“Let me be as clear as I can be,” Sanders said. “Based on his disastrous record as mayor of the city of Chicago, I do not want Mayor Emanuel’s endorsement if I win the Democratic nomination. … We want the endorsement of people who are fighting for social and racial justice. We do not want the support of people who are indebted to Wall Street and the big money interests.”
Sanders was particularly critical of Emanuel for closing dozens of schools, many of them in black and Latino neighborhoods, to address a budget deficit. The deficit was exacerbated by a risky financing scheme that Emanuel has refused to acknowledge has been a failure, Sanders said.
Sanders was joined at the news conference by Cook County Commissioner Jesus “Chuy” Garcia, who ran unsuccessfully against Emanuel for mayor last year, and Troy LaRaviere, a Chicago public school principal who has similarly criticized Emanuel in Sanders television ads running here.
Sanders drew an boisterous crowd of about 9,000 people to a rally outside Chicago on Friday night. Before leaving the city on Saturday, he also participated in a wide-ranging discussion with the Rev. Jesse Jackson in front of an audience at the Rainbow PUSH Coalition headquarters. Topics included voting rights, police misconduct, payday lending and health care for the poor.
At the outset, Sanders recounted his support for the civil rights leader when he ran for president in 1988 and unexpectedly won the primary in Vermont.
Jackson has not made an endorsement in the presidential race, though one of his sons, Jonathan Jackson, a college professor, is supporting Sanders and introduced him at Saturday’s event.
Although Emanuel is well entrenched in the Democratic Party — he served on Bill Clinton’s 1992 presidential campaign and in his administration and was President Obama’s White House chief of staff — Sanders’s attack may not be as risky a move that one may think. A Chicago Tribune poll last month found a majority of Chicagoans didn’t consider Emmanuel to be honest and trustworthy and questioned his actions related to a controversial police shooting of an 17-year-old black youth in 2014.
Only 20 percent of African American voters approve of Emanuel’s leadership while a record 71 percent disapproved, according to the poll.
Asked by a reporter if Emanuel should resign, Sanders said that should be left to the citizens of Chicago. But he added, “If I lived in this city, I would be active in that effort."
Later Saturday, a spokesman for Emanuel dismissed Sanders's criticism as "the kind of typical campaign rhetoric you get this time of year" and took a few shots at Sanders.
"The truth is the mayor was proud to pass the Brady Bill, even though Bernie Sanders voted against it," said Emanuel spokesman Adam Collins, referring to landmark gun safety legislation that Hillary Clinton has repeatedly criticized Sanders for opposing.
"And the mayor is proud to have actually implemented a program to provide free college tuition in Chicago, instead of just talking about the idea," Collins said, referring to one of Sanders's signature proposals on the campaign trail.
"On Wednesday, Bernie Sanders will leave town and take his empty promises with him, and Mayor Emanuel will be right here doing the hard work to move Chicago forward and create opportunities for our residents," Collins added.
Illinois is among five states that hold primaries on Tuesday. Florida, Missouri, Ohio and North Carolina are also holding contests.
For much of the Democratic presidential race, Sanders has struggled mightily to attract African American support. His advisers are hopeful he can improve upon the 28 percent support that exit polls suggested he won in Michigan last week.