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Takeaways from the second Chicago mayoral debate

Zach Long
Written by
Zach Long

For the second Chicago mayoral debate, Mayor Rahm Emanuel, Cook County Commissioner Jesus “Chuy” Garcia, Alderman Robert Fioretti, Willie Wilson and William “Dock” Walls sat down with the Chicago Sun-Times editorial board. At times, the conversation seemed overly focused on the Sun-Times' criticism of the current mayoral administration, calling upon Rahm to answer for his decisions instead of extending questions to the panel of candidates. Once again, we viewed the debate and assembled notes on each candidate's platform in relation to key issues that were touched upon throughout the 90-minute exchange.

Covering Chicago's pension obligation

Fioretti: Stated that "a pension is a guarantee, we need to find the money for it." Stressed the importance of proposing a budget now, rather than rushing to put one together in the fall. Reiterated (once again) that "everything is on the table," but stated that he refuses to raise property taxes. He said that his proposed commuter tax could raise upwards of $350 million for the city.

Garcia: Wants to audit tax increment financing funds to find money that could be used to pay the city's pension obligations. Accused Emanuel of using TIF money as his personal slush fund, without disclosing how the money is being used. Garcia is interested in making a good-faith down payment on outstanding pensions and speaking with union leaders to determine how the city can fulfill its obligation moving forward.

Walls: Continued to insist that unbundling city contracts and opening up the bidding process to smaller contractors (instead of exclusively using large corporations) will save the city millions of dollars. Walls believes that Emanuel has balanced the city's budget on the back of taxes, fees and fines that prey on middle and lower class individuals while benefitting members of the one percent.

Wilson: Wants to find a way to raise money without taxing individuals and corporations. Wilson thinks that it's important to keep people and businesses in Chicago, instead of driving them away with the threat of taxes. He thinks a city-owned casino is the answer to the city's financial woes.

Emanuel: When asked directly if he plans to raise property taxes in 2016, Emanuel repeatedly dodged the questions, stating that it is not a part of the budget currently (which means that it could become a part of it). He asked voters to have faith in his record of delivering four balanced budgets within the past four years, as well as his efforts to make sure that the city lives up to its obligation to pay pensions. Emanuel made it clear that he is against a commuter tax—he stated that he does not want to introduce additional income taxes.

School closures

Emanuel: Argued that the school closures have resulted in the majority of displaced students going to better schools, citing a recent University of Chicago study. When asked what he plans to do with the vacant school buildings, Emanuel stated that there are no concrete plans at the moment.

Wilson: Criticized Emanuel's decision to close 50 public schools, noting that the overwhelming majority of schools that were closed were located in minority-dominated neighborhoods. He proposed turning 25% of the shuttered schools into vocational schools and turning some of the other buildings into shopping centers, giving communities a place to sell goods and spur economic development.

Walls: Stated that he never would have closed 50 schools and that he would try to reopen the schools if elected mayor. He stressed the importance of making sure that communities everywhere in Chicago have access to schools—closing them down hurts neighborhoods and forces families to relocate.

Fioretti: Criticized Emanuel and the school board, accusing them of carrying out their agenda to close 50 schools without listening to recommendations from experts and the community. Fioretti reiterated his desire for an elected school board and also confirmed that he is against the opening of additional charter schools. He also wants to work to decrease the inequity between North and South Side schools.

Candidates were asked to grade the performance of Chicago Public Schools CEO Barbara Byrd Bennett

Wilson: "F"

Garcia: "D-"

Fioretti: "D+"

Walls: "F-", told Emanuel that improved CPS performance is only a result of the "sanitization" of schools, which has eliminated problem students from the system.

Emanuel: "A", highlighted his work with Bennett to extend the kindergarden school day and to extend the overall school day for all students.

Changing North and South Side separation

Walls: Highlighted the need for diverse communities with access to low-income housing and open-enrollment schools. Wants to give grants to small businesses and organizations to encourage job creation.

Gun control and violence

Wilson: Wants to refocus on spurring economic empowerment of individuals rather than trying to keep guns out of the hands of kids. He argued that if people have good jobs, they won't be driven to violence.

Garcia: Stressed the importance of creating safer, healthier communities with good schools. He wants to reform the current system that sends young people to jail by stiffening penalties for crime committed with guns, while softening the penalties for individuals caught carrying guns.

Walls: Reiterated his plan to increase security in the airports, waterways and highways surrounding Chicago to prevent drugs and guns from entreating the state.

Emanuel: Wants to change gun laws and reform the justice system, but stressed that the longterm solution to Chicago's violence problem is increasing the high school graduation rate.

Chicago in 20 years

Garcia: Wants to redevelop industrial areas on the city's South Side and leverage the city's access to trains, highways and airports to become an even larger transportation hub.

Walls: Doesn't want to let Chicago become a service-based economy. He argued that Chicago's path to the future requires the funding of small businesses, allowing industries to develop.

Emanuel: Wants Chicago to be a place where middle-class people can live in 20 years. Argued that the diversity of Chicago's economy is its greatest strength—the city can adapt to the changing world economy while creating new jobs.

Fioretti: Stated that the city can insure its future by expanding trade and vocational programs in high schools. Fioretti wants to expand tax-free zones to create more jobs that offer livable wages to the city's residents.

Wilson: Did not offer any specific ways in which Chicago can prepare for the future, but stated that he wants to make sure that all citizens of the city should be able to benefit from its progress.

Moments of levity

"Better water than the Tribune" - Garcia on the Fiji water provided by the Sun-Times.

"I've been married to the same women..." - Garcia misspeaks while describing his relationship to his wife (singular).

"Endorse me if you like, that's fine." - Wilson insists that he did not come to the debate seeking an endorsement from the Sun-Times.

"I can get you a nice seat at the Ernie Banks' memorial." - Emanuel's response to a statement that he is the only North Side mayoral candidate.

The next mayoral debate will take place on February 4 and will be aired on WTTW-TV/Channel 11.

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