Mayor Rahm Emanuel surfaces on presidential campaign trail

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Mayor Rahm Emanuel joined other Democrats on the “Forward Together’ nationwide bus tour to denounce Donald Trump and endorse Hillary Clinton during a press conference outside the Trump Tower downtown, Oct. 13, 2016. | Ashlee Rezin/Sun-Times

How confident are Democrats about Hillary Clinton’s presidential campaign?

Apparently confident enough to see no problem with Mayor Rahm Emanuel being back out on the campaign trail.

Sidelined in the presidential race for much of the year by a police scandal and his own political crises, Emanuel appears to be back in the game.

The mayor even got a speaking role Thursday at a get-out-the-vote rally on Wacker Drive across from Trump Tower, featuring the Democrats’ “Forward Together” tour bus.

Emanuel touted the qualifications of presidential nominee Hillary Clinton and bashed the GOP’s Donald Trump.

“In the Oval Office it’s not easy versus hard decision. It’s bad versus worse, and you’ve got to have the judgment, the intellect, the ability to actually ask tough questions, to have good people around you,” Emanuel said. “This guy has gone through four campaign managers. What kind of judgment does he have, for a simple decision like that?”

Emanuel likes to point out that he served two presidents — as chief of staff to President Barack Obama and as a top adviser to Bill Clinton. In between, Emanuel was one of the top Democrats in the U.S. House.

But the political powerhouse has largely been missing in action on the presidential campaign trail.

Emanuel — who has boasted that he talks to former president Bill Clinton regularly — has attended private fundraisers for Hillary Clinton, but he hasn’t made a major political appearance for the Democratic presidential candidate and longtime friend.

Fallout from his handling of the Laquan McDonald video and negative national headlines about the city’s crime problem have made him a political pariah. Emanuel’s own poll numbers were so low that Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders pilloried him in campaign commercials before Illinois’ March Primary, linking the unpopular mayor to Clinton. And Clinton called for a federal civil rights investigation of the Chicago Police Department.

And even after Clinton won the nomination, Emanuel remained a punching bag. Her campaign essentially threw him under the bus at the Democratic National Convention. On the night the president spoke, a video introduction portrayed Emanuel as a calculating naysayer as Barack Obama tried to push through Obamacare.

At least for Thursday, Emanuel was back on the bus.

The mayor was on hand with a group of candidates facing tight races against Republicans statewide and in the suburbs, hinting that he is taking himself off the sidelines, and that local Democrats, at least outside the city, don’t see him as a liability.

Rep. Jan Schakowsky, who served with Emanuel in the House, introduced comptroller candidate Susana Mendoza and two congressional candidates facing tough races in suburban congressional districts, Raja Krishnamoorthi and Brad Schneider. Cook County State’s Attorney candidate Kim Foxx also took to the microphone to bash Trump for remarks Trump made on a hot mic in 2005 and subsequent allegations from women who say the GOP presidential nominee groped them.

Emanuel on Thursday even flashed some of the Catskills-type humor that marked his campaigning style in more easygoing election seasons. A reporter asked Emanuel about an honorary Trump Plaza street sign that had been stolen from a signpost near Trump Tower, and the mayor was quick with a quip.

“Did I take it?” Emanuel said. “I was in synagogue, paying for last year’s sins. I didn’t start the year with a whole new sin.”

Missing street signs would have been the least of Emanuel’s concerns over the last 12 months. The mayor is nearly a year removed from last November’s release of the Laquan McDonald shooting video, images that launched a wave of demonstrations over police brutality that have put Emanuel on the defensive. Last month, Emanuel announced a plan to hire 1,000 new cops and fund anti-violence initiatives.

This week, Emanuel averted a teacher’s strike with a four-year contract offer to the Chicago Teachers Union and introduced a city budget that, thanks for several tax hikes, is not riddled with pension-related deficits. Emanuel arrived at Thursday’s riverfront get-out-the-vote rally fresh from a news conference announcing SC Johnson is moving its corporate headquarters.

For the record, Chicago Police said one of the brown, honorary street signs designating Trump Plaza was stolen from the 400 block of Wabash, a crime that was reported Tuesday. Detectives are reviewing surveillance video that may show the culprit. A second Trump Plaza sign, at the intersection of Wabash and Hubbard, remained in place Thursday afternoon.

Ald. Brendan Reilly last introduced and ordinance to bring down the signs that had the support of 42 of his fellow alderman. The city Department of Transportation did not remove the sign, spokesman Mike Claffey said.

“We can confirm the sign is missing but we don’t know who took it,” Claffey said. “We do not condone the theft of city signs, even if the subject of the honorary sign is not honorable.”

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