CHICAGO — Former President Bill Clinton is coming to Chicago Tuesday to campaign for mayoral candidate Rahm Emanuel, but his visit is the cause of some controversy.
While the former White House chief of staff hopes Clinton can persuade voters to cast their ballots for him Feb. 22, a former mayoral contender has warned that Clinton is risking his popular standing with the African American community by backing Emanuel rather than a black candidate.
Clinton is scheduled to appear with Emanuel at the Chicago Cultural Center Tuesday morning. The candidate touted the visit in his campaign mailings over the weekend, mixed with an appeal for campaign donations.
"I'm honored to have President Clinton's support," Emanuel told supporters in the e-mail on Sunday. "I'm excited to show President Clinton the great Chicagoans who've made this campaign possible."
Emanuel is among about a dozen names on the mayoral ballot. Three of his rivals, former U.S. Sen. Carol Moseley Braun, former schools president Gery Chico and City Clerk Miguel del Valle, have emphasized their deep city roots while claiming Emanuel is more of a Washington insider. Braun has the support of many black leaders in the city, while Chico picked up the endorsement of Congressman Luis Gutierrez this month.
Emanuel worked for Clinton during the 1990s, first as a top campaign staffer and then as a senior adviser. He played a role in a number of policy initiatives, including passage of the North American Free Trade Agreement, which has been unpopular with unions.
Larry Bennett, a DePaul University political scientist, said bringing in a figure of Clinton's stature to campaign on his behalf could help Emanuel because it underlines his importance.
"It probably represents a plus for Emanuel," Bennett said, author of "Third City: Chicago and American Urbanism."
"It suggests, `I've got some leverage,'" he said.
Congressman Danny Davis, a former candidate who bowed out of the race in December, warned when the Clinton visit was first announced that the former president could jeopardize his "long and fruitful relationship" with the black community if he campaigns for Emanuel instead of a black candidate. Clinton at one point was dubbed "the first black president" because of his appeal to African Americans.
But Bennett said "it's hard to imagine" the visit undermining the strength of that relationship.
Braun, who has been named the "unity" African American candidate by a coalition of black leaders, also criticized Clinton's visit, even though Clinton appointed her as ambassador to New Zealand after she lost her senate seat in 1998. "What we have is an outsider running for mayor and bringing outsiders in to help him," she told reporters shortly after Clinton's visit was announced.
Emanuel's right to run for mayor has been challenged, based on the fact that he lived outside the city for nearly two years as he worked as chief of staff for President Barack Obama in Washington. But the Chicago Board of Elections ruled him eligible after deciding that he did not abandon his Chicago residency.
A Cook County judge agreed with the ruling, but an attorney for several objectors has said he will continue to appeal the judge's decision, all the way to the state Supreme Court if necessary.