President Barack Obama went to Chicago bearing gifts Thursday for his former chief of staff, Mayor Rahm Emanuel.
Five days before Chicago voters head to the polls on Tuesday to determine whether Emanuel will win the 50% support he needs to avoid a runoff and win a second term, Obama visited the city’s historic Pullman district to designate it as one of the nation’s newest national monuments.
But the day had all the trappings of a campaign – and Obama even made an unannounced stop at a Kenwood campaign office for Emanuel on his way out of town.
“I’m glad he’s my mayor, and I’m glad he’s going to be my mayor for another four years,” Obama told volunteers.
At Thursday’s Pullman designation, the President lavished his former White House chief of staff with endorsement-style praise.
“Before Rahm was a big-shot mayor, he was an essential part of my team at the White House during some very hard times for America and I relied on his judgment every day, and his smarts every day, and his toughness every day,” Obama said Thursday.
“Rahm hasn’t just fought for a national park in Pullman,” he said. “He’s fought for new opportunity and new jobs in Pullman and for every Chicagoan in every neighborhood.”
Like a campaign stop, loud music blared before things started – including some songs that had played during Obama’s own campaign. There were high-ranking officials there in a seating box covered with red, white and blue bunting. Along another wall was a giant American flag draped side by side with the flag of the city of Chicago and a banner that read “Pullman National Monument.”
Emanuel introduced Obama with a hug, welcoming him to his home city and saying that “today has been decades in the making.”
Obama said his visit to the area, near where he worked as a community organizer after college, was “special to me,” and that it’s “the area where I became a man” and cut his teeth in politics.
One of Emanuel’s opponents said the area is special to him, too – but he didn’t make the guest list.
Chicago Alderman Bob Fioretti told CNN that he was not invited, even though he’s a member of the Historic Pullman Foundation board, had spent years fundraising for the area, has deep family ties to it, and the foundation had asked the White House to invite him.
“We all know this is just pure politics – that’s all that the President is playing here for Rahm, who has sagging poll numbers,” Fioretti said.
He said he was frustrated that community members who’d spent 50 years fighting for the designation they won Thursday couldn’t be there on “one of the coldest days that we’ve had this winter” and in a “very limited surrounding.”
“Who benefits from that? Not the people here,” Fioretti said.
Obama recorded a radio advertisement for Emanuel, Deputy White House press secretary Eric Schultz told reporters aboard Air Force One on Thursday.
Asked by reporters whether the Chicago trip was really just a pro-Emanuel campaign stop, Schultz insisted that the national monument designation has “been in the works for a while” – backed by both Republicans and Democrats – but that Obama is supporting his former chief of staff.
“The President has supported the mayor’s elections in the past, campaigns in the past, and supports this one as well,” Schultz said.
The latest Chicago Tribune poll, conducted last month, showed Emanuel leading the field with 42% support, with Cook County Commissioner Jesus Garcia running second and Fioretti third.
That, though, isn’t enough to top the 50%-plus-one requirement to avoid a runoff under Illinois law. The Chicago Tribune’s poll found that 20% of the city’s voters hadn’t yet made up their minds on who they’d support.