Last night’s ABC7/League of Women Voters mayoral debate, the final one before Tuesday’s primary, featured the same back-and-forth we’ve heard before—about residency rules for police and firemen, underfunded pensions, immigration, the $18 million Rahm Emanuel made after he left the Clinton White House, and Gery Chico’s millions from his law firm that services clients with ties to the city, and most of all, what Chico calls “the Rahm tax” on services.  

As usual, some of the most enlightening moments came post-debate, when the candidates descended into the “press room” for 10 minutes each. Miguel del Valle said of Emanuel and Chico: “They both enriched themselves from their contacts with the federal government and with local government. This election has to go to a runoff, and I am the alternative to the Gery Chico/Rahm Emanuel combination.” 

I asked del Valle whom he would support if there were a runoff between Chico and Emanuel. “They’re cut from the same cloth,” he answered. I asked, “Would you not vote?” Del Valle said, “I’ve never missed a vote since I’ve been elected to office. I intend on being the individual who is in that runoff. I’ve had people say to me, `I’m an attorney, I’m with a law firm. We have to make sure we’re with Emanuel because we want to get contracts.’”  

Carol Moseley Braun, who looked and sounded great at the debate, focused on hitting Emanuel every chance she got. She blamed him for voting 128 times against bills supported by the Congressional Black Caucus, and for “standing in the way” of approval of the Dream Act. It was a simple bill, she said—“not rocket science.” Yet, for her closing statement, she read from a script—it almost seemed to me as if she had given up. After fewer than seven minutes of facing reporters, when there were no more questions, she left, saying, “It’s been real.”

Chico returned to a theme he had expressed earlier in the campaign when he said that the city’s school reform initiatives had slowed—he got a public lashing from Mayor Daley for that. “The city we love has lost its momentum,” Chico said last night. “I want to offer my experience to get us back.”

Emanuel looked and sounded exhausted, swimming in his small suit. He took the prize for insincerity when, in his closing statement, he called his opponents “good public servants that I consider friends.” Post-debate, asked whether he had been in touch with Mayor Daley, Emanuel said “no” and added, “He’s not supporting anybody.”

He was also asked by a reporter if he’ll send his children to the Chicago Public Schools. A less disciplined campaigner might have retorted that the great man of the people, del Valle, sent two of his children to the private Latin School—putting the issue in the headlines. Instead, Rahm stared coldly at the questioner and answered in a tone that sounded like he was trying to remain even, that his children’s education was none of the reporter’s business. “I will make that decision with my wife,” he said. “We’re looking at public schools, we’re looking at private schools, but it will be a family decision.” 

After the event, I dropped by Rockit Bar and Grill for a Rock the Vote event trying to boost the youth vote. One of the organizers told me that Chico, del Valle, and Braun had responded that they would attend. Chico (who told me that he felt better after registering a fever of 104-degrees earlier in the day) and del Valle were both there on time and gave loud, spirited speeches. Del Valle exhorted the young crowd not to let the multimillionaires of New York, Washington, and Hollywood decide who would be mayor of Chicago. The speech seemed better suited for a union hall or a neighborhood library than to the well-dressed up-and-comers. I waited around for Braun’s promised appearance but finally gave up, which was just as well because she never showed. Emanuel did not attend, either, but according to organizers, his campaign did respond to the invite but were not able to attend.


Photograph: Chicago Tribune