Emanuel leads in the polls and has tons more money than his three main opponents, who are working to quickly refocus voters on the issues in a campaign that for months has been consumed by the fight over the former White House chief of staff's eligibility for the Feb. 22 ballot.
Candidate and former Chicago schools president Gery Chico visited a barber shop in President Barack Obama's neighborhood Friday to blast what he calls the "Rahm tax." Emanuel supports reducing the city portion of the sales tax while expanding the tax base to include luxury services such as limousine rides and Botox treatments.
Chico went after Emanuel on the same topic during a televised debate Thursday that aired just a few hours after the state Supreme Court overturned an appellate ruling that said Emanuel wasn't eligible to run because he didn't meet a one-year residency requirement. Emanuel lived in Washington for nearly two years working for Obama before coming home to Chicago in October to run for mayor after Mayor Richard Daley announced he wouldn't seek a seventh term.
On Friday, Chico blasted Emanuel for not providing a complete list of services he'd want to see taxed and suggested it could be more far-reaching that people realize.
"It's a lazy man's way out to turn to the taxpayers," Chico said.
Emanuel, who visited Chicago's gay community center where leaders launched a committee to back his bid, said taxing luxury services is only fair.
"I do not think it's right for a mother, in many cases single, (with) kids in school who are trying to buy school supplies to be paying a sales tax, when those who take corporate jets, limos, go to elective surgery aren't paying," Emanuel said.
He denied haircuts would be part of his plan, as Chico has claimed, and called Chico's list of items that would be taxed "fiction." Emanuel said he'd work with aldermen to develop an appropriate list.
It remains to be seen what, if any, effect the high-profile legal dispute over Emanuel's residency has had on the race: Emanuel might have won sympathy from some voters but other candidates also might have gotten attention when it looked like there was a chance he wouldn't be on the ballot.
Another opponent, Chicago City Clerk Miguel del Valle, said the few weeks that remain until Election Day aren't enough time to get voters focused on the issues after months of distraction.
"No, no but we have to do it," said de Valle, who greeted voters Friday at a Chicago deli popular with politicians.
Del Valle, whose fundraising has been dwarfed by Emanuel's, said Emanuel has locked in loads of financial support from businesses and that wasn't going to change as the election nears.
"He got his way. He was helped by the distraction of the residency challenge. I can't do anything about that. ... I knew that it would end up helping him," del Valle said.
Emanuel needs 50 percent plus one vote next month to win the mayor's race outright and avoid an April runoff. A recent poll showed him within striking distance.
The candidates insist Emanuel isn't their only focus heading toward Election Day. Chico noted he has released policy positions, like addressing crime, that aren't aimed at any one candidate.
But Emanuel often was the target at Thursday night's debate. If Chico wasn't going after him on the sales tax, it was former U.S. Sen. Carol Moseley Braun suggesting both Emanuel and Chico, who had been a top aide to Daley, had gotten rich off government connections. Del Valle jabbed at Emanuel and Chico for throwing around money on TV commercials in a campaign where they've raised millions unlike him.
After the debate, Braun insisted she wasn't worried about all the attention Emanuel has gotten.
"I mean I'm just campaigning. ... A campaign is a roller coaster you just never know what's going to happen and what the focus is going to be. There are always surprises and so just go with it," she said.