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Mayoral Contenders Gather For Final Televised Debate

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The four major candidates for Chicago mayor prepare to debate Thursday night. (AP)

The four major candidates for Chicago mayor prepare to debate Thursday night. (AP)

dellimore250 Craig Dellimore
Craig Dellimore, political editor for WBBM, joined the station in 1983...
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UPDATED 02/18/11 5:28 a.m.

CHICAGO (CBS) - The candidates for mayor have taken their last swings at each other face-to-face.

As CBS 2’s Susanna Song reports, the mayoral candidates duked it out Thursday night at the final debate, which held at the Ford Center for the Performing Arts-Oriental Theatre and televised on WLS-Channel 7.

At the debate, former White House chief of staff Rahm Emanuel and former Chicago schools president Gery Chico took most of the heat from former U.S. Sen. Carol Moseley Braun and City Clerk Miguel del Valle. Chico also took a fair number of shots at Emanuel himself.

“I was born in the Back of the Yards neighborhood on the South Side of Chicago,” Chico said. “I have worked hard for everything I’ve ever heard.”

“They try to tell you that this election is over; that the money has won it,” Braun said. “But I want to tell you something – it’s not over until you, the voters, speak.”

Emanuel was criticized by his opponents for not doing enough for immigration reform and over his proposal to expand the sales tax base to include some luxury services, although he does want to cut the city rate. Chico was hit for his leadership at the schools that Braun said have moved toward privatization and by del Valle who accused both Chico, an attorney, and Emanuel of getting rich off their government contacts.

“They’re cut from the same cloth,” Del Valle said after the live debate. He implored voters to send the contest to an April runoff.

An April 5 runoff won’t happen unless one candidate fails to get more than 50 percent of the vote on Feb. 22. Polls show Emanuel in striking distance of the margin he needs to win the race outright.

A recent Chicago Tribune/WGN-TV poll showed Emanuel with 49 percent support compared with 19 percent for Chico. A subsequent Illinois Retail Merchants Association poll showed Emanuel with 58 percent.

Braun and Del Valle trail, along with two other candidates – Patricia Van Pelt Watkins and William “Dock” Walls – who did not participate in the debate.

Emanuel defended his record on supporting immigration reform, which some activists are unhappy hasn’t advanced further under President Barack Obama. His opponents tried to blame him for the lack of progress. Emanuel said Obama faced terrible economic conditions when he first came into office, including crumbling financial markets.

“He made the decision as president what to move forward,” Emanuel said, adding that naturalizations have increased under the Obama administration.

Chico again hit Emanuel over his sales tax proposal, which he derisively calls the “Rahm Tax.” Del Valle also took issue with Emanuel’s tax plan, which would lower the city’s home rule sales tax from 1.25 percent to 1 percent, but expand the tax to include currently untaxed luxury items.

“The amount that Rahm is talking about is a miniscule amount that won’t be found by anyone,” Del Valle said. “And so the question is why are we even proposing it at this time? Because it sounds good.”

Del Valle attacked Chico as a City Hall insider.

“For too long in the city of Chicago, the mayor has been surrounded by a close-knit circle, and that’s why gentlemen like Gery Chico got appointed to everything, because the circle was so small,” Del Valle said.

But Chico said his experience could solve the city’s financial problems.

“We’re telling the working families of this city, ‘Tighten your belt, give us more money,’ but we’re not doing anything,” Chico said. “That’s just not right. I’m not going to see that happen.”

Chico said he isn’t worried Emanuel will win the race outright next week.

“I think we will have a runoff. I expect to have a runoff election against Rahm Emanuel,” Chico said.

CBS 2 Chief Correspondent Jay Levine said Emanuel appeared to put an end to a controversy this week stemming from an insult hurled by one of Chico’s union supporters -– that Emanuel was a “Judas” for aiding the North American Free Trade Agreement. Some, including a previously neutral Mayor Daley, thought the remark had anti-Semitic connotations.

“Call me whatever names you want,” Emanuel told reporters after the debate. “I’m not here about calling names. I’m here about focusing on the problems facing the city of Chicago.”

During the election, Emanuel never seemed to be shaken up by the attacks. He and the other candidates now have four full days to campaign.

(TM and © Copyright 2011 CBS Radio Inc. and its relevant subsidiaries. CBS Radio and EYE Logo TM and Copyright 2010 CBS Broadcasting Inc. Used under license. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed. The Associated Press contributed to this report.)

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