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Debate strategy for mayoral rivals: Go after Rahm Emanuel

Clockwise from top left: Rahm Emanuel Gery Chico Carol Moseley Braun Miguel del Valle made joint appearance Friday Jan. 14

Clockwise from top left: Rahm Emanuel, Gery Chico, Carol Moseley Braun and Miguel del Valle made a joint appearance Friday, Jan. 14, 2011. | Sun-Times file photos

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Updated: April 29, 2011 4:45AM

The race to replace Mayor Daley entered a new phase on Friday. You might call it, “Gang up on Rahm.”

During a joint appearance before the Chicago Tribune editorial board that was more like the first mayoral debate, Carol Moseley Braun, Gery Chico and Miguel del Valle were like a tag-team attacking Rahm Emanuel.

They hit the former White House chief of staff on everything from his abrasive personality and his proposal to reduce city pension benefits for existing employees to his support for curtailing teachers’ right to strike to his role as a roadblock to immigration reform.

They hammered him on his stint as a member of home mortgage giant Freddie Mac, which critics blame in part for the foreclosure crisis. Braun even accused Emanuel of throwing women “under the bus” by excluding abortion coverage from President Obama’s health care reform act.

Given the opportunity to question her opponents directly, Braun jumped on Emanuel for some of the take-no-prisoners antics that earned him the nickname, “Rahmbo.”

“It’s been reported — in fact I’ve had a conversation at one point — with the congressman to whom you sent a dead fish. And you’re reported in the New York Post as telling your workers to, `Take the Tampons out and get to work,’ “ Braun said.

“As a woman, this is really offensive. So, the question is, as a matter of temperament, how can you possibly do these kinds of things to people?”

Emanuel acknowledged that he has a “strong personality” because that’`s what’s needed to stand up to clout-heavy special interests.

“When you’re fighting the big banks to pass financial reform, you get a reputation. When you’re fighting the insurance companies who are trying to prevent kids from getting health care, you get a reputation. When you’re fighting the NRA who is trying to stop the Brady Bill and the assault weapon [ban] from happening, you get a reputation,” he said.

Braun replied, “No. Tampons. Let’s talk about Tampons. I don’t go to the NRA. This isn’t about guns. This is about Tampons and how women would feel about somebody who said that in the workplace.”

Emanuel countered, “I never said that.”

The Post stories actually suggest Emanuel used the Tampon barb to badger male staffers to work harder.

“None of us have a reputation for sending dead fish to people ... poking people in the chest, cussing ‘em out,” Braun said. “The question is one of temperament. This is the city of big shoulders, and we’re considered to be tough Grabowskis and all of that but we’re not mean-spirited and nasty.”

Chico warned that what he called Emanuel’s dictatorial, confrontational style could have disastrous consequences for Chicago.

“I worry about whether labor is going to be able to deal with this,” Chico said. “Are we gonna have snow picked up? Are we gonna have the garbage picked up? Are we gonna have the buses and trains running? This is not an inconsequential matter. Reputation does count.”

They also hit the former White House chief of staff for his compromise healthcare legislation, designed to win the votes of moderate Democrats. Emanuel made no apologies for inserting abortion-neutral language into the ObamaCare bill.

“There were 14 votes that were holding out. My job as chief-of-staff was to help the president — after 100 years of waiting for comprehensive reform of health care — get that legislation,” Emanuel said.

Braun interrupted, “So you threw women under the bus.”

Emanuel absorbed all of those hits — and many more — with strained humor and without blowing his notorious temper. He had already demonstrated his restraint by enduring 12 hours of questioning by citizen objectors during the residency challenge.

He dared his rivals to try to endure what he went through at the residency hearing.

“We live here so that’s another issue,” Braun quipped.

At first, given the opportunity to question any one of his opponents, Emanuel took a pass in favor of withstanding a few more shots.

“No, I’m actually enjoying this,” he said with a smile.

But, he couldn’t resist the chance to take a shot at Chico, the all-purpose mayoral trouble-shooter who has served Mayor Daley as chief-of-staff, school board and park board president and chairman of the City Colleges board.

“You were a lobbyist for your clients in front of City Hall and its related agencies,” Emanuel told Chico. “When you were chair of the school system your client list had about $500,000 worth of business in the school system., When you left, it was north of $200 million.”

Chico responded that 90 percent of his clients have no ties to City Hall.

Miguel Del Valle also jabbed Emanuel: “I’ve been to eight community forums and you’ve been to none. When are you going to start talking to the neighborhoods?”

Of all the ground covered at the forum, the pension issue could prove the most damaging, considering the fact that city employees and their families make up a sizeable voting bloc in Chicago.

Emanuel has told labor leaders that he would demand more from active city employees to help prevent four pension funds from running out of money by 2030. That may involve raising the retirement age, increasing employee contributions, reducing benefits or a combination of the three.

“If everybody said, ‘No, we’re not gonna make any changes, to fulfill your commitment is a 90 percent increase in property taxes. If you don’t do that, you’re gonna introduce a citywide income tax. We have one of the highest city sales taxes. You’d have to increase that. I think that’s the wrong approach,” Emanuel said.

“I said honestly to them — and they didn’t want to hear it — that today, it’s not an honest system and therefore, we should be more honest with taxpayers and workers and there should be changes so we get it on a stable financial system.”

Chico said he would work with the unions to craft a long-term solution “without disturbing the benefit levels that people have earned.”

Del Valle and Braun took the same pro-union position.

Del Valle was the aggressor on the immigration issue. He portrayed Emanuel as the driving force behind President Obama’s failure to honor his campaign promise to Hispanics.

Referring to immigration, the city clerk told Emanuel, “You called it the third-rail of politics.”

Emanuel did not confirm or deny whether he called immigration the “third rail of politics.” Emanuel said, “I pulled a bi-partisan meeting together with Democrats and Republicans in the House to say, `How do we make progress?‚ Which is why I pushed immediately to go to the DREAM Act, which everybody didn’t want to do and now, five years later, they finally realize that’s the right step.”All four candidates did agree on one thing: Grant Park is the wrong place for a new Children’s Museum. Mayor Daley rammed it through over the local alderman’s objections. The new mayor apparently intends to undo it and negotiate a long-term lease for the museum in expanded space at Navy Pier.

There was even a touch of ethnic humor after Braun accused Emanuel of making teachers the “scapegoats” and favoring charter schools over improvements to neighborhood schools.

“It’s all moving in the direction of privatizing schools. I have some friends who started a charter school for high school girls because of research that shows that girls learn better in a ... same-sex environment. That’s wonderful. Mazel Tov, but ——” Braun said.

Emanuel, who is vying to become Chicago’s first Jewish mayor, laughed and interrupted, “Can you translate that?”

The candidates first joint public forum comes Monday on WTTW.


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