By Bill Ruthhart
5:05 PM PDT, March 17, 2012
St. Patrick’s Day has a political tradition in Chicago, and the annual downtown parade is a hot spot for politicians seeking votes.
But Mayor Rahm Emanuel, a staunch backer of hometown President Barack Obama, declined to talk politics at the parade today.
When asked about primary endorsements he had made, Emanuel said only, “We’ll do politics later,” and walked away. When asked moments later about his thoughts on the Republican presidential candidates campaigning in the state, Emanuel ignored the question and turned away to shake hands with a young boy.
While the mayor snapped plenty of pictures with green-clad Chicagoans, his only political talk of the day was focused on relations with Ireland. The mayor marched in the parade alongside Irish Prime Minister Enda Kenny, known as the Taioseach in Ireland.
“I’m feeling very Irish,” Emanuel said. “I’ve now spent two great days with the Taioseach. We had a great morning, talking about the challenges they’re having to invest in their future, very similar to the challenges we have and the opportunities those challenges provide to invest in the people, to invest in their education and in technology to modernize Ireland.”
Kenny delivered a speech at the parade’s main stage, aimed to instill confidence in his country, which has suffered some hardships in recent years and received economic aid from the European Union.
“My message to all those green shirts I see in front of me here is that our country is on the way back!” Kenny exclaimed. “We have had a difficult time, we’ve made a number of very difficult decisions, but our country is headed in the right direction. There is now a confidence and belief in ourselves that we know where our path lies, and we expect by the end of 2013, to exit from the program we are in and retrieve our economic sovereignty.”
Both Kenny and Emanuel lauded Chicago’s history as a welcoming home for immigrants, with the prime minister declaring Chicago, “the most American of American cities.”
Wearing a white shirt and green tie, Emanuel walked along side his wife Amy Rule and their two daughters in the parade. U.S. Sen. Dick Durbin and Gov. Pat Quinn also walked nearby.
Moments before the parade, Republican state Comptroller Judy Baar Topinka tapped Emanuel on his shoulder with her shillelagh and exchanged pleasantries.
When asked what the mayor said to her, she said, “Oh, I can’t tell you that, but he’s cute.”
Topinka did say, though, that she was excited to see GOP presidential candidates in the state over the last few days.
“Our primary is kind of late in the year, so I think it’s neat Illinois actually is going to have some merit here,” she said. “They’re all looking to get Illinois’ vote, and in fact, I’m surprised they’re not here today. If I were running for president, I’d be in this parade, and I know Obama was here yesterday, and he should have stuck around and been in this parade, too.”
Republicans Mitt Romney and Rick Santorum were instead focused on wooing voters Downstate, where the GOP is traditionally more conservative than in the Chicago area.
During a pause along the parade route, Quinn said he hadn’t been impressed with the Republican presidential candidates and echoed Obama’s comment in Chicago Friday, saying that he hoped some Abraham Lincoln would rub off on the GOP field.
“They have such a thin message and a pessimistic message, and watching the Republican debates and interviews after their primaries, it’s so negative,” the governor said. “They’ve got to believe in helping people.”
Quinn said while he has endorsed a handful of candidates, he didn’t plan to do much campaigning between now and Tuesday’s primary, saying “mainly I think this is a good time for the voters to select a nominee.”
The governor, however, demurred when asked whether it was good that state Rep. Derrick Smith, D-Chicago, was still running for re-election to his seat after being arrested for allegedly accepting a bribe.
“It’s a tough call for the voters. I think they’ll be able to sort it out,” Quinn said. “Ultimately, that will be where the decision is made.”
When asked if he had confidence in Smith’s primary opponent, former Cook County Republican Party executive director Tom Swiss, Quinn said, “It doesn’t sound like he’s committed to a progressive, Democratic message. That’s for sure.”
Democratic Judge Aurelia Pucinski, who is seeking the Democratic nomination for state Supreme Court, said the parade was a prime opportunity to meet as many voters as possible, despite the fact her left foot was in a walking boot.
With the temperature in the 80s and sunny skies overhead, Pucinski said the parade offered more than the typical exposure for candidates, because so many people were out attending the day’s festivities.
“The challenge is meeting everybody,” she said. “The trick is to say hi to as many people as you can, but this is a great day to do that, and for once it’s not freezing!”
Emanuel joked to the crowd that his first time presiding over the parade surely would be his best.
“I was just telling the prime minister of Ireland that this is the first St. Patty’s Day I get to officiate as mayor, and it’s with the Taoiseach of Ireland and it’s 82 degrees,” he said. “It’s all downhill from here. I can’t beat this.”
While Emanuel marched in his first St. Patrick's DayParade as mayor, former Mayor Richard M. Daleyand his three brothers held a St. Patrick’s gathering midday today at Chicago Cut Steakhouse, 300 N. LaSalle St. Guests attending included Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle and U.S. Sen. Dick Durbin.
Before greeting their guests, Daley and his brothers William and Michael met with reporters briefly. Daley laughed about how perfect today’s weather was for a parade, noting that it was much better weather than he remembers having for any parades he marched in.
“This is unbelievable—we had sleet, snow, rain, wind,” during his time as mayor.
Daley, whose wife Maggie died in November, said perhaps her intercession played a part in the day’s beauty.
“I think Maggie’s looking down on me, and gave us the weather, for the Daley family and Chicago,” Daley said.
Daley wished everyone a happy St. Patrick’s Day—and wished Italian and Polish families a happy St. Joseph’s Day on March 19.
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