By Bill Ruthhart and Katherine Skiba
Democratic presidential candidate Bernie Sanders on Saturday repeatedly slammed Rahm Emanuel and called on front-runner Hillary Clinton to reject the embattled mayor's endorsement as the Vermont senator tries to boost his chances in Tuesday's Illinois primary.
"Hillary Clinton proudly lists Mayor Rahm Emanuel as one of her leading mayoral endorsers," Sanders said at a downtown news conference. "Based on his disastrous record as mayor of the city of Chicago, I do not want Mayor Emanuel's endorsement if I win the Democratic nomination. That is not the kind of support I want. We want the endorsement of the people who are fighting for social and racial justice. We do not want the support of people who are indebted to Wall Street and the big money interests."
Sanders took particular aim at Emanuel's handling of Chicago Public Schools, criticizing the mayor's decision to close nearly 50 schools in predominantly minority communities in 2013. The Democratic senator said the school district wouldn't have found itself in such a financial bind had Emanuel refused to pay Wall Street banks $500 million in "risky financial schemes" or so-called toxic interest-rate swaps. Sanders noted other cities such as Houston, San Francisco, Philadelphia and Detroit took legal action, or threatened to, and received some money back from the banks, and criticized Emanuel for "standing with Wall Street" instead of with the city's schoolchildren.
Sanders said both Emanuel and Clinton have received heavy campaign contributions from the financial sector. Joining Sanders was Blaine Elementary Principal Troy LaRaviere, who referred to a Chicago Tribune investigation last year that showed at least 60 percent of Emanuel's top campaign donors received benefits from City Hall.
"The mayor has no problem putting pressure on teachers when he wants concessions from them. He has no problem arm-twisting the parents on the South Side or the West Side when he wants to close their schools. He is really tough, isn't he? Taking on the children and the parents," Sanders said, mockingly. "But he ain't so tough taking on the big money interests on Wall Street."
Before stepping off in Saturday morning's St. Patrick's Day Parade, Emanuel briefly dismissed Sanders' comments without reacting to the specifics. "Politics is politics. It's campaign season," Emanuel said. "That's his comments."
Sanders' attack on Emanuel comes as the mayor has faced a record-low approval rating of 27 percent, according to a Tribune poll published in early February. Emanuel's approval numbers were even lower among minority voters, who to date have voted heavily in favor of Clinton in states that already have held their nominating contests.
In Illinois, the senator is trying to blunt Clinton's momentum among minority voters by airing television ads. One features LaRaviere criticizing the mayor, and another features the mayor's runoff opponent, Jesus "Chuy" Garcia, who also joined Sanders at Saturday's news conference. A Tribune poll on the Democratic presidential primary in Illinois published Tuesday showed Clinton at 67 percent in her native state and Sanders at 25 percent.
Emanuel remains unpopular, in part, for his handling of the Laquan McDonald police shooting scandal, which resulted in weeks of street protests, allegations of a cover-up and calls for his resignation. Sanders did not reference the McDonald case specifically but indicated he thinks the mayor should step down.
"I think he has done a very bad job," Sanders said when asked if Emanuel should resign. "If I lived in this city, I would be active in that effort."
Later, Sanders appeared at a get-out-the-vote rally before a few hundred people at the Rainbow/PUSH Coalition on the South Side.
The event drew more than a dozen down-ballot hopefuls, including Democratic U.S. Senate candidates Andrea Zopp and Napoleon Harris, Cook County state's attorney challenger Kim Foxx and Circuit Court Clerk Dorothy Brown.
During the appearance, Sanders said Obama's father was born in Kenya and his father was born in Poland. "Guess what, nobody has ever asked me for my birth certificate," Sanders said.
Sanders also said the U.S. Department of Justice should probe every police killing and death of a person while in police custody.
The Rev. Jesse Jackson concluded Sanders' nearly hourlong visit, enlivened with gospel music and R&B hits, by urging people to "Feel the Bern." Afterward, Jackson said he had not endorsed in the contest.
(c)2016 the Chicago Tribune