Mayoral candidates square off in ABC7 debate

February 18, 2011 6:02:46 AM PST
The four major candidates in the race for Chicago mayor squared off Thursday night in their final debate before voters go to the polls next Tuesday. Watch ABC7 Debate Part I
Watch ABC7 Debate Part II
Watch ABC7 Debate Part III
Watch ABC7 Debate Part IV
Watch ABC7 Debate Part V
Watch ABC7 Debate Part VI

Carol Moseley Braun, Miguel del Valle, Rahm Emanuel and Gery Chico sparred over Chicago's budget crisis, pensions, and taxes. They also questioned each other's qualifications and backgrounds.

As the far-ahead frontrunner in recent polls, including one conducted last week by ABC7, Emanuel had the big target on his back. Some of the sharpest were over his record on immigration.

Emanuel insisted his record on immigration was the same as Congressman Luis Gutierrez. Generally, he would not engage his critics and mostly repeated his campaign talking points.

"The city of Chicago, we face common challenges -- from the safety of our streets to the strength of our schools, to the stability of our economy," said Emanuel.

Del Valle aimed some of his darts at Emanuel and Chico, alleging both had profited from their public service.

"They have taken full advantage of their contacts in the federal government or in city government," said Del Valle.

In her struggle to corner the African-American vote, Moseley Braun criticized Emanuel's record in Congress.

"Mr. Emanuel voted against the Congressional Black Caucus 128 times," said Moseley Braun.

"I voted for every Democratic budget. I voted for also three Black Caucus budgets," Emanuel replied.

The Emanuel-bashing continued in the post -debate news conferences where Chico repeated his campaign theme that Emanuel "is a pathological evader of the truth."

"Don't we want in a mayor somebody that will answer your questions fully and truthfully or do we want evasion?" Chico said.

Even backstage, despite the pummeling, Emanuel would not take the bait.

"I think there's been a good discussion on a number of issues. While obviously there's no doubt some differences, there's a lot of common ground," said Emanuel.

Chico was asked if he thought the race had come down to him versus Emanuel. He would not count out Moseley Braun or Del Valle.

Absentee ballots

Anyone planning to vote absentee must have their ballot postmarked by Saturday. Monday is a federal holiday so there will be no mail service.

Voters who have not yet received an absentee ballot by mail can vote in person at the Chicago election board's offices at 69 West Washington.

ABC7 will have comprehensive election coverage Tuesday night on-air and online.

Daley scolds candidates

Earlier, the candidates got a scolding from retiring Mayor Daley about the conduct of the campaign.

"We don't refer to people dealing with their religious or ethnic origin. We do not do that," said Daley.

The mayor called some of rhetoric in the campaign to replace him "unacceptable" and "a disgrace." He referred to remarks by operating engineers' leader Jim Sweeney Tuesday afternoon as Sweeney introduced mayoral candidate Gery Chico.

"Rahm Emanuel doesn't live it. He's nothing but a Wall Street Judas," said Daley.

"My wife has Dr. Rosen, a wonderful doctor. Am I embarrassed because he's Jewish? Is this what we've come to in our society?" said Daley.

Sweeney apologized on ABC7 Wednesday night for his choice of words, but neither he nor candidate Chico -- whose daughters are Jewish -- would back off their point about Emanuel.

"Rahm Emanuel is a traitor to the working men and women of this city. He stands behind that statement and so do I," said Chico. "Mayor Daley knows better about me. Mayor Daley was at my daughter's bat mitzvah."

Candidate Miguel del Valle called Mr. Sweeney's comment "inappropriate."

"But I think it's important that voters not be distracted by inappropriate comments made by one individual," said Del Valle.

Chico was joined by leaders of the Chicago police and firefighters' unions in complaints about a letter mailed this week by the Emanuel campaign in which the former congressman promises "to protect the retirement of our workers."

The letter provided to ABC7 by the Emanuel campaign is addressed "Dear Voter." It talks about how Emanuel says he wants to protect city pensions, but it also says, "but we must have a frank discussion about how we handle the system going forward. This is not an honest system - it's not honest to the workers who are paying in and it's not honest to the taxpayers who will see their property taxes increase by 90 percent if this problem is not addressed."

Police union President Mark Donahue said he believes the letter targeted city workers whose addresses may have been obtained illegally.

"Come forward, tell us how you got the information, put it out there," said Donohue.

Candidate Carol Moseley Braun worries Emanuel may have used City Hall or political connections to get the addresses.

"I call upon Mayor Daley to disclose who in city government made the list of those city employees' addresses available to the Emanuel campaign," said Moseley Braun.

Rahm Emanuel did not have a public schedule Thursday. His campaign issued a statement saying it did not have a list of city workers and it says voters across the city received copies of the letter in question.

ABC7 has learned Mayor Daley and his wife Maggie are going on vacation next week and will not be in Chicago for next week's election. An aide to the mayor said Daley and wife have already cast their ballots.

Mayor's race heats up after 'Judas' remarks

As the four major candidates get ready to face off in an ABC7 debate for the last time Thursday night, Chicago union boss Jim Sweeney is clarifying his comments after calling frontrunner Rahm Emanuel "a Wall Street Judas."

In this final stretch of the race, all of the candidates are taking every opportunity to reach voters. Patricia Van Pelt-Watkins, Miguel del Valle and William "Dock" Walls attended a West Side candidates forum Wednesday. Rahm Emanuel, Gery Chico and Carol Moseley Braun skipped it.

Early voting ends Thursday, and the polls open next Tuesday. With time running out, political experts say Thursday's debate could be critical.

"It is the biggest viewer audience. It is the last chance they have to sell themselves. Think of it like the closing argument in a legal case," said Dick Simpson, professor of political science, UIC.

In the meantime, Emanuel, who is trying to become the first Jewish mayor of Chicago, is taking issue with comments from Sweeney, a Gery Chico supporter.

"Rahm Emanuel doesn't live it. He's nothing but a Wall Street Judas," Sweeney said during a rally for Chico Tuesday.

Emanuel hinted that the remarks were offensive.

"I have absolute confidence the people of Chicago will see this comment for what it is and reject the values behind it," said Emanuel.

Sweeney indicated he wasn't trying to imply anything offensive.

"My reference to Judas is like Judas would be to anybody else -- like Kleenex is to tissue paper. He's a traitor," said Jim Sweeney, Operating Engineers Local 150.

Chico's campaign issued the following statement:

"Gery is the father of three Jewish children, and it didn't once occur to him that Jim was implying anything besides the fact that Rahm betrayed the workers of this city. Let's call this what it is -- signature Rahm-style, divisive politics."

Emanuel is also being criticized by an immigration rights group. Protestors demonstrated outside of Emanuel's Loop campaign office. They accuse Emanuel of being anti-immigration, something the former congressman has denied.

"It would be a shame if Emanuel wins the election for Chicago in the first round. We are hopeful for-- at least-- a runoff where there is more time to discuss issues," said activst Jorge Mojica.

Many polls show Emanuel as the frontrunner in the race, with Chico in a distant second place. The other candidates are trying to chip away at Emanuel's lead, hopeful for a runoff in April.