On February 10 the DuSable Museum hosted the final mayoral debate, which touched on a number of issues facing Chicago’s African-American community. While all five mayoral candidates participated, most of the heat was on incumbent Rahm Emanuel, the only candidate with a mayoral record to defend, and the frequent target of critical questions from panelists and fellow candidates. Emanuel, who told the audience it was like “being at the dinner table with three teenagers,” tried to bring most of his responses back to his favorite talking points and laundry lists of his administration’s accomplishments, even when these responses didn’t address the question at hand.
Over the course of an hour panelists were able to elicit answers from all candidates on a variety of topics, from campaign contributions and Emanuel’s controversial red-light cameras, to development in South Side neighborhoods and school closings. The responses of all candidates ranged from restrained and focused to pointed, aggressive, and even funny. The Weekly presents here a few of the debate’s standout quotes and their contexts, as well as an overview of each candidate’s endorsements.
Mayor Rahm Emanuel
As the incumbent in the mayoral race, Emanuel has, unsurprisingly, received endorsements from various prominent colleagues and organizations. Former mayor Richard M. Daley and Chicago Congressman Bobby Rush have expressed their support for Emanuel. “I am pleased to step out from the ranks of the undecided,” said Rush. Emanuel has also received the endorsement of President Barack Obama. While other mayoral candidates have said that they are unsurprised by Obama’s backing of Emanuel, they also believe that Obama is too disconnected from the Chicago community to be able to meaningfully endorse any candidate. In the last week alone, Emanuel has garnered support from both the Tribune and the Sun-Times. Mayoral challenger Bob Fioretti has said that he is disappointed but unsurprised by the Tribune’s announcement. Another challenger of Emanuel, Willie Wilson, calls the Tribune’s endorsement “mind-boggling,” as the publication has recently raised questions about Emanuel’s campaign fundraising. Both newspapers endorsed Emanuel in the 2011 mayoral elections. Planned Parenthood Illinois Action has also declared Emanuel their candidate of choice; before announcing the decision, CEO Carole Brite stated that their endorsement would take into account how candidates work with healthcare providers for policies that affect women’s health.
“Too many kids in the city of Chicago have had their childhood stolen due to gun violence. We are fighting gun violence—it’s been part of my whole life to make sure I take on the Washington and NRA gun lobby, and make sure that our streets are safe. And I do bear, and everyone bears who’s an adult, an accountability.”
Candidate Garcia asked the mayor if he felt responsible for the homicide and shooting numbers in Chicago during his tenure. The mayor cited his own record on pressing for gun laws, which includes an F rating by the NRA. In a questionnaire given to all candidates by the Chicago Tribune, Rahm stressed the need to pass a state-level gun store ordinance, which would require Illinois gun stores to adopt certain practices designed to reduce illegal gun purchases and use.
“This is an opportunity that comes once in a life. I don’t want to wait for another president from the South Side of Chicago so we can get that library. We have a chance here.”
A panelist asked the mayor why the University of Chicago couldn’t simply propose to open the Obama Presidential Library on the land it already owns across the street from Washington Park and, in doing so, avoid controversy over use of parkland. Emanuel addressed the question vaguely rather than specifically, saying it was Obama’s decision and that he, Emanuel, would address all concerns the president’s foundation had about the library in order to ensure that the South Side of Chicago receives the library and the jobs and educational opportunities it would create. The day after the debate, the Chicago Park District voted unanimously to approve transferring parkland to the city for the library if the University of Chicago’s bid is selected, a move that the Obama Foundation said “improves Chicago’s bids” for the library.
Cook County Commissioner Jesus “Chuy” Garcia
Garcia has been the clear choice for endorsements from a number of independent organizations with progressive and public interest-oriented platforms. The Independent Voters of Illinois Independent Precinct Organization, the oldest independent political organization in Chicago, has proudly endorsed Garcia as well as a number of progressive aldermanic candidates. C. Betty Magness, Administrative Vice Chair of IVI-IPO, released a statement saying that they would not have supported Emanuel had he applied for their endorsement because “most of his answers would not have been progressive enough.” Garcia has also garnered the support of United Working Families, an independent political organization, the Progressive Action Project, a public interest organization, and the Chicago Teachers Union.
