Rahm Snaps at Mental-Health Advocates: ‘You’re Gonna Respect Me!’

Chicago’s mayor allegedly blew up when he was asked why he closed clinics. Looks like ‘Rahmbo’ is back.

03.05.15 6:25 PM ET

They say old Rahm Emanuel came out last night—or maybe it was the real one hiding in plain sight all the time: a sneering, aggressive pol who went “nose-to-nose” with a mental-health advocate demanding, “You’re gonna respect me!”

The alleged exchange took place off-camera between Chicago’s mayor and Matt Ginsberg-Jaeckle, a member of Mental Health Movement, a group that has been fighting the mayor over the closure of six mental health clinics across the city. Behind a door that separated the mayor from a roomful of constituents at a campaign stop in the Wicker Park neighborhood, Ginsberg-Jaeckle says, he got Rahmbo’d.

“This is the Real Rahm,” Ginsberg-Jaeckle wrote on Facebook. “Calm and collected in public, raging angry and self-defensive behind closed doors.”

But Emanuel's campaign, while not directly refuting the mayor's alleged call for respect, said the exchange was more cordial than Ginsberg-Jaeckle's version of events. The mayor's office has reached out Ginsberg-Jaeckle and Delgado to address their concerns, campaign spokesman Steve Mayberry said in a statement.

"The mayor was eager to get to the substance of the residents' concerns," Mayberry said via email. "After respectfully listening to the residents, he asked that they respectfully listen to his point of view. As a result, the meeting ended cordially and the mayor is working with health officials to address the residents' needs."

Debbie Delgado, another member of the group, interrupted Emanuel, prompting the behind-closed-doors altercation.

“She told of losing her son to gun violence,” Ginsberg-Jaeckle wrote. “She told [Emanuel] how her other son was holding him as he died. She told about how the city's Northwest Mental Health Clinic in Logan Square saved their lives, helped her and her son deal with the PTSD and depression. Then she asked why he took that clinic away from her.”

Rahm said he would speak with the pair, and Ginsberg-Jaeckle said they then left the room for a private conversation. That’s when Emanuel allegedly shouted: “You’re gonna respect me!”

The mayor’s office wouldn’t address the supposed angry exchange.

“Since it was a non-city event there were no city people there to witness it,” said Chloe Rasmas, a spokesperson for the mayor’s office.

Rasmas said that, because the event was for Rahm’s re-election campaign, now in run-off mode, the mayor’s office wouldn’t comment on what happened behind closed doors. Apparently there is an official distinction to be made between Mayor Rahm and Candidate Rahm. 

Emanuel’s temper is notorious. In 1992, he was Bill Clinton’s chief fundraiser. After Bubba won the White House, it’s said that Rahm went DeNiro in The Untouchables on the people who had opposed them. “Dead!” Rahm screamed while plunging a steak knife into a table. ''Nat Landow! Dead! Cliff Jackson! Dead! Bill Schaefer! Dead!'' Rahm’s rage-fueled drive later propelled him to a seat in Congress and the position of White House chief of staff under President Obama.

The toughest political fight of Rahmbo’s career though is winning a second term as mayor. Emanuel is facing an April run-off against Jesus “Chuy” Garcia after the failing to secure more than 50 percent of the vote in last month’s Democratic primary.. Among the contentious issues consuming Chicago politics are the mayor’s decision to close several public schools, install controversial red-light cameras, fail to stamp out gun violence and, for some like Ginsberg-Jaeckle, closing of six mental-health clinics.

For years Ginsberg-Jaeckle, Debbie Delgado and other members of the group have been trying to meet with Rahm. First, to convince him not to close the six mental health clinics that were eventually shut down. Then it was to re-open the clinics, which provide services Ginsberg-Jaeckle and Delgado say are badly needed in neighborhoods plagued by violence and poverty. The closures created enemies for the mayor, the members of Mental Health Movement among them.

As longtime pain-in-Rahm’s-ass Ben Joravsky puts it, the mayor might be better off running for the “most unlikeable man in Chicago.”

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“We have been trying since he was campaigning the first time to meet with him on the mental health issue,” Ginsberg-Jaeckle said.

And failing. Ginsberg-Jaeckle and Delgaod finally got their moment Wednesday night, after the pair interrupted an otherwise outing campaign stop in Wicker Park.

“I found it to be inappropriate,” said Ronda Locke of Rahm’s response. Locke, a former city council candidate, snapped a photo during the exchange. In her campaign for first ward alderwoman, Locke advocated for keeping the clinics open, but said she attended the meeting Wednesday night only as a resident of the area.

“I thought, initially, he handled it very well,” Locke said of the interruption prompted by Ginsberg-Jaeckle and Delgado. “But as (Rahm) was leaving the room, he said something to the effect of ‘Please excuse my special guests.’

It’s unclear if Rahm was making a play on the word special, or was just being a smart-ass, Locke said. Either way he came off smarmy.

“I’m thinking in some poorly thought out way he was just attempting to be cute, but it came out in a way that diminished their cause and diminished their efforts,” Locke said of Ginsberg-Jaeckle and Delgado.

Locke speculated that Rahm’s attempt to put on a smooth public face was the result of a new, more cuddly, campaign strategy. But it just didn’t work very well Wednesday night. And it doesn’t really matter how nice the mayor is in public if, behind closed doors, he’s screaming at people and getting in their faces. Then again, this is Chicago, home of former mayor Richard Daley’s infamous — or famous, depending on your political preference—machine.

Ginsberg-Jaeckle said he feels he’s outside that machinery, although he noted that the last Mayor Daley kept the clinics open after Mental Health Movement and others “made their wheels squeaky enough” for the mayor to grease them. The group hasn’t had the same luck with Rahm, and Wednesday night’s interruption was an act of desperation resulting from years of closed doors and unanswered phone calls, Ginsberg-Jaeckle said.

“We delivered 10,000 letters to the mayor’s office in October 2012. They didn’t respond. So, we started sending one email a week. No response. We held forums and protests. The day before a vote on the budget we did a sit-in outside the mayor’s office, and they forced us out by cutting off any access bathrooms,” Ginsberg-Jaeckle said, running down years’ worth of attempts to talk with the mayor.

“I could go play by play, but long story short we could not get through to this man. Finally, the extreme we reached was crashing his events.”

That’s what they did Wednesday night, not expecting much other than to be escorted out. Locke said Rahm told police to hold off when Ginsberg-Jaeckle and Delgado rose from their front-row chairs to confront the mayor. It was all cordial, until the trio left the room.