By Mark Guarino
CHICAGO (Reuters) - Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel, facing a slump in public approval of his job performance, will take his first formal step in making his case for a second term when he launches his re-election campaign on Saturday at a film studio on the city's West Side.
Emanuel is expected to lay out plans for creating jobs in the third-largest U.S. city and improving high school graduation rates in Chicago, campaign spokesman Steve Mayberry said in an emailed statement.
A former chief of staff for President Barack Obama, Emanuel faces nine challengers in Chicago's nonpartisan mayoral election on Feb. 24.
Chicago Alderman Bob Fioretti and Cook County Commissioner Jesus "Chuy" Garcia are among the better-known challengers. If no one receives 50 percent of the vote, there would be runoff election April 7 with the top two candidates.
Fioretti on Thursday called for five debates, including at least one in areas of the city where Emanuel is less popular, and said the election was "pivotal in deciding the future" of Chicago.
Earlier this week, Garcia questioned why Emanuel supported raising the minimum wage to $13 an hour only by 2019. The City Council approved Emanuel's proposal on Tuesday.
"For a mayor who is fond of saying he makes tough decisions, I think we have a right to ask why he did not make an easy one," Garcia said.
Emanuel's popularity took a hit when he launched the largest batch of public school closings in U.S. history in 2013. He also has been criticized for an automated red light ticketing program that an investigation by the Chicago Tribune found was likely rigged for a time to ensnare nearly 80,000 drivers. He has refused to refund $7.7 million the program collected during that period.
Emanuel led other candidates in a recent poll of likely voters with 44 percent, followed by Garcia and Fioretti at about 15 percent each, with 18 percent undecided. The survey of 800 likely voters from Nov. 23-25 by San Francisco firm David Binder Research had a 3.5 percentage point margin of error.
The Binder poll shows Emanuel with a likability rating of 52 percent. That contrasts with a Chicago Tribune poll in August that found an approval rating of 35 percent.