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Obama stumps for Rahm, snubs Rauner, designates Pullman Chicago’s first national park

President Barack Obama took a whistlestop tour of the South Side on Thursday to give a warm pre-election embrace to Mayor Rahm Emanuel — and took the opportunity to give Gov. Bruce Rauner the cold shoulder.

In a brief but busy visit to Chicago, the president got an update on site selection for his library, endorsed Emanuel, and, while designating the Pullman Historic District a national monument, pointedly paid tribute to the labor movement.

Though the president recognized the watching Rauner in his speech, the governor — who has repeatedly blamed unions for the state’s fiscal woes and is pushing for anti-union legislation — was later blocked by a rope line from joining other dignitaries onstage with Obama.

Asked about the snub by reporters, Rauner smiled but walked away without answering.

By contrast, the presidential embrace of Emanuel — who is up for re-election on Tuesday — was absolute.

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Pullman’s storied history

President Barack Obama hugs Mayor Rahm Emanuel before speaking. | Ashlee Rezin/Sun-Times Media

President Barack Obama hugs Mayor Rahm Emanuel before speaking. | Ashlee Rezin/Sun-Times Media

“Before Rahm was a big-shot mayor, he was an essential part of my team at the White House during some very hard times for America,” Obama told a crowd in Pullman. “And I relied on his judgment every day and his smarts every day, and his toughness every day.”

Later, both men met again at the Kenwood campaign office for Ald. Will Burns (4th) and Emanuel.

The president spoke to phone bank volunteers making campaign calls on behalf of both politicians.

President Barack Obama names Pullman a national monument. | Brian Jackson/ Sun-Times

President Barack Obama names Pullman a national monument. | Brian Jackson/ Sun-Times

 

George Pullman

George Pullman

“Everybody knows that [Emanuel] is passionate and he is tough and he is dogged in making sure that the city of Chicago is not just the coldest city  —  but also the greatest city,” the president said. “And you look at what’s been accomplished in education, what’s been accomplished in terms of the infrastructure, bringing jobs back to this city — I have confidence as a voter and as a resident of Chicago that he’s going to continue to do a great job.”

He urged people to vote for “a great friend of mine.”

“I’m glad he’s my mayor and I’m glad he’s going to be my mayor for another four years,” the president said.

Before that brief stop, the president returned to the far South Side, where he once worked as a community organizer.

At Gwendolyn Brooks College Preparatory Academy, the president designated Pullman a national monument.

The event honored unions more than the tycoon who built the community that became Chicago’s first national park.

“This site is at the heart of what would become America’s Labor Movement — and as a consequence, at the heart of what would become America’s middle class,” the president told the crowd, which included Rauner.

Obama also spoke of the importance of the site for black workers in Pullman, who were central to what would become the Civil Rights Movement.

The Pullman Palace Car Company was the first large American company to recognize a union of black workers, the president said.

I want future generations to know that while the Pullman porters helped push forward our rights to vote, and to work, and to live as equals, their legacy goes beyond even that,” Obama said. “These men and women without rank, without wealth or title, became the bedrock of a new middle class. These men and women gave their children and grandchildren opportunities they never had.”

One of the descendants of that legacy is Michelle Obama, the president said.

“It is right that we think of our national monuments as these amazing vistas, and mountains, and rivers.  But part of what we’re preserving here is also history,” he said. ”It’s also understanding that places that look ordinary are nothing but extraordinary. The places you live are extraordinary, which means you can be extraordinary. You can make something happen, the same way these workers here at Pullman made something happen.”

Mayoral challenger Willie Wilson was also in attendance, though other challengers were not. Ald. Bob Fioretti, who has been a champion of Pullman, said he was not invited.

The president concluded his brief Chicago trip with a stop at his Kenwood home where he met with Marty Nesbitt, an Obama Library Foundation leader, and acting foundation Executive Director Robbin Cohen. The president received an update on the site-selection process, but no further details were given.

Contributing: Mike Thomas, Lynn Sweet and White House press pool reports

An undated photo of Arcade Park in Pullman.  |  Sun-Times Media Library

An undated photo of Arcade Park in Pullman. | Sun-Times Media Library

Pullman National Monument