Who was 25-year-old Rahm Emanuel?

A few words to describe Mayor Emanuel’s 25th year? Aristotle, politics, pizza and ballet.

August 7, 2013

(File/AP)
Rahm Emanuel in 1993, the earliest photo of him we could track down

As mayor of the city of Chicago, Rahm Emanuel’s days are anything but repetitive.

Some days, he crisscrosses the city for press conferences, packing in phone calls to aldermen and business leaders on the way.

Other days, he’s in meetings at City Hall, talking Wrigley renovations or budget fixes, or maybe even calling President Barack Obama to talk over top issues, and who knows what else.

He’s known to try to squeeze in a workout wherever he can, and sometimes, he commutes to work on the train to mix things up a bit.

But 25-year-old Emanuel nailed down a pattern and stuck to it.

The year was 1984. Emanuel lived in Lakeview, near Waveland and Southport, in an old house converted into four apartments. He distinctly remembers his neighbors from that house: Emanuel was a graduate student at Northwestern University then, and would take the L back and forth to class every day.

As he recalls, there was just one restaurant by the Southport train station: a pizza place that sold pies by the slice.

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“I’d get off the train after school, get dinner, which was a slice of pizza, eat it walking home, and sit down and do my homework,” Emanuel said. “Is that pathetic?”

Emanuel’s two-bedroom apartment was on the second floor of the house. His rent: $330. And that included utilities.

“You couldn’t touch a parking space for $330 there today,” Emanuel said.

His classes were at Northwestern’s School of Speech and Communications, where he studied mass communications and classical rhetorical theory.

Emanuel squeezed the master’s program into nine months.

“It was basically I wanted to do mental gymnastics for a year, ” Emanuel said. “When I had graduated [from undergrad] and started working, I was not done enjoying the life of the mind, so to say.”

The mayor said 25 marked a critical point. He always knew he wanted to go to graduate school, but that year he realized it was now or never.

When he wasn’t debating about Aristotle or Cicero, Emanuel dabbled in political work. He spent some of that year at the Illinois Public Action Council. He was also in the throes of then-Congressman Paul Simon’s campaign for a U.S. Senate seat, where he worked alongside people like Lisa Madigan, David Axelrod and Forrest Claypool, to name a few.

And yes, he was still dancing when he was 25 years old. Twice a week.

Emanuel was a serious dancer in his youth, even earning a scholarship to the Joffrey Ballet. He passed it up to go to Sarah Lawrence. He says once the pressure was off to dance professionally, he wanted to get back to it.

Dance, Emanuel says, was important for discipline, as well as exercise.

But come on, besides all that, he must have been doing some socializing and dating as a twenty-something, right?

Emanuel says he’ll keep most of those stories under wraps, but that his 25-year-old self was very much in the mindset of: “I’m gonna be single for the rest of my life.”

There was one woman he dated that year. Emanuel says the relationship ended when she decided to move to Washington, D.C. for a job, and he wanted to stay in Chicago.

But amid all the pizza, Aristotle, politics and ballet, Emanuel’s sights were already set on Washington.

“I’m going to finish Northwestern,” Emanuel said was the goal. “And I’m going to try and figure out how to one day work for a person who’s going to be elected president.”

Lauren Chooljian is WBEZ’s Morning Producer/Reporter. Follow her @laurenchooljian.