UPDATED 2/16/11 7:32 p.m.
CHICAGO (CBS) – A key supporter of mayoral candidate Gery Chico has raised some eyebrows by saying something about Rahm Emanuel that the Emanuel campaign called blatantly ugly.
Jim Sweeney, head of of Operating Engineers Local 150, was endorsing Chico Tuesday night at a labor rally when he called Emanuel a “Wall Street Judas.”
Some might call it a simple political jab, but Rahm Emanual’s campaign rejected the values behind the comment.
Sweeney was getting ready to introduce Chico and was talking about the financial problems facing the city when he made the remark.
“We don’t need to be told that there’s an economic problem, we live it every day,” Sweeney said. “Rahm Emanuel doesn’t live it, he’s nothing but a Wall Street Judas [with] a bag of silver that he collected when he went and passed NAFTA. That’s exactly what he is.”
After Sweeney said those words, Chico took the podium a short time later and hugged Sweeney, but said nothing about Sweeney’s comment.
Emanuel’s campaign didn’t like any of it.
In a statement Wednesday, Emanuel – who is Jewish – said “I have absolute confidence that the people of the city of Chicago will see this comment for what it is and reject the values behind it. And the ugliness behind it.”
The Anti-Defamation League also lashed out at Sweeney for his comment, saying calling Emanuel “Judas” and mentioning a “bag of silver” plays into age-old stereotypes about Jews.
Dan Elbaum, regional director of the American Jewish Committee, said “A statement of that nature really has no place in a political campaign. The reference to Judas, which is a biblical reference to Judas selling out Jesus for material gain has been used against Jews throughout Jewish history.”
According to the Bible, Judas betrayed Jesus to the Romans for a bag of silver, leading to Jesus’ crucifixion. For centuries, anti-Semitic prejudices have blamed Jews in general for Judas’ betrayal, thus calling any Jewish person “Judas” is easily seen as anti-Semitic.
Sweeney denied his comment had anything to do with Emanuel’s religion.
“When I referred to a Judas, that’s no different than a Benedict Arnold or any of the great traitors in history who traded on the people that believed in them,” Sweeney said.
He said that Emanuel betrayed labor unions by supporting NAFTA, which led to American jobs moving overseas.
Chico’s campaign also said it didn’t see Sweeney’s comment as anti-Semitic.
A spokesperson said the remarks were about Rahm Emanuel betraying the Labor community by supporting the North American Free Trade Agreement. Big Labor has long opposed NAFTA, claiming it led to thousands of American jobs being shipped overseas.
“The definition of Judas, according to the Merriam Webster dictionary, is ‘traitor: one who betrays under the guise of friendship,’” Chico spokeswoman Brooke Anderson said in a written statement. “Gery is the father of three Jewish children and it didn’t once occur to him that Jim was implying anything besides the fact that Rahm betrayed the workers of this city.”
“Let’s call this what it is- signature Rahm-style, divisive politics,” Anderson added. “He is trying to divide the city along religious lines. It’s cynical, it’s wrong and it’s certainly not mayoral, but given Rahm Emanuel’s history of divisive attacks to grow his power, it comes as no surprise.”
CBS 2′s Kristyn Hartman and CBS 2 Political Producer Ed Marshall contributed to this report.