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Mayor Rahm Emanuel./file photo by Brooke Collins for City of Chicago. 0

Rahm Emanuel shows ‘soft side’ at event for Special Olympics

November 29th, 2016

Mayor Rahm Emanuel showed a crack in his tough-guy image this morning at a breakfast highlighting the work of Special Olympics, founded in Chicago nearly 50 years ago.

In a speech woven with humor and empathy, Emanuel drew laughs mentioning his rabbi being worried about the Jewish mayor’s religious allegiance. The mayor was referring to a recent trip to the Vatican with Cardinal Blase Cupich.

But it was Emanuel’s comments about his family that hit home with the crowd.

The mayor said he was especially sensitive to the work of Special Olympics because his sister has lived with “a physical disability.”

Emanuel has famously talked about his brothers–oncologist Zeke Emanuel and talent agent Ari Emanuel–but he doesn’t talk about Shoshana, who was adopted as a child by Emanuels’ parents.

After his speech at Maggiano’s Banquets, I asked Emanuel to elaborate, and he declined, saying he doesn’t like to talk about family.

A New York Times story described the physical challenges Shoshana faced growing up, including four operations and years of physical therapy to give her “85 percent use of her left side.”

Emanuel’s comments had an impact on the crowd, says City Club President Jay Doherty. “He can come across as a tough guy sometimes, but he has a soft side. His true leadership abilities shine when he showcases his charitable and civic side.”

Emanuel’s speech drew more than 350 attendees to the event and executives from a few companies in attendance wrote out checks for $5,000 to support Special Olympics Chicago.

The event included happy birthday wishes to Emanuel–he’s 57–and a request from Illinois Supreme Court Justice Anne Burke. She’s a founder of Special Olympics and asked the mayor to add a star to the Chicago flag “to emphasize the role of Chicago” in starting the international games.

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