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Rahm Emanuel to cut short Democratic convention trip

Mayor Rahm Emanuel. File Photo.

Mayor Rahm Emanuel. File Photo.

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Updated: October 5, 2012 6:14AM

CHARLOTTE, N.C. — Mayor Rahm Emanuel decided Monday to cut short his trip to the Democratic National Convention, as pressure mounted for him to stay home to try to avert Chicago’s first teachers strike in 25 years and stop the bloodshed on city streets.

The mayor was originally scheduled to remain in Chicago through Tuesday morning to preside over the opening of Chicago Public Schools, fly to Charlotte to deliver a speech to delegates Tuesday night and remain in North Carolina until Friday morning. He had a hectic schedule of receptions, television appearances and surrogate speeches.

But, that is no longer the plan, according to his staff.

“Slight change of plans. He arrives [in Charlotte] late [Tuesday] and will be back in Chicago late Wednesday evening,” Sarah Hamilton, the mayor’s communications director, wrote in an e-mail from Chicago, insisting that the original plan was tentative — not “set in stone.”

Pressed to explain the change in plans, Hamilton wrote, “The [Obama] campaign asked him to host a watch party for campaign staffers in Chicago to listen to POTUS [President of the United States] speech [Thursday night], so he’s doing that.”

In a follow-up interview, Hamilton insisted that the mayor’s change in plans had everything to do with the Obama campaign’s request and nothing to do with political pressure, either to broker a teachers’ settlement or stop the shootings.

“He was asked to do this and he’s going to do this,” she said of the “watch party” for the President’s Thursday night acceptance speech.

As for the teacher talks, Hamilton said, “They’re making progress. They met all weekend. They have meetings scheduled all week. The right people are at the table to reach an agreement that will keep our kids in school learning and that is fair to the teachers.”

The decision to cut the trip short comes after a massive show of force by the Chicago Teachers Union at a Labor Day rally in Chicago and mounting pressure for the mayor to step in and broker an 11th-hour agreement to avert a strike.

Thousands of teachers marched around City Hall Monday, denouncing Emanuel as a liar and a bully, laying the blame for a strike scheduled to begin Monday squarely at the mayor’s feet.

Apparently sensing an opportunity to muddy up the former White House chief of staff now serving as co-chairman of the Obama campaign, the Chicago Republican Party weighed in with a demand that Emanuel skip the convention altogether and stay home and put out the political bonfires burning at home.

The Rev. Jesse Jackson wouldn’t go that far. He said the mayor could get away with a quickie-trip to Charlotte to deliver his speech to delegates, provided he high-tails it back to Chicago.

But, Jackson warned that, if the mayor stayed all week, as originally planned, he would rightfully face a political backlash for having his priorities out of whack.

“A teachers strike is gonna affect a half million people. It’s gonna paralyze the city if it takes place,” Jackson said.

Obviously referring to Hurricane Isaac, Jackson said, “The officials in Louisiana and Mississippi — once they declared they had an emergency, they prioritized the emergency. He [Emanuel] has two emergencies: One, the impending teachers strike, the other the killing rate in Chicago that has become the No. 1 news item in America. That requires all hands on site management. Maybe if he comes and goes, he can take a breather,” but nothing more.

Ald. Carrie Austin (34th), powerful chairman of the City Council’s Budget Committee, added fuel to the fire by declaring Chicago’s first teachers strike since 1987 “inevitable” and saying parents had better be prepared for it.

Austin (34th) blamed Chicago Teachers Union President Karen Lewis.

“They’ve already decided this is what they’re going to do. I think they want to” strike, Austin said after an Illinois Delegation breakfast hosted by the Chicago Federation of Labor.

“Karen Lewis, their president, says they want to. [She’s essentially saying], ‘I’m gonna show you.’ That’s what she projects. ... They don’t want to talk. They don’t want to negotiate. Not them — her. I don’t believe she wants to talk. That’s unfair to our children because education has to be more important than you getting an additional two percent.”

Austin advised parents whose children attend Chicago Public Schools to make alternative plans for their kids.

“If you allow your child to fall behind because of the strike, it’s your responsibility also,” Austin said.

“You need to have a contingency plan to either have a tutor, a mentor, a college student or someone who’s through with school. You gotta put out a few dollars to make sure your child stays ahead.”

Parents who can’t afford it can rely on the $25 million contingency plan that would keep 145 schools open for four hours-a-day during the strike, Austin said.

But, even the most elaborate contingency plans will not prevent more teenagers from being on the street during the strike and that could translate into rising crime, the alderman said. That’s the last thing the city needs as it grapples with a 31 percent surge in Chicago homicides fueled by gang violence.

“My fear is that the kids who don’t have [something else to do] — they’ll be idle,” she said. “My [greatest] fear in that is burglaries. I don’t want that to get on an uprise because now, we’ve got kids with more time to do mischief things.”

Barring an 11th-hour agreement, Chicago teachers are scheduled to walk off the job on Monday.

They authorized a strike by a 90 percent vote fueled by their anger against a mayor who stripped them of a previously-negotiated, four percent pay raise and tried to rush implementation of his signature plan for a longer school day and school year.

During Monday’s massive Labor Day rally in Chicago, Lewis not only rallied the angry troops by calling the mayor names. She reiterated an earlier charge that Emanuel once advocated that money not be spent on the lowest-scoring 25 percent of students.

Emanuel has flatly denied ever making that statement.

On Monday, the mayor tried his best to remain above the fray.

“On the name-calling, this is not about Rahm Emanuel or Karen Lewis. It’s about the kids of the city of Chicago and ensuring they have a full school day and year,” Hamilton said.

If Emanuel does return to Chicago on Wednesday night, it’ll be on a red-eye flight. From 10 p.m. to 1 a.m., he’s scheduled to host a “Chicago Rockin’ Blues Night” reception at Republic, a Charlotte club, starring Branford Marsalis, the Warren Haynes Band, Brad Whitford of Aerosmith and others.

Not everyone was thrilled about the mayor’s decision to cut the convention trip short.

“We can easily dismiss this as mere politics, but it’s important politics. There are major things at stake here,” said State Sen. Kwame Raoul (D-Chicago).

“Mayor Emanuel is more than a figure in Chicago. He’s a national figure. His presence here is important.”

Senate President John Cullerton (D-Chicago) added, “He was in the Clinton White House. He was the chief of staff to the President. He’s the best witness to the successes of Obama. He’s the one who can answer the misstatements of the Republicans about whether we’re better off than we were four years ago. More than just being the mayor, he’s a national figure.”

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