Emanuel owns up to hiring Byrd-Bennett, denies enabling alleged bribery plot

CHICAGO (WLS) -- Mayor Rahm Emanuel criticized the woman he handpicked to run the troubled Chicago Public Schools system. Barbara Byrd-Bennett is expected to plead guilty to a kickback scheme on Tuesday.

"There's no doubt in selecting her, in that level, I played a role," Emanuel said. He owned up to hiring Byrd-Bennett, but denied enabling her alleged bribery plot, which involved Byrd-Bennett's former employer. He said his City Hall staff raised questions about the deal early.

"My staff did the right thing by asking hard questions and directing those questions to the people who were trying to pursue that contract," Emanuel said.

"He has total control over that system. He has to own that," Jesus Chuy Garcia, who ran against Mayor Emanuel, said. He called the Byrd-Bennett scandal one of Emanuel's failures on public safety and fiscal issues.

"It's a really rough start for him in his second term. There's a lot of discontent. The challenges are severe," Garcia said.

Since Emanuel's 2011 inauguration, the CPS deficit swelled to a half billion dollars, its credit was downgraded to junk, and two appointees -- Jean-Claude Brizard and Byrd-Bennett -- resigned the district's top job.

"Barbara Byrd-Bennett's reputation, her credentials were fantastic when he hired her. She was the one," Alderman Walter Burnett, 27th Ward, said.

At the news conference, reporters asked Emanuel why he didn't stop the deal if his staff had questions.

"I don't get involved in contracts. When a mayor gets involved in contracts, you have a problem," Emanuel said.

Byrd-Bennett is not the first Emanuel appointee to be indicted on criminal charges. Former Comptroller Ahmer Ahmed was charged in a corruption case in Ohio where he worked before the mayor hired him in Chicago. That's twice that its vetting process has burned the Emanuel administration.

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