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The narrative may gloss over a few facts, but Emanuel has been crafting it for four years now, and he retold it again when he officially launched his reelection campaign on Saturday. He was surrounded onstage by kids of various hues who applauded and celebrated on cue.
"We are striving to make sure that everyone—and every neighborhood—is part of the city that works," the mayor proclaimed.
With no intended irony, the rally was held at a film production studio on the west side.
Emanuel noted that Cinespace was an abandoned factory not long ago but is now where Chicago Fire, Chicago PD, and other shows and movies are made. He cited the facility as an example of the city's economic rebirth.
But the location also offered an obvious symbol of how his campaign—like his tenure at City Hall—will be a tightly scripted affair.
The entrance to the rally was staffed by about a dozen polite and efficient campaign workers confirming that attendees had advance tickets, which were acquired from Emanuel supporters.
Reporters were assigned to a campaign liaison who escorted them down the hall, where they were introduced to another media handler who greeted them by name. She had apparently been texted or e-mailed that they were on the way.
The rally stage was set up next to a half-built film set. A couple hundred supporters waited for their man, some waving "Rahm for Chicago" signs. Songs about Chicago or performed by locally based artists (Wilco, Andrew Bird) boomed over the sound system.
At just after one o'clock, the mayor walked out with the phalanx of children.
He was praised by his campaign co-chairs, city clerk Susana Mendoza and Congressman Luis Gutierrez, two prominent Hispanic politicians whose very presence was meant to send a message to potential supporters of county commissioner Jesus "Chuy" Garcia: Hey, some of the mayor's best friends are Latino!
The mayor was formally introduced by a Hispanic college student named Elizabeth.
Then it was Emanuel's turn. His speech was essentially a greatest-hits collection of his press conferences and releases from the last four years, touting the "tough decisions" he's made to lengthen the school day, move cops from desk to street duty, and create jobs. He repeatedly highlighted his successful effort to hike the city's minimum wage to $13 an hour by 2019.
And to anyone who may have heard him described as Mayor 1 Percent, surrounded by millionaire friends who write him checks to fund this campaign engine: "Today cities are struggling with a new economy in which some are doing very well but too many are left on the sidelines."
Nearly every one of his claims could have been corrected or put into context: how he antagonized so many teachers, parents, and students with school closings and cuts; how the police ranks have grown thinner on his watch; how the city's job creation programs have barely touched most of the city's neighborhoods; how he only took up the minimum wage issue after seeing his approval ratings evaporate, and then may have undercut efforts for even stronger wage policies.
But none of that fits into Mayor Emanuel's story.
His rivals will try to make these points and hope that someone hears them.
Earlier in the day, challenger Robert Fioretti held a far more modest press event at a far different location: on the sidewalk outside the Woodlawn public-health clinic, which was shuttered for a time under Emanuel's budget cuts.
As a handful of TV cameras rolled, Fioretti, alderman of the Second Ward, was joined by his colleague Scott Waguespack (32nd) and several City Council hopefuls who ripped the mayor for ignoring neighborhoods like Woodlawn. They also vowed not to take any money from the mayor's political action committee, Chicago Forward—not that they would be offered it anyway.
"This shadow group has one goal in mind: a rubber stamp City Council that will approve an Emanuel second-term agenda," said Fioretti.
He admitted that his campaign account has a small fraction of the $9 million-plus that Rahm's does. "People want to contribute to my campaign but they're scared of retribution" from the mayor or his powerful donors, he said.
Still, Fioretti argued that he has a chance to win because he's out in the neighborhoods knocking on doors.
"I'd love for Rahm to come with me," he said.
It was an entertaining image, but it's not quite what Emanuel had in mind when he proposed "moving forward together."