Emanuel returns home – but no hero's welcome awaits

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Shortly before Barack Obama announced the much-anticipated resignation of his top aide Rahm Emanuel yesterday, the White House Chief of Staff's colleagues at their regular early morning meeting gave him a going away gift to remember.

It came handsomely wrapped. It was a dead Asian carp.

So his friends think it stinks that he is leaving. (They were also alluding to a famed occasion, years ago, when he sent a fish in the same state to a political foe.) But as the presidential plaudits resounded for his departing senior enforcer, the gift seemed to refer to the future, too. It was wrapped in pages from the Chicago Tribune and Sun-Times, the newspapers in the city to which he is returning. For while he is a well-known name there, no one, least of all in Chicago, is saying it will be an easy win.

By most reckonings, Mr Emanuel, who as a congressman represented the North Side, will prove a phenomenal contender when polls open city-wide next February to choose a mayor to replace the grizzled veteran Richard M Daley. But because Mr Daley and his father before him, Richard J Daley, have essentially monopolised the mayor's office in the largest city in the American Midwest for most of the last five decades, more people than just Mr Emanuel are itching for the race to begin. There will be competition.

And there will be obstacles, not least the claim already being made that Mr Emanuel cannot meet the residency requirement – he is meant to have lived in Chicago at least for the last 12 months. He has a house in town still, but it is rented. Emanuel, of course, has mostly been in Washington in recent years.

The warning signs are already surfacing in the Chicago media. "No one has told me they're going to be out there supporting Rahm Emanuel yet," Joe Berrios, the Cook County Democratic Party chairman, told the local ABC TV station yesterday morning.

He added: "I'm sure that the other candidates that are going to be running will be challenging his residency, so he has a lot of things to think about." Badges have even been spotted reading ABRE: "Anyone but Rahm Emanuel".

A more formal White House send-off for Mr Emanuel was orchestrated by Mr Obama himself who used the gilded East Room later in the morning to confirm his leaving and to introduce the man who will take the Chief of Staff position ad interim, the much more quietly spoken and obscure Peter Rouse.

While he thanked the President and his White House colleagues, Mr Emanuel was already acting the candidate. "I am excited to be heading home to Chicago, which as you know Mr President is the greatest city in the greatest country in the world," he declared. "I am eager to see what I can do to make our home town even greater." And he had those little Clinton ticks too, pointing at friends in the audience, then choking a little while talking of his immigrant parents.

Mr Emanuel will begin a "listening tour" in Chicago on Monday. He does at least already have money – more than a million dollars left over from his last congressional campaign – but what he hears from managers of his own party at home may not immediately cheer him.

"There's no coronation that's going to take place," the Representative Bobby Rush, a Democrat from the city's South Side, told The New York Times. "He's a very viable candidate and he's a smart politician, but he's got as many challenges as everybody else."

Rahm's replacement

Pete Rouse, the new White House Chief of Staff, has "never seen a microphone or TV camera that he likes", noted President Obama, introducing him.

Rouse is no Rahm. A quieter, self-effacing figure who likes politics and cats equally, plodding he is not. Mr Obama has not forgotten that as a junior US Senator, Rouse plotted the strategy to make him a credible contender for the White House.

Born in Connecticut, Rouse learned the US Senate ropes as chief of staff to former Senate Majority leader Tom Daschle. When Mr Obama took his Senate seat, Rouse made sure he didn't disgrace himself. He is not a household name, yet for two years he has been as close to Mr Obama as any White House aide. For reporters, Rouse will be less available and less fun. But as the political horizons darken for Mr Obama a right-hand man with more friends than foes in Washington will prove very handy.