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Rahm Emanuel, Richard M. Daley tensions boil over; Bill Daley defends brother

Bill Daley has proposed a commuter tax on suburban workers to help shore up Chicago's finances. | Rich Hein / Sun-Times file photo

Long-simmering tensions between Mayor Rahm Emanuel and former Mayor Richard M. Daley boiled over on Friday, with William Daley rising to the defense of his older brother.

The final straw was Emanuel’s decision to blame his predecessor and political mentor Thursday for the avalanche of tax increases needed to solve Chicago’s $36 billion pension crisis.

“It’s unseemly to keep blaming the previous administration, which has been gone seven years,” William Daley, who followed Emanuel as White House chief of staff under former President Barack Obama, told the Chicago Sun-Times on Friday. “It’s kind of like Obama blaming Bush after seven years and saying, ‘I’ve got this problem in the Middle East, and George Bush did this.’ Come on. Put the big-boy pants on, and move on. It’s kind of sad.

“If [Emanuel] didn’t know…the reality of what they took over, then he should ask his floor leader, who was there for 22 years, the Finance Committee chairman, his own CFO, who worked for the previous administration. And ask half the City Council, who were there under the previous administration and made those decisions.”

That Emanuel laid the blame at Richard M. Daley’s door without mentioning the former mayor’s name didn’t appease William Daley.

“Oh, come on. Come on. Come on. Come on,” the former mayor’s brother said in an interview. “He didn’t mention his name. OK, fine. There’s only one person he’s talking about. You and I know, and he knows: The previous administration that was there for 22 years. Period.”

William Daley said it’s “tough to be in politics today” and that he “appreciates the difficulty of the job” Emanuel has to do.

But he said that’s no excuse for disrespecting the former mayor, whom he said has shown “class” by not sitting in judgment of his successor.

“Rich believes in the dignity of the office,” William Daley said. “He’s left office, and he’s not gonna be commenting. He’s shown class. That’s a real contrast between the two styles.

“I watched my brother for 22 years and my dad for 21 years deal with issues in a tough way. But, seven years in, I don’t think my dad was blaming Mayor [Martin] Kennelly. And Rich, seven years in, wasn’t blaming Gene Sawyer and Harold Washington.”

RELATED: Emanuel blames Daley for avalanche of tax increases — without saying his name

William Daley (left) with former Mayor Richard M. Daley shared a laugh as they waited for the start of the Chicago White Sox opening-day game in April against the Cleveland Indians at U.S. Cellular Field. | Ashlee Rezin / Sun-Times

In 2007, Richard M. Daley created a 32-member pension commission drawn from labor, business and banking. It turned out to be an exercise in political avoidance. After two years of study, the commission concluded that reduced employee benefits, higher worker contributions and “new revenue” would be needed to bail out four city employee pension funds then due to run out of money by 2030. But there were no specific recommendations on which revenues to raise.

On Friday, William Daley acknowledged his brother’s failure to solve the city’s $36 billion pension crisis. But he argued that “everybody in politics for the last 40 years owns a piece of the crisis, as do the unions” that bought into “every deal on the pensions,” including pension holidays.

“Anybody in the City Council who voted for all of those budgets was part of the problem,” he said. “But they did the best they could. They had to weigh decisions on raising taxes in the middle of an economic crisis, homeowners stretched, all of the problems.

“Were they perfect? No. Did Rich Daley do everything perfect for 22 years? Of course not. Did he solve the pension problem? You’d be an idiot to say he did. He didn’t. Did he do incredible things for the city over those 22 years that obviously some people want to forget any of it and, when there’s positive, take credit for that and, when there’s negative, blame the last guy? It’s kind of unseemly.”

Over the past seven years, Emanuel has criticized and undone virtually everything Daley did, though never calling him out by name.

That’s the unwritten agreement the two men made in exchange for what appeared to be an orchestrated election that saw William Daley succeed Emanuel as White House chief of staff under Obama and Emanuel follow Richard M. Daley at City Hall.

But Daley’s decision to punt the pension crisis left the heavy lifting to Emanuel.

Mayor Rahm Emanuel on Thursday blamed his predecessor and political mentor for the avalanche of tax increases needed to solve Chicago’s $36 billion pension crisis — but never spoke the name of former Mayor Richard M. Daley. | Max Herman / Sun-Times files

“I would love nothing else in my life if somebody else had done it…The question isn’t what I did. Part of the question has to be what wasn’t done beforehand that required that action” Emanuel said Thursday during a taping of the WLS-AM program “Connected to Chicago,” to be broadcast at 7 p.m. Sunday.

“Had this been taken care of before, it would have been taken care of at a much cheaper price,” Emanuel said. “People chose their politics over the progress of the city. They kicked the can down the road….Was the problem left here? Did I create this problem?….I did not create it. But, I was gonna be determined to do something different, which is to fix it.”

William Daley said: “He hasn’t solved it, either. He’s made some proposals, but none of those solve the pension problem. He tried to make it a little easier and buy time until 2023. But that doesn’t solve the problem.”

William Daley was so incensed by Emanuel’s attack that, after initially calling a Sun-Times reporter to complain about how “unseemly” it was, he called back to draw a contrast between Daley’s silence and Emanuel’s finger-pointing.

He said Emanuel’s latest insult would have been easier to take if he ever credited the former mayor for the good he did.

“They tout their school successes — and those were really started under Rich Daley,” William Daley said. “Yes, we’re seeing the fruition of them today. And that’s great, and everybody celebrates that. And he takes credit for that. But the truth is, many of those reforms and improvements were started years ago.”

In 1989, Emanuel used his Type-A personality and relentless fund-raising tactics to raise $7 million in just 13 weeks for then-mayoral candidate Richard M. Daley.

After serving as Daley’s financial muscle man, Emanuel did the same for presidential candidate Bill Clinton, with Daley’s help, before joining Clinton’s White House staff.

In 1999, he was Daley’s choice as vice chairman of the Chicago Housing Authority. Three years later, Daley endorsed Emanuel for Congress, a step the mayor rarely took in Democratic primaries, and went all-out to get him elected.

Emanuel’s congressional campaign was managed by former Daley aide Greg Goldner, a sidekick to Victor Reyes, who headed the Hispanic Democratic Organization, a Daley political army. Emanuel also was among those to benefit from the army of political workers commanded by First Deputy Water Commissioner Donald Tomczak, a top Daley aide who went to prison in the Hired Truck scandal.

When Daley chose retirement rather than run for a seventh term, Emanuel stepped down as White House chief of staff and was replaced by William Daley.

Since taking office, though, Emanuel has worked to change much of what Daley did, including the widely despised parking-meter deal, as well as making key changes regarding city and school finances, labor negotiations, city services, the Chicago Public Schools and the City Colleges of Chicago.

Emanuel also has proposed a wave of ethics reforms, as if to turn the page from the Hired Truck, city hiring and minority contracting scandals that cast a cloud over Daley’s 22-year reign at City Hall.

Emanuel also succeeded where Daley failed by securing a federal loan to build the downtown Riverwalk, getting Chicago out from under the federal Shakman decree on hiring and the costly constraints of a federal hiring monitor and by identifying funding sources for all four city employee pension funds.

All of that strained the relationship between the present and former mayors.

Asked whether he thinks Emanuel deserves to be re-elected and whether he’ll have the support of the Daley family, William Daley would say only: “It’s almost a year away. There’s a lot that can happen — good and bad. But it’s tough to get re-elected for anybody in politics today. Third terms are not easy — for anybody anywhere.”

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