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Daley starts the ball rolling on a series of televised mayoral debates

Bill Daley

Mayoral hopeful Bill Daley. | Rich Hein / Sun-Times

Bill Daley tried Wednesday to get the ball rolling on a series of mayoral debates, apparently hoping it’ll help him stand out from the crowd of candidates vying to replace Mayor Rahm Emanuel.

In a letter to eight television station managers, Daley noted that there is “little time to waste.” Early voting starts in mid-January and election day is only 10 weeks away.

“Our city faces tough challenges on a broad range of issues — from crime and schools to finances and neighborhood growth,” Daley wrote.

“Chicago voters need and deserve an opportunity to evaluate the full field of candidates across these important issues before casting their vote.”

Daley goes on to propose that “all mayoral campaigns and Chicago media outlets come together to coordinate a series of prime-time television debates,” so voters can see the differences for themselves before casting their ballots.

He did not propose a specific number of debates. He simply said there needs to be enough debates to give all candidates a chance to participate.

Debates also need to be “structured and moderated in a way to elevate civic dialogue,” Daley said.

That means: “professional journalists selected by the media outlets with input from all candidates,” a “timed question-and-response format that incorporates both a candidate’s response and an opposing candidate’s rebuttal”’ and “some consensus around policy topics” so the “most salient issues get the most attention.”

Moderators should also “solicit questions and topics from the public,” Daley said.

“The people of Chicago deserve to hear how mayoral candidates will address the issues, so they can decide which candidate best represents their voices and can deliver on promises,” Daley wrote.

Mayoral debates in a field as crowded as Chicago’s — before petition challenges winnow the field —could have a diminished impact unless somebody makes a big mistake or has a break-out moment.

For Daley, debates may be a double-edged sword.

It’s an opportunity to prove that his governing style would be different than his brother’s and that his election would not mean more of the same.

But debates would also give Daley’s competitors an opportunity to remind voters of the Hired Truck, city hiring and minority contracting scandals that cast a giant shadow over former Mayor Richard M. Daley’s 22-year administration and question whether Bill Daley’s election would bring more of the same.

Debates are equally risky for Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle. They’re a chance for competitors to hammer her about her now-repealed tax on sugary beverages and about her longstanding relationship with outgoing Cook County Assessor Joe Berrios.

Gery Chico will have to answer for his decades-long friendship with Ald. Edward Burke (14th), whose ward and City Hall offices were raided by federal investigators.

Fired Chicago Police Supt. Garry McCarthy is certain to be hammered about the police shooting of Laquan McDonald that happened on his watch.

And Illinois Comptroller Susana Mendoza will have to answer for running for one office, shortly after being re-elected to another, and about her tough-on-crime voting record in Springfield that earned her the nickname “electric Suzy.”