By John Byrne and Hal Dardick
President Barack Obama endorsed Mayor Rahm Emanuel for re-election in a radio ad that began airing Monday in Chicago, laughing off Emanuel's "hardheaded" demeanor as proof of his passion and speaking in favor of the mayor's school policies that have become key points of controversy in the election campaign.
"If you want a mayor who does what's right, not just what's popular, who fights night and day for the city we love, then I hope you'll join me. Vote for Rahm Emanuel on Tuesday, February 24th," Obama says in the 60-second spot.
The ad comes less than a month before the election, in which Emanuel is seeking to hold on to the strong support from African-American voters who helped him win the mayor's office in 2011 without having to go to a runoff election. At that time, Emanuel had just stepped down as chief of staff for Obama, who remains very popular in his hometown.
In the four years since, Tribune polls show many African-American voters in Chicago have grown disenchanted with the mayor, in part because of high crime and Emanuel's 2013 decision to close dozens of public schools, several over the protests of residents in neighborhoods with large black populations. Obama gives a nod in the ad to Emanuel's reputation for rubbing people the wrong way as he pursues his agenda but defends the mayor's record on education.
"Before Rahm Emanuel was mayor of Chicago, he was a key part of my team at the White House," Obama says. "And let's be honest, at times the guy can be a little hardheaded. But there's a reason Rahm fights as hard as he does. He loves our city, and he believes every child in every neighborhood should have a fair shot at success.
"Chicago had the shortest school day of any American city until Rahm insisted that our kids get the same educational opportunity as other kids," Obama says. He goes on to tout Emanuel's moves to make full-day kindergarten standard and to gradually raise the minimum wage in Chicago to $13 an hour by 2019.
Emanuel's challengers on Monday said an Obama endorsement won't carry him to victory. "I don't think it helps at all," Ald. Bob Fioretti said while talking to reporters after a speech at the City Club of Chicago. "Come to our communities. Come to the city. Come to Roseland. Come to Englewood. They're asking 'Where are the jobs?'"
And Cook County Commissioner Jesus "Chuy" Garcia said the endorsement is to be expected based on Emanuel's service in the Obama White House.
"Loyalty is valued by people in Chicago," Garcia said while accepting the endorsement of the Independent Voters of Illinois -- Independent Precinct Organization. "You stick with your friends. You stand by them through thick and thin. What does it mean? It doesn't mean a whole lot."
Businessman Willie Wilson released a statement saying Emanuel has used his relationships with former President Bill Clinton and Obama to help get him elected, but the tactic won't work this time. "Rahm is used to being sent so I'm going to send him home. I just hope the good citizens of Chicago send a hard worker like me to City Hall," Wilson said.
Perennial candidate William "Dock" Walls called his own City Hall news conference to denounce the ad, saying Obama "should have stayed out of this. ... He's too far removed from Chicago, and his busy schedule probably prevents him from paying attention to the little things that affect quality of life."
The Emanuel campaign did not respond to questions about which radio stations will air the ad, how long it will air or how the endorsement from the president came together. The campaign did release a statement from Emanuel saying he's "thrilled to have President Obama's support during this critical election.
"I look forward to continuing working with (Obama) as his mayor and friend over the next four years," Emanuel's statement said.
(c)2015 the Chicago Tribune