Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Still early for mayoral debates, forums don’t matter much at this point in cycle

There are those people who are trying to portray mayoral hopeful Rahm Emanuel as some sort of arrogant ass for refusing to participate in the various candidate forums that are starting to be held.
EMANUEL: Forums are Rahm-less

For his part, Emanuel has promised to partake in only one such event with his opponents – a debate that will be aired on WTTW-TV, although he has left open the possibility that he would cooperate with a couple of other candidate debates prior to the Feb. 22 elections.

I’M NOT NECESSARILY an Emanuel supporter (I honestly don’t know which of these clowns I would back on Election Day). But this is a case where I can’t help but think that Emanuel is being sensible.

The political people who are bashing Rahm about are trying to make these forums appear to be the equivalent of a debate – which is a significant event in the cycle of every campaign. They’re really not. They don’t matter as much, and there’s also the fact that it is still early for debate-type activity.

The head-to-head confrontations ought to be forthcoming in February, where the mis-statements, gaffes and bumbling rhetoric will have a chance to be fresh in everyone’s mind when they walk into the polling place to cast a ballot.

Anything that comes out of the forums that are being held this week is going to be so long forgotten by the time votes are cast.

IN FACT, I am surprised to hear so many of Emanuel’s opponents jumping onto the bandwagon of saying that Rahm won’t participate in a forum with them. It has become my rule of thumb in covering political campaigns that the ones that complain about debates/forums/whatever are the losers.

Does this mean that Emanuel’s opponents are the type of people who honestly believe in their own hearts that they can’t defeat Rahm? If that’s the case, then they had better hope that the Chicago Board of Election Commissioners in its own hearings to be held this month finds a way to throw Emanuel off the ballot.

The issue of Rahm’s residency ultimately will be resolved by the courts. But it would mean that the court fight would be one of Emanuel trying to restore himself to the ballot, rather than Emanuel critics trying to find a way to give him the boot – when the elections board already refused to do so.

The simple fact I have encountered in covering court fights over elections board activities throughout the years is that judges generally respect the rulings of elections boards. There will have to be an egregious error committed to get an Illinois appeals court panel to seriously think of overruling them.

I HAVE STUMBLED across some arguments from political observers, claiming that Emanuel’s activity with regards to candidate forums is not only arrogant, but disrespectful to Chicago political tradition.

They argue that the forums may be stupid and pointless, but they are a part of the local political process and that the candidates should acknowledge them if they want to be taken seriously as legitimate candidates.

Anybody who seriously pays attention to the city’s political process knows that is nonsense.

If anything, too many Chicagoans show their respect to the officials who have a touch of arrogance to them. Emanuel’s refusal to get involved in every single forum that crops up during the next two-and-a-half months won’t be seen as any different than Mayor Richard M. Daley’s refusal to acknowledge his opposition during any of his own campaigns. Yes, I do believe that had Daley chosen to run, he would have won – regardless of those polls that show we may not like the man as much as we used to.

I’D ARGUE THAT for every single person who publicly says they see this particular election cycle as a chance to get someone less autocratic working on the Fifth Floor of City Hall, there probably are a half dozen who are silently assessing the candidate field to figure out which of the candidates would be most “like” Daley the younger.

If people like Gery Chico, James Meeks and Carol Moseley-Braun, to name just a few of the mayoral hopefuls, want to spend their time taking each other on, they ought to be free to do so. Because the mode of this particular election cycle, sadly enough, has become one where we’re trying to see which candidate makes it into the April 5 run-off election against Emanuel. I doubt anyone who is taking the forums seriously (which pretty much means only the groups that are staging them) cares what Emanuel would say.

I don’t think skipping out on these forums now will mean much, particularly since all the election cycle attention is on Emanuel for his residency status.

Everything else is of less significance. Everyone else might as well be irrelevant.


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