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Bill Clinton urges Chicagoans to back Emanuel for mayor

Former President Bill Clintspeaks behalf mayoral hopeful Rahm Emanuel Tuesday January 18 2011 during campaign rally Chicago Cultural Center. |

Former President Bill Clinton speaks on behalf of mayoral hopeful Rahm Emanuel Tuesday, January 18, 2011 during a campaign rally at the Chicago Cultural Center. | Jean Lachat~Sun-Times

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Updated: April 7, 2011 3:18PM

A “big city” needs a “big mayor,” and that’s why Chicago needs the man who helped him pass the Crime Bill, former President Bill Clinton told a crowd of 700 people at the Cultural Center Tuesday.

“You need a big person for the job,” Clinton told Emanuel supporters at the Chicago Cultural Center. “Now, Rahm’s not even six feet tall, he probably weighs 150 pounds dripping wet. But in all the ways that matter, he is a very big person ... He’s made big decisions ... If you want the Windy City to have a gale force of leadership, Rahm Emanuel is your mayor.”

Clinton called his hiring of Emanuel to be his campaign finance chair in 1991 one of two or three key decisions that won the race for him.

“I wasn’t sure I could raise enough money — until I met him,” the former president said. “I thought: Finally, I met somebody who makes me look laid-back.”

Clinton, the former Arkansas governor, laughed at the culture shock Emanuel encountered in Little Rock, Ark., during that campaign.

“It was quite a psychological change for him,” Clinton said. “It took three weeks before anybody knew what he was talking about.”

The often-profane Emanuel came to embody Chicago in the Clinton White House, and Clinton said he appreciated that he never held back on telling the president — “sometimes in extremely colorful language” — when he thought the president was wrong about something.

Clinton expressed marvel that anyone in Chicago could consider Emanuel an “outsider,” as some opponents have portrayed him in fighting in court to try to get him off the Feb. 22 ballot.

“That would come as an astonishing surprise for anyone who ever worked for me,” Clinton said. “We always knew where his heart was.”

Quoting from his memoir, Clinton recalled Emanuel’s election as a congressman representing the North Side, saying, “He was back in Washington as a congressman from Chicago, the city he thought should be capitol of the world.”

Clinton said that, in the White House, Emanuel was who he counted on to come up with policies that would work. That’s what Chicago needs, Clinton said.

About 40 VIPs got some face time with Clinton and Emanuel for $5,000 a ticket just before Tuesday morning’s rally at the Cultural Center.

Two of Emanuel’s rivals held events Tuesday at which they said Clinton’s appointment of Emanuel to the board of mortgage giant Freddie Mac aggravated the foreclosure crisis.

Rival Carol Moseley Braun, picking up an endorsement from the National Organization for Women and raising a half-million dollars from black business leaders Tuesday night, dismissed the Clinton visit.

“There’s a food pantry around the block from our campaign headquarters. Every day it’s open, 150 people are waiting in line in the cold for food. Do you really think they care who President Clinton is telling them to vote for?” Braun campaign manager Mike Noonan asked.

Contributing: Fran Spielman

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