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Rahm’s floor leader: Mistake to pick fight with ‘spiteful’ Trump

The honorary Trump Plaza signs on East Hubbard and North Wabash have been removed. | Santiago Covarrubias/Sun-Times

The City Council made a mistake by picking a sign fight with Donald Trump because there’s “a chance” Trump might win the White House and get even with Chicago if he does, a mayoral confidante said Wednesday.

One day after Trump was stripped of the honorary “Trump Plaza” designation outside his riverfront tower, Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s City Council floor leader branded the move an “over-the-top” punishment for a billionaire businessman with a reputation for being a political bully.

Ald. Pat O’Connor (40th) said the decision to punish Trump for portraying Chicago as a war zone was particularly perilous, considering the damage done to Democrat Hillary Clinton’s campaign by FBI Director James Comey’s controversial decision to re-open an investigation into her private email server.

“The stuff that’s happened in the last few days has definitely hurt Hillary’s chances — not because I think there’s anything there, but because it’s now given people who were looking for a reason to go to Trump but couldn’t because of all the things he stands for [an excuse]” to vote for Trump, the alderman said.

O’Connor noted that Chicago has benefited greatly from the relationships Emanuel built while serving as an aide to former President Bill Clinton, as a North Side Congressman who engineered the 2006 Democratic takeover of the U.S. House and as President Barack Obama’s first White House chief of staff.

“Mayor Emanuel has been able to bring in incredible amounts of money from the Washington government — transportation dollars. We haven’t enjoyed these amounts since Dan Rostenkowski was chairman of House Ways and Means. And a lot of it [was] the fact that the mayor had a relationship with [former Transportation Secretary Ray] LaHood and with the president,” O’Connor said.

“If you put a guy like Trump in the office, with whom we have an absolutely terrible relationship, any discretion that he could exercise that would hurt us I think he would. He is a spiteful, small man. It will be a terrible thing for us personally in Chicago if he were to become president.”

O’Connor pointed to the transportation tax-increment-financing district authorized by the Illinois General Assembly that Emanuel hopes to use to renovate the CTA’s Red Line and, possibly to extend the Red Line South all the way to 130th Street.

“What’s that — $1 billion in a matching fund? We’re trying to get this done while we still have a president who is friendly in the White House. But, if that were still something that Trump could reach and he became president, I have no doubt that he’d reach down and try and stop it,” O’Connor said.

“All the things he’s said about Chicago? I just think it would be an easy one. … That’s something he understands: Getting even with people. Going after people he doesn’t like. He understands that real well.”

Emanuel and Clinton have had their differences over the years.

As a brash young staffer to former President Bill Clinton, Emanuel was demoted and nearly fired at the behest of then-first lady Hillary Clinton. The mayor has even joked that he was fired, but refused to leave.

As Obama’s chief of staff, Emanuel reportedly delivered the news to then-Secretary of State Hillary Clinton that she could not put longtime political confidante Sidney Blumenthal on the State Department payroll.

During the 2016 presidential campaign, Clinton has steered clear of Emanuel for the better part of a year — ever since the political furor over the mayor’s handling of the Laquan McDonald shooting video triggered months of protests and demands for the mayor’s resignation.

Clinton joined Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan’s call for a federal civil rights investigation of the Chicago Police Department that Emanuel initially called “misguided” before embracing it.

During the primary, Democratic challenger Bernie Sanders pummeled Emanuel as a Wall Street puppet who closed a record 50 public schools and kept the McDonald shooting video under wraps for more than a year.

Back in March, a Clinton ally urged her campaign chairman John Podesta to have the Democratic presidential candidate “separate big time” from Emanuel, according to an email released last month by WikiLeaks

Emanuel was still taking it on the chin at the Democratic National Convention in Philadelphia where Clinton claimed her historic nomination.

A ten-minute video that highlighted Obama’s achievements essentially threw the mayor under the bus by portraying Emanuel as a calculating naysayer whose advice was ignored during the fight for Obamacare.

It wasn’t until earlier this month that Emanuel finally resurfaced on the campaign trail. He was given a speaking role at a get-out-the-vote rally across from Trump Tower featuring the Democrats’ “Forward Together” tour bus.

On Wednesday, O’Connor argued that the mayor’s days in the political doghouse were grossly exaggerated.

“Nobody understands campaigns and polling results and trends in the voting public more than the mayor and the people who work with him politically,” he said.

“There’s a time to be out front and pushing and there’s a time to give your expertise at another level. But, I don’t think there’s a time when he has abandoned the field in terms of his interest in seeing that she got elected and I don’t think there’s a time that they told him to stay away.”

O’Connor was asked about speculation that Emanuel might leave Chicago in midterm to accept a Cabinet post or ambassadorship if Clinton is elected President. That’s speculation the mayor has publicly shot down.

“If she was looking for smart guys who understood how to get things done, I think he’d be somebody she might ask. I don’t know if that’s the case. But, I don’t think she shies away totally from controversy that’s gonna get her to where she needs to be,” he said.