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Emanuel says friendship made it tough to accept Murphy resignation

Ald. Walter Burnett (27th) was among a group of six aldermen endorsing the Mayor Rahm Emanuel for re-election, even though Emanuel has not yet decided whether to seek a third term. Burnett is flanked by Ald. Michael Scott (24th) (left) and Ald. Carrie Austin (34th) (right). | Fran Spielman/Sun-Times

Mayor Rahm Emanuel acknowledged Wednesday that his longtime friendship with Barrett Murphy and wife Lynn Lockwood made it tough to accept the resignation of the Water Management commissioner, but his “fidelity is to the people of Chicago.”

He made the remarks just hours after a group of black aldermen endorsed him for re-election — he hasn’t said he’s running — and praised his choice of an African-American to succeed Murphy.

“I know Barrett Murphy. Of course it’s personally difficult,” Emanuel said.

“I would like the record to be clear. Barrett offered his resignation because he knew that we had to hit a re-set button and that speaks volumes of him and who he is,” Emanuel added.

“My fidelity is to the people of Chicago to uphold our values. … I wanted to make sure that the Water Department — you know the history — reflects not only who we are [but] what we aspire to be. He and Lynn will be my friends. But I also have a responsibility as mayor. But I want the record to be clear that Barrett offered his letter because he knew that, to do what we had to do in the Water Department, we needed a fresh start.”

Two weeks ago, a housecleaning in the department at the center of the Hired Truck and city hiring scandals swept out Murphy, managing deputy William Bresnahan and district superintendent Paul Hansen.

Sources said Murphy — whose wife is a close friend of Emanuel’s wife, Amy Rule — was held responsible for the chain of racist, sexist and homo-phobic emails sent by an underling whom the commissioner failed to discipline, even though Murphy was among those receiving the emails.

On Wednesday, Emanuel shed no new light on the circumstances surrounding his decision to accept Murphy’s resignation. Nor did the mayor say what role the former commissioner was accused of playing in the email scandal that is expected to trigger even more firings.

The Chicago Sun-Times was the first to report that Inspector General Joe Ferguson uncovered the offensive emails while investigating allegations that Hansen had used his city email account to sell guns.

Murphy’s ouster was a stunner, even in a city department with a history of corruption that’s notorious for its ugly, hate-filled culture.

That’s because it came at the risk of losing two close friends.

Lockwood chaired a political fundraising committee for the mayor. She’s an Emanuel appointee to the Chicago Public Library board, helped organize the 2012 NATO Summit for the mayor and had a one-year, $160,000 consulting contract with the Choose Chicago tourism agency.

Hours after losing his job, Murphy and Lockwood, received an award from the Crossroads Foundation of the Francis Xavier Ward School for their work in promoting a Catholic education and in helping to raise money that was used, in part, to provide scholarships for disadvantaged children, many of them minorities. The prestigious Catholic school was started by former Chicago first lady Maggie Daley.

Sources said Lockwood delivered an acceptance speech through tears. She told associates that Rule was texting her throughout the bittersweet and humiliating ceremony at a downtown hotel.

Although Murphy’s ouster may have put a longstanding friendship on ice, it has elevated Emanuel in the eyes of black politicians.

Earlier Wednesday, six African-American aldermen thanked Emanuel for appointing blacks to replace Murphy and retiring Budget Director Alex Holt and endorsed the mayor for re-election, even though Emanuel hasn’t decided whether to seek a third term.

Aldermen Michelle Harris (8th), Derrick Curtis (18th), Michael Scott (24th), Walter Burnett (27th), Carrie Austin (34th), and Emma Mitts (37th) are among Emanuel’s staunchest City Council supporters.

Their decision to hold a news conference to praise the mayor’s appointment of Water Management Commissioner Randy Conner and Budget Director Samantha Fields is, therefore, not surprising.

But, the fact that they would use Emanuel’s appointment of an African-American to clean house at the water department as proof that the mayor is winning back the trust of black voters he lost with his handling of the Laquan McDonald shooting video was a bit of a surprise.

“When he does something negative, nobody is short on printing that. But when he does something positive, everything is silent. So we felt that we should be the ones to speak out when he has done something forward-thinking,” Austin said.

Scott commended the mayor for acting “very swiftly in removing some of the corruption that happened” in the Water Department.

“We’re here to say `thank you’ — to say that it’s a job well done, but it is not a job finished. We want to continue moving African-Americans up the ranks through this city,” Scott said.

Austin acknowledged Emanuel is still working to regain the trust of African-American voters.

“People think that the mayor has made some stumbles. But he’s trying to correct those stumbles,” Austin said.

Burnett pointed to the Chicago Star Scholarship that offers free City Colleges tuition to Chicago Public School students who graduate from high school with a “B” average.

“As far as the African-Americans having trust in anyone — who 100 percent has trust in anybody? I mean — we’re all elected officials. And we all have to continue to prove ourselves to people that we’re worthy of their support,” Burnett said.