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Former President Clinton praises Emanuel rebuilding plan


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Updated: July 9, 2012 6:14AM

Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s infrastructure trust fund might be controversial in Chicago, but former President Bill Clinton said Thursday he wants to replicate it in cities around the globe.

“I was here when Rahm announced his investment fund,” Clinton said in Chicago at the opening of his second annual Clinton Global Initiative conference. “I met all these bankers and investment people and developers … I swear I had no idea whether I was meeting a Republican or a Democrat or an independent — they actually showed up to get something done.”

Attending the conference, Emanuel said he didn’t want to wait for federal or state funding to rebuild Chicago’s infrastructure.

“I wanted a breakout strategy for the city that doesn’t tie us to Washington or Springfield’s dysfunction,” Emanuel said. “The day we announced [the trust], Congress passed the ninth extension of the Highway Bill from 2005 for 90 days. I cannot tie the city’s economic vitality, its future, its viability, to that dysfunction.”

The fund is more an alternative to local bonding than federal and state funding. Seven aldermen voted against the trust, saying they had questions about how much taxpayers would be on the hook for user fees and other costs associated with the fund. Financiers who have been major political backers of Emanuel stand to benefit from the fund.

The Clinton Global Initiative brings together donors, business and political leaders to brainstorm ways to solve the world’s problems. The focus of this year’s conference is aiding America’s economic recovery.

Emanuel was seated onstage next to Randi Weingarten, president of the American Federation of Teachers, whose largest member union, the Chicago Teachers Union, is taking a strike-authorization vote this week, frustrated with Emanuel’s administration, which killed a negotiated 4 percent raise for the teachers last year.

Emanuel has said he thinks teachers deserve a raise. His board has offered a 2 percent raise in the first year of a proposed five-year contract and no guaranteed raise after that.

Weingarten and Emanuel didn’t go near that issue Thursday.

She talked about the importance of getting people back to work because students with working parents do better in school.

Emanuel agreed and said his infrastructure plans will put Chicagoans back to work.

“We have to introduce young people to the world of work, through education and training,” Clinton said after Labor Secretary Hilda Solis talked about the frustrations of running a summer jobs program after Republicans in Congress refused to approve funding for it.

Among other speakers, J.B. Pritzker, the venture capitalist and Hyatt Hotels owner, used the conference to announce that he and his wife have donated $1 million in seed capital to start an early-childhood education initiative.

“Entrepreneurship will get us out of the current mess we’re in, and early-childhood education will keep us out,” Pritzker said.

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