02/08/2011 06:51 pm ET | Updated May 25, 2011

Debate Drama: Will Mayoral Candidates Skip LGBT Coalition Forum For Chicago Defender Debate?

UPDATE: LGBT Change reports that the forum is still on, and several candidates re-committed to attending before the Defender forum. Watch it live here and here.


On January 31, a coalition of Chicago's LGBT organizations sent a press release to local media outlets, promoting their February 9 mayoral forum.

"All the major candidates, including Gery Chico, Rahm Emanuel, Carol Moseley-Braun, Miguel del Valle, William Walls, and Patricia Van Pelt-Watkins, have accepted the coalition's invitation to participate in the Forum," the release said. "The organizers' goal for this forum is to educate the community on the candidates' positions and commitments to LGBT inclusion in City Policy."

The event's organizers, including Anthony Martinez of LGBT Change, were excited to have all the candidates come together and discuss things that matter to the city's gay community--until a scheduling conflict derailed their plan.

On Monday, Martinez said he began receiving calls from several campaigns saying that the Chicago Defender scheduled their mayoral forum for the exact same time. The Defender's forum was originally scheduled for February 2, but 20 inches of snow foiled their plan. The candidates were not notified of the date change until February 4, according to Martinez--after they committed to the LGBT forum.

Martinez said that he received calls from both Gery Chico and Carol Moseley Braun's campaigns saying that if it came down to choosing between the Defender--the city's leading newspaper for the black community-- and the LGBT Coalition--they would pick the Defender. Braun's campaign told HuffPost Chicago that was not the case and the candidate would attend both.

"It's just really infuriating to think that they would a., not honor their commitment to us and b., just throw us aside and say 'sorry, this is more important than your forum.'"

While Martinez said that the campaigns seemed willing to skip the LGBT forum to attend the Defender's, the candidates were committing to both events as of Tuesday evening.

The Chico campaign explained that the candidate would be speaking at the LGBT forum at 6 p.m., and then trying to making his way to the Defender debate in time to speak there as well.

Rahm Emanuel's campaign spokesman Ben LaBolt said that the candidate would try attending both forums, but did not elaborate on the scheduling conflict.

Lou Ransom, executive editor of the Chicago Defender, said it sounds like the candidates are trying to "have their cake and eat it too."

"It comes down to the candidates," Ransom said. "We book with them. They're telling me 'Yes, we'll be there.' We told them what our times were."

Ransom said all six candidates--who had previously committed to the LGBT Coalition--committed to the Defender forum as well.

"The LGBT forum's organizers have planned this event for more than a month, and they already adjusted to avoid conflict with the Urban League," Tracy Baim, moderator of Wednesday's event and publisher of Chicago's Windy City Times told HuffPost Chicago via email. ". . . [The Defender] could easily move their debate two hours later and not have the candidates be forced to make a Sophie's choice between the LGBT community (which includes African-Americans) and the African-American community (which includes LGBTs). The Defender should do the right thing and simply move their forum a couple hours back to avoid conflict with this pre-existing debate. At the very least they could do what the LGBT forum is doing, which is to have the candidates do 20 minutes at a time, and figure a way to do it opposite of how the LGBT forum is handling their debate."

While Ransom told HuffPost Chicago he would not reschedule the event, he did reach out to the campaigns about pushing the forum back a half hour.

Martinez said a 30 minute window would not make any difference.

The campaign of Miguel del Valle confirmed that it was upholding its commitment to attend the LGBT Coalition forum, and will do its best to be a part of the Defender event as well.

Martinez was particularly bothered by the Chico campaign's response to the scheduling conflict. They said if it came down to choosing one or the other, Chico would attend the Defender forum. But, as of Tuesday evening, the campaign remained committed to attending both.

Braun's campaign spokeswoman Debra Johnson said the candidate would attend the LGBT forum at 6:20 p.m. and the Defender forum at 7 p.m.

The LGBT forum was organized by members of AIDS Foundation of Chicago, Affinity Community Services, Amigas Latinas, the Association for Latino Men for Action, Equality Illinois and LGBT Change.

"This speaks volumes as to how the city will be changing [after the election]," Martinez said. "We are losing one of our staunchest allies [Mayor Daley]. Who knows where the LGBT community could be headed."

Some members of LGBT Change have created a Facebook event titled "Chicago Mayor Candidates: keep your promise to the LGBTQ Community!"

As of 5:30 p.m. Tuesday, the LGBT Forum was still on for 6 p.m. Wednesday, the Chicago Defender forum was on for 6:30 p.m. Check back later for updates.