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Takeaways from the first Chicago mayoral debate

Zach Long
Written by
Zach Long

This morning, Mayor Rahm Emanuel, Cook County Commissioner Jesus “Chuy” Garcia, Alderman Robert Fioretti, Willie Wilson and William “Dock” Walls sat down with the Chicago Tribune editorial board for the first of five debates between the mayoral candidates. The conversation was, for the most part, civil, as the incumbent and his challengers outlined their platforms ahead of the election on February 24. We watched the first debate and tried to determine where each candidate stands on the city's most pressing issues.

Violence in Chicago

Wilson: Stressed a need for "friendly" police officers as well as increased cooperation and interaction between police and the community. Wants to divide the city into four districts, each with a dedicated chief of police and staff.

Fioretti: Wants as many as 500 more police officers on the streets of Chicago and insisted that he would be able to find a way to fund this.

Garcia: Proposed the addition of 1,000 additional police officers. Wants to hold community summits to help find the funding for these officers. Stressed the importance of the summer job creation for youth.

Emanuel: Wants to continue focusing on removing illegal guns from the streets while increasing the availability of jobs and activities for youth that keep them engaged in their communities. He highlighted his Become A Man program, which provides young men without fathers with mentors.

Walls: Wants police forces that are reflective of the diversity in the communities they serve. Highlighted the importance of reopening mental heath clinics to help get people off the streets. Wants to stop the flow of illegal drugs and guns into the city. Feels that Emanuel's administration has neglected the African American community.

A casino in the city

Wilson: Favors a city-owned casino that directly generates revenue.

Emanuel: In favor of a Chicago casino, but thinks that there are other ways to increase city revenue.

Increasing city revenue

Fioretti: Presented a confusing platform, stating that "all options are on the table" before clarifying that he would not increase property taxes. Still favors a commuter tax that would collect revenue from individuals who work in Chicago but reside elsewhere.

Rahm: Focused on his efforts to reform pension inequity in Illinois. Does not want Chicago to be "a bank" for the rest of the state—city residents should not be paying for the pensions of downstate workers.

Garcia: Wants to make sure that all communities have the ability to benefit from tax increment financing, not just the Loop. Supports the sunsetting of TIFs for projects that are non-essential.

Walls: Wants to unpackage city projects and allow more companies to bid on them. Stated that the city could save $500 million by allowing smaller companies to bid on projects instead of giving all contracts to large companies. Also proposed that an additional $500 million could be saved by shutting down non-essential projects.

Using park land to house the Obama Presidential Library

Emanuel: Wants to use park land, is trying to keep the Obama Library in Chicago, not New York.

Wilson: Wants the Obama Library in Chicago, is okay with use of park land.

Fioretti: Does not want the Obama Library on park land, supports UIC's bid.

Garcia: Does not want park land to be used.

Walls: Okay with the use of park land, but wants it to be in a community that will benefit from its presence.

Red light cameras

All candidates except for Emanuel want to bring down the red light cameras. Emanuel wants to keep the cameras but reform the way in which they are operated.

Final statements

Walls: Cast himself as the only candidate who is not a member of "the 1%." Made it clear that he does not feel like he is being treated fairly and that other candidates are trying to shut him out of the election.

Garcia: Stressed that progress in Chicago can only be made through collaboration, wants to "move forward through consensus." 

Emanuel: Highlighted his efforts to change the culture of Chicago. Touted his administration's extension of the school day and standardization of kindergarden for Chicago students. Also mentioned that students in Chicago are already taking advantage of free community college.

Wilson: Wants to spread economic opportunity throughout all of Chicago's neighborhoods. Briefly attacked Emanuel's fundraising practices and assured voters that he will not accept campaign donations from corporations—he is funding his campaign out of his own pocket.

Fioretti: Stated that this election is about choosing a new direction for the city. "If you're happy with the way that Chicago is operating right now, welcome to the 1%."

Other notable moments

Wilson asked Emanuel to personally apologize for challenging the validity of the signatures that Wilson collected to establish his mayoral candidacy. Emanuel refused.

Walls repeatedly became frustrated with the fact that he was not being given equal time or opportunity to answer questions posed to candidates. At one point, he could be heard off-camera asking for a chance to respond to a question.

The next debate will occur when candidates meet with the Sun-Times editorial board on Friday, January 30.

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