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Biden nominates former Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel as ambassador to Japan

The controversial Democrat is on his way to the Land of the Rising Sun, much to the chagrin of some Chicagoans.

Click here to read this article in Japanese

CHICAGO (CN) — President Joe Biden on Friday nominated former Chicago mayor and controversial Democratic figure Rahm Emanuel as ambassador to Japan.

The Japanese ambassadorship is one of two high-profile diplomatic positions the White House has been trying to fill since May, and Emanuel was pegged early on as a contender. For the other, the Chinese ambassadorship, Biden nominated Nicholas Burns, former undersecretary of state for political affairs. The nominations must be approved by the Senate, which is narrowly controlled by Democrats.

Emanuel has climbed many rungs on the Democratic ladder to reach his nomination. Before serving as Chicago's mayor from 2011 to 2019, he was former President Barack Obama's chief of staff from 2009 to 2011, and before that worked as Democratic Caucus chairperson while simultaneously serving as an Illinois congressional representative from 2002 to 2008.

These notches on his belt were undoubtedly part of the Biden administration's decision to nominate him as ambassador to one of the United States' closest allies. In its official announcement of his nomination, the White House characterized Emanuel as a paragon of Democratic achievement.

"Rahm Emanuel, former mayor of the city of Chicago and White House chief of staff to President Obama, has had a distinguished career in public service," the announcement states. "As mayor, he oversaw increased economic development that revitalized the city and helped solidify its status as a global hub of culture and commerce."

Many Chicagoans, however, hold their former mayor in a less flattering light. During his tenure, Emanuel closed more than 50 public schools - the largest mass school closure in U.S. history - most of them in Black and Latino neighborhoods. Under his watch, fares for public transportation and parking skyrocketed, and the Chicago Transit Authority's fare system was privatized under Ventra - a company with ties to military contractors.

Most infamously, Emanuel was implicated in what many residents deemed a cover-up of the police murder of 17-year-old Laquan McDonald in 2014. Video evidence incriminating former Chicago police officer Jason Van Dyke in the murder was kept from the public for over 13 months. While Emanuel said he did not see the video before its public release, many residents and reporters on the case found that claim unlikely - especially since the city paid McDonald's family $5 million to try to settle the case before the video's release.

"There was no [cover-up] effort, and even the head of the [Chicago Aldermanic] Black Caucus, Rod Sawyer, said there was no cover up," Emanuel told ABC 7 Chicago in a 2019 interview.

“The idea that the mayor of Chicago would make the city pay $5 million to pre-emptively settle this case – including a provision that the dashcam video is to remain confidential – without having seen the video himself strikes me as extraordinarily difficult to believe,” law professor Bernard Harcourt told The Guardian in 2015.

“Rahm Emanuel does not deserve to be the ambassador of anything. Rahm Emanuel belongs behind bars,” Dorothy Holmes, the mother of another young Black man killed by the Chicago Police, told the Daily Beast in June.

Nikkei Uprising, a Chicago-based Japanese-American activist group, also slammed Emanuel’s nomination in a statement Friday.

“Nikkei Uprising condemns Joe Biden’s nomination of Rahm Emanuel as U.S. ambassador to Japan. As a Chicago-based Japanese American organization, we find the ex-mayor of Chicago to be unacceptable to fill any political role in any function given his record of failures and harm toward the people of Chicago,” it said.

The group urged Biden to nominate someone else, more well-versed in Japanese history and politics, who would aid in a goal long sought by progressives both in the U.S. and in Japan: the demilitarization of Okinawa, Japan’s poorest prefecture.

“The Biden administration can make a clear statement with the pick of ambassador: a rejection of Rahm is a rejection of the rearmament of Japan, and centers diplomacy with China and North Korea to achieve peace. In doing so, the Biden administration would truly mark a progressive departure from the previous Trump administration in its Japan relations and U.S. foreign policy at large,” the statement said.

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Categories / Government, International, Politics

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