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Debate rivals skewer Emanuel on immigration reform

From left Carol Moseley Braun Miguel del Valle Rahm Emanuel Gery Chico during debate Thursday Feb. 17 2011. | Scott

From left, Carol Moseley Braun, Miguel del Valle, Rahm Emanuel and Gery Chico during the debate on Thursday, Feb. 17, 2011. | Scott Stewart~Sun-Times

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Updated: May 26, 2011 6:15AM

As chief of staff to President Obama, Rahm Emanuel slapped down every attempt to help the plight of illegal immigrants, his three rivals said during the last mayoral debate Thursday night.

“You have been, Mr. Emanuel, shown to be directly involved with killing the Dream Act” to help children of illegal immigrants, former Sen. Carol Moseley Braun told Emanuel.

After the debate, Braun said: “The Dream act was pretty straight-forward. This was not rocket science. Kids who were born here could continue to go to college. It was an easy vote. It was an easy activity for the president, and Mr. Emanuel stood in the way.”

City Clerk Miguel del Valle also accused Emanuel of throwing immigrants’ causes under the bus.

“The fact of the matter is Rahm referred to immigration as ‘the third rail of politics,’ and he advised his colleagues in Congress not to pursue immigration reform,” del Valle said. “And then as chief of staff to the president, he also advised the president not to pursue immigration reform in his first year of his administration.”

Emanuel defended himself after the debate, saying he did not kill The Dream Act and describing immigration reform as a thorny issue no president has been able to tackle since Reagan.

“I don’t now how they know what I advised the president because I can’t tell you or will I tell you what I advised the president — it’s private,” Emanuel said after the debate. “He made the decision, as president, what to move forward, and those are the things he moved forward.”

Braun also hit Emanuel again for voting 128 times against bills supported by the Congressional Black Caucus and contrasted that with the image he presents of himself warmly interacting with black voters.

“If you look at the commercials, it’s called, ‘I’m a Soul Man.’ — At least stand up for who you are. Be accountable,” Braun said.

With polls showing Emanuel on the cusp of the 50 percent-plus-one he needs to avoid a run-off, Braun, del Valle and Gery Chico had the front-runner playing defense all night — even though Chico dragged himself out of bed after registering a 104-degree temperature earlier Thursday.

The first 10 minutes of the debate sponsored by ABC-7 Chicago and the League of Women Voters were spent on what Chico has called “The Rahm Tax,” Emanuel’s sketchy plan to reduce the sales tax by a quarter of a penny but broaden the tax umbrella to include luxury services not now covered.

“It doesn’t hold water,” Chico said.

“It lowers the tax a little bit and expands it a lot,” Braun added.

When talk turned to the city pension crisis, all four candidates appeared to agree that revenue from a downtown Chicago casino could be used to prop up underfunded employee pension funds.

Only del Valle opposed lifting the $4-a-month per employee “head tax” that has been a thorn in the side of the business community for decades. He noted the city collects $64 million – three times more than the head tax – from motorists who run red lights at camera intersections.

“People who are really getting hit hard are the people in the neighborhoods,” del Valle said. “We’re talking about large employers. They can certainly afford paying $20 million a year, given that they’re making huge profits.”

Del Valle portrayed Emanuel and Chico as “Cut from the same cloth – they are both individuals who have made a ton of money. They have enriched themselves from their contacts with the federal government and local government. People are ready to move away from that in the city of Chicago. I’m the alternative to the Gery Chico-Rahm Emanuel combination.”

When asked who would serve in his kitchen cabinet, del Valle took another shot at Chico, who Daley has appointed chief of staff, school board president, park board president, and city colleges chairman: “We need common folks, small business owners, individual owners who can come and partake in the decisions that get made. For too long in Chicago, the mayor has been surrounded by a very small, close-knit circle, and that’s why a gentleman like Gery Chico got appointed to everything.”

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