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Emotional Emanuel praised by City Council, called ‘Hebrew homie’

Mayor Rahm Emanuel gets emotional as he talks to reporters during a press conference after his last Chicago City Council meeting at City Hall, Wednesday morning, April 10, 2018. | Ashlee Rezin/Sun-Times

Mayor Rahm Emanuel inherited a city on the financial brink. He pushed through an avalanche of tax increases that his predecessor wouldn’t to lessen the burden on his successor.

For that and more, he is not leaving office as a beloved figure in Chicago politics. If he had run for re-election, he would likely have lost.

But inside the City Council chambers, there is a deep appreciation — and love — for a mayor who may someday be better appreciated than he is today.

That much was obvious Wednesday, as the City Council paid emotional tribute to the retiring mayor and Emanuel choked back his own tears in return.

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For two hours, allies and adversaries praised a mayor who came in like a lion — with a reputation built in Washington for profanity and hard-ball politics — and left as their devoted friend.

The tribute from Ald. Walter Burnett (27th) was particularly heartfelt. Burnett talked about the helping hand Emanuel extended to CHA residents, the homeless and ex-offenders.

“You’ve helped so many people. They come up to me on the street,” Burnett said, his voice breaking.

Burnett called Emanuel “a hustler — in a good way,” a “nudger” and “my Hebrew homie” and said, “The next mayor is gonna have some big shoes to fill….People don’t want to recognize the stuff that you do.”

South Side Ald. Anthony Beale (9th) said it was unfair for people to label Emanuel as “Mayor 1 percent” when he has done so much for the South Side.

Embattled Ald. Edward Burke (14th), who managed to win re-election even after being charged with attempted extortion, contrasted his own situation with Emanuel’s.

“There is a great deal to be said, your honor, for leaving this chamber at your own volition,” Burke said.

Budget Committee Chairman Carrie Austin (34th) and Finance Committee Chairman Pat O’Connor (40th) also delivered emotional tributes. They consider Emanuel a friend for life.

“I’ve had the opportunity to participate. And you didn’t just do that for me. I don’t know any alderman in this chamber who hasn’t, at some time or other, wanted to have a conversation with the mayor and [didn’t] have the mayor listen and at least entertain what you’ve thought and what you’ve asked,” O’Connor said.

Emanuel left the rostrum to kiss his wife, Amy Rule, before the tribute began and stood for all of it, having iced his surgically repaired knee in the anteroom in preparation.

When the tributes ended, the mayor choked back his own tears as he talked about his grandparents, who didn’t live to see him as mayor, his parents, who are still alive, and his wife and children, who put up with his workaholic schedule.

He ended his speech by ticking off, what he views as his greatest hits on the education front: the longer school day and school year, universal pre-K and full day kindergarten and the Chicago Star Scholarship.

That was followed by a thinly-veiled warning without mentioning his longtime adversaries at the Chicago Teachers Union.

“There were those who stood in the way of that progress and who will try, now that I depart, to roll ’em back…We cannot roll back to the days of endless financial and academic crisis at the Chicago Public Schools, both of which we helped bring to an end,” he said.

“I ask you to stand shoulder to shoulder with our mayor-elect as she becomes mayor…..Stand united with her in defense of the hard-won gains. Do not allow those who stood in the way of progress before to reverse the progress we, collectively, have made over the last eight years.”

At a news conference after the tribute, Emanuel got emotional once again as he talked about what he won’t miss about the job he has called the greatest in America.

It’s comforting the parents of children wounded or killed by Chicago’s never-ending cycle of gang violence.

“I am not gonna miss going to hospitals. I am not gonna miss [standing] next to a parent whose kid is sitting there and then, nobody else shows up. The most isolating feeling that you can have as a parent and all you have to offer is a hug. And these kids have this resiliency to them,” Emanuel said.

“I won’t miss that. I don’t wish that on anybody. It just drains your soul. And then, you’re inspired by the incredible courage of these parents.”

Emanuel got emotional, yet again, as the news conference ended. It happened when he said he won’t regret choosing political retirement over the uphill battle for a third term. Not when he has his son’s graduation from college to look forward to after a bike-trip, fly-fishing and a trip through the mountains of Italy with Amy.

“To see my kid, who used to hold my finger when we walk, just a little pisher, walk across the stage and get his diploma,” the mayor said.

“How can you regret? I’m blessed. I’m the luckiest guy in the world. I’ve got three great kids, a wonderful wife. I’ve had a very fulfilling part of this chapter of my life. Are you kidding?”