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Emanuel opts out of most forums

Updated: December 7, 2010 9:40PM

Something’s missing from Chicago’s mayoral candidate forums: Rahm Emanuel.

On at least three nights next week — Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday — just about all of the major candidates for mayor, except the former White House chief of staff, have agreed to sit side-by-side at community forums and take questions from voters or panelists.

But Emanuel is taking a pass, as he has done with other forums this week and last.

“I don’t think he’ll do any of them,” Emanuel spokesman Ben Labolt said of next week’s forums. “He’s been speaking to voters directly where they live and work every day of the week.”

Rival candidate Gery Chico has called for 10 debates, but so far Emanuel has only committed to one: a Valentine’s Day forum a week before the Feb. 22 election to be televised on WTTW-Channel 11. He is negotiating with The Urban League and The League of Women Voters/ABC7 to participate in two other as-yet-unscheduled debates, Labolt said.

“It’s one thing to release a sliver of a policy on education, but actions speak louder than words,” Chico said Tuesday. “Rahm needs to be at the first major debate on education next Wednesday night to debate all of the issues facing our children. I very much hope to see him there.”

It has been more than 20 years since Chicago voters have seen a major candidate for mayor in a debate. That was in 1989, when then State’s Attorney Richard M. Daley did better than expected. But he never agreed to another debate.

In 1983, U.S. Rep. Harold Washington’s debate performance opposite Daley and then-Mayor Jane Byrne was credited with establishing him as a worthy and knowledgeable contender for mayor. Washington demanded that then Police Supt. Richard “Brzeczek must go!”

A recent poll showed Emanuel with 39 percent support of likely voters, far ahead of the next-closest contender, former Sen. Carol Moseley Braun, who had 12 percent. Chico, State Sen. James Meeks, Rep. Danny Davis and City Clerk Miguel Del Valle were also back in the pack. They all plan to attend next week’s forums:

On Tuesday night, community groups will host the New Chicago Forum at UIC.

On Wednesday night, Raise Your Hand, a parents’ group, and Northside Democracy for America, will hold a forum at Walter Payton High School moderated by Better Government Association President and CEO Andy Shaw.

On Thursday night, the Chicago Teachers Union will host a forum.

“When you announce your candidacy in a school, say that education is a top priority and pledge to empower parents if you’re elected mayor, you should attend the first major forum on the issue of education, especially when it’s organized by a large and reputable parents’ group,” Shaw said. Shaw called Emanuel’s strategy a “rose garden strategy,” referring to incumbent presidents who host news conferences in the presidential rose garden rather than subjecting themselves to unscripted conversations in debates or other personal appearances on the campaign trail.

Emanuel has been hosting carefully controlled events around Chicago, greeting commuters at “L” stops most mornings, then holding public events, after which he spends about 10 minutes taking questions from reporters, as he did Tuesday.

Contributing: Fran Spielman

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