RENEE MONTAGNE, Host:
The race in Chicago to replace a mayor who's virtually owned the office, Richard Daley, has been dominated by another big name - Rahm Emanuel. Emanuel, of course, is the former chief of staff to President Obama and a favorite to win. Still, there's plenty of competition. And with a week to go before the vote the candidates met last night in one of their final debates. NPR's Cheryl Corley reports.
CHERYL CORLEY: You might think during a debate on Valentine's Day the candidates running to be mayor of Chicago would be a little friendlier towards each other. And for a short time they were. When asked how they'd celebrate the holiday, here's former Chicago school board chief Gery Chico...
GERY CHICO: Taking my wife to dinner. She doesn't even know it. I'm going to surprise her.
(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)
CORLEY: And former Obama chief of staff Rahm Emanuel.
RAHM EMANUEL: I'm going to join the Chicos.
(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)
CORLEY: The other candidates in the race for Chicago mayor are former U.S. Senator Carol Moseley Braun and city clerk Miguel del Valle. During the forum the candidates discussed 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 Miguel del Valle said should be approached with caution.
MIGUEL DEL VALLE: We cannot repeat the awful meter deal that we had.
CORLEY: But an even bigger question during the debate was who has the right skills to follow a mayor who's run the city for more than two decades. Carol Moseley Braun was questioned about her temperament and whether financial problems with her campaigns and her small organic tea company meant she was a poor money manager.
CAROL MOSELEY BRAUN: Of course not. 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.
CORLEY: That's one slap at Rahm Emanuel and Gery Chico who both 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.
EMANUEL: I was paid like every other board member. I was appointed to that position because I was vice chair of the Chicago Housing Authority and President Clinton wanted somebody with public housing and mixed income housing background.
CORLEY: And Emanuel says he served on the board well before the housing crisis. During a press conference after the debate Gery Chico blasted Emanuel, as he has throughout the campaign, for proposing an expansion of the sales tax. And he said that Emanuel continues to refuse to give straight answers about his role on the Freddie Mac board.
CHICO: And what Rahm has turned out to be is a pathological evader of the truth.
CORLEY: Chicago political analyst Laura Washington says despite those types of criticism 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.
LAURA WASHINGTON: They think that Rahm Emanuel will be tough, he'll make the hard decisions and he's got the right connections. And the city needs all the help it can get right now.
CORLEY: For any candidate to win next week's election they must get 50 percent plus one more vote, otherwise the top two vote getters will face each other in a runoff in April. Miguel de Valle says he's studied the recent polls.
DEL VALLE: And I see that there are still a significant number of individuals who've said that while they're expressing a preference, their minds could be changed.
CORLEY: Cheryl Corley, NPR News, Chicago.
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