CHICAGO (STMW) — Mayoral candidate Gery Chico said Tuesday he’s open to getting rid of the rule that requires city employees to live in the city, declaring Chicago’s middle class can survive without the residency requirement.

Chico dropped that political bombshell as he accepted the endorsement of the Chicago Fire Fighters Union Local 2, the Sun-Times is reporting. He has already been endorsed by the Fraternal Order of Police.

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Together, the two unions and their retirees represent upwards of 20,000 people.

The Sun-Times reported earlier this month that both Chico and Rahm Emanuel were open to discussing the requirement that city employees live in Chicago. On Tuesday, Chico went far beyond that, declaring Chicago has outgrown the need for a residency requirement to prevent an exodus of the middle class.

“If I thought it was threatening to the middle class, I wouldn’t have put it on the table,” Chico said of dropping the residency rule.

He spoke at the firefighters union headquarters on West 43rd Street.

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On Monday, the Rev. Jesse Jackson argued the opposite. Standing with mayoral hopeful Carol Moseley Braun after the Illinois Appellate Court bumped Emanuel off the Feb. 22 mayoral ballot due to a residency challenge, Jackson argued that if “you crack the door open” to eliminating the residency rule, Chicago would lose its middle class and its tax base.

Chico’s stand on the residency rule wasn’t the only thing that endeared him to firefighters. He’s also promising to maintain minimum staffing levels on fire apparatus — an issue that triggered a 1980 firefighters’ strike.

And Chico is promising to have a dialogue with the union to find “a rational, affordable solution” to the pension crisis.

The firefighters’ pension is the least well-funded of the city’s pension funds and would be the first to run out of money.

Firefighters have had a tumultuous relationship with Mayor Richard M. Daley and waited three years for a new contract, a situation Chico described as “an interest-free loan” from the rank-and-file. He said he would work toward timely negotiations to resolve any labor dispute.

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(Source: Sun-Times Media Wire © Chicago Sun-Times 2011. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.)