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Obama's Chicago visit: Spotlight's Rahm's soaring murder rate

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WASHINGTON -- President Barack Obama's visit to Chicago on Friday will shine a brighter spotlight on the failure of Mayor Rahm Emanuel and Police Chief Garry McCarthy to curb gun violence in his hometown.

That's the byproduct of Obama coming home days after his wife, Michelle, attended the Saturday funeral of Hadiya Pendleton, the 15-year-old South Sider who was gunned down in a park about a mile from the Obamas' Kenwood home on Jan 29.

The Chicago stop is part of Obama's push to promote the second-term priorities he will discuss Tuesday night in his State of the Union address, where he is expected to discuss his gun-related proposals, forged after the Sandy Hook school massacre. Hadiya's mother, Cleopatra Pendleton, is going to be in the House chamber as a guest when Obama delivers that speech, the Pendleton family's spokeswoman, Shatira Wilks, confirmed to me late Sunday.

To Chicagoans, whatever economic messages Obama wants to underscore Friday will take a back seat to anything he says about the slaughters on the streets of Chicago -- 506 murders in 2012, up 16 percent from 2011 -- all happening on Emanuel's watch.

A White House official said on Sunday that Obama will travel to Chicago for "an event amplifying some of the policy proposals included in the State of the Union that focus on strengthening the economy for the middle class and the Americans striving to get there."

"He'll, of course, also talk about the gun violence that has tragically affected too many families in communities across Chicago and across the country," the official said.

Obama's return home in the wake of another horrific Chicago murder -- of a teen who did everything right, who just a week before her death attended Obama's inauguration in Washington -- well, it also makes the visit undeniably personal for the father of two daughters, Malia, 14, and Sasha, 11.

White House Senior Adviser Valerie Jarrett attended Hadiya's funeral with Michelle Obama. She grew up a block north of the Obama family home in Kenwood.

I asked Jarrett on Sunday about their visit home for the funeral. "It's very personal for us," she replied.

"The first lady and I grew up in Chicago and before we moved to D.C., we raised our daughters about a mile from where Hadiya was killed. Chicago still feels like home and our hearts just goes out to the Pendleton family who raised an amazing daughter and we thought it would be important to demonstrate the grief that we're feeling in person.

"It's a reminder at a very personal level about what each of these children mean to us. We may not have known her, but she's feels like a part of our family, too.

"There have been so many tragic deaths around the country and the individual deaths don't receive the attention that the tragedies in Aurora or Newtown receive, but the impact it has on the family involved is just as devastating."

Where Obama will speak in Chicago was not locked-in as of Sunday, but I am told that it will likely be in a school or library in a community affected by gun violence -- which means on the South or West Side.

Emanuel, Obama's former chief of staff, is still constantly in touch with the White House and presumably could have vetoed the Obama trip. He still has a lot of juice at the White House.

But he did not.

I talked with an Emanuel top strategist on Sunday and from Emanuel's perspective, the plus is the president will make it clear that brutal violence is not unique to Chicago and that Congress needs to pass federal laws cracking down on gun-trafficking while imposing background checks on all gun sales. Those steps are needed to help stem the flow of guns into the city.

But that's hardly a life preserver to throw to Emanuel.

The minus -- and it is a big one -- is that Obama's visit will put a renewed national and maybe even international focus on the epidemic of shootings in Chicago, with innocent victims caught in the cross-fire, and Emanuel's inability to get a handle on the soaring murder rate.

Community activists have been pleading for years for Obama to come home and help.

The Rev. Jesse L. Jackson told me Sunday, "Chicago is in a state of emergency and I think [Obama] recognizes that."

I asked Rep. Mike Quigley (D-Ill.) about the impact of Obama's visit, and he told me the president might be able to make an appeal to the criminals "who are carrying out a small land war in certain neighborhoods of Chicago. This somehow has to end."

And the pressure is on Emanuel to end it.

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Lynn Sweet

Lynn Sweet is a columnist and the Washington Bureau Chief for the Chicago Sun-Times.

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This page contains a single entry by Lynn Sweet published on February 11, 2013 8:28 AM.

Obama Feb. 11, 2013 week ahead. State of the Union, Asheville, Atlanta, Chicago was the previous entry in this blog.

Rep. Rush State of the Union guest: Robin Kelly--running for Jesse Jackson Jr. seat is the next entry in this blog.

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