Ward Room
Covering Chicago's nine political influencers

Everyone Wants a Piece of Rahm

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Wednesday evening's Chicago Defender-sponsored forum was the first time all six mayoral candidates appeared together in the same debate.

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After Wednesday night’s Chicago Defender debate, I now understand why Rahm Emanuel doesn’t like community forums: his opponents say really mean things about him!

Earlier this week, Emanuel skipped a debate sponsored by an Asian-American group, but the African-American community is too big to ignore. A few minutes after the forum started, Emanuel made it down from the LGBT Forum on the North Side, and slipped through the curtain. The teenage girls sitting in my row screeched at the celebrity sighting. I was a little star struck myself. I’ve been to a half-dozen mayoral forums, but I’ve never seen a candidate who’s been written up in Newsweek and The New York Times.

Even before Emanuel’s arrival, Gery Chico had gone on the attack. He criticized Emanuel’s plans to expand the sales tax and reduce public employee pensions.

“He would balance the budget of the city by going after the retirement plans of our police and firefighters,” Chico said. “I will not tax people. I am not going to expand under the guise of a tax swap the very largest tax increase we’ve seen.”

Instead, Chico proposed reducing costs by merging and consolidating departments, and adopting “best practices” in city purchasing.

When the candidates were asked about reparations for the descendants of slaves, Emanuel ducked. The city has a budget deficit, he said. The best way to uplift African-Americans is through education.

“When I hear Rahm Emanuel talking about a budget deficit when we talk about reparations, that’s offensive,” Patricia Watkins shot back, as the crowd hooted and clapped. “This country was built on our backs. We bled, we came here in chains!”

William “Dock” Walls used a question on Tax Increment Financing districts to take a shot at Emanuel’s tenure as White House Chief of Staff.

Most of the candidates agreed that TIFs have become a “piggy bank” for mayoral projects, and should be returned to their original purpose of aiding blighted neighborhoods. “Fifteen million to the Board of Trade is hardly a way to restore a blighted area,” Carol Moseley Braun said.

But Emanuel proposed spending TIF money to hire 950 new police officers.

“When you were White House chief of staff, we had children dying in the street, and you never came back and said you wanted to hire more police officers,” Walls retorted, to raucous cheers.

Even Miguel del Valle had something nasty to say about Emanuel, declaring the election wouldn’t be bought by candidates who had millions to spend on ads. Only Moseley Braun was uncritical. The former senator was on her sunniest behavior. (She was also seated at the opposite end of the stage from Watkins, who she had accused of being “strung out on crack” at a previous forum.)

The candidates will go at it again tonight at Kennedy-King College, in a forum sponsored the Chicago Urban League and Harriet’s Daughters. The forum will be broadcast live on FOX Chicago, beginning at 9:30 p.m.

Buy this book! Ward Room blogger Edward McClelland's book, Young Mr. Obama: Chicago and the Making of a Black President , is available Amazon. Young Mr. Obama includes reporting on President Obama's earliest days in the Windy City, covering how a presumptuous young man transformed himself into presidential material. Buy it now!

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