As the race for mayor of Chicago hits the home stretch, the top four contenders for that office sat down on Monday for a debate on WTTW. Host Carol Marin spent the first part of the debate focusing on the city's fiscal troubles and discussing a new report by the Civic Federation, which says the city is on the brink of bankruptcy. As potential fixes to the city's problems, candidates discussed pension reform, privatization, and changes to the makeup of the City Council.
Gery Chico said the situation wasn't quite as bad as the report made it seem. "This is not as horrible as you're portraying it," he said. "People are going to sit in a room and work this out." When the issue of pension reform came up, City Clerk Miguel del Valle, referencing past comments by Rahm Emanuel that cutting current pensions could be on the table, said, "We can certainly do that with new hires, but I don't think that with
current employees, we should be reducing their pension benefits, even
prospectively. It is wrong." Both del Valle and Carol Moseley Braun made it clear that existing pensions would not be touched if they were elected mayor.
Another solution floated by Marin was changes to the City Council. That part of the conversation focused on Ald. Ed Burke (14th Ward), the chairman of the Finance Committee. Emanuel brought up a security detail that follows Burke and said, "There will be a shared sacrifice, including for Ed Burke and all the
City Council. If Ed Burke has six police officers, that just can’t
continue." Del Valle said the council had an "unhealthy dependence" on Burke and that, "It shouldn’t be one-person rule — you can’t have everything going through one alderman." All four candidates agreed that the city's 19 committees will need to be reduced.
Of course, the debate also included criticisms of the candidacies for mayor. Moseley Braun was asked if the way she managed her personal finances disqualified her. Moseley Braun pivoted, saying, "I didn’t leverage my public office to make millions of dollars, I could have, but I didn’t." The comment was aimed at Emanuel's tenure on the board of Freddie Mac and Chico's law firm. Following the debate, Chico said Emanuel's unwillingness to answer questions about his time at Freddie Mac made him a "pathological evader of the truth."
Two other candidates, Patricia Van Pelt-Watkins and William "Dock" Walls, were not invited to the debate and were sent away when they showed up and tried to attend.
The Chicago Tea Patriots' endorsement of Gery Chico's mayoral bid is giving other candidates a fresh reason to distinguish themselves from Chico -- or try to vault above him as voters cast their ballots in early voting and next Tuesday during Election Day.
Versus other well-establishedorganizations gearing up for the mayoral and aldermanic elections, the Tea Patriot group's power to move people to the voting booth to support Chico is likely miniscule (the most active Tea Party chapter in the state during last year's campaign cycle probably was in Will County). But the endorsement is already having a rhetorical impact. Emanuel used it to drive a wedge between President Barack Obama and Chico today. Miguel del Valle insists that it demonstrates that he is the true alternative to the campaign's frontrunner. From a del Valle campaign statement:
Personally, this is an endorsement that I would never accept. The Tea Party’s positions on everything from immigration reform to health care reform are not aligned with the needs and wants of the people of Chicago. If Mr. Chico thinks lining up with the Tea Party will push him over the top to get to a runoff, he has severely miscalculated the voters of the city of Chicago.
Chico said he didn't seek out the group's endorsement but he isn't rejecting it either. In a statement, he reiterated that he is a lifelong Democrat and has "nothing in common" with the Tea Party group. There may be more discussion about this tonight during WTTW's mayoral froum.
Election Day is just eight days away and the mayoral campaigns are getting in their latest digs. In what is being described as her latest "gaffe," Carol Moseley Braun, at an event with Princeton professor Cornel West, said Rahm Emanuel's campaign commercials reminded her of the 1968 Mel Brooks film "The Producers." Moseley Braun compared Emanuel to one of the film's characters, who believed Adolf Hitler was a good man. Moseley Braun's comments came after her campaign touted a poll showing the former U.S. Senator in second place in the race for mayor.
