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Emanuel says he had nothing to do with city sticker decision

City Clerk Susana Mendoza holds a dog tag worth 2000 dollars that will be given to the owner of the city's first "dog of distinction" contest. | Al Podgorski~Chicago Sun-Times

Mayor Rahm Emanuel insisted Friday that he played no role in City Clerk Susana Mendoza’s decision to pull a 15-year-old’s city sticker design because of concern it could contain symbols of the Maniac Latin Disciples street gang.

Mendoza has been taking an editorial beating for pulling the plug on Herbie Pulgar’s winning vehicle sticker design – and snatching away the notoriety earned by a troubled 15-year-old who appeared to be using his artistic talent to turn his life around.

But, the clerk will apparently have to take the heat alone.

Asked Friday whether he pressured Mendoza behind the scenes to nix Pulgar’s design, Emanuel replied, “No. No.”

Pressed on whether he agrees with the clerk’s decision to do so, the mayor did the political dance known as the side-step for the second straight day.

“I spoke to this yesterday. There’s nothing more to say about it. I also think enough people have spoken about it. … I’ll leave the commenting [to] other people. If they want to talk about the sticker, they have done that. I think there’s been enough said,” said Emanuel, who obviously wants the controversy to go away.

“My goal is to focus on what I have to do. I made a commitment to the voters, the taxpayers, the people [who] work hard for their money. Three things are essential to move our city forward: safe streets, stronger schools, stable finances. I have been focused on that, much to some other people’s chagrin, like a laser. And I will not deviate.”

Earlier this week, Mendoza stood in the same City Hall meeting room where she praised Pulgar the week before to announce that his sticker design was being pulled.

The clerk said she was heartbroken for Pulgar and that “a lot of tears” were shed in her office before the decision was made after consulting with gang experts.

But, the clerk said there was no way she could allow 1.3 million city stickers to include a design that was supposed to honor first-responders that “could be misinterpreted” as containing gang symbols. Not in a city where “communities and lives suffer” because of gang violence.

“We have a city sticker that some experts believe may provide symbolism related to gangs. That’s unacceptable in Chicago. The city needs to have, must have a zero-tolerance policy on gangs. They are the scourge of our society,” Mendoza said.

“When we are looking to honor our first-responders, if there is even remotely a possibility of this being misinterpreted through its art, then it’s my obligation to make the tough decision.”

Chicago Crime Commission President Jody Weis, a former Chicago police superintendent, stood before a poster-sized copy of Pulgar’s design to point out the similarities between the sticker and the Maniac Latin Disciples symbols that simply cannot be ignored – especially not when the sticker also appears on police cars.

So far, Weis is the only person who has stepped up to take the heat with the embattled clerk.

That’s even though Mendoza subsequently decided to give Pulgar $1,000 out of her own pocket to replace the prize that will now be awarded to the second-place finisher, whose design will now appear on the new sticker.