By Ryan Black

Led by longtime Chicago political consultant and activist Delmarie Cobb, progressives spoke to the media on Monday in front of the Senate steps. They were there to make the case for why Rahm Emanuel must not be confirmed for a high profile ambassadorship to Japan. The news conference focused particularly on Emanuel’s role in covering up the murder of Laquan McDonald, a black teenager who was shot sixteen times by Chicago Police officer Jason Van Dyke in 2014. 

“This is an example of how determined the elite and powerful are to rehabilitate the reputation of one of Chicago’s worst mayors in my lifetime. And believe me, that is a remarkable achievement.” Cobb said.

Ryan Black, Organizer for RootsAction and the campaign said, “As Democrats continue to say ‘black lives matter,’ we want it to be very clear that confirming Rahm Emanuel for this ambassadorship would be saying the exact opposite.”

The Emanuel administration’s coverup in the McDonald case included a pay-out to the family without letting the video evidence be seen by the people of Chicago. Cobb described how Rahm Emanuel’s “…corporation council approached the city council finance committee and asked them to approve a 5 million dollar payout to McDonald’s mother before she initiated any legal action.”

That settlement agreement prevented the gruesome video from being released, protected the murderer, and provided a clearer path for Emanuel to run for another term as Chicago mayor. The dashcam video was only made public in November 2015 — seven months after Emanuel was reelected — when Cook County Judge Franklin Valderrama ordered its release. In the wake of the video, a Chicago poll showed that most residents wanted Emanuel to resign as mayor; few believed him when he said he hadn’t seen the video prior to the court order.

Rahm Emanuel appears with his eyes obscured by a green bar

Beyond his administration’s coverup of McDonald’s murder, Emanuel’s mayoral tenure was defined by policies that hurt and disrepected Chicago’s black community. Cobb noted that, as mayor, Emanuel ordered 50 schools closed in mostly black and brown communities, the largest school closure in US history — while his friends opened charter schools with public money. Emanuel also closed half of the city’s mental health clinics, again, mostly in nonwhite communities. 

“Who needs mental health care more than black and brown people who are underserved, underemployed, and undersiege due to violence?” Cobb said at the news conference.

Since the Black Lives Matter uprisings during the summer of 2020, Democrats have consistently seized on activists’ talking points to portray the party as sensitive to racial inequities and committed to fomenting change. However, Cobb questioned the sincerity of that portrayal:

“If Rahm Emanuel can garner the majority of Democratic votes for his appointment in today’s political climate, given the social unrest following the police murder of George Floyd in Minneapolis, and the supposed awareness of America’s ongoing racism and racial inequities, then the message to black people is ‘we are insignificant’ — ‘black lives don’t matter’” she said.

Cobb then made a plea directly to President Biden.

“Mr. Biden, you need the black vote and you need the progressive vote. You have a choice. You can listen to your powerful friends telling you to choose Rahm Emanuel or you can listen to us, the people. … It’s Rahm Emanuel or us, and it can’t be both.”