No spark in first major Chicago mayoral debate

January 18, 2011

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(WBEZ/Sam Hudzik)
Emanuel answering reporters' questions following the debate on Monday.

In their first major televised debate, candidates for Chicago mayor tried to prove to the 250 high schoolers in attendance - and everyone watching at home - that they know how to improve the city's schools, decrease the drop-out rate and prevent crime.

Facing several dozen questions from the students, the mayoral hopefuls provided little drama and few specifics in their responses. Instead, they shared snippets from their campaign platforms.

Miguel del Valle says if teacher training, mentoring and evaluating are improved, "You will be able to weed out the individuals who should go into another profession. They shouldn't be teaching."

Gery Chico wants to give a laptop computer to every student, a plan he defended to a skeptical student.

"Instead of just using textbooks, and say, 'Open your social studies book to Chapter 5. Let's read about China,' I'd rather you be able to have you get on Skype and talk to your counterparts in Beijing," Chico said.

Carol Moseley Braun said that to help reduce Chicagos' dropout rate, it is up to schools to provide alternatives to gangs.

"If basketball is somebody's life, that they can have basketball at school, and that'd be an incentive for them to stay in," Moseley Braun said.

To make sure all kids have access to a variety of extra-curricular activities, Rahm Emanuel said he wants to "consolidate" schools.

"That's the tough choices we're going to have to make," Emanuel said. "So you can make sure you get what you need."

The two other candidates for mayor, Bill "Dock" Walls and Patricia Van Pelt Watkins, were not invited to attend. Nonetheless, Van Pelt Watkins answered all the questions posed to the other candidates, according to her campaign. The video is posted on her website.

The forum was sponsored by WTTW public television, which broadcast it Monday night, and Mikva Challenge, a group that tries to get students involved in politics and government.

School violence and harassment also came up during the debate, and three of the four candidates said they had personally been victims of bullying.

Asked for deatils following the debate, Emanuel said his bike was stolen and he was beat up after returning from a summer trip to Israel.

"That type of bullying happened when I was growing up because of what I look like when I get very tan, dark," Emanuel said.

Miguel del Valle also said he received a lot of bruises.

"It was racial," Del Valle told reporters. "I was one of the first Latino families to move into the neighborhood."

Carol Moseley Braun says there was this one girl in particular who would pick on her over and over again.

"One day I just kind of went berserk," Moseley Braun said, laughing. "She didn't pick on me anymore."

The only candidate to say he was not bullied was Gery Chico.

"You know, you got in one or two fights in my neighborhood. You learned how to defend yourself," Chico said. "You won a couple fights. They left you alone."