Bernie Sanders says he doesn’t need Chicago mayor Rahm Emanuel’s backing to reach White House
Democratic presidential candidate Bernie Sanders said on Wednesday he did not need the backing of one of rival Hillary Clinton’s supporters, embattled Chicago mayor Rahm Emanuel, to win.
Emanuel’s political stock has tumbled after a racially divisive scandal that grew out of a fatal police shooting of a teenager in October 2014.
Sanders, a senator from Vermont, campaigned for Emanuel’s opponent in last spring’s mayoral race and called for changes in the U.S. policing strategies to ensure “lethal force should be a last option, not a first option.”
His comments appeared to be a direct reference to the killing of 17-year-old Laquan McDonald, an African-American who was shot 16 times by Jason Van Dyke, a white Chicago police officer who has been charged with murder.
“If the question is whether I want or need Rahm Emanuel’s support for president, the answer – in all due respect to the mayor – (is) no, I don’t,” Sanders told reporters.
While scorning support from Emanuel is no surprise, invoking his name and alluding obliquely to the mishandled McDonald video appeared to be a calculated political strategy aimed at mining votes.
Emanuel fought to keep a dash-cam video of the shooting out of the public eye during his re-election battle, releasing it only after a judge forced the city to do so last month.
The video’s release triggered protests that are expected to resume in Chicago on Thursday. Calls for Emanuel’s resignation continue, and the U.S. Justice Department is investigating complaints of abusive policing and a lack of accountability within Chicago’s police force since the video’s release.
Sanders appeared alongside Emanuel’s vanquished 2015 mayoral opponent, Cook County Commissioner Jesus “Chuy” Garcia, and a Democratic state lawmaker, Representative La Shawn Ford, who has sponsored legislation in Illinois to permit voters to recall Chicago’s mayor. A young person stood behind Sanders during his media conference wearing a t-shirt that said: “Rahm Failed Us.”
Asked whether his vision of criminal justice reform matched that of Emanuel’s, Sanders said, “I suspect not.” He did not elaborate during a brief news conference.
Emanuel’s office declined to comment in response to Sanders’ comments, which followed a new listing by GQ magazine of its “Worst People of 2015.” Emanuel was included in that group.
Emanuel stood as one of the Democratic Party’s savviest, if not most confrontational, personalities before his political fortunes sagged. He helped elect the last two Democratic presidents, serving first as a fundraiser and political director under President Bill Clinton in the 1990s and later as White House chief of staff for President Barack Obama.
Between those jobs, Emanuel held a seat in the U.S. House of Representatives, helping engineer a Democratic takeover in 2006.
Sanders’ criticism also highlighted Hillary Clinton’s dilemma over how to use her politically damaged ally. With his vast experience in Washington, Emanuel would normally campaign for her on Sunday morning television news programs and be a valuable conduit to Chicago’s historically fertile Democratic fundraising circuit.
However, some of Emanuel’s closest friends believe he must remain on the sidelines of the presidential campaign to focus instead on restoring public confidence in his mayorship and instituting a crackdown on the kind of police behavior seen in the McDonald video.
“The last thing he should be focusing on is presidential politicking,” longtime friend and former Obama adviser David Axelrod told Reuters.
“I think he feels now more than ever an obligation to try and fix this in a way that’s durable and lasting.”
Hillary Clinton has expressed confidence in Emanuel but also publicly backed the Justice Department probe into Chicago’s police department, a stance that had her briefly at odds with Emanuel until he threw his support behind the investigation.
Clinton’s campaign did not respond to questions from Reuters about what role, if any, Emanuel might play.
Some veteran political observers have little doubt that Clinton has no choice but to downplay her ties with Emanuel as she courts some of the same African-American voters he has alienated in his handling of the McDonald case.
“Politics is a business, and loyalty is great, but at some point, if you’re too much of a liability, you get thrown under the bus,” said former political journalist David Yepsen, who is head of the Paul Simon Public Policy Institute at Southern Illinois University.
“And Rahm Emanuel understands that probably better than anybody else,” he said.
(Editing by Paul Tait and Nick Macfie)