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When Rahm Met Rauner

"Just because you have a lot of zeroes next to your name doesn’t mean you know everything."

In January, Illinois Gov. Bruce Rauner fondly told the story of how he first met Mayor Rahm Emanuel. He was interviewed onstage by his neighbor, David Kahnweiler, at a breakfast event for realtors. Rauner’s rendition of this first encounter went on for more than five minutes: He regaled about the combative nature of their first meeting, how Rauner pushed Emanuel into investment banking, and how Emanuel had “some testosterone like I haven’t seen in awhile.”

On Monday, Emanuel got a chance to share his side of the story. After an interview with WBEZ previewing a speech he’ll make about the development of Chicago’s parks, Lakefront and Chicago river, Emanuel said he remembered Rauner used words not suitable for a “family friendly radio station.”

There are a few minor moments where the two differ in their accounts: For example, Emanuel skips over his requests to be a partner at Rauner’s firm, which Rauner includes in his narrative in great detail. But for the most part, the two accounts match, and each politician found ways to take a shot at the other one -- something they’ve both become accustomed to doing through media over the last few months.

Here’s the transcription of Emanuel’s story:

EMANUEL: The way I remember it, when I was leaving the Clinton White House, Amy and I, we had one child, another one on the way, and I’d been in public life. I didn’t have any money and I had a family. Or, no real money or savings. And so I wanted to go into finance, and he - and I think it was Erskine who introduced us, Erskine Bowles.

So, that’s how that happened and [Rauner] said I didn’t know - this is a family-friendly radio station - so he used some colorful language: ‘I didn’t know anything about anything,’ and you know ‘Just because you’re from the White House, and a Democrat’ blah, blah, blah. But he did say, you know, he basically told me I was a fool, I was an idiot, and I didn’t know anything.

So I went from what was his side, which was private equity, to investment banking. I can’t remember if he gave me that advice or not.

And one day I called him, and I said, in the industry it’s like, ‘who’s covering you’ or ‘who follows you’, he says ‘Nobody,’ and I said, ‘Well, I’m it now. For our firm.’ And I brought them a transaction, which was a home security business -- there’s a whole ‘nother story about how I got that, but that said -- and let’s just say it was, according to them, although I kept the transaction alive for about a year, it was the best deal, as a return on investment for them, they had ever done.

And [I] worked it hard, and I think he thinks that we, that I was pretty good at it, for a guy who never had a business degree, never had a law degree which is the only way he would ever talk to you, back then. (Laughs)

LAUREN CHOOLJIAN: That’s pretty much how he told it, except for they talked about - well he, definitely had some heat in there - but he talked about how it was part of your relationship that you guys have always been at each other's throats.

EMANUEL: Butted heads.

CHOOLJIAN: That you argued with him, from the minute you met him.

EMANUEL: He would call me, yeah he called me all kinds of names, and about political labels and stuff like that for people I work for or whatever.

And I told him, ‘You know, just because you have a lot of zeroes next to your name doesn’t mean you know everything you need to know.”

CHOOLJIAN: So why did you keep being friends with him?

EMANUEL: Um, he’s great material to work off. (Laughs)

Lauren Chooljian covers city politics for WBEZ. Follow her @laurenchooljian.

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