Mayor Rahm Emanuel said Tuesday he’ll ask the City Council to raise Chicago’s minimum wage to $13 an hour by 2018, no matter what the outcome of a statewide referendum on the issue or how the Illinois General Assembly responds to those nonbinding results.

Emanuel has been using the minimum wage issue to counter the “Mayor One Percent” label slapped on him by his critics and cut into the progressive political base of his two strongest challengers: Chicago Teachers Union President Karen Lewis and Ald. Bob Fioretti (2nd).

Neither Lewis nor Fioretti have formally declared their candidacies for mayor. Lewis has opened a campaign fund to start raising money to bankroll a race against Emanuel. Fioretti is surveying supporters on whether they want him to run for mayor.

Earlier this summer, a mayoral task force recommended that the minimum wage in Chicago be gradually raised to $13 an hour by 2018.

Emanuel embraced the findings and denied political motives. But the mayor said he would not decide whether to ask the City Council to take action on the ordinance until after the Nov. 4 election and the veto session that follows.

In an effort to boost Democratic turnout, Gov. Pat Quinn and Illinois House Speaker Michael Madigan, D-Chicago, are pushing a nonbinding referendum asking voters whether the statewide minimum wage should be raised from $8.25 an hour to $10.

On Tuesday, the mayor changed his tune.

He declared his intention to push for a vote on a Chicago-only minimum wage of $13 an hour by 2018, no matter what the General Assembly does in response to the statewide referendum.

“Step one, get the state of Illinois to do it. Ideally, the United States Congress would act, but I am not holding my breath, nor should you. Illinois should do it, and when Illinois does it, we’re gonna take the steps necessary to get us to the $13 here in the city because it’s relevant to making sure that work pays and making sure that people can afford to live in Chicago,” the mayor said.

“I’m committed … to seeing an increase in the minimum wage so people can afford to live in Chicago. And more importantly than living in Chicago, which is very important to me, is making sure that, if you work, a child is not raised in poverty.”

One day after joining Quinn and Vice-President Joe Biden at a roundtable on the minimum wage issue, Emanuel noted that 400,000 Chicagoans, “mainly mothers,” stand to benefit from a $13-an-hour minimum wage that would help them “meet their obligations” to their children.

“The last time we raised the minimum wage was in 2007, when I was in Congress and I sponsored it. [Since then], the price of basic needs … have gone up and their incomes have not,” Emanuel said.

“And I do believe that because of things associated with living in Chicago, $13 an hour — which is why I asked the task force to come up with the right number and then indexing it — is the right thing to do.”

Emanuel also offered a history lesson to those who believe he’s championing the minimum-wage issue, only because his poll numbers have plummeted.

In 1996, he was a brash young staffer working for then President Bill Clinton who worked on a minium wage hike that Clinton signed just days before boarding a train to Chicago to be re-nominated for a second term.

And in 2007, Emanuel noted that he worked with then Sen. Joe Biden, D-Delaware, and others to raise the minimum wage again — this time by 40 percent.

The mayor renewed his commitment to impose a Chicago-only minimum wage on the same day that a coalition of community groups announced that a voter registration drive — fueled, in part, by the campaign to raise the minimum wage to $15 an hour — has added 25,075 new voters to the rolls, roughly 75 percent of them in Chicago.

Fioretti argued that the mayor’s motives for pushing for a Chicago-only minimum wage are clearly political — and that Emanuel is the caboose on the train.  

“It’s a victory we’ve been championing — those of us in the Progressive Caucus. I’m glad the mayor has gotten on board with us. But we should do it now and not wait because people are struggling in our city,” Fioretti said.

“The mayor is out there [pushing for $13 an hour] because it’s political season. I would like to see $15. And put it [up for City Council vote] in September or October. You don’t need to wait to find out what the referendum says. Sometimes we have to be leaders, not followers.”