bill_clinton_web_fc_1.jpgCHICAGO (AP) _ Former President Bill Clinton lent his support and celebrity to a former top aide on Tuesday, telling a crowd of hundreds of people they should back Rahm Emanuel's bid to be the next mayor of Chicago because he's “fearlessly honest'' and not afraid to push for change.

Emanuel left his position as President Barack Obama's chief of staff last year to campaign for mayor of his hometown. Emanuel worked for Clinton during the 1990s, first as a top campaign staffer and then as a senior adviser.

“If you want a big mayor … if you want to reinvent yourself one more time and come out better than ever, if you want the Windy City to have a gale force of leadership, Rahm Emanuel is your mayor,'' Clinton told the crowd.

Clinton praised Emanuel as one of the key reasons he was elected president. Emanuel returned the praise, extoling Clinton's accomplishments during two terms in office.

“I could not ask for a better role model than you,'' Emanuel said to Clinton.

Clinton made the high-profile visit to Chicago to campaign for Emanuel, one of six candidates in the Feb. 22 race to replace the retiring Mayor Richard Daley. Unless a candidate gets a majority of the voter there will be an April runoff.

Clinton told the crowd that Emanuel is “fearlessly honest'' and is not afraid push for change. Being Chicago mayor is a big job and he said Emanuel knows how to set good policy and make things happen, the former president said.

Emanuel hopes Clinton can persuade Chicago voters to support his bid for mayor, despite a former mayoral contender's warning that Clinton risks his popular standing with the African American community by backing Emanuel rather than a black candidate.

Three of his rivals, former U.S. Sen. Carol Moseley Braun, former schools president Gery Chico and City Clerk Miguel del Valle, have emphasized their deep city roots while claiming Emanuel is more of a Washington insider. Braun has the support of many black leaders in the city, while Chico picked up the endorsement of Congressman Luis Gutierrez this month.

Emanuel's right to run for mayor has been challenged, based on the fact that he lived outside the city for nearly two years as he worked for the White House. But the Chicago Board of Elections ruled him eligible after deciding he did not abandon his Chicago residency.