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Laura Washington: Everybody was there — except Rahm

The Rev. Jesse Jackson watches at right as Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton hugs a member of the audience after speaking at a Rainbow/PUSH Women's International Luncheon at the Hyatt McCormick in Chicago, on Monday, June 27, 2016. | Andrew Harnik/AP

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Everyone was there. Last week more than 1,000 people packed the Hyatt Regency McCormick Place Ballroom, a mostly female and African-American crowd from every corner of Chicago’s elite, and beyond.

The Rainbow-PUSH 50th Annual International Women’s Luncheon was hosted by Jacqueline L. Jackson, wife of PUSH founder, the Rev. Jesse L. Jackson, Sr. It was a tailor-made showcase of the civil rights leader’s shiny new clout.

The keynote speaker was Hillary Clinton, back in her native Chicago for a victory lap as the 2016 presumptive Democratic presidential nominee.


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For Jesse Jackson, another kind of victory lap, a return from an eight-year exile from presidential politics. He recently endorsed Clinton. He can come in from out of the cold.

Jackson should have been front and center in the 2008 campaign that elected Barack Obama.

But the Reverend was caught on an open mike, making a harsh, semi-obscene remark about Obama. Then his son, U.S. Rep. Jesse Jackson Jr., an Obama friend and ally, was caught in a scandal that sent him and his wife, Ald. Sandi Jackson, to prison.

So Rev. Jackson was frozen out of the historic first black presidency.

In 2016, the black vote will be crucial, once again. Clinton needs Jackson’s political juice, now more than ever. His imprimatur reinforces her standing with African-American voters — a must-have if she is to prevail over Donald Trump in November.

Everyone was there. Chicago area U.S. Representatives Robin Kelly and Jan Schakowsky, U.S. Rep. Maxine Waters, in from California, Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle, Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan, and renowned actress Cicely Tyson, (the octogenarian is an old friend of the Jacksons). Sizakele Zuma, the wife of South African President Jacob Zuma, and Michael Eric Dyson, the author and former DePaul University professor.

I spotted former Gov. Pat Quinn doggedly working the room and posing for celebrity selfies. Former Chicago Public Schools CEO Paul Vallas was there, along with Randi Weingarten, president of the American Federation of Teachers, who excoriated Illinois Gov. Bruce Rauner from the podium.

Everyone. Except Mayor Rahm Emanuel.

One might presume that the hard-driving aide in Bill Clinton’s White House, the former Obama chief of staff, the current second-term Chicago mayor, would also be front and center.

Yet, during the competitive Illinois primary season, every time Clinton came stumping in Chicago, Emanuel seemed to be somewhere else.

He has been consumed in unprecedented challenges: murderous street violence, a federal investigation into police misconduct, a near-bankrupt school system and, now, a looming new property tax increase.

Emanuel’s name didn’t come up during the two-hour luncheon, but his heaviest political burden was on painful display.

Jesse Jackson noted that 300 people have been killed in Chicago already this year. “The stakes are high, the blood is running down the streets of our city,” he declared.

During her 30-minute speech, Clinton saluted mothers who have lost their children to violence.

She called out the carnage Chicago has suffered this summer. She noted that the nation “must mourn and remember the 64 people shot across this city, right here in Chicago, on Memorial Day weekend.”

Chicago, the city of her old friend, Rahm Emanuel.

Now, Emanuel is out in the cold.

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