“It’s plausible to think the [red light cameras are] warranted in about fourteen-percent of the locations where they’re at. The rest are there to pickpocket Chicagoans, as are many other policies in terms of this administration’s fees, fines, and penalties.”
Garcia addressed a question about the city’s controversial red-light cameras, which have earned the city over $500 million since 2002, directly after Alderman Bob Fioretti answered a similar question and said he would abolish them. In his response, Garcia cited a Texas A&M study commissioned by the Tribune which showed that the cameras were often ineffective in increasing safety at intersections and sometimes even increased the probability of rear-end crashes. The report also showed that Emanuel’s administration was using comparatively short yellow light times in some locations, slightly under the federal standard, and still ticketing drivers. Garcia called for independent oversight to determine which cameras were safe to keep, and said that all the rest should go.
Alderman Robert “Bob” Fioretti
Fioretti has received the endorsement of the Green Party of Chicago for his leadership in the City Council’s Progressive Caucus and opposition to many of Emanuel’s conservative policies. The Chicago Police Sergeants Association also endorsed Fioretti in early January, citing his promise to hire 500 new officers if elected. In December 2014, as Amara Enyia announced her withdrawal from the mayoral election, she voiced support for Fioretti. In a statement, she declared that Fioretti has “shown a consistent commitment to communities of color throughout Chicago” and demonstrated a “dedication to everyday citizens.”
“We need to reform the TIFs, and this time publicly reform them. TIFs do serve a good purpose, but at the same time it’s served the downtown more than it’s helped in our communities that have been languishing and going into disrepair. ”
Fioretti responded to a panelist’s question on his past comments lambasting the secrecy around the Emanuel administration’s use of Tax Increment Financing funds, including a comment that called TIF the “heroin of city economics.” Fioretti has said he would change of the use of TIFs to try to help communities. His claim that Emanuel has used TIF funds mostly to improve downtown has echoed a widespread criticism of the administration. Garcia stated that the TIF program had “gone on steroids,” and suggested using some of the funds to put a down payment on the city’s pressing pension obligation.
Businessman Willie Wilson
Wilson has been endorsed by West Side Congressman Danny K. Davis (D-7th), who declared Wilson “a man of compassion who has demonstrated a willingness to give back.” Former Cook County Board of Review Commissioner Robert Shaw withdrew from the mayoral race and offered his support to Wilson, saying he was proud to do so because he has known Wilson for many years as a “church man who believes in God.” Wilson has spoken out in the last month against Emanuel’s acceptance of fifteen trade union endorsements. In Wilson’s view, Emanuel accepted these endorsements in order to demonstrate an improved relationship with organized labor, but Wilson argues that the endorsing unions lack diversity and do not represent equal opportunities for minorities in Chicago.
“The African-American community here, I think they’d rather have food on their table and pay rent than a park.”
Wilson responded to a question from a panelist on his proposal to re-open the small Meigs Field airport, which has now been converted into the Northerly Islands park. The panelist questioned whether the public would support such a proposal, given the controversy over projects like the Obama Presidential Library’s proposed use of parkland. Wilson said he thought Chicago has plenty of parkland, and that community members would appreciate the $300 million a year and the jobs he claims Meigs Field would create.
Former Assistant to Mayor Harold Washington William “Dock” Walls
Walls received endorsement from the Illinois Herald, which said they “proudly and defiantly” offer their support for Walls, citing the unfair exclusion of independents from mayoral debates.
“Jane Byrne had an even more thin resume than mine when she was elected mayor of the city of Chicago. Now, we’re not saying that she did a great job, but Jane Byrne did not sink the city of Chicago as it’s sinking now under Mayor Rahm Emanuel.”
Walls responded to a panelist question about his “thin” resume, which includes being an assistant to former mayor Harold Washington, a position he expressed pride in during the debate. Walls has run unsuccessfully for office multiple times, including two bids for mayor in which he garnered less than ten percent of the vote. But Walls rejected the idea that his background might disqualify him from the position and continued to go on the attack against Emanuel, citing the number of blacks under the poverty line and the vacant lots around the city, and saying at one point: “Blacks have not been treated better under this administration than they were under Jim Crow.”