Before mayor-in-waiting Rahm Emanuel unveiled his education leadership team, his advance scouts laid out markers in blue tape on the floor of a high school library to choreograph precisely where everybody should stand.
Emanuel spoke for 12 minutes, six times longer than new public schools chief Jean-Claude Brizard, who was careful not to deviate from a prepared statement. When reporters tried to question Brizard, he kept quiet.
"I'll do the answering," Emanuel declared. "At the right time, we'll have him be available for questions."
The Emanuel era at City Hall begins for real on Monday, but the months-long run-up to the swearing-in ceremony has left it abundantly clear that the city's new boss wants the spotlight to remain squarely on him. And so far that spotlight has revealed a leader who plays up his homegrown pedigree but often borrows from the controlled stagecraft and management playbook of Washington, where he has spent the bulk of his public career.
Beirut by the Lake no more, city government under Emanuel could become Chicago by the Potomac.
After more than two decades of the often unpredictable Richard M. Daley, Emanuel is a study in the kind of caution and focus common to the White House, where he has twice worked. He's mindful not to say or do anything at well-scripted public appearances that might step on his message.
For his transition, the former chief of staff to President Barack Obama hired the same headhunter firm the administration used to field new leadership for General Motors as well as mortgage giants Freddie Mac and Fannie Mae after government bailouts. The fundraising mechanism Emanuel created to back aldermanic candidates is modeled after the ones used by House, Senate and presidential candidates.
A new city budget and economic development council is created in the likeness of a panel of experts Obama and President Bill Clinton relied on to wade through complicated economic issues.
During the mayoral campaign, opponents ripped Emanuel as more a creature of Washington than Chicago, despite representing a Northwest Side district in the U.S. House for three terms. In addition to his work for Obama, Emanuel also served as political director of the Clinton White House.
That resume makes his return to Chicago highly unusual, said Ross Baker, a congressional scholar at Rutgers University in New Jersey.
"Generally speaking, the move is invariably from local to state to federal," explained Baker. "It's a well-worn groove in American politics. The arrows point one way."
Simply put, American politicians tend to have big egos, and nothing strokes that better than Washington, where the problems tend to be cosmic in nature.
That said, Emanuel won't be the first former congressman to run City Hall. Harold Washington traveled a similarly unorthodox political path in 1983. But Washington was a backbencher in the Capitol, while Emanuel carved a major role for himself in national politics and policy.
To Emanuel's way of thinking, returning to local politics can only be a plus in his efforts to turn around Chicago and its ailing institutions.
"We are a product of our experiences," he said in an interview. "I hope I'm bringing a wealth of relationships and contacts to bear down on our problems to change the status quo and bring a level of results we haven't seen."
Indeed, change will be the overarching theme of the inaugural address that Emanuel is to deliver Monday, a speech he said was completed three weeks ago. He said the address won't contain new policy initiatives, but rather will explain in broad strokes his intention to shake up a troubled city government.
A protege of the outgoing mayor, Emanuel has been careful not to criticize Daley by name. Even so, the criticism is implicit.
"We can't keep doing the same things," Emanuel explained. "We've got to start doing things. And we've been standing, at some levels, standing still."
Emanuel was elected Feb. 22, and he has been a whirlwind of activity ever since.
He's unveiled his economic, school and public safety teams well in advance of taking office. Publicly, he declared his intention not to step on Daley's toes. Behind the scenes, he jumped into negotiations for major education reform and helped defuse a feud with airlines over expansion at O'Hare International Airport.
The flurry of activity is classic Emanuel, who jokes that his wife once said if they had had a fourth child, she would name the baby Patience — "maybe as a subtle reminder of the value."
The mayor-elect has attempted to turn his lack of patience into a virtue. He says the city is facing serious problems that have been ignored too long.
Half of city public school students don't graduate from high school, violent crime continues to plague parts of the city and some people have been jobless for years, Emanuel said.
"Now if you think you need someone who is just patient and not ready to break some eggs to get things done, then the 55 percent of folks who voted for me made a mistake," he said last month.
In all the political positions and appointments Emanuel has held, he's always had to answer to someone. Chicago's mayoralty will be Emanuel's first elected executive gig.
Emanuel ranks his new job among the top five executive positions in the country. The others that make his list are president, governor of California and governor and mayor of New York.
Friends are fond of saying that Emanuel's wiry frame belies a dynamo.
"He's a larger-than-life personality, which I think is a requirement for being mayor of a big city, in particular, this big city. So he's big enough for the job," said Obama political guru David Axelrod, who often refers to Emanuel as a "force of nature" and a "heat-seeking missile."
Although Emanuel spent most of his political life in Washington and functioned well there, Axelrod said, at the end of the day one of Emanuel's strengths is that he is more Chicago than Washington.
"He's a very blunt, plain-spoken person. Those are not the watchwords of Washington," Axelrod said. "Washington is a city that is very much occupied with status. You've got many bright and talented people, but an awful lot of time gets wasted on who's up and who's down and who's in what meeting and whose name is on what bill. Rahm is very results-oriented. He wants to get things done."
Emanuel's nearly two years as the White House chief of staff were exhausting and took a toll on his soul, said Clayton Lewis, the best man at Emanuel's wedding. The desk job was isolating, Lewis said, especially as Emanuel dealt with weighty challenges.
Freed from his White House desk, Emanuel is once again able to engage in the kind of retail politics that energizes him, Lewis said.
"There's a sense of peace and solitude when you're in charge," Lewis said. "You're the final call."
Emanuel's relentlessness predates his years in Congress and the White House. He's not afraid of making decisions, said Lewis, who worked with Emanuel at the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee in the 1980s.
The pair of 20-somethings were tasked with recruiting candidates to defeat Republican incumbents. Emanuel had a knack for cutting off those who didn't perform well, Lewis said.
"He's wickedly pragmatic. He knows what needs to be done and what can be done," Lewis said. "Rahm gets the art of compromise. But he's going to push it to the edge, and there's going to be some road kill along the way, as there should be."
Chicago's 46th mayor honed those skills as a middle child. From an early age he played negotiator between his two brothers — and sometimes between his siblings and parents.
"He would tell Zeke he was right and he would tell Ari that he was right," said Emanuel's mother, Marsha. "And then he would sort of pull one right point here and one right here and then bring them together."
The people he's going to have to both woo and manipulate now are the 50 members of the City Council. Emanuel started that process in earnest after the election, meeting personally with every alderman and soliciting his or her input on reforms and policy initiatives. Many council veterans say they had not met one on one with Daley for years.
That attention also has come with a request as the inauguration nears. Emanuel asked the entire council to give up part of Sunday afternoon for a two-hour dress rehearsal ahead of Monday's ceremony at Millennium Park. The request took some aldermen by surprise — Daley's last swearing-in was so low-key it was held in the City Council chamber.
With the final draft of Emanuel's address completed early, he has had plenty of time to practice a speech expected to touch on themes similar to his campaign pledges of safe streets, strong schools and stable finances.
"I'm very clear about what it's going to take to write the next chapter in Chicago's history," he said. "Now is a down payment on everything I pledged."
Twitter @ChiTribCloutStCopyright © 2015, The Baltimore Sun