Mayoral candidates (from left) Rahm Emanuel, Miguel del Valle and Gery Chico wait for the start of Monday's debate at the WTTW television studios in Chicago. The fourth candidate, Carol Moseley Braun, arrived later.
Mayoral candidates (from left) Rahm Emanuel, Miguel del Valle and Gery Chico wait for the start of Monday's debate at the WTTW television studios in Chicago. The fourth candidate, Carol Moseley Braun, arrived later. Charles Cherney/AP
One week from Tuesday, Chicago voters go to the polls to select the candidate they want to replace Mayor Richard Daley, who will retire after 22 years in office. Rahm Emanuel — former chief of staff to President Obama — hopes he will be the choice, but so do several other contenders. They met in one of their final debates Monday night.
During the Valentine's Day debate, the major candidates running for mayor of Chicago — Emanuel, ex-schools chief Gery Chico, former U.S. Sen. Carol Moseley Braun and city clerk Miguel del Valle — were friendly toward each other for a bit.
Former U.S. Sen. Carol Moseley Braun, shown during a Feb. 9 debate at the DuSable Museum of African American History in Chicago, joined fellow Chicago mayoral candidates Emanuel, Chico and del Valle for Monday's debate.
Former U.S. Sen. Carol Moseley Braun, shown during a Feb. 9 debate at the DuSable Museum of African American History in Chicago, joined fellow Chicago mayoral candidates Emanuel, Chico and del Valle for Monday's debate. Paul Beaty/AP
Asked how they'd celebrate the holiday, Chico said he'd be taking his wife to dinner: "She doesn't even know. I'm going to surprise her," he said.
"I'm going to join the Chicos," Emanuel added, getting a laugh.
But the debate heated up as it turned to other topics, like underfunded pensions, how to overhaul city government, how to handle the whopping $600 million budget deficit and whether Chicago should privatize more of its services — a concept del Valle said should be approached with caution.
"We cannot repeat the awful meter deal that we had," he said, referring to the city's 75-year lease of its parking meters to a private company. It continues to enrage Chicagoans who have to pay ever increasing parking rates while the city still wallows in red ink.
But an even bigger question during the live televised debate was who has the right skills to follow a mayor who has run the city for more than two decades.
Braun was questioned about her temperament and whether financial problems with her campaigns and her small organic tea company meant that she's a poor money manager.
"Of course not," she replied. "In fact, if anything I've struggled just like many other working Americans during this recession. My little company is still standing. I have always maintained the highest integrity in office, and I have never, ever leveraged public office for private gain."
That's Braun's slap at Emanuel and Chico, both of whom made millions in the private sector.
And Emanuel was asked about his role on the board of mortgage giant Freddie Mac and whether he earned $320,000 to attend six meetings a year.
"I was paid like very other board member," he said. "I was appointed to that position because I was vice chair of the Chicago public housing authority, and President Clinton wanted someone with public housing and mixed income housing background."
And, Emanuel said, he served on the board well before the housing crisis. During a news conference after the debate, Chico blasted Emanuel as he has throughout the campaign for proposing an expansion of the sales tax, and he said Emanuel continues to refuse to give straight answers about his role on the Freddie Mac board.
"What Rahm has turned out to be is a pathological evader of the truth," Chico charged.
Chicago political analyst Laura Washington said despite those sorts of criticisms, nothing seems to have put too much of a dent in support for Emanuel. Polls show a large number of Chicagoans favor him in the race for mayor.
"They think Emanuel will be tough, he'll make the hard decision and he's got the right connections, and the city needs all the help it can get right now," Washington said.
For any candidate to win next week's election, he or she must get 50 percent plus one more vote — otherwise the two top vote-getters will face each other in a runoff in April. Del Valle said he has studied the recent polls:
"I see here are a significant number of individuals who have said while they are expressing a preference, their minds could be changed," he said.
So for the next seven days, the Chicago mayoral race is expected to get even more intense.