Chicago Mayor's Staff Helped Cast Boss' Image on 'Chicagoland'

Image: Chicago Mayor's Staff Helped Cast Boss' Image on 'Chicagoland'

Friday, 25 Apr 2014 01:35 PM

By Melissa Clyne

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Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s staff helped the producers of CNN’s documentary "Chicagoland" develop storylines and arrange meetings to present Emanuel to the nation "as the star that he really is," the Chicago Tribune reported.

After reviewing more than 700 emails obtained via a public records request, the Tribune uncovered how the mayor’s senior aides helped cast Emanuel’s image on the show. 

Emanuel, a Democrat who served as President Barack Obama’s chief of staff before resigning to run for mayor, has been the subject of media speculation that he is considering a 2016 presidential run.

"Chicagoland" creator and executive producer Marc Levin acknowledged to the newspaper that he was "eternally frustrated" dealing with Emanuel, notoriously savvy for micromanaging his image, and his aides, but that it’s part of the job.

Levin said the show did not get all the access it sought and denied that the mayor’s office had any editorial control, but acknowledged that producers were "sensitive" to their relationship with Emanuel.

"Everything the mayor does is stage-managed. Everything. That is the way he operates, so I'm not going to dispute that," Levin told the Tribune when questioned about emails that requested specific scenes featuring the mayor. "I would be the first to acknowledge that you don't get into Chicago ... and get access without having to do a certain dance."

Emanuel spokeswoman Sarah Hamilton declined to answer specific questions asked by the Tribune, but issued a statement that the office worked with CNN to grant access and highlight the city the same way it does with any news organization. The Tribune said that local media is "rarely granted behind-the-scenes access to the mayor."

"Chicagoland" debuted in March. The New York Times called the program "an artfully cinematic real-life look at gang violence and the public school crisis in that city."

In May 2013, just days before the Chicago Board of Education – whose members were hand-picked by Emanuel, according to the Tribune – was scheduled to vote whether to close about 50 schools, Levin sent an email to Emanuel senior adviser David Spielfogel and two other aides.

The email asked to arrange to have the mayor "on the phone in his SUV, in city hall with key advisers and his kitchen cabinet and meeting with CPS (Chicago Public Schools) head BBB (Barbara Byrd-Bennett) and with CPD (Chicago Police Department Superintendent Garry) McCarthy," the paper reported.

The scenes would be "a real opportunity to highlight the mayor’s leadership," Levin wrote.

Levin and co-executive producer Mark Benjamin were represented by William Morris Endeavor, the Hollywood talent agency run by the mayor’s brother, Ari Emanuel. Levin and Benjamin told the Tribune that William Morris did not represent them on the "Chicagoland" project to avoid any conflict of interest.

Producers of the eight-part series gained access to the mayor and City Hall via a meeting arranged by longtime Emanuel friend Rick Jasculca, chairman of a Windy City public relations firm. Emanuel and Jasculca worked together in the Clinton White House, according to the newspaper. Jasculca and his daughter also handled media calls during Emanuel’s 2010 mayoral campaign.

Another Jasculca daughter was involved in organizing the "Chicagoland" storylines, according to an email reviewed by the Tribune, which asks the mayor’s press secretary to send the "list of story/interview ideas that you and your team were going to put together."

The press secretary responded that she’d be in touch to discuss the "characters and storylines that we suggest."

Emanuel’s office redacted hundreds of the "Chicagoland" emails provided to the Tribune, citing "an exemption in Illinois' open records law for preliminary correspondence among city employees in which opinions are expressed or policies are formulated."

The series highlighted two of the that were on the chopping block.

The Board of Education spared four schools, two of which were featured in "Chicagoland." Producers told the Tribune it was just coincidence. Emanuel’s office declined comment.

Although emails show that Emanuel’s chief aides asked for an advance viewing of the series – and were told by producers they would check with the network but "assumed they would be open to it" – neither the producers, Emanuel, nor his staff told the newspaper they could recall if it happened.

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