By Mark Guarino
CHICAGO (Reuters) - Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel formally announced his candidacy for a second term on Saturday in a speech that highlighted his successful effort to push through a minimum wage increase in the city.
While mostly avoiding specific references to the achievements of his first term, Emanuel expressed pride in a bill that the city council passed this week to bump up the minimum wage gradually to $13 an hour in 2019 from the current $8.25 an hour.
"Washington wouldn't do it. Springfield couldn’t do it. But here in Chicago, we did it," Emanuel, a former White House chief of staff under President Barack Obama, said, referring to failed efforts to increase the minimum wage at the federal and state levels.
Emanuel, a Democrat who faces nine challengers in the Feb. 24 election, also promoted a scholarship program that will provide free tuition in the city's community college system to public high school graduates with a 3.0 grade point average.
His first term drew national attention for what became the largest mass public school closing in U.S. history, and scandals involving a traffic ticket program that an investigation by the Chicago Tribune found was likely rigged to ensnare nearly 80,000 drivers. He has refused to refund $7.7 million the program collected during that period.
The audience of about 250 people included local aldermen, state officials, U.S. Representative Luis Gutierrez, and officials from a local plumbers union.
Outside the event, groups of protesters chanted and held signs that characterized Emanuel as a friend to Wall Street and an enemy of the middle class. Two men were dressed as dollar bills while one woman held a sign that said "Rich People 4 Rahm."
"He's squeezing money from working class families with the red light cameras, the parking fees. We're not taking this anymore," said Byron Sigcho, 31, a teacher.
In his speech, Emanuel characterized the middle class as "squeezed" and said economic growth was "not being shared equally." He said the solution was his minimum wage hike.
Zerlina Smith, 38, said the school closings show Emanuel has "de-invested in the black community."
Alderman Bob Fioretti, who is running against Emanuel, said in a statement that the mayor's policies "have created two Chicagos and no amount of campaign cash or TV ads can change that fact."
(Editing by Frank McGurty and Paul Simao)