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All six mayoral candidates spar for first time

From left mayoral candidates Carol Moseley Braun Gery Chico Miguel del Valle Rahm Emanuel Bill 'Dock' Walls PatricVan Pelt-Watkins share

From left, mayoral candidates Carol Moseley Braun, Gery Chico, Miguel del Valle, Rahm Emanuel, Bill "Dock" Walls and Patrica Van Pelt-Watkins share the stage at the Chicago Defender debate on Wednesday, February 9, 2011, at the Dusable Museum. | Scott Ste

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Updated: March 11, 2011 12:25AM

Long-shot candidate for mayor William “Dock” Walls sat next to front-runner Rahm Emanuel at the Chicago Defender debate Wednesday night and shot him a zinger:

“Mr. Emanuel, when you were chief of staff, we had children dying in the streets of the city of Chicago,” Walls said as the crowd of 500 at the DuSable Museum of African-American History began to cheer. “We never heard that you wanted to bring more police officers to the city of Chicago.”

As the crowd cheered louder, Walls told Emanuel he expected more of him when he was chief of staff to President Obama because, “You’re a Chicagoan!”

The exchange came on a day that Emanuel’s campaign unveiled a new television commercial featuring Obama’s fond send-off of Emanuel, which sounds almost like an endorsement.

Candidate Carol Moseley Braun said after the debate that Emanuel should be “ashamed” of his time as Obama’s chief of staff because Emanuel “spent two years dragging his poll numbers to the ground, damaging the president’s agenda, a lot of people in Washington think so.”

While the largely African-American crowd at DuSable cheered louder for Braun than for Emanuel, the crowd’s most enthusiastic cheers were for community organizer Patricia Van Pelt-Watkins. This was the fourth debate for the four front-runners but the first that also included less well-known candidates Walls and Watkins.

Watkins often stood up to make her points, telling the crowd they had not seen much of her because the media ignored her. That only made the cheers louder.

“Fifty-five percent of adult black males in the city of Chicago have felony records, meaning they can’t work, they can’t get public housing,” Watkins said to shouts of agreement. “It’s a cycle that keeps us in a state of poverty. Let’s stop acting like black folks are the only ones who commit crimes.”

Walls, Watkins, Braun and Gery Chico said they supported reparations for descendants of slaves. Emanuel and Miguel del Valle said they did too but would spend the money on community development or plugging the hole in the city’s deficit. Watkins said she took offense to that.

All six candidates said the city’s tax increment financing program needed reform and all said that the city should do more to help ex-offenders find jobs.

Del Valle said he did not think all the candidates were equally committed to that principle.

“It’s a matter of scaling up,” del Valle said. “I don’t think, if certain people on the stage here are elected, that’s going to stay on the map.”

Asked after the debate if he wanted to respond to Walls’ dig about him not fighting for more police as Obama’s chief of staff, Emanuel shook his head.

Asked if he was happy about Tuesday’s ABC-7 poll showing him winning the mayor’s race on the first round with 54 percent, Emanuel smiled and said, “It beats the alternative.”

All six candidates say they would focus more on the neighborhoods and less on downtown.

“We will treat our neighborhoods the way we treat our downtown,” del Valle said.

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