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Emanuel insists he staying out of race to succeed Jackson Jr.

Updated: February 20, 2013 2:37PM

Mayor Rahm Emanuel maintained Wednesday he’s staying out of the race to succeed Jesse Jackson Jr., even though Emanuel’s longtime political ally, New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg, has spent $2.1 million to promote Robin Kelly’s candidacy.

Independence USA, a Bloomberg-funded Super PAC formed to push gun control legislation, has been saturating the airwaves on free TV and cable blasting Democrat Debbie Halvorson for her past support from the National Rifle Association.

Candidate Toi Hutchinson was a secondary target of Independence USA for the same reason before dropping out of the race and endorsing Kelly.

On Wednesday, Emanuel denied that he’s playing footsie with Bloomberg to promote Kelly, whose campaign is chaired by Cheryl Whitaker, the wife of one of President Barack Obama’s closest friends.

The mayor said he hasn’t spoken to Bloomberg about the race or about Bloomberg’s decision to spend more money to influence the outcome of Tuesday’s special election in the 2nd Congressional District than all of the candidates combined.

Those who find that hard to believe don’t know Bloomberg, Emanuel said.

“When I was a congressman, Mayor Bloomberg talked often about his position on gun control and that you had to have a political force equal to the NRA,” Emanuel said.

“That was true when I was a congressman, as [White House] chief of staff and now, as a colleague of his as mayor. This position he’s had and what he’s doing is consistent. Last election cycle 2012, Mayor Bloomberg got involved in a race in California doing exactly this: talking about gun control. ... He has followed through on what he said he was gonna do.”

The mayor was asked why he’s “giving the appearance” that he’s not involved in the race to succeed Jackson, who plead guilty Wednesday to years of illegal campaign spending.

“Because I’m not endorsing anybody. That’s why. Because it’s not an appearance,” Emanuel said.

Pressed on whether he’s making phone calls on Kelly’s behalf, the mayor said, “No. ... I said upfront I was gonna stay out of this race. The voters will pick. But I want to be clear about one thing: Whoever wins has to be on Team Chicago.”

Delmarie Cobb, a political consultant to Ald. Anthony Beale (9th), doesn’t buy it. She thinks there’s a wink-and-a-nod between Emanuel and Bloomberg.

“I don’t think Mayor Rahm Emanuel would be running congressional campaign ads for someone in New York and dictating who should be the next congressman in New York City without the permission of Mayor Bloomberg,” Cobb said.

“It’s hard to fathom that Mayor Bloomberg is inserting himself into this campaign and he’s meeting with no resistance from City Hall.”

As evidence of Emanuel’s behind-the-scenes involvement, Cobb pointed to the tangled web of relationships among the players in the 2nd District.

Cheryl Whitaker is the wife of Obama pal, Dr. Eric Whitaker. Former Illinois Treasurer Alexi Giannoulias, one of the first politicians to endorse Kelly, who served as Giannoulias’ chief of staff, is one of Obama’s basketball buddies.

Obama’s former campaign strategist David Axelrod, who is tweeting on Kelly’s behalf, is Emanuel’s former White House colleague and friend of 30 years. And Bloomberg is a close friend of Chicago’s mayor.

“If Robin Kelly were in the middle of the circle, you would have the White House, Giannoulias, Axelrod, Mayor Bloomberg, Mayor Emanuel — all these people with an ongoing relationship. It just defies logic that, somehow, all of these people are involved in the race, but they’re not talking to each other” about it, Cobb said.

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