his high-octane metabolism and his negotiating skills for a role as transportation secretary."
In a tweet shared by Ocasio-Cortez Saturday, New York congressman-elect Mondaire Jones said Emanuel "covered up the murder of a Black teenager, Laquan McDonald...That he's being considered for a Cabinet position is completely outrageous, and, honestly, very hurtful."
Jones set up a petition entitled "Tell the Biden Transition: Do NOT Give Rahm Emanuel a Cabinet Position." Jones wrote that if Biden is "sincerely committed to dismantling systemic racism," he cannot bring on someone who enacted policies that "disproportionately harmed people of color."
But many progressive factions of the Democratic Party say Emanuel's selection, if true, is a larger cautionary sign that Biden and his Cabinet will embrace the status quo of Washington politics.
"It would knock the air out of any hope Biden as president will be anything more than just not-Trump...and betray the people who keep showing up for a democracy that so often does not show up for them, wrote Ishena Robinson, a Chicago writer for The Root.
Biden is expected to reveal his Cabinet picks Tuesday.
Newsweek reached out to representatives for Emanuel, the family of Laquan McDonald and Biden's transition team.
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