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What Happened to "Rahmbo" Emanuel?

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RAHM EMANUEL
Tasos Katopodis via Getty Images
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There's one name noticeably missing from the list of 2016 presidential contenders: Rahm Emanuel.

Most pundits will tell you Hillary Clinton's all-but-announced entry into the race means Emanuel has no choice but to sit it out.

But the real reason Emanuel can't run is his failed record as mayor of Chicago.

Three years ago, Emanuel was blessed by President Barack Obama to lead Chicago. Running the nation's third-largest city was supposed to be Emanuel's springboard to the White House.

A prolific campaigner, four-term congressman and adviser of two presidents, Emanuel was portrayed as the savvy insider and ruthless tactician who would fix what the city's previous mayor, Richard M. Daley, ignored -- the unions' stranglehold on the city, and Chicago's nearly $30 billion pension debt.

But with just one year left in Emanuel's first term, he has failed on both counts. At the pivotal moments when "Rahmbo" should have stepped forward, Emanuel backed down.

Take, for example, the city's collapsing pensions, which has sent Chicago's credit rating into free fall.

In his first year as mayor, Emanuel made bold attempts at reform. He demanded higher retirement ages (almost half of city workers retire before the age of 60).

He called for a suspension of automatic cost-of-living adjustments (retiring career teachers and firemen receive average pensions of $71,000 and $80,000, respectively).

And most importantly, he recognized the need for fundamental reform by proposing optional 401(k)-style plans for new workers.

But state politicians, who set retirement benefits for Chicago workers, snubbed Emanuel.

It's now two years later and Emanuel has given up on real reforms.

Instead, he recently championed a law that hikes city contributions to two pension funds by $4 billion through 2025 -- contributions Emanuel has proposed to fund largely through property tax hikes.

And that's just the beginning. The mayor has yet to address the city's other, more-troubled pension funds.

Emanuel's push for property tax hikes is a distinct policy reversal given his long-term vow not to raise city taxes.

It's also a bizarre political calculation; according to a Chicago Sun-Times poll, just 1 percent of Chicagoans favor a property tax hike to fix the city's pension problem.

Two years ago, Emanuel also backed down in his fight with the unions.

The mayor tried to use negotiations with the Chicago Teachers Union, or CTU, to demand a longer school day, more teacher accountability and a slowdown in teacher costs.

Chicago already had the shortest school day and year when compared to other large cities. And with a looming $1 billion dollar deficit in Chicago's school district, there was a need to reduce costs.

But Emanuel underestimated the strength and vitriol of the CTU, one of the most militant public unions in America. A week-long strike ensued, and broke the mayor's resolve. He gave in to demands for higher pay -- a 17 percent increase over four years -- and received few reforms in exchange.

However, appeasement didn't buy Emanuel peace with the CTU. When he was forced to shutter nearly 50 inner city schools to reduce the school district's massive deficits, the teachers' union labeled him a racist and a corporatist. Chicago's far left followed the union's lead.

It seems none of the typical left-leaning allies want to cooperate with Emanuel. Not the unions. Not the Democratic-controlled Illinois Statehouse. Not even the voter base that put him into office in the first place.

Emanuel's image is so tattered many question whether he can even win re-election in 2015. Emanuel garnered just 29 percent support in a recent Sun-Times poll. His backing among minorities was only 8 percent - amazing given Emanuel swept every predominantly black ward in Chicago in his 2011 race.

Emanuel's reputation and high-ranking connections were not enough to fix Chicago's problems.

Chicago's schools continue to fail its inner-city children. The city is still the nation's murder capital. And with Chicago's pensions spiraling out of control, it's the most likely to follow Detroit into bankruptcy.

The stakes in Chicago are high, but not just for Emanuel. Chicagoans are watching the city crumble and are suffering the consequences.

As for Rahm, if he can't save Chicago, then he can forget about running the country.