Image: Rahm Emanuel
Olivier Douliery, Pool  /  EPA
Rahm Emanuel looks on during a meeting between President Barack Obama and Prime Minister Gilani of Pakistan at the Blair House in Washington, D.C., on April 10, 2010.
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updated 1/18/2011 2:34:06 PM ET 2011-01-18T19:34:06

Former President Bill Clinton lent his support and celebrity to a former top aide on Tuesday, telling a crowd of hundreds of people they should back Rahm Emanuel's bid to be the next mayor of Chicago because he's "fearlessly honest" and not afraid to push for change.

"If you want a big mayor ... if you want to reinvent yourself one more time and come out better than ever, if you want the Windy City to have a gale force of leadership, Rahm Emanuel is your mayor," Clinton told the crowd.

Clinton praised Emanuel, one of his former top aides and campaign finance director, as one of the key reasons he was elected president. Emanuel returned the praise, extoling Clinton's accomplishments during two terms in office.

"I could not ask for a better role model than you," Emanuel said to Clinton.

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Clinton made the high-profile visit to Chicago to stump for Emanuel, one of six candidates in the Feb. 22 race to replace the retiring Mayor Richard Daley. Unless a candidate gets a majority of the voter there will be an April runoff.

Clinton told the crowd that Emanuel is "fearlessly honest" and is not afraid push for change. Being Chicago mayor is a big job and he said Emanuel knows how to set good policy and make things happen, the former president said.

Opponents paint Emanuel as outsider
Emanuel hopes Clinton can persuade Chicago voters to support his bid for mayor, despite a former mayoral contender's warning that Clinton risks his popular standing with the African American community by backing Emanuel rather than a black candidate.

Three of his rivals, former U.S. Sen. Carol Moseley Braun, former schools president Gery Chico and City Clerk Miguel del Valle, have emphasized their deep city roots while claiming Emanuel is more of a Washington insider. Braun has the support of many black leaders in the city, while Chico picked up the endorsement of Congressman Luis Gutierrez this month.

Chico used Clinton's visit to criticize the ties between Clinton and Emanuel as a "cozy relationship."

Clinton appointed Emanuel to mortgage giant Freddie Mac's board in 2000. Emanuel served on the board when Freddie Mac misstated its earnings by $5 billion for 2000-2002. When the problem was uncovered in 2003, top executives were forced out.

Chico alleged Emanuel had a chance to blow the whistle during the "Enron-type scandal."

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"It was a test of character and he failed," Chico said. "He looked the other way."

During a news conference, Chico called on Emanuel to answer more questions about what he knew.

Emanuel campaign spokesman Ben LaBolt said Chico's claims weren't credible.

Last month, Braun said Clinton's campaigning for Emanuel amounted to an outsider helping an outsider.

Emanuel worked for Clinton during the 1990s, first as a top campaign staffer and then as a senior adviser. He played a role in a number of policy initiatives, including passage of the North American Free Trade Agreement, which has been unpopular with unions.

'I've got some leverage'
Larry Bennett, a DePaul University political scientist, said bringing in a figure of Clinton's stature to campaign on his behalf could help underline Emanuel's importance.

"It probably represents a plus for Emanuel," Bennett said, author of "Third City: Chicago and American Urbanism."

"It suggests, 'I've got some leverage,'" he said.

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U.S. Rep. Danny Davis, a former candidate who bowed out of the race in December, warned when the Clinton visit was announced that the former president could jeopardize his "long and fruitful relationship" with the black community if he campaigns for Emanuel instead of a black candidate. Clinton at one point was dubbed "the first black president" because of his appeal to African Americans.

But Bennett said "it's hard to imagine" the visit undermining the strength of that relationship.

Braun, who has been named the "unity" black candidate by a coalition of black leaders, also criticized Clinton's visit, even though Clinton appointed her as ambassador to New Zealand after she lost her Senate seat in 1998. "What we have is an outsider running for mayor and bringing outsiders in to help him," she told reporters shortly after Clinton's visit was announced.

Emanuel's right to run for mayor has been challenged, based on the fact that he lived outside the city for nearly two years as he worked as chief of staff for President Barack Obama in Washington. But the Chicago Board of Elections ruled him eligible after deciding he did not abandon his Chicago residency.

A Cook County judge agreed with the ruling, but an attorney for several objectors has said he will continue to appeal the judge's decision, all the way to the state Supreme Court if necessary.

Copyright 2011 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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