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Raum Emanuel is known for getting things done

Published: Fri, November 7, 2008 @ 12:00 a.m.

WASHINGTON (AP) — A student of ballet, Rahm Emanuel has shown a flair for theatrics over his years as a Democratic operative. His fancy dancing has been anything but delicate, however.

Upset with a Democratic pollster during a long-ago congressional race, Emanuel mailed him a big, dead fish. Outraged over what he regarded as disloyal Democrats during Bill Clinton’s first presidential campaign, he stunned dinner companions by rattling off names of the offenders, each time stabbing the restaurant table with a dinner knife and shouting, “Dead.”

This is one way of expressing the “fierce urgency of now.”

Emanuel embodied that phrase years before the man he will serve as White House chief of staff, President-elect Obama, popularized it.

“Rahmbo” is said to have mellowed over the years, but that’s relative. That’s from a starting point of pugnaciousness the likes of which even the hardened politicos of Washington don’t see every day.

Altogether he’s a striking contrast to the cool-tempered president he’ll serve and the driven but rather quiet men who have been around Obama. He shares their discipline, at least.

Emanuel comes to the job with a reputation for getting things done — a focused mind in Clinton’s chaotic terms and, after a lucrative detour into banking, an architect of his party’s takeover of Congress in the 2006 elections and its further advances Tuesday.

“He is competitive, hardworking, hard-charging and street smart,” said Rep. Thomas Reynolds of New York, who ran the Republicans’ House election committee in 2006 when Emanuel was in charge of the Democratic counterpart. “At the end of the day, you send him to get a mission done, he’ll get it done.”

John Fritchey, a member of the Illinois House whose district is part of Emanuel’s congressional district, said a chief of staff is supposed to be “a bad guy at times. That’s a role he can not only excel at but may even relish.”

Even so, Emanuel’s dogged partisanship has not stopped him from working with Republicans on issues such as the financial rescue package and transportation. He made his strongest mark under Clinton by pressing the centrist portions of the president’s agenda, including welfare reform, tough-on-crime measures and the North American Free Trade Agreement.

For the last two years, Emanuel and Republican Rep. Ray LaHood, also of Illinois, have put on dinners for small groups of lawmakers from both parties.

“These intimate, yet no-holds-barred dinners have underscored something that I believe is very important for a functional Congress: To get things done on Capitol Hill, one must work in a bipartisan manner,” LaHood said. “Rahm Emanuel shares that belief.”

Emanuel, who turns 49 on Nov. 29, grew up in the ritzy Chicago suburb of Wilmette, the son of an Israeli physician who moved to the United States.

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