SCOTT SIMON, host:
Chicagos municipal elections are on Tuesday. The first round of the first real campaign for mayor in 22 years. Richard M. Daley has held onto the office for that length of time, but now the first open race for mayor in decades.
Voters can choose between six candidates, four of them considered major.
But as NPR's David Schaper reports from Chicago, the race has essentially come down to a contest between former White House Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel and the rest of the field.
DAVID SCHAPER: Many Chicagoans like to complain about Mayor Richard Daley's autocratic style and the corruption on his watch at city hall. But voters here re-elected him time and again, by huge margins, just like they did his father.
The current Mayor Daley's 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. Lew Collens is President emeritus of the Illinois Institute of Technology.
Professor LEW COLLENS (President emeritus, Illinois Institute of Technology): I think the mayor had a terrific sense of what was necessary to build Chicago as a global city. He's been very focused on that. He's done an extraordinary job.
SCHAPER: 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, have no qualms about singing the praises out loud of the frontrunner in the race, Rahm Emanuel. Here's Chicago attorney Jerry Latherow.
Mr. JERRY LATHEROW (Attorney): I think he's a real solid leader and kick rear end possibly and not take any names. And maybe I'd like to see him do it a little bit more delicately, but I think he'll get things done.
SCHAPER: 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, to avoid going to a run off election in April against whomever comes in second.
Professor PAUL GREEN (Institute for Politics, Roosevelt University): 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. Coming in second, and if Rahm Emanuel doesn't get 50 percent plus one, you're in the playoffs.
SCHAPER: 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.
Mr. MIGUEL DEL VALLE (Mayoral candidate, Chicago): And 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.
SCHAPER: And former U.S. Senator Carol Moseley Braun tried to boost her standing among African-American voters by also attacking Emanuel's record in Congress.
Senator CAROL MOSELEY BRAUN (Mayoral candidate, Chicago): Where Mr. Emanuel voted against the Congressional Black Caucus 128 times, who voted against issues having to do with poverty and sending water to drought-starved Africa.
SCHAPER: And after the debate, former Chicago School Board President Gery Chico, who is second in most polls, added this:
Mr. GERY CHICO (Mayoral candidate, Chicago): Don't we want in a mayor somebody that will answer your questions fully and truthfully, or do we want evasion? I don't think that's the kind of city we want.
SCHAPER: For his part, Emanuel is trying to remain above the fray.
Mr. RAHM EMANUEL (Mayor candidate, Chicago): You can call me whatever names you want. I'm not here about calling names. I'm here about focusing on the problems facing the city of Chicago.
SCHAPER: But Emanuel has been quietly taking his shots too, with robocalls and non-stop ads. And the mud will likely continue to fly all the way up to Tuesday's election.
David Schaper, NPR News, Chicago.
(Soundbite of music)
SIMON: And you're listening to sweet home WEEKEND EDITION from NPR News.