President Barack Obama appeared side-by-side on Thursday with Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel, his former chief of staff, who has faced declining approval ratings among black voters as he seeks a second term in city elections next week.
Obama’s appearance at the event, which designated part of the South Side’s Pullman neighborhood as a national monument, harkened back to his days as a community advocate on Chicago’s predominantly African-American South Side.
Patriotic ribbons were tied around street poles on Thursday in the historic neighborhood, which was built for factory workers and was home to the first African-American-led union.
Emanuel introduced Obama at the event and said it was the migration of African-Americans to Chicago and their civil rights advances in Pullman that would “change the face of our city and the fate of our nation.”
Speaking at Gwendolyn Brooks College Preparatory Academy, Obama said Emanuel has “fought for new opportunity and new jobs in Pullman and for every Chicagoan in every neighborhood making sure every single person gets the fair shot at success they deserve.”
Emanuel’s main challenger in Tuesday’s election, Democrat Cook County Commissioner Jesus “Chuy” Garcia, has tapped into perceptions that Emanuel has governed for the rich.
White House spokesman Eric Schultz said the event was not timed to coincide with Emanuel’s campaign, though he said Obama has recorded a radio ad for him.
“The president has supported the mayor’s elections in the past, campaigns in the past, and he supports this one as well,” Schultz told reporters.
Emanuel’s approval ratings have declined among minority voters upset with high crime rates in poor areas.
Obama used his pull with black voters in Chicago’s South Side to help elect Emanuel as mayor in 2011, a time when he was lesser known after spending years in Washington.
Under Emanuel, there have been spikes in shooting deaths across the South Side as well as a strike by the Chicago Teachers Union.
The White House hopes Pullman’s designation as a national monument will bring tourism and boost the local economy while giving some children their first opportunity to visit a national monument.
Elections in Chicago for mayor, and for the city council, will be held on Tuesday. A run-off election for mayor, if necessary, will be held on April 7.