Front-runner Emanuel gets hit on immigration in final debate

February 18, 2011

(WBEZ/Sam Hudzik)
Rahm Emanuel and Gery Chico on stage at the Oriental Theatre a few minutes before Thursday's debate began.

Candidates for Chicago mayor are trying to bruise the front-runner as election day draws closer. In the final televised debate, Rahm Emanuel faced particular scrutiny on the issue of immigration.

The next mayor likely won't spend a lot of time on immigration policy, but it consumed a chunk of Thursday night's debate hosted by ABC-7 and the League of Women Voters.

Gery Chico, Carol Moseley Braun and Miguel del Valle each said Emanuel failed on immigration reform when he was in Congress and when he worked for President Obama.

"The fact of the matter is that Rahm Emanuel referred to immigration as the third rail of politics when he advised his colleagues in Congress not to pursue immigration reform," del Valle said.

"We ought to, as a nation, once and for all, figure out federal immigration reform," Chico said. "It didn't happen on Mr. Emanuel's watch as chief of staff, but I was so proud to see President Obama during the state of the Union, just recently, put it right back on the agenda."

"You have been, Mr. Emanuel, shown that you were directly involved with killing the DREAM Act when it came through, so to listen to you deny it is really kind of surprising," Moseley Braun said.

Emanuel defended his record on immigration, saying after the debate that his congressional voting record on the issue mirrored that of U.S. Rep. Luis Gutierrez. The Chicago Democrat has endorsed Chico, and criticized Emanuel on the immigration issue.

As for his White House record, Emanuel said when President Obama took office, he faced an immediate economic crisis.

"He made the decisions as president what to move forward, and those are the things he moved forward," Emanuel said.

Emanuel would not say what he advised the president to focus on, calling such conversations private.

Also during the one-hour debate, some of the candidates revealed who would make up their informal "kitchen cabinet" if they win the election.

Moseley Braun said she would consult family, friends and John Rogers, an investment banker and major campaign donor. Rahm Emanuel also includes a couple campaign donors on his list, including David Mosena, the head of the Museum of Science and Industry who previously worked for Mayor Daley.

Miguel del Valle was the only candidate to refuse to say specifically who'd advise him, saying he would cast a wide net.

Carol Moseley Braun and Miguel del Valle chatting before the debate began.

"For too long in the city of Chicago, the mayor has been surrounded by a very small, close knit circle, and that's why gentlemen like Gery Chico got appointed to everything, because the circle is so small," del Valle said, to laughter and cheers in the crowd at the Oriental Theatre in downtown Chicago.

Chico has had stints on the boards of the Chicago Public Schools, the park district and city Colleges, as well as Mayor Richard Daley's staff. For his part, Chico said his list of advisors would include Gutierrez and former schools chief Paul Vallas, whose brother has donated to Chico's campaign.

Correction: An earlier version of this story misstated David Mosena's employer. He works as president and CEO of the Museum of Science and Industry.