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Outgoing Emanuel and incoming Pritzker trade compliments

Gov. J.B. Pritzker laughs as Mayor Rahm Emanuel speaks during a press conference about the Chicago Apprentice Network at the Aon Center, Tuesday afternoon, April 16, 2019. | Ashlee Rezin/Sun-Times

Gov. J.B. Pritzker laughs as Mayor Rahm Emanuel speaks during a press conference about the Chicago Apprentice Network at the Aon Center, Tuesday afternoon, April 16, 2019. | Ashlee Rezin/Sun-Times

For four years, the insults were strong between Mayor Rahm Emanuel and former Republican Gov. Bruce Rauner — one time vacation buddies and business associates turned sworn political foes.

That underscored the lovefest Tuesday, as Emanuel, in the waning days of his last mayoral term, showered compliments on Democratic Gov. J.B. Pritzker for his “92 days” in office and previous philanthropic work as a private citizen.

Emanuel remained neutral during the gubernatorial campaign, but his enormous network of fundraisers and campaign organizers rallied behind Pritzker.

The two political powers joined forces at Aon to announce a new statewide apprenticeship program that models that of the Chicago Apprentice Network within the City Colleges of Chicago, with partners Aon, Accenture and Zurich. Pritzker announced a new partnership in southern Illinois, while also vowing to create more programs statewide.

“And now without further ado, the mayor, who I want to say, you’re almost out the door, Mr. Mayor,” Pritzker said. “I’m not pushing you out the door. I’m just saying.”

“As long as it’s not the window, I’m OK,” Emanuel quickly shot back.

Pritzker thanked Emanuel for the “good work” he’s done to help build the economy of Chicago.

The mayor, in turn, called Pritzker the “governor of 92 days,” a number Pritzker said he’d been counting. Emanuel called the billionaire political newcomer “a governor of vision,” despite the early nature of his gubernatorial term.

Emanuel even managed to transform a reporter’s question about what he might be asking from Pritzker in this year’s state budget talks into a compliment.

“First of all, whatever I’m going to say to the governor, I’m going to say in private,” Emanuel said, adding he’s been transparent about the city’s need for transportation infrastructure investments.

Last year, Emanuel told the Sun-Times his legislative wish-list was topped by a transportation funding bill, possibly bankrolled by an increase in the gasoline tax, that’s needed to pay for a backlog of capital projects at the CTA and Metra.

“Anything that I talk to the governor about, anything specific, is going to be done private,” Emanuel said. “But I can tell you within a short period of time, from the minimum wage to the fact that he’s actually doubled the size of early childhood education, to the fact that he aligned himself with Chicago on raising the Tobacco [age] to 21, the fact is within 92 days, he’s also made sure that the policies we have on gun policies are now state policies and Chicago is not an island.

“I have many, many different thank you’s, before I have more requests,” Emanuel said.

Mayor-elect Lori Lightfoot last week said she’s looking at a “range of options” when it comes to seeking help for Chicago from the Legislature, but said she wouldn’t be putting her cards on the table “quiet yet.” But in a speech to both the Illinois House and Senate, Lightfoot said the state and city must find a way to fix the pension crisis, improve public safety and focus on transportation infrastructure.

Meanwhile, Pritzker has endured an easy honeymoon period within his “92 days.” The majority of dissent he’s experiencing is from Republican lawmakers and from groups opposing his graduated income tax proposal. There’s also criticism over his administration’s five-part pension plan, which includes extending the state’s pension payment “ramp” by seven years to reduce short-term costs.

The newly elected Democrat’s administration’s plans to deal with an astounding $130 billion in pension debt includes borrowing money, deferring scheduled payments, transferring assets and using money from a not-yet-approved graduated income tax.

And the governor on Tuesday said he believed “pushback” about his pension plan is simply a “misunderstanding” — while trying to link that criticism to the graduated income tax, his top priority this legislative session.

“I think there’s a misunderstanding about what it is, because there’s an element of people, of opponents, to doing anything. The people who also don’t want the ‘fair tax,’ who don’t understand that we are in a dire situation in the state in terms of just addressing our fiscal challenges,” Pritzker said. “You can’t do nothing. That is not an option anymore. We are going to address this challenge in the state of Illinois and that is my job.”

The Illinois Senate last week took the first major step in trying to enact a graduated income tax, with an amendment that would remove the flat income tax structure from the state’s constitution moving its way through the Senate.

The Illinois General Assembly returns from a two-week break on April 30. Lightfoot is scheduled to take the oath of office on May 20.