Who Is Rahm Emanuel?

Rahm Emanuel is an American politician. He worked on the Chicago congressional campaign for David Robinson, earning a reputation for tenacious fundraising, and went on to hold several more political positions, including U.S. representative and White House Chief of Staff for President Barack Obama. In 2011, Emanuel was elected mayor of Chicago, succeeding Richard Daley. He served two terms before leaving office in May 2019.

Early Life

Rahm Israel Emanuel was born on November 29, 1959, in Chicago, Illinois, to an Israeli pediatrician, Benjamin Emanuel, and a Jewish-American x-ray technician, Martha Smulevitz. In his youth, Benjamin passed codes for Irgun, a militant Zionist group that sought Israeli independence. Martha was active in the Civil Rights Movement and briefly owned a Chicago rock 'n' roll club. The family took the Emanuel surname in 1933 as a tribute to uncle Emanuel Auerbach, who was slain in a skirmish with Arabs in Jerusalem.

Emanuel was the second of four siblings. His older brother, Ezekiel, is now an oncologist and nationally renowned medical ethicist at Harvard. His younger brother, Ariel, is a Hollywood television agent and the basis for the character of Ari Gold on the hit television series Entourage. Emanuel is said to be the inspiration for the character Josh Lyman on TV's The West Wing. His younger sister, Shoshana, was adopted after a doctor's visit to Emanuel's father revealed that she had suffered a brain hemorrhage at birth.

As a child, Emanuel and his siblings took regular field trips to art museums and civil rights rallies. According to his mother, the children were expected to not only help prepare dinner but be well-versed in the daily news as well. They were often quizzed on current events over family meals. The boys also took ballet lessons at their mother's urging. Rahm particularly excelled at dance and, while attending New Trier West High School, earned a scholarship to Joffrey Ballet, Chicago's Premiere Ballet Company.

Interest in Politics

Emanuel turned down the opportunity to instead attend Sarah Lawrence College in Bronxville, New York, a school with a solid dance program. In 1980, while still a student at Sarah Lawrence, he worked on the Chicago congressional campaign for David Robinson. "Someone would contribute $500. He'd call back and say, 'Thank you very much ... we need $1,000,'" former Democratic National Committee Chairman David Wilhelm once recalled of Emanuel. This reputation as a tenacious fundraiser would follow Emanuel throughout his career.

After Emanuel graduated with a bachelor's degree in 1981, he attended Northwestern University in Chicago. During his studies there, he also worked in local and national politics, including a stint working on Democrat Paul Simon's 1984 election campaign for U.S. Senate. In 1985, Emanuel received a master's degree in speech and communication from Northwestern. His first post-graduation job was with the consumer rights organization Illinois Public Action.

Democratic Party Prodigy

In 1988, Emanuel served as the national campaign director for the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, and in 1989, he became the senior advisor and chief fundraiser for Richard Daley's campaign for the Chicago mayorship. During this time, he raised an unprecedented $7 million for Daley.

Emanuel reportedly served briefly as a civilian volunteer in the Israel Defense Forces in 1991, during the first Gulf War. He was reportedly stationed in one of Israel's northern bases, where he rust-proofed brakes.

Emanuel's fundraising abilities helped win him a job as director of finance for Bill Clinton's presidential campaign in 1992. Following the campaign, Emanuel became a senior advisor in the Clinton White House, where he was responsible for organizing the meeting between Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin and Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat in 1993. He was also a leading strategist in the unsuccessful push for universal healthcare in 1994.

Emanuel left the White House in 1998 to become the managing director of an investment banking firm, Dresdner Kleinwort Wasserstein, in Chicago. In 2000, President Clinton named Emanuel to the board of directors of the Federal Home Loan Mortgage Corporation, best known today as Freddie Mac. During this time, it is estimated that Emanuel made more than $18 million. Emanuel resigned from the board in 2001, during his successful run for a seat in the U.S. House of Representatives.

Obama's Chief of Staff

In January 2007, the new Democratic majority elected Emanuel to serve as chair of the Democratic Caucus—the fourth-highest ranking member of House Democratic leadership.

On November 6, 2008, Emanuel accepted the position of White House Chief of Staff for newly elected President Barack Obama. While he was characterized by The New York Times as being "perhaps the most influential chief of staff of a generation," Emanuel quickly gained a reputation for his abusive, disparaging tirades, especially toward the Democratic Party. In one particular incident, Emanuel made an inflammatory remark about conservative Democrats who didn't support President Obama's new health-care initiative, and his comments were leaked to the press. He later publicly apologized for his insensitive language.

Chicago Mayor

On September 30, 2010, Emanuel left his post as chief of staff to run for the Chicago mayorship. He was replaced in the interim by political consultant Peter Rouse. On February 22, 2011, Emanuel was elected mayor of Chicago.

Emanuel was the topic of several Chicago news reports in 2012, following claims by the Chicago Teachers Union that the mayor had been withholding resources from Chicago Public Schools. Emanuel also received flak for his decision to leave Chicago amidst plans of a Chicago-wide teachers' strike in order to speak at the Democratic National Convention.

On September 4, 2018, Emanuel delivered the stunning announcement that he would not run for re-election next year. “This has been the job of a lifetime, but it is not a job for a lifetime," the mayor said. He left office in May 2019, following the election of Democrat Lori Lightfoot.

Personal Life

Emanuel is married to Amy Rule, whom he met on a blind date. The couple has three children, a son, Zachariah, and daughters Ilana and Leah.


  • Name: Rahm Israel Emanuel
  • Birth Year: 1959
  • Birth date: November 29, 1959
  • Birth State: Illinois
  • Birth City: Chicago
  • Birth Country: United States
  • Gender: Male
  • Best Known For: Politician Rahm Emanuel was White House Chief of Staff to President Barack Obama and served as Mayor of Chicago from 2011 to 2019.
  • Industries
    • U.S. Politics
  • Astrological Sign: Sagittarius
  • Schools
    • New Trier West High School
    • Sarah Lawrence College
    • Northwestern University

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  • Article Title: Rahm Emanuel Biography
  • Author: Biography.com Editors
  • Website Name: The Biography.com website
  • Url: https://www.biography.com/political-figures/rahm-emanuel
  • Access Date:
  • Publisher: A&E; Television Networks
  • Last Updated: March 30, 2021
  • Original Published Date: April 2, 2014


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