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Brown: Emanuel smart to cut trip short — but he’ll still get flak

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Updated: October 5, 2012 6:19AM

CHARLOTTE, N.C. —Mayor Rahm Emanuel will be taking a political risk by coming here Tuesday to speak to the Democratic National Convention with a Chicago teachers strike looming, although not nearly as big a risk as when he planned to stay a few days.

If teachers make good on their strike threat next week, it will always be part of the narrative that Emanuel skipped town to do politics — even for only a day — after he just recently had put out word he would be taking a more hands-on approach to the final stages of contract negotiations.

My own belief continues to be the contract talks will go right down to the Sept. 10 deadline, and then be settled, which will make this discussion moot.

That is hardly guaranteed. Ald. Carrie Austin (34th), who presumably should have more inside info than most of us, told our Fran Spielman here that a strike is “inevitable, ” arguing that CTU President Karen Lewis wants a strike. I don’t think so, although Lewis might like people to think that.

Still, when you couple the strike potential with the mayor’s head-scratching assertion over the weekend on NBC’s “Meet the Press” that his administration is “containing” the city’s gun violence problems, this hardly shaped up as a great time to spend the week in Charlotte.

As one of the biggest stars in the Democratic Party, Emanuel is much in demand here during the convention as a party fund-raiser and surrogate speaker for President Barack Obama. Unlike the president, Emanuel isn’t known to be squeamish about giving face time to fat cat Democratic donors. In fact, it’s one of his specialties.

That could be why Emanuel’s office issued the lame excuse Monday that he was cutting short his trip here — turning it into a 24-hour in and out — because the Obama campaign wants him to host a watch party Thursday night in Chicago for the president’s acceptance speech.

By pulling out Wednesday evening, Emanuel will be missing his own Chicago Rockin’ Blues Night party, scheduled for late that night following the convention speeches.

I’m sure Emanuel didn’t want to be seen as caving in either to the teachers union or the Chicago Republican Party, which called on him Monday to cancel his speech and stay home to tend to business.

As we know, there’s nothing more irrelevant in Chicago politics than the Chicago Republican Party, but a good way to become less irrelevant is to pick a fight with the mayor when the opportunity presents itself, so I’ll give them points for that.

Emanuel has less to explain about leaving town with the killings unabated. Does anybody think the mayor is patrolling the neighborhoods personally or even deciding where police officers will be deployed day by day?

Even when he’s in Chicago, Emanuel carries out his oversight responsibilities of the Police Department mostly by telephone.

Despite being in the Bible Belt, the mayor can swear at Police Supt. Garry McCarthy in a phone conversation from Charlotte as well as he can from City Hall.

More confusing was the mayor’s assertion on “Meet the Press” that: “We’re containing it” — it being the violence.

Containing it, meaning the numbers are not getting any worse than they’ve been since early summer? Or containing it, meaning the violence is contained mostly to certain neighborhoods?

Naturally, most of the Chicago Democrats here in Charlotte are singing from the Emanuel hymnal, but Ald. Walter Burnett (27th) made a good point just the same.

“I think [Emanuel] has dual obligations,” Burnett said in defense of the mayor’s visit here. “He’s obligated to the city. He’s also obligated to the president. And of course, like any other mayor of Chicago, to do good for the city, you’ve got to be good with the president, too.”

Former Mayor Richard M. Daley may be getting tired of being second-guessed by his successor, but his brother, Cook County Commissioner John Daley wasn’t about to go that route in his absence.

“That’s up to the mayor,” John Daley said. “I would assume he’s in contact with the team and negotiating. I would not second-judge him. That’s his decision.

Also in no position to second-guess was Chicago Board of Education Vice President Jesse Ruiz, who is here all week in his capacity as an Obama delegate and co-host of a party Monday for the Illinois delegation. Ruiz said he and Emanuel are both in touch with CPS negotiators and could be home in a few hours if needed.

But like me, Ruiz expects talks to go down to the deadline.

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