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Emanuel brings hip new vibe to Chicago City Hall

SHARE Emanuel brings hip new vibe to Chicago City Hall

CHICAGO — The mayor-elect strolled into the historic Chicago Theatre for a Neil Young concert wearing grayish-green sneakers, jeans and a soft sweater over a blue T-shirt. At his side was actress Jennifer Beals, the star of "Flashdance," and her husband.

Rahm Emanuel was out on the town, and Mayor Richard Daley he's not.

When the former White House chief of staff takes office Monday, a new vibe will emanate from City Hall for the first time in more than two decades. Where Daley preferred a more low-key social life and favored the traditional trench coat look, Emanuel is frequently spotted in jeans while touring the city's vibrant arts-and-culture scene.

In some ways, Emanuel's new, hipper image punctuates the transformation that his predecessor engineered to remake a grimy Midwestern industrial hub into a gleaming global tourist destination.

"I think it's a redirection for the whole city, and he is the face of that," said Bruce Newman, a marketing professor at Chicago's DePaul University. "I don't think it's put on, but I think he's aware of it."

Emanuel may be most famous for his killer political instinct and profane language, but he has diverse cultural interests. He's a former dancer who once won a scholarship to train with Chicago's prestigious Joffrey Ballet. He finds relaxation at the theatre, and his musical tastes run from 1960s rock to pop vocalist Adele to Chicago's own Wilco.

This week, the city's Time Out magazine introduced a "Rahm Spotting" feature, inviting readers to send an alert when they see the new mayor out and about. The latest sightings included the trendy Longman & Eagle pub, a Bulls playoff game and Piece pizza.

Emanuel, whose wife and kids will remain in Washington until the school year is over, insists his social activities have nothing to do with his political life and any hint of hipness is in the eye of beholder.

"I'm not designing this for the public, I'm doing it out of my own interest in the arts," Emanuel told an Associated Press reporter who accompanied him to the Neil Young show. "Jokingly, I'm saying, if I look in the mirror ... I see a hip guy. When I talk to my son, I'm definitely put in my place."

The change in attitude at City Hall is stark because for much of the last half-century a Daley — the family name synonymous with the once-mighty political machine — has been the face of Chicago. The late Richard J. Daley was the political boss from 1955 to 1976, and his son is retiring after 22 years as the paternal figure in the fifth-floor mayor's office.

Emanuel's arrival "kills the image of Chicago as an old machine that is still moving in a certain direction," Newman said.

In the run-up to the inauguration, Emanuel hasn't been shy about offering Chicagoans a more intimate glimpse of his personal life, something Daley rarely did. Emanuel talks openly about his family, his love of music and how he likes to spend free time going to concerts and other cultural and sporting events.

Although he's more private, Daley, too, has been a fan of the theater, the opera, going to movies and eating a good meal, said Cook County Commissioner John Daley, the mayor's brother.

Emanuel's candor can soften his image as the foul-mouthed political operative nicknamed "Rahmbo," who once sent a dead fish to a Democratic pollster he was mad at, Newman said.

It could also help ease some of the sting that will inevitably result from the tough choices the new mayor will have to make to rescue a city budget drowning in debt.

A generation separates the 69-year-old Daley and 51-year-old Emanuel, who despite being younger has more gray hair than Daley.

While Daley spends his free time chasing after three grandchildren, Emanuel and his wife, Amy Rule, still have three kids at home. Zachariah, the oldest, is just 14.

Emanuel said it's his son who keeps him humble when it comes to questions of mayoral hipness. Zachariah, according to Emanuel, thinks his father's taste in music is "definitely non-hip" and "he rolls his eyes at a lot of things about his dad."

"I'm holding onto my two daughters, at 11 and 12, because they still think dad's cool," said Emanuel, who won the ballet scholarship but decided instead to study at Sarah Lawrence College near New York City.

Not long after he won the February election, Emanuel spoke on popular rock station WXRT and floated the idea of promoting a North Side neighborhood music district — much like the thriving downtown theater district created under Daley.

He said the area could be anchored by some of the city's most popular music venues and might involve resurrecting the legendary Uptown Theater.

In recent months, Emanuel caught the rock-funk-soul band Black Joe Lewis and the Honeybears at Chicago's famed Double Door, a small neighborhood club where the Rolling Stones once played.

Among the theater events he's seen was "Twist of Water," a provocative new play set in Chicago about a gay man raising his adopted daughter after his partner is killed in a car accident.

Emanuel "is himself a creative guy, and he's inquisitive and open to new things, whether they're new ideas, new art forms, new music," said his friend Marj Halperin, who he recently named as vice chairman of a cultural affairs advisory committee.

Halperin said the two have been friends since 1989, when they worked on Daley's campaign and bonded because she would go to dance performances with him.

The departing and incoming mayors were together last month at the White Sox home opener, where their contrasting styles were apparent: Daley, who has an unwavering allegiance to the Sox, wore a team cap with a trench coat covering most of his dress shirt and tie. Emanuel, a Cubs fan, showed up in jeans and a Sox jacket.

Emanuel, who wears suits when he needs to, promised to keep up his casual dress code when he's doing something fun, like meeting Beals to see a concert. The two have mutual friends, and the actress, a Chicago native, is interested in helping the city.

"I'm going to wear what I'm comfortable with," Emanuel said.