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Can Rahm clean up the mess he's made with school janitors?

It’s been an up-and-down couple of weeks for Mayor Emanuel as he attempts to win back some of the black voters he alienated with closings, cuts, and firings in his first three years in office.

On the one hand, he announced that he was taking back his much-criticized decision to put President Obama’s name on the selective enrollment school he’s building on the north side—though he overlooked the fact that it wasn’t so much the name of the school as its Gold Coast location that irritated voters.

On the other hand, he also laid off 500 school janitors, many of whom are African-American.

It’s always something with this mayor.

RELATED: Top CPS administrator grilled over janitorial contract

The funny thing is that the mayor probably thought he was doing the politically smart thing this time around.

To understand why you need to know a few things about the world of Chicago Public Schools janitors.

Back in the days of Mayor Richard J. Daley, CPS employed its own janitors. They were paid a pretty decent wage with good benefits and a pension.

Then, in the 1990s, the second Mayor Daley—Richard M.—fired a bunch of CPS janitors and replaced them with hires from a private company, which received contracts worth millions of dollars while paying its janitors less money with fewer benefits.

Mayor Daley promised that he was saving precious taxpayer funds—an old refrain in the privatization game.

“We did the same work, but we don’t get the same money,” says a janitor I’ll call Billy, who works for a private firm. “Unfortunately, for me, I got hired right after they privatized the janitors.”

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