CHICAGO (CBS) — The top four candidates for mayor of Chicago stepped things up a notch on Friday, sitting down face-to-face for the first time at a meeting with the Chicago Tribune editorial board.
As CBS 2 Chief Correspondent Jay Levine reports, it was supposed to be a question and answer session, but turned out to be a surprisingly heated debate.
As the clear frontrunner, the debate was Rahm Emanuel’s to lose. Since he lost neither the debate, nor his famous temper, he probably won, though the others clearly held their own.
City Clerk Miguel Del Valle scored points on education. Former U.S. Sen. Carol Moseley Braun was constantly on the attack. And former Chicago Board of Education president Gery Chico was long on specifics.
The candidates arrived at Tribune Tower for the first face-to-face meeting of major candidates Friday morning, placing all four on the same stage, with the same footing.
The candidates all were smiling and shaking hands when they got there, but when they sat down at the table, the gloves came off.
Chico pointed the finger at Emanuel – a former board member at mortgage giant Freddie Mac – for the national housing crisis.
But he certainly wasn’t the only one going after Emanuel, the frontrunner in the race to succeed Mayor Richard M. Daley.
“Well, yeah, since Rahm is sitting in the hot seat, yeah I may as well pile on here,” Braun said at one point.
Chico also hit Emanuel on his proposal to reduce retirement benefits for existing city employees in order to cut pension costs.
“We shouldn’t be taking lazy ways out by saying I’m gonna change this, change that, flippantly,” Chico said. “We don’t need a Washington way to come in here and crush down people.”
Asked if he felt like it was a tag team match against him, Emanuel said, “No … as I believe, we’re not, I’m not about attacking each other, let’s attack the problems facing the city of Chicago.”
The debate found the candidates talking nearly as much about style as they did about substance.
Braun chided Emanuel over stories that he once sent a pollster a dead fish for being late delivering poll results and news reports that he once told staffers to “Take the tampons out and get to work.”
“The question is one of temperament. This city’s the city of big shoulders, and we’re considered to be tough Grabowskis and all of that but we’re not, you know, mean-spirited and nasty,” Braun said. “Temperament is a very important thing. If you’re sending dead fish to people, I mean, come on.”
The candidates also went after Emanuel’s perceived dictatorial leadership style.
“I accused him of rolling over people and steam-rolling people. And I just don’t think that’s the way you get to a point in Chicago of accomplishing things,” Chico said. “I don’t want to see that kind of activity lead to a transit strike, a teachers’ strike, the garbage not being picked up.”
For his part, Emanuel said, “I think the public will make an evaluation of who’s the best candidate with the best ideas and the strength of character to see through the changes that are necessary for our city.
The toughest exchange was between Emanuel and Chico on ethics issues. Emanuel accused Chico of parlaying his school board connections into lucrative lobbying contracts.
Chico claimed Emanuel was asleep at the switch when the mortgage crisis exploded while he was a member of the board at Freddie Mac.
In a common theme for Emanuel’s opponents, del Valle criticized him for skipping community forums the other three candidates have attended.
“I’ve been to eight community forums and you’ve been to none. When are you going to start talking to the neighborhoods?” del Valle asked.
All four top candidates are scheduled to attend their first joint public forum on Monday night on WTTW-TV.