Chicago mayoral debate presents issues, insults

CHICAGO (AP) – Underdog mayoral candidates Edward Vrdolyak and Alderman Timothy Evans traded insults in a televised debate Tuesday night and fired barbs at front-runner Richard M. Daley, who skipped the show for a night of campaigning.

Asked at a fund-raising event whether he thought he was missing anything by refusing to join the debate, Daley responded, “No. I’ll hear reports on it.”

At a campaign stop later Tuesday night, a spokeswoman for the Democratic nominee said Daley was “too busy” to comment on the debate, the only one scheduled before the April 4 general election.

Both Evans and Vrdolyak trail far behind Daley in voter polls and campaign financing, but for much of Tuesday’s hour-long debate they focused on each other.

Vrdolyak is a white former alderman who left the Democratic Party for the GOP and Daley, also white, is the son of the legendary Chicago political boss Richard J. Daley. Evans is a black South Side alderman running as an independent.

Vrdolyak fired first, saying Evans cannot win because he is black. And Vrdoylak’s entire closing statement consisted of a scathing attack on Evans, who formed the Harold Washington Party.

“… Now you face the general election. An election you cannot win. You’ve left wreckage in your wake, failure in your future,” Vrdolyak said, standing at Evans’ side behind a podium.

“Mr. Vrdolyak wouldn’t know decency if it walked right up to him,” a stunned Evans said in response before beginning his closing statement.

Vrdolyak disrupted the GOP primary by launching a blitzkrieg write-in campaign a week before the Feb. 28 primary that propelled him past the endorsed party candidate.

Most of Tuesday’s debate was an examination of issues as both candidates detailed their positions on housing, transportation, education and energy, recycling and urban development.

Daley’s absence was mentioned only briefly by the candidates, but afterwards both said they thought he had hurt his campaign by refusing to attend.

“I think Daley was diminished,” Vrdoylak said.

“He cheated the public and the public will remember that,” Evans added.

Evans unfavorably compared Daley earlier in the debate to his late father, who institutionalized machine politics.

“Our city has tasted reform and now faces the real possibility of the scandalous return to machine politics,” Evans said in his opening statement. He added he is the only candidate who can continue the reforms begun by Washington, the city’s first black mayor who died of a heart attack in November 1987 shortly after winning a second term.

But Vrdolyak, Washington’s nemesis in the City Council, said only he or Daley could win, because they are white in a city where the voting population is about 49 percent white against 42 percent black.