Rahm on the Rails

Rahm’s Listening Tour in Chi-town 

Some months back, I blogged about the content aggregators that I, as the proprietor of a percolating PR consultancy, strive to follow.

I bring it up again since the subject of today’s post was gleaned from one of the PR sites I keep tabs on, even if the site’s master curator and incessant Twitterer ignored my offer to meet up with him during a recent trip to New York City. (He’s expunged from the next list.)

Gawker today reports on Rahm Emanuel’s deployment of play #35 in the PR pro’s playbook: “the listening tour.” Did Ari Gold’s brother, now seeking the highest office in Chicago, borrow this tactic from candidate Obama’s former political nemesis?

Mr. Emanuel’s first political whistle stop didn’t do much to help the trains run on time. In fact, his appearance on a Chicago subway platform appeared to cause more confusion than anything else. And anyway, how can a rush hour subway platform appearance succeed as part of a “listening tour?” Can anyone really listen to frenzied commuters struggling to slip past the invited cameras?

No matter. The image brought back memories of my only formal association with a political campaign other than distributing flyers for Hubert Humphrey or polling homes in Boston for a poli-sci class during Jimmy Carter’s run.

Sen. & Mrs. Gary Hart (1984)

In 1984, I took a leave of absence from Hill and Knowlton to play a state-wide role in Colorado Senator Gary Hart’s campaign to gain the Democratic presidential nomination. (Mondale ultimately prevailed.) We were gathering at 7:00am in NYC’s busiest commuter terminal waiting for Sen Hart’s arrival.

It was a pretty buttoned-down affair with stanchions, a mult-box for ENG crews to grab clean audio, and maybe even lights. The candidate finally arrived and did his best to strike up a few conversations. Suddenly, a group of activists began causing a huge commotion — yelling and drawing attention away from our carefully staged photo-op.

As it turns out, this group actually supported Sen. Hart’s candidacy. They were gay activists using Act-Up tactics years before Act-Up came into being. Their rude commandeering of a well-attended presser won’t seem strange by today’s standards. But back then, we were mortified that the PR decorum we so carefully orchestrated could be so unceremoniously disrupted.

Today I wistfully look back at my brief d’alliance in political PR, and wonder what could have been. In the end, however, I’m glad I chose the path I did. Working for a non-incumbent Democratic candidate was painful, as I’m sure those toiling for Chicago Mayoral aspirant Emanuel are now learning.