After Emanuel court victory, mayoral debate gets some spice

January 28, 2011

(Getty/Chris Sweda-Pool)
Mayoral candidates debated Thursday, just hours after the Illinois Supreme Court ruled to let Rahm Emanuel stay in the race.

The election of Chicago's mayor has entered its post-litigation phase. Candidates say they're ready to focus on city issues after Rahm Emanuel was put back in the race by the Illinois Supreme Court.

In the minutes after the ruling was announced, Emanuel joked to reporters in downtown Chicago that the long saga over his residency had left a mark.

"I've got to be honest," he said. "We're a pretty avid Scrabble-playing family. I have banned the word 'resident' in Scrabble in our household. I never want to see it again. Even if you get it on a triple word, you're not allowed to use it."

That rule did not apply at a debate at the WGN-TV studios a couple hours later, with the first question focusing on that Supreme Court decision.

"I'm talking about the issues that affect real Chicagoans, and the ruling today doesn't affect that one way or another," former U.S. Sen. Carol Moseley Braun said.

Likewise, City Clerk Miguel del Valle told reporters the ballot fight was a distraction from issues affecting city residents.

"They want to hear about those things. Not about residency," del Valle said. "So I'm glad we're there - finally - even though there's only four weeks left."

Even less time is left to win support from Chicagoans who take advantage of early voting. That begins Monday.

In Thursday night's debate, sponsored by the City Club of Chicago, the candidates wasted little time in stepping up their attacks on the frontrunner.

On at least three occasions, ex-school board head Gery Chico referenced an Emanuel proposal to levy a sales tax on some services, which Chico's campaign dubbed the "Rahm Tax."  Chico says the Chicagoans he's met can't handle a tax "on common services: barber shops, child care, pet clipping."

Emanuel's campaign said that the candidate's proposal would tax only what it called "luxury goods." The campaign denied that barber shops or child care would be taxed under the plan, but acknowledged pet grooming would be.

Responding to Chico's criticism during the debate, Emanuel noted that his services tax would be coupled with a drop in the sales tax percentage.

"I do not think it's fair for a single mother with two kids who are trying to buy school supplies to pay a higher sales tax when people who have charter planes, private planes, don't pay," he said.

Emanuel spent much of the debate on the defensive, taking hits from each of his opponents. Chico also faced a good number of attacks from rivals Braun and del Valle.