Rahm’s running mate rises to defense of potential mayoral challenger

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Bridget Gainer (left) and Anna Valencia | Sun-Times file photos

Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s handpicked running mate, City Clerk Anna Valencia, is engaging in an unusual public defense of one of the candidates openly considering a 2019 race for mayor against Emanuel.

In a tweet Monday, Valencia rose to the defense of County Commissioner Bridget Gainer, D-Chicago, after an investigation by the Chicago Sun-Times and ABC7 Chicago’s I-Team found that Gainer had the worst attendance record on the Cook County Board.

“Don’t forget @BridgetGainer has also encouraged women like myself to run for office @CauseEffectCHI and invested time into empowering women and girls in Chicago. Let’s look at the whole record,” Valencia tweeted.

The appointed city clerk, who is poised to make her first run for elected office in 2019, also re-tweeted Gainer’s tweet in defense of her voting record.

“Since joining the County Board in 2010 I’ve attended 92% of meetings where the work gets done. In the last 5 yrs I’ve attended 87%. I’m proud of my record, incl. creating @CCLBA (200 homes!). But can always do better- thx for keeping an eye on us!,” Gainer tweeted.

Valencia said her decision to circle the wagons around Gainer should come as no surprise.

“I really support what Bridget does in supporting women. It’s near and dear to my heart,” Valencia said.

“Being a woman elected is hard out there. It’s no different than men supporting men. Women have to stick up for other women. It’s just important to me. I just don’t want her to feel alone.”

Gainer said she has known and respected Valencia “for a while” and was not surprised that Emanuel’s 2019 running mate had risen to the defense of a potential mayoral challenger by urging people to look at “the whole picture.”

“Just like all of God’s work doesn’t happen in church, everything that’s done for the county doesn’t happen at the county board,” Gainer said.

“It was really just a mention of the fact that there’s a lot more to my record than that….I don’t think there was any kind of long-term political endorsement there.”

Gainer told the Chicago Sun-Times in late November that challenging Emanuel is “definitely something I’m thinking about.” She refused to say whether the race was more or less likely now that Jesus “Chuy” Garcia, her longtime ally on the County Board, is out of the picture.

A 31-year-old political operative for Emanuel, Valencia was plucked out of obscurity in December 2016 to fill the vacancy created when then-City Clerk Susana Mendoza was elected state comptroller.

The $133,545-a-year appointment paved the way for Emanuel to run for re-election on a rainbow ticket with an attractive and articulate Hispanic woman who had earned her stripes as director of the mayor’s Office of Legislative Counsel and Government Affairs.

In a May 2017 interview with Chicago Magazine, Gainer named Valencia as one of her three closest friends in politics. The other two were Jim Houlihan and state Sen. Kwame Raoul, D-Chicago, a candidate for attorney general.

In that same interview, Gainer said she spent 30 hours a week at her global public affairs job at Aon and 30 hours a week at the County Board.

The absenteeism story was a big embarrassment. It came just two days after Gainer played a prominent role in the Women’s March in Chicago.

A photo of Gainer is also on the cover of the current issue of Chicago Woman Magazine under the headline, “One Year Later: How 5 Chicago women have been inspired to take civic action and make an impact.”

Gainer has responded to the absenteeism story, in part, by invoking a “working mother” defense.

She said her hectic schedule as a working mom was the main reason for missing nearly a third of the official meetings she was supposed to attend over the last five years. Gainer has noted that she is “the only mom with school-age children” on the board.

“Have I missed some meetings? Sure,” Gainer said. “I’ve missed some of my kids’ games, too. And that bothers me more.”

On Tuesday, Gainer flatly denied that she had used the difficulties of juggling work and family as an “excuse” for chronic absenteeism.

“Being a working mother is part of who I am. Like starting the land bank is part of who I am. Just like encouraging women to run for office is part of who I am. I don’t think it’s something to hide behind,” Gainer said.

“Sometimes, I have commitments in the neighborhood with constituents doing what I think to be a lot of work of the county board…As far as attendance goes, everyone can always do better. I can do better.”

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