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Emanuel not fazed by opponents’ mutual nonaggression pact

Mayor Rahm Emanuel | Getty Images

Mayor Rahm Emanuel | Getty Images

Mayoral challengers Willie Wilson, Garry McCarthy and Paul Vallas have forged a mutual nonaggression pact. They’ve agreed to lay off each other, attack Rahm Emanuel and unite behind whoever forces the mayor into a runoff.

If Emanuel is feeling ganged up on, he’s not about to say. He’s too busy executing his Rose Garden strategy of ignoring his opponents to avoid putting them on equal footing with the two-term incumbent mayor of Chicago.

“There’s an election in November. I’m focused on making sure that we have a change in the state of Illinois,” the mayor said, referring to a governor’s race that pits his old friend, embattled Republican incumbent Gov. Bruce Rauner, against billionaire J.B. Pritzker, around whom Emanuel’s political allies have rallied.

“Given that we’ve had to battle a governor [who] has been literally, since Day One, going after the city of Chicago, the most important thing you can do for the city’s future is make sure we have a Democratic governor who’s an ally of the city.”

The mayor noted that Standard & Poor’s, a Wall Street rating agency, this week changed – from stable to positive — its financial outlook for the Chicago Public Schools. The upgrade stemmed from a revised state funding formula for public schools and the school board’s ability to levy a property tax increase dedicated exclusively to teacher pensions.

“Not only is it financially more stable. It is academically excelling in the state. And that’s not the wish of the governor,” Emanuel said.

“So, when it comes to elections, the first election is in November. And that’s really important to the city of Chicago.”

The mayor was asked again if he feels “ganged up on” by the three-way tag-team of McCarthy, Vallas and Wilson.

“Not like I feel right about now about being ganged up on,” the mayor joked about the interrogation.

“No. I don’t. I’m focused on the job. Focused on what I have to do. There will be plenty of time for a campaign. Now is not one of them.”

The man who served as former President Barack Obama’s first White House chief of staff has veered from that Rose Garden script just once since the field started to fill with mayoral challengers.

It happened after Vallas, the former Chicago Public Schools CEO, accused Emanuel of “punting” Chicago’s $36 billion pension crisis during his first term in office, making the problem infinitely worse.

“You had Quinn as governor for four years. You had a veto-proof House and Senate. You could have addressed the pension issue. You could have addressed school funding reform. You could have passed a permanent increase in the income tax,” Vallas said then.

“They punted for four years and, after the election, suddenly the sword of Damocles comes crashing down. What’s gonna happen in the next four years? The long-term structural problems . . . have not yet been addressed. They’re talking about major post-election tax increases . . . Who are you gonna trust to navigate the city through those troubled financial waters?”

Vallas’ broadside took aim at what Emanuel views as his greatest strength.

The mayor points with pride to the progress he has made in reforming school funding and identifying dedicated funding sources for all four city employee pension funds.

That’s apparently why Emanuel was so furious about Vallas’ Jan. 31 verbal broadside, he broke with his longstanding tradition of ignoring potential challengers.

“This is a person who is the architect of kicking the can down the road — from skipping pension payments, eliminating direct-line revenue support for teachers pensions to Chicago’s corporate account . . . It took the city seven long, hard years to fix what he broke,” Emanuel said.

“We’re not going back. It’s not gonna be back to the future . . . Since this is the day, we’re not gonna have Ground Hog Day again here in Chicago. It’s not gonna happen.”

Besides Wilson, Vallas and McCarthy, the crowded field also includes fired Chicago principal Troy LaRaviere and tech entrepreneur Neal Sales-Griffin.

County Commissioner Bridget Gainer and Police Board President Lori Lightfoot are considering entering the race.