CHARLOTTE, N.C.--Mayor Rahm Emanuel on Wednesday defended his decision to cut short, but not cancel his trip to the Democratic National Convention amid the threat of Chicago's first teachers strike in 25 years and continued violence on Chicago streets.
"First of all, we are dealing with all that. And the negotiators are at the table where they should be at, as they have throughout the weekend working on the issues and I was with the kids at schools," the mayor told reporters after a fiery pep talk to his fellow Democrats at the Il. delegation breakfast.
"The kids belong in the classroom, should stay in the classroom. They have great teachers. And negotiators should stay at the negotiating table and finish their job."
Pressed on whether it "looks bad" to be in Charlotte while political bonfires are burning at home, the mayor said, "I've said this repeatedly: It is in the interest of Chicago that President Obama get re-elected. The President and his team asked me to come and speak. I'm gonna be here. I don't think for 36 hours we miss a beat. They met yesterday at the negotiating table. They're meeting today. And I've been in contact with my team. And as I was just eating for a second, I was meeting with the vice-chair of the school board" Jesse Ruiz.
Earlier this week, thousands of teachers marched around City Hall, blaming the mayor for the impending strike and calling Emanuel a "liar" and a "bully." They claim the mayor has provoked a strike by cancelling a previously-negotiated, four percent pay raise and by rushing implementation of his signature plan for a longer school day without paying them for it and without discussing with them what that longer day should look like.
On Wednesday, Emanuel refused to take the bait.
"It's not about me and it's not about name-calling. It's about making sure our kids get the education they need," he said.
"We're making major changes. I've been in politics long enough. They can say what they want about me. It's not about me. It's not about anybody else. And It's not a personality fight. It's about our children and having a new school that achieves what we need to achieve and building on the progress we have built that the teachers have achieved: Highest graduation rate in Chicago Public School history, highest college attendance, greatest improvement in ACT scores. Those are great foundations and we need to not stop. Push forward."
The mayor was asked whether he can relate to the anxiety of parents whose kids attend CPS schools when his own three children attend the private and pricey University of Chicago Lab School.
"Yes. Because I also have children. That's fundamental," he said. "People didn't make a decision to vote for me or not vote for me based on my own children because that's a decision I make as a parent, but based on what I can do for their children."