By Jay Levine

(CBS) — Was it a slip of the tongue, a Southern accent that is hard to understand — or a racially offensive term?

The controversy over what Willie Wilson really said threatened to overshadow the latest mayoral debate Thursday, as incumbent Rahm Emanuel was once again on the defensive over his massive fundraising, compared to his challengers.

CBS 2 Chief Correspondent Jay Levine reports.

Wilson tried to put out the fire that started with a comment at the City Club of Chicago earlier Thursday. The African-American businessman has said he can become uncomfortable meeting some white individuals for the first time, based on his personal experiences. Wilson is a multimillionaire who was once a sharecropper in the South.

“To the whiteys here, I’m letting you know, I ain’t prejudiced, all right?” Wilson appears to say in a video posted by the Chicago Sun-Times.

The Sun-Times ran a report about the comment. The Wilson campaign quickly denied that he used the term “whitey.”

But Levine played the audio for the candidate, and he appeared to reconsider.

“If I said something like that, that ain’t me,” Wilson responded. “How could it be me when I support, you know, white candidates?”

Wilson supported Gov. Bruce Rauner, a Republican, in his successful bid against Democrat Pat Quinn.

Also hoping to unseat the well-financed and influential Mayor Emanuel are Cook County Commissioner Jesus “Chuy” Garcia, Ward 2 Ald. Bob Fioretti and William “Dock” Walls. The election is Feb. 24.

Any candidate who garners more than 50 percent of the vote wins the election outright. Otherwise, there is a runoff contest in April.

CBS 2 will broadcast the final mayoral debate live at 6 p.m. Feb. 10 from the DuSable Museum of African American History. It is co-sponsored by the Chicago Urban League, the Business Leadership Council and WVON.