Arts-poor forum in arts-rich Chicago

February 18, 2011

There wasn't a lot to shout about at the final televised forum featuring the four leading mayoral candidates. The audience wasn't allowed to shout in any case. The candidates were generally civil to each other and mostly stuck to their familiar talking points, but observed time limits and avoided grandstanding thereby investing the q-and-a session with a bit of meat.

What was unusual is that the League of Chicago Theatres and Broadway In Chicago were among the 10 co-sponsors of the candidates' forum, telecast live last night (Feb. 17) on ABC-7 from the stage of Broadway In Chicago's Ford Center for the Performing Arts/Oriental Theatre. The League and Broadway In Chicago generally steer clear of any direct involvement in politics or elections, though neither (of course) was coming out in favor of any of the candidates, Carol Moseley Braun, Gery Chico, Miguel Del Valle and Rahm Emanuel.

In the hour of questions from moderator Ron Magers and two panelists, there was nothing even vaguely approaching a question about the arts, yet Rahm Emanuel--alone among the four--managed to work in a cultural reference. The candidates were asked to name three people they would tap as informal "kitchen cabinet" advisers. Emanuel named more than three (as did Chico and Braun) and mentioned Dave Mosena, Museum of Science & Industry CEO and McPier board chairman, as someone to advise on arts and culture, which Emanuel noted are a rich and important part of Chicago's fabric of life. Alas, wrong answer, Rahm. The last thing we need is a corporate executive, a money person, advising on arts and culture. Hey, how about an artist? How about some creative types? Now, there's a concept. But at least Rahm put it on the table.

After the one-hour forum, the League of Chicago Theatres hosted a reception at Petterino's Restaurant, with two of the candidates making appearances. Miguel Del Valle quietly worked the banquet room, shaking hands and softly talking one-on-one with a number of individuals. Emanuel also made an appearance--literally--barely stepping into the room for three or four minutes so people could snap cell phone pix, and then he was outta' there. The forum and the reception were well-stocked with League board members and Chicago theater leaders, among them Goodman Theatre executive director Roche Schulfer, TimeLine Theatre artistic director P. J. Powers, Prop Thtr Group artistic director Scott Vehill and DePaul Theatre School manager Leslie Shook.

The most unpopular person of the evening was forum moderator Ron Magers. The personable WLS news anchor came across as an arrogant thug, threatening the audience with a physically rough ejection by security staff if anyone applauded, cheered, shouted, whistled or even gasped. Magers was serious and ungracious. Mid-forum, when the audience laughed in response to a candidate's joke, he threatened to clear the entire theater. Yeah, Ron, go ahead and throw out 2,000 people on live TV. Everyone understood Magers didn't want competitive cheering sections for each candidate, but you don't invite a large audience and then tell them not to react like an audience. Take it to a studio, dude, where folks will cater to your self-importance.