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The Countdown: City Club Debate Roundup, Ed Bus Takes On Miguel del Valle

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CHICAGO MAYOR
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Tonight, we bring you an extra late (and extra long) mayor's race roundup. With just one week until election day (!!!), things are getting wild. Today, the Chicago Tea Party's endorsement was rejected, Rahm Emanuel defended one of his most vocal opponents and everyone got to dish about their least favorite Mayor Daley moment.

Stay tuned to HuffPost Chicago from now until February 22 for "The Countdown," a daily roundup of election news, gossip and other fun tidbits. You can also sign up to receive "The Countdown" via email daily by checking the "Chicago Brief" box here.

CITY CLUB FORUM

Monday's City Club mayoral forum on "Chicago Tonight" was no love fest, but it was one of the more amusing forum's we have seen so far this season.

Carol Marin, of "Chicago Tonight," NBC Chicago and the Chicago Sun-Times hosted the forum, and gave the candidates a warning before it began: no political stump speeches, it's time for some real answers.

Of course, politicians in general have a hard time answering questions directly, but Marin's no-nonsense attitude was welcomed--and may have actually led to more substantial responses from the candidates.

First, Marin took on pension reform. She cited the Civic Federation's scathing report on Chicago's underfunded pensions, and asked the candidates whether they would be willing to make changes. Rahm Emanuel said changes need to be made, but he would not be willing to let the pensions run out--or raise taxes.

Miguel del Valle said that eliminating pensions would be "unconstitutional," and that the city should honor the contracts with current employees. He said he did not want to reduce pensions for current workers, but would be willing to consider reducing pensions for new employees.

Carol Moseley Braun said she would not cut current pensions, or reduce future pensions. She did not, however, provide details as to how that would be fiscally possible (but none of the candidates did.) Gery Chico said there needs to be a "shared sacrifice," and Emanuel agreed, saying the city needs to hold up its end of the bargain.

Marin accused the candidates of not being candid about how bad the pension news is, which likely had viewers at home cheering.

When asked about privatization, all four of the candidates came out against water privatization. Del Valle suggested a possible privatization of a citywide recycling program, which needs to happen in the first place. He added, however, that there needs to be an approval process and that the city cannot repeat the "awful" parking meter deal.

Chico mentioned privatizing Midway Airport, which has been considered in the past. He and del Valle agreed that if the city works with the unions and labor groups, it could be a win-win situation--proceeds of the privatization could go toward their pensions.

Braun veered from the topic a bit, and mentioned the city's residency policy--which requires city employees to live in the city limits. Chico and Emanuel said they would be willing to discuss eliminating the policy.

Braun and del Valle came out against any change in the policy--saying it would result in the loss of the city's tax base.

Chico clarified his stance, saying that he just said he was wiling to talk about it, and that he had not committed to changing it.

Then, del Valle dropped a bombshell: the Chicago Tea Party's endorsement of Gery Chico. The Chicago Tea Party supports eliminating the residency rule, which is one of the reasons they endorsed Chico.

All four candidates began laughing when del Valle brought up the endorsement, which was clearly an uncomfortable one for Chico--a lifelong Democrat with progressive views on everything from gay rights to abortion.

"I'm glad you brought that up," Chico told del Valle, laughing. He said he rejected the endorsement and called it "a distraction from the issues that are important."

HuffPost Chicago reported on the endorsement Sunday, and Chico's campaign told us they "welcome" the Tea Party's support. Not anymore, it seems.

Marin then got more serious, asking Emanuel about his Freddie Mac connection, Chico about his failed law firm, Braun about her financial woes and del Valle about his lack of campaign cash. Emanuel said "only his mother" would have expected him to predict the housing collapse eight years ahead of time (when he was on the board at Freddie Mac.) Braun said her financial woes help her relate to struggling people. Chico denied taking a big cash advance when Altheimer & Gray imploded and del Valle said he is low on campaign cash because he has run an "honest campaign" that rejects donations from city contractors.

The city's current leaders were also mentioned during the forum. Marin asked the candidates whether they would support Ald. Ed Burke, who currently has a six-officer police detail and almost unlimited power. All seemed to agree that they liked Ald. Burke, but want to see real change in the City Council--where one or two people don't call all the shots.

