Because of a previously scheduled event, Rahm Emanuel arrived 45 minutes late to the forum sponsored by the historic African-American newspaper. There was scattered applause when he appeared on stage. And by the time the similarly delayed Miguel del Valle showed up, all six candidates for mayor were shoulder-to-shoulder at such an event for the first time.
"The question before us as an entire city is will we meet our common challenges with a common purpose," said Emanuel.
"I think we're looking at a replay of 1992 when everybody said, 'Oh, she didn't have a snowball's chance, and by the way, don't give her money.' And then, I wound up being the senator," said Carol Moseley Braun.
"I don't pay much attention to polls one way or the other. I am running to get every vote in this city," said Gery Chico.
Hours earlier, Emanuel's campaign released a television ad featuring video of his White House sendoff, including President Barack Obama's words of praise for his then departing chief of staff.
"We are all excited for Rahm as he takes on a new challenge for which he is extraordinarily well-qualified," Obama says in the ad.
Del Valle Called the Emanuel ad "dishonest."
"This ad should not be used to mislead people into thinking that Barack has endorsed Rahm Emanuel. And I think that's really an insult to the intelligence of the community," said del Valle.
In another development, Chicago's most widely circulated African-American print publication, N'DIGO magazine, endorsed Emanuel.
The mayoral election is less than two weeks away. Our exclusive ABC7 poll shows one candidate with a big lead in the race.
Fifty-four percent of people surveyed say they support Rahm Emanuel; 14 percent of respondents said they support Gery Chico; Miguel del Valle got 8 percent, followed by Carol Moseley Braun at 6 percent.
Three percent of those polled supported other candidates. Fifteen percent of those polled were undecided.
If a candidate gets over 50 percent of the vote in the February 22 election there will be no need for a runoff in April.
Richard Day Research conducted the survey of 600 likely city voters exclusively for ABC7. Respondents were contacted by telephone between February 3 and 7.
During the poll, people were also asked what issues were important to them in the race for mayor. Twenty-six percent of voters called the budget crisis -- the city's money problems, its declining tax revenues, mounting debts and growing deficits -- the biggest issue facing the City of Chicago.
"Talking about the city debt, talking about the budget deficits and how they were ever gonna get whole," said pollster Richard Day.
"We can't have a good police force, or firefighters, or pay our teachers well, or have nice parks -- clean parks -- unless we have a sound budget," said survey participant Todd Lakin.
Seventeen percent of voters called the lack of jobs Chicago's biggest issue, 14 percent listed crime and drugs, while just as many called their primary concern taxes and fees or revenue issues again related to the budget.
"So if you take that 26 percent and you put it in with that other 14, you've got 40 percent of the voters who are going to be highly sensitized to anything that has to do with more taxes or how you're going to get more fees out of people," said Day.
Ten percent of the voters surveyed said fixing the public schools was the biggest issue.
"In terms of almost all other civic issues, you can tie them back to, How are we doing with educating our young people? How are we doing with educating our adults?" said survey participant Laura Lane.
Only 5 percent of those surveyed listed corruption and 4 percent city services.
Day says the poll outlined the challenges for whomever wins the election: How to make a virtually broke Chicago still work for a tax-weary citizenry.
"It's gonna a very difficult time to be mayor of Chicago," Day said.
The survey also measured whether Chicagoans thought the city was headed in the right direction: 42 percent said yes, 39 percent said no, and 19 percent were undecided.
It's only a survey, but it does give an idea of what people are thinking about at the polling places.