Candidates at the debate

The City Club/Chicago Tribune-sponsored mayoral debate at the WGN studios Thursday was lively enough, but some of the more interesting exchanges happened afterwards, off camera, when each of the four participants took five minutes of questions from the press.

I asked the first candidate up, Miguel del Valle, why he hadn’t raised NAFTA during the debate. Del Valle used it to launch into an attack on Emanuel, a chief NAFTA strategist, for “blocking immigration reform in this country”—as well as for blocking a public option in the health care bill. I wondered why del Valle didn’t mention these items when the television cameras were on and the audience was larger than the 20 or so reporters questioning him.

When it was Rahm’s turn to take his five minutes, I asked him about President Obama calling him just after the Illinois Supreme Court overturned the appellate ruling, thus ending several days of what must have been exquisite misery. (Not surprisingly, Rahm looked exhausted and almost physically diminished.) I asked the candidate what Obama said to him, and if he was hoping for an endorsement from the president. The conversation was confidential, Emanuel replied, adding that the President “remains a friend of mine”—but ignoring the part about the endorsement.

When Gery Chico appeared, he seemed much more forceful than he did during the debate, blasting only the leading candidate, Rahm, for proposing what Chico called “the biggest tax expansion in history.” [Emanuel has proposed a sales tax rate cut for, as he put it, repeatedly and robotically, “mothers buying school supplies and backpacks for their kids.” He said he would fund it by taxing luxury services like limos and private jets.] Chico, however, expanded the list of those services to cover stuff that everyday working people use: haircuts, car washes, plumbers. He said, “You need a plumber, you’re going to pay the Rahm Tax; you need a haircut, you’re going to pay the Rahm Tax; you need child care services, you’re going to pay the Rahm tax.” That some of these were not on Emanuel’s list was rather confusing; presumably, Rahm’s camp will contest Chico’s attack, so expect to hear much more about the issue in the days to come.

Moving on from the “Rahm Tax,” I asked Chico who’s paying Burt Odelson, the lawyer who challenged Emanuel’s residency. Chico mumbled what sounded like, “I don’t even know who Burt Odelson is.”

I thought Carol Moseley Braun won the debate because she was so much more   articulate and charming than we’ve seen her so far. What didn’t ring right was her attempt, during the debate, to justify paying her property tax bills late five out of six times because she was shoring up her organic food company, Ambassador Organics. She presented herself as the future of the economic health of the city—a woman who started and nurtured a small business. She claimed never to have laid off an employee. As I drove home from the WGN-TV studios, I realized that I should have asked her how many people she employed. A look at her website provides a list of her board of directors. First on the list is her son, Matthew Braun, but there was no indication of the size of her company’s staff.

E-mails to her spokesman and her company’s public relations counsels were not returned by post time.


Photograph: Chicago Tribune