Emanuel defends missing forums, debates

December 17, 2010 (CHICAGO) Emanuel has come under attack from other candidates for not appearing at forums and debates. His avoidance strategy could be reaching the point of diminishing returns; voters as well as opponents are beginning to notice the frontrunner's unexplained absences at those events.

Emanuel began his day early Friday with an attention-getting breakfast at Lou Mitchell's restaurant with Chicago and baseball legend Ernie Banks.

"I'm gonna start my morning here... with Ernie Banks. Mr. Chicago, Mr. Cub," said Emanuel.

Opponents in the race for mayor were more interested in where Emanuel was Thursday night that was more important than the teacher's union forum they attended, sitting shoulder-to-shoulder to debate the issues.

"You have to ask yourself, who has the track record? Who has the experience?" said mayoral candidate Miguel del Valle.

Moderator Cliff Kelley held up Emanuel's place-card and wondered why the candidate did not send word to explain his absence.

"I don't have a statement," said Kelley. "I got one I could make, but I don't think that would be..." Kelley trailed off.

A Tribune poll suggests that Emanuel enjoys a wide lead in the race. He has refused to participate in the forums, which are now happening several times each week.

"I'm standing shoulder-to-shoulder with the people of the City of Chicago, talking about the issues that are very, very important to them," said Emanuel.

Outside the restaurant Friday, anti-Emanuel demonstrators demanded, among other things, that the former White House chief of staff debate his opponents.

"He's scared to get out really in public and answer the hard questions. That's my opinion," said demonstrator Frank Coconate. "He likes everything controlled."

On Friday, Emanuel repeated his promise that he will go face-to-face with his opponents three times, presumably in televised debates next year.

Candidate Gery Chico received an endorsement Friday by the Italian-American Political Coalition. Chico says that voters need to begin comparing the complete mayoral field now.

"Anyone who avoids, ducks and doesn't go to these forums and debates is not only doing a disservice to the voters but also doing a disservice to themselves," said Chico.

Chico and most of the other major candidates have been doing two to three forums a week. They expect a slower pace leading up to and during the holidays.

In January, the forums and debates are scheduled night and day, including on weekends, leading up to Election Day.

There were hundreds of people in the auditorium listening to the Thursday night's debate. Emanuel's opponents might get a boost if they performed well in the same debate as Emanuel, were he to attend.

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