What it’s like to work for Rahm Emanuel
Six twentysomethings tell their tales of tweeting for, traveling with and taking date-night suggestions from Mayor Rahm Emanuel.
IT’S THE DAY AFTER THE FOURTH OF JULY and I’m sitting in Valencia’s City Hall office. We’re joined by Faulman, Simmons and Weisser, whom I met about a year ago through my roommate.
Though Weisser is not being interviewed today, she stands in the corner typing on her BlackBerry, occasionally prompting the others to elaborate on or clarify what they’ve said. (The mayor’s office let five of its young staffers speak with me on the condition that Weisser sit in on my interviews, which is standard procedure there. I was allowed to interview her alone.) Fresh off a holiday, everyone is more relaxed than I’ve seen them over the last few weeks.
“The fourth floor is like the stepkids…people forget we’re down here,” Valencia says of her office, which is one floor below the mayor’s. Valencia works for the mayor’s legislative counsel and government affairs team, where she does everything from brief elected officials about upcoming press events to wrangle aldermen for photo ops. Her office is brightly lit and decorated with pink flowers from the Daley Plaza farmers’ market.
Towering at six feet tall with closely cropped blond hair, Faulman can barely fit his lanky frame in his chair. With no meetings scheduled today, he’s traded his usual suit and tie for a more casual green polo and brown boat shoes. Of all the twentysomethings, Faulman spends the most time with Emanuel—nearly every work day since October 2010. He jokes they’re “like a couple.” They shoveled cars out of the snow together during the February 2011 “Snowpocalypse.” Faulman has taken date-night restaurant suggestions from Emanuel, who is known as a foodie around the office. Once, on the campaign trail, Emanuel asked the car to pull over at a deli. “You’re German,” he said to Faulman. “I’m going to show you how Jewish people eat.” Then Emanuel placed his order in Hebrew: lox on a toasted bagel and challah-bread French toast.
But not many colleagues envy Faulman’s job. Valencia says she “had to be Faulman one night” and found it “nerve-racking” and “terrifying” to sit alone in the car with the mayor. As he describes it, Faulman is the mayor’s “eyes and ears,” helping keep Emanuel’s schedule running smoothly and anticipating anything he may need for a speech, meeting or press event. Faulman carries hand sanitizer, Listerine Strips and note cards in his pockets and the mayor’s briefing book in his hand at all times. He’s cool under pressure and has a penchant for deadpan sarcasm.
“[We] don’t talk shop all the time,” Faulman says of his time with Emanuel. Cracking jokes, he explains, helps alleviate stress.
Simmons, the most serious of the bunch, considers my questions carefully before answering. He came prepared for our first interview with a few pages of typed notes. He is the No. 2 to David Spielfogel, Emanuel’s chief of policy and strategic planning.
Simmons was among only two twentysomethings on Emanuel’s list of senior staffers released last May. But he escaped the scrutiny the mayor’s press secretary, Tarrah Cooper, faced. A few days after the staff announcement, Chuck Goudie, a reporter for ABC, wrote a Daily Herald column in which he questioned Cooper, then 25, and her qualifications “to be press secretary for the mayor of the third-largest city.” He asked her the loaded question: “Does your youthfulness and lack of experience symbolize what seems to be [an] administration focused on hiring managers under 35?” (The mayor’s office declined my request to interview Cooper.)
Weisser brushes off the column as the opinion of an older man. She and other young staffers are quick to dismiss their youth as a source of workplace problems. They are well-qualified for their jobs, they say, and besides that, politics and communications tend to be youth-staffed fields.
Simmons concedes age can be an obstacle, albeit a “surmountable” one. “It would be fair for me to admit as a young person I’m going to need to be three times as well-prepared, three times as poised, three times as informed,” he says. “That said, I think when I do show up to discuss important policy with…someone who’s been in public service for twice as long as I’ve been alive, if I know my stuff…I usually find that I’m taken pretty seriously.”