Bill Clinton in Chicago

Bill Clinton

Eleven years after leaving office and it’s still the economy for former president Bill Clinton. He’s in town with his Clinton Global Initiative for a summit on jobs and spurring growth in the U.S. economy. He also had kind words for the city’s current mayor – his former White House staffer: Rahm Emanuel.

“I predict to you his tenure will be one of the most brilliant chapters in this city’s long and storied history,” said Clinton.

Chicago is the ideal place for the conference, he says, and not just because of Emanuel.

“It’s a model for what we can do all over America,” he said, focusing on the city’s commitment to building LEED-certified municipal buildings.

Clinton spoke before a crowd of about 700 leaders from the business and non-profit world, all who were attending because they had committed to work toward the organization’s goals of improving the economy.

Clinton expressed optimism about the direction of the country, despite a dour unemployment picture. One of the signs, he said, was that banks in America had $2 trillion in cash that was not committed to lending.

If banks lent that all of that money, it would, he said, “end the American and global economic slowdown in about 15 minutes.”

One important project to come out of Wednesday’s meeting focuses on the rebuilding of the nation’s infrastructure. The AFL-CIO and the American Federation of Teachers announced a plan to invest $10 billion in union employee pension funds to go toward rebuilding the nation’s roads, bridges, highways and retrofitting buildings.

AFT President Randi Weingarten called them sound investments for workers with the added benefits of contributing to the public good.

The Clinton Global Initiative event continues Thursday with scheduled speakers, including Indiana Governor Mitch Daniels and U.S. Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner.

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