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Headlining in Chicago: Bill Clinton, stumping for Rahm Emanuel

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“The combination of Clinton and [President] Obama is overwhelming” in Chicago’s black neighborhoods, says William Grimshaw, professor of political science at the Illinois Institute of Technology in Chicago, so it’s no surprise that Emanuel is exploiting his White House connections: six years as Clinton’s political director plus two years as Mr. Obama’s chief of staff.

But Dr. Grimshaw, author of “Bitter Fruit: Black Politics and the Chicago Machine, 1931-1991” calls Clinton’s connection to the black community dubious, a perception born in 1998 when writer Toni Morrison dubbed him the nation’s “first black president” and that he embraced thereafter for political advantage. The reality about his relationship with black voters is more complex than what Grimshaw calls “superficial links.”

“[Clinton] was kind of duping them,” Grimshaw says. “He would go to church and then reform the welfare system in a way that put them at a disadvantage.”

Emanuel’s commitment to Chicago’s mostly black and low-income South and West sides has been questioned, as he has made few public appearances at forums and other public meetings there. For instance, over the past weekend, as other candidates participated in candidate forums or made speeches at local churches and halls in mostly black neighborhoods, Emanuel stuck to the West Loop near downtown, where he greeted diners in a local restaurant.

His opponents frequently use his absences to suggest a lack of accountability. “It’s very important that [Emanuel] be held to account to he fact that [he is] not here tonight and we are to answer your questions,” Ms. Braun told a group of about 300 people at a public forum Saturday morning.

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