Emanuel agreed, but said the days of "Council Wars" cannot begin again. He also said Burke's six-officer detail would fall into the area of "shared sacrifice," which everyone in city government must prepare for.

Marin also grilled the candidates on Chicago Police Superintendent Jody Weis. She mentioned that crime is down and that complaints against officers are down, and wondered why all four candidates have pledged to fire Weis.

"Are we more concerned about police morale than we are about getting murders down, getting complaints against officers down?" Marin asked.

Emanuel said the city cannot afford to have a battle between officers and the superintendent, and also said the city needed a fresh start. Chico, who has been endorsed by the Chicago Police Department, mentioned the shortage of officers, and said it's a public service issue--not a morale issue.

Del Valle acknowledged Weis' recent successes, but said he has not focused enough energy on community policing. Braun agreed.

Toward the end of the debate, more amusing questions arose. A viewer asked if any of the candidates would eventually hire their current opponents. Chico said he likes his opponents and wouldn't dismiss them. Braun agreed. Del Valle sat quietly and smiled, saying "these are all nice people," as the audience laughed.

The candidates were also asked if they had ever reported someone for corrupt activities. Chico said he reported Sewer Department workers for time card fraud, Braun said she did as Recorder of Deeds, del Valle said that was his job as inspector general and Emanuel, of course, pointed to former Republican House majority leader Tom DeLay.

When asked about Mayor Daley's biggest mistake (excluding the parking meter deal), the candidates were all over the board. Del Valle mentioned the midnight razing of Meigs Field, which Daley did without permission. Braun said Daley neglected many of Chicago's neighborhoods. Chico said the power structure in the City Council led to a lot of "missed opportunities," and Emanuel mentioned a recent (and controversial) Daley move: the Olympic bid. Emanuel said Daley put too many eggs in one basket when looking for economic growth.

Temperament was also mentioned--from how the candidates feel the mayor should behave to their behavior on the campaign trail.

When asked about his reputation for being "crude" and aggressive, Emanuel said he fought his battles "the old-fashioned way" and always for a good cause. Del Valle, who Marin said was considered "too nice" to be mayor, said he has a history of challenging the status quo, and that the future mayor needs a "firm, strong hand and a big heart."

Of course, Braun's campaign trail outbursts were mentioned as well. Her latest gaffe was comparing Rahm Emanuel's ad persona to Adolf Hitler--kind of. Over the weekend, Braun made a reference to "The Producers," the Mel Brooks play-turned-movie satirizing the cult of personality around Adolf Hitler. In it, one of the characters describes Hitler as "kind" and "gentle."

"The joke in it was, he was a kind man, a gentle man," said Braun about comments in Mel Brooks' satirical movie. "We are getting the kind man, the gentle man on television."

Before she could even defend herself, Emanuel cut in. "She didn't mean it the way it was being interpreted," Emanuel said. Braun smiled as he rushed to her defense.

When asked about her other outbursts--she changed the subject, saying she has been a pioneer for women in politics and a voice against racism.

Toward the end of the debate, the candidates discussed their favorite outdoor hangouts in Chicago. Emanuel said he likes taking his children to Montrose Beach and del Valle jogs in Humboldt Park.

After a long day of campaigning and a forum--what were their plans for Valentine's Day?

Gery Chico said he was taking his wife out to dinner, Braun said "I wish," del Valle was picking his wife up from campaign headquarters and Emanuel joked that he would be "joining the Chicos" on their dinner.

It was a lively and at times hilarious debate over all, and the candidates handled themselves pretty well.

ED BUS ATTACKS

Everybody's favorite fictional alderman, Ed Bus (hammed up by WBEZ's Justin Kaufmann) appeared at "The Paper Machete," a live variety show at Ricochet's in Lincoln Square. While continuing his mock campaign for mayor (on the Snow Removal Party ticket), he received a visit from a surprise guest:

If you have any juicy gossip about the Chicago elections, or a story you think we should see, send us an email at chicago@huffingtonpost.com.