Mayoral candidates unanimous: Rahm’s residency was distraction

30 Jan

Rahm Emanuel addressed the residency ruling as he took questions from the media after Thursday night's televised mayoral debate on WGN-TV. (Photo by Christine Hurley)

By Christine Hurley and Maham Khan

If the Chicago mayoral election seems like a circus to some, the Thursday night debate inside WGN-TV studios was in the correct room. Until 2001, Studio 1—the site of the debate—was Bozo the Clown’s home.

There was no walking line of elephants, but the road leading to the studios was lined with Gery Chico and Rahm Emanuel supporters buoyed by a Supreme Court decision to let their man remain on the ballot just a few hours earlier. Every major television channel had a camera at the front doors waiting to catch a glimpse of the candidates.

If you’re looking for the play-by-play, here is a recap of the live DePolitics1011 Twitter feed during the debate:

Getting ready @ WGN for the mayor’s debate. Rahm back on the ballot… supporters outside pretty happy.

Studio is ice cold. Candidates getting powdered. And where is everyone under the age of 35?

Micah Materre of WGN announcing the rules. Boooo on no booing allowed!

Bruce Dold just asked the audience what they want to talk about… murmurs said: TIFs, pensions, education and city plans.

Candidates have been seated. Braun looking over notes. Rahm sitting frozen with hands locked. OK he just took a sip of something.

Some of the candidates definitely got their hair done for the event.

And they’re off! First question is about the ballot ruling. Surprising…

Now on Chicago’s financial crisis…

Braun says let’s not call it a crisis.

Chico says it is a crisis, but not one he hasn’t seen.

Rahm says let’s give Chicago a 20% sales tax cut.

Braun says she is gonna reverse parking meters deal.

De Valle says Chico doesn’t know city clerk’s office, even though he was chief if staff.

Braun: Gery, stop taking credit for what Mayor Daley did.

Rahm: Weiss needs to go.

Braun: I’m the only one here who started a small business. Some giggles in the room.

Braun: Calls Rahm out paying his taxes late.

Braun: No more charter schools.

Rahm: I believe in charter schools.

Chico: Parents wanted charter schools so I gave them to them.

Rahm jumps up to shake everyone’s hands. Press room is waiting for him to do Q&A first. Each candidate gets five minutes with press.

Gery Chico discussed the "Rahm Tax" with the media following Thursday night's televised mayoral debate on WGN-TV. (Photo by Christine Hurley)

After the Debate

Here are some behind-the-scenes’ highlights:

Emanuel was scheduled to be the first candidate to speak, but there was confusion amidst the organizers of the event and eventually Miguel del Valle and his camp came into the pressroom. He walked in smiling and waved to reporters.

The first question asked of him was what he thought of the Illinois Supreme Court ruling made earlier in the day, the first asked of each candidate. “I said from the very beginning it was a distraction,” said del Valle. “We need to deal with the issues. Chicago is hungry for a civil discussion about the things that bother people day in and day out.”

Rahm had barely reached the podium before someone yelled out, “Was the ruling a relief?” The mayoral hopeful looked wide-eyed as he took a step back and smiled. He responded saying of course it was a relief for himself and for the voters of Chicago.

“It was a waste of time for the city, but the good thing is I don’t think it was a distraction for them because they knew what their priorities were,” added Rahm.

Sound to the microphone went out after this question and reporters in the spin room looked to the debate organizers for help. As time ticked away he was given a 30-second warning. He called back to the staff person saying he asked for an additional minute—he smiled and got laughs from most people in the room.

Chico was the next candidate to speak with the press. He stood casually at the podium with his left hand in his pocket. Chico responded to the Rahm residency question by saying the former White House Chief of Staff should be a candidate but not mayor. He went on to say the legal proceedings have been a circus and distraction for voters.

The former chief of staff to Mayor Daley spent a good portion of his allotted five minutes discussing the “Rahm tax,” a reference to the luxury tax Emanuel supports.

Chico pointed at members of the press and asked: “You need a haircut? You’re going to pay the Rahm tax. Need childcare? You’re going to pay the Rahm tax.”

This was the final topic Chico had time to talk about. As he left, his press secretary, Brooke Anderson, passed out a form titled “Rahm Emanuel’s Luxury Services,” a handout listing various services that would allegedly qualify to be taxed as luxury services.

Braun was the last to speak to the press. She came in smiling, but she needed the help of her staff to jog her memory about details. She repeated much of her thoughts from the debate and—like the other candidates—did not want to focus much attention to Rahm’s residency troubles.

“The field has not changed,” said Braun. “The conversations have not changed and we are continuing to go forward to take our messages to the people…”

As the candidate tamers and political ring masters left the studio, WGN employees began to disassemble the pressroom. The studio needed to be prepared for the evening’s next act—the Lotto drawing.

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