Emanuel's young staffers: Mike Simmons, from left, Ankur Thakkar, Caroline Weisser, Matt Fischler, Anna Valencia and Michael Faulman
Photo: Elizabeth Jochum
THAKKAR, 28, IS A PHILOSOPHICAL GUY sporting a beard and a stylish skinny tie. Along with Hauswirth, he is building the office’s Internet presence nearly from scratch. Because of Thakkar, you can see photos on Instagram of the mayor hanging backstage with Conan O’Brien or catch Emanuel checking in on foursquare at the Milwaukee Avenue Arts Festival. Thakkar live-tweets mayoral press events on an iPad and manages the mayor’s office’s Facebook, Twitter, Livestream, Google+, Storify, YouTube, foursquare and Instagram accounts. The accounts usually reference Emanuel in the third person; the @RahmEmanuel account, established during the campaign, is still used to promote the mayor’s activities. When Thakkar first met Emanuel about a month after he started his job, he wanted to blurt out, “I am you, on the Internet.” But he got scared, and instead he smiled.
Emanuel has been described as a fear-inspiring boss. “We joke that someone should open a special trauma ward…for people who’ve worked for Rahm,” a former staffer during Emanuel’s years as a senior advisor to President Clinton once told Rolling Stone.
But Emanuel’s twentysomething employees—who make up just over one-third of the mayor’s staff of 85—describe their boss as more like a tough but fair professor whose expectations they want to exceed. He challenges them to take decisive action, just as he does. He’s a role model who excelled at a young age, as they hope to.
Junior staffers speak fondly of the life lessons Emanuel has taught them: Pay attention to details, read as much as you can, don’t lose the human connection in the digital age. When his field director, Anna Valencia, got sick on the campaign trail and had to stay at Northwestern Memorial Hospital, Emanuel wanted to see her. “Please, no!” she had to plead with Faulman. (As Emanuel’s “body guy,” he travels everywhere with the mayor while Emanuel's on the clock.) “I was in a hospital gown dying,” Valencia, now 27, later joked.
Emanuel is demanding, aggressive and expects his staff to work long hours, his young aides admit. But many of them sought out this fast-paced environment, where they’ve been tasked with big responsibilities. Matt Fischler, a 24-year-old policy associate, helped launch the mayor’s Office of New Americans, the first citywide office that focuses on immigration. Mike Simmons, the mayor’s 29-year-old policy director, has been integral in implementing Emanuel’s strategy to eradicate Chicago food deserts.
“No one who values a comfortable, show-up-at-9:30-and-leave-at-5 [job] is going to want to work for Rahm Emanuel,” as one former employee put it. “It’s a staff of workaholics, let’s be honest.”