In Chicago, It's Rahm Emanuel Vs. Everybody Else

Former White House Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel (center) stands among other mayoral candidates Carol Moseley Braun (from left),  Miguel del Valle and Gery Chico before their debate on Thursday in Chicago. i i

Former White House Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel (center) stands among other mayoral candidates Carol Moseley Braun (from left), Miguel del Valle and Gery Chico before their debate on Thursday in Chicago. Brian Kersey/AP hide caption

itoggle caption Brian Kersey/AP
Former White House Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel (center) stands among other mayoral candidates Carol Moseley Braun (from left),  Miguel del Valle and Gery Chico before their debate on Thursday in Chicago.

Former White House Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel (center) stands among other mayoral candidates Carol Moseley Braun (from left), Miguel del Valle and Gery Chico before their debate on Thursday in Chicago.

Brian Kersey/AP

The first round of Chicago's mayor election is Tuesday. There are six candidates on the ballot, but the race has essentially come down to a contest between former White House Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel and the rest of the field.

The current mayor, Richard M. Daley, has been in office for 22 years, and this is the first open race for mayor in decades. Many Chicagoans like to complain about Daley's autocratic style and the corruption on his watch at City Hall, but voters re-elected him time and again, by huge margins, as they did his father.

The Business Of Leading Chicago

The current mayor is especially well liked in Chicago's business community, so as movers and shakers sat down this week at a luncheon hosted by the City Club of Chicago, Daley's legacy loomed large over the race to be his successor.

"I think the mayor had a terrific sense of what was necessary to build Chicago as a global city," says Lew Collens, president emeritus of the Illinois Institute of Technology. "He's been very focused on that; he's done an extraordinary job."

Collens says there is one candidate who is best able to continue moving Chicago forward and close a massive $600 million budget deficit, but he declined to say who that is. Other business and civic leaders, though, had no qualms about singing the praises out loud of the front-runner in the race, Rahm Emanuel.

"I think he's a real solid leader — kick rear-end, possibly, and not take any names," Chicago attorney Jerry Latherow says. "Maybe I'd like to see him do it a little bit more delicately, but I think he'll get things done."

Emanuel's Lead Pits Him Against 50 Percent

To be sure, there were supporters of the other major candidates at the City Club luncheon, but Emanuel leads Chicago's mayoral race in most polls by a 2-to-1 margin. He's earned the major newspapers' endorsements and has raised a whopping $13 million for the campaign — almost quadruple the amount raised by the next closest candidate.

Paul Green, director of the Institute for Politics at Chicago's Roosevelt University, says Emanuel is essentially in a race to top 50 percent of the vote in order to avoid going to a run-off election in April against whoever comes in second.

"One of my favorite lines about politics is, there's no such thing as a silver medal. You either win or you lose. Well, in this election, there could possibly be a reward for the silver medal," Green says. "If Rahm Emanuel doesn't get 50-percent plus one, you're in the playoffs."

Other Candidates On The Attack

With Emanuel teetering right around that 50-percent line in the polls, his opponents are sharpening their attacks.

In the last debate between the candidates Thursday night, City Clerk Miguel del Valle appealed to Latino voters by hitting Emanuel on immigration reform.

"The fact of the matter is that Rahm Emanuel referred to immigration as the 'third rail of politics' when he advised his colleagues in Congress not to pursue immigration reform," del Valle said.

Former U.S. Sen. Carol Moseley Braun tried to boost her standing among black voters by also attacking Emanuel's record in Congress.

"Mr. Emanuel voted against the Congressional Black Caucus 128 times," she said, adding that he also "voted against issues having to do with poverty and sending water to drought-starved Africa."

After the debate, former Chicago School Board President Gery Chico, who is second in most polls, added, "I think you saw Rahm Emanuel on the defense for just about 60 minutes and that's because he's spent 60 days evading questions and the truth about those questions."

For his part, Emanuel tried to remain above the fray. "You can call me whatever names you want," he said. "I'm not here about calling names, I'm here about focusing on the problems facing the city of Chicago."

But Emanuel has been quietly taking his shots, too, with robocalls and nonstop ads. The mud will likely continue to fly all the way up to Tuesday's election.

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