How Did Chicago Mayoral Candidates Perform in TV Forums?

With less than a week until election day, the candidates for mayor of Chicago are in their last lap.

WTTW hosted three mayoral forums featuring all 14 candidates over three nights of programming. (Watch forum one, forum two and forum three here.)

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Jason DeSanto, a senior lecturer of communications at Northwestern University, said Chicago’s political ethics problems, gun violence epidemic, municipal debt and education challenges dominated the televised conversations among candidates.

According to DeSanto, the primary objective for candidates is to distinguish themselves from their opponents – especially in a crowded race like this one, which broke wide open following Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s announcement in September that he would not be running for re-election.

“Good political messages have to be believable and contrasting with other candidates,” DeSanto said. “Which is why you’ll have candidates saying, ‘I’m the only one on this stage who did this,’ or ‘I’m the only one who’s a problem solver’ or ‘I’m really the one who’s young or progressive’ – those are all ways that candidates try to distinguish themselves.”

During Monday’s forum, Illinois Comptroller Susana Mendoza went on the offensive against former White House chief of staff Bill Daley, casting doubt on his denial that he advised his brother when then-Mayor Richard M. Daley struck an infamous parking meter deal in 2008.

“It was good business for your family,” Mendoza said. “It was terrible business for Chicagoans.”

“Susana, that’s a lie!” Daley said in response.

DeSanto said Mendoza did a good job moving to the left of Daley and Cook County President Toni Preckwinkle in order to appeal to progressive audiences and tie her competitors to “old guard” Chicago politics, even though Mendoza herself has connections to embattled Ald. Ed Burke, who’s been charged with attempted extortion.

Meanwhile, DeSanto called Daley’s strategy a “do-no-harm approach.”

“Which means avoid skirmishes as much as you can, play to your own strengths while at the same time fueling your own message by rolling out endorsements and appealing to different constituencies,” he said.

DeSanto also felt Preckwinkle didn’t play to a liberal base as much as she could have.

“I feel like she was a little slow to pivot to her progressive history than would be preferable,” DeSanto said. “To get her back to her path, a lot of the things that she’s pushed in her ads, about her own history and background, I think as a debater you need to get to those things much more quickly so you can reframe how to understand what it is you’ve done in the past few years.”

One of Preckwinkle’s TV ads touts the politician’s readiness “to take on the old boys club from day one.”

Election day is Tuesday, Feb. 26 for both the mayoral and aldermanic races.

Polls are currently open for early voting.

Follow Evan Garcia on Twitter: @EvanRGarcia

Related stories:

Mayoral Candidate Forum: Chico, Enyia, Ford, Lightfoot, McCarthy

Mayoral Candidate Forum: Daley, Mendoza, Preckwinkle, Vallas, Wilson

Mayoral Candidate Forum: Fioretti, Joyce, Kozlar, Sáles-Griffin

Candidate Forum: Chicago City Treasurer Hopefuls Face Off

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