The other candidate seemingly vying for second place, Gery Chico, is also directing shots at Emanuel. In a press release (PDF) sent out on Monday, Chico complained of Emanuel's "hypocrisy" on ethics issues, saying the former White House chief of staff was the "least likely" of all the mayoral candidates to change the culture of corruption in City Hall. Chico pointed to the disgraced ex-water department boss Donald Tomczak, whose pro-Daley patronage army helped Emanuel get elected to Congress; his tenure on the board of Freddie Mac; and his ties to former Gov. Rod Blagojevich.
Chico's criticism of Emanuel on ethics came as the former school board president was endorsing a 15-point ethics plan by good-government leader and University of Illinois-Chicago professor Dick Simpson. The report (PDF) lays out a reform agenda and calls on each of the mayoral candidates to endorse its proposals. The agenda challenges candidates to, among other things, work to elect reform candidates, enact public financing, and strengthen the role of the city's inspector general. As of this posting, the plan has been endorsed by Chico and William "Dock" Walls.
Speaking of Emanuel, in the midst of heavy criticism from organized labor for an ad in which he appeared to criticize city workers, the front-runner told the Chicago News Cooperative that the furlough program for city workers should end. Emanuel's comments came in the wake of Chicago Inspector General Joseph Ferguson's latest report, which found that the Daley administration's use of furloughs will cost the pension funds
more than $24 million, making current funding shortfalls that much
The mayoral candidates square off in a debate tonight on WTTW's "Chicago Tonight."
The candidates for mayor of Chicago all met on one stage for the first time on Wednesday night, at a forum sponsored by the Chicago Defender. At the DuSable Museum of African-American History on the city's South Side, the candidates spoke to a crowd of 500 people. Due to a scheduling conflict with an LGBT mayoral forum that was scheduled just before the debate at the DuSable Museum, the candidates had to scramble to make both events. The Chicago Defender forum was supposed to take place last week, but was rescheduled because of the blizzard.
With less than two weeks until the first round of voting, and Rahm Emanuel leading in a recent poll, the former White House chief-of-staff took shots from all directions. Perpetual candidate William "Dock" Walls pointed to Emanuel's time in Washington -- and absence from Chicago. "Mr. Emanuel, when you were chief of staff, we had children dying in the streets of the city of Chicago," he said. Carol Moseley Braun criticized Emanuel's record in Washington. After the debate, she faulted Emanuel for holding down President Barack Obama, saying that as chief of staff he "spent two years dragging his poll numbers to the ground, damaging the
president’s agenda, a lot of people in Washington think so."
Gery Chico continued his criticism of Emanuel's tax plan and his proposal to cut pensions. Chico said, "I will not tax people. I am not going to expand under the guise of a tax swap the very largest tax increase we’ve seen." And Miguel del Valle pointed out the campaign war chest Emanuel has accumulated, suggesting that he is buying the office.
The most raucous moment came as the candidates answered questions about reparations for slavery. All six agreed that African-Americans at entitled to reparations, but Emanuel's proposal that the funds be used for economic development drew the ire of Patricia Van Pelt-Watkins. "Fifty-five percent of adult black males in the city of Chicago have
felony records, meaning they can’t work, they can’t get public housing,”she said. “It’s a cycle that keeps us in a
state of poverty. Let’s stop acting like black folks are the only ones
who commit crimes." Watch the exchange here.
Rahm Emanuel's city finance plan forsees a spending freeze starting this year, departmental mergers, "reducing layers of management bureaucracy and consolidating redundant tasks," cutting the costs for the city's fleet, building maintenance, and billing, canceling and renegotiating contracts, shuttering tax increment financing districts, and introducing "managed competition" to the city's Department of Streets and Sanitation, among other measures, to realize $500 million in savings. The pitch is in chart form here.
Should Emanuel be elected mayor how this may ultimately play out isn't altogether clear. For starters, if the tepid recovery continues, Chicago may face operating deficits at least as high as the nearly $655 million Mayor Richard Daley and City Council closed last year by leaning heavily on one-time cash infusions. The council could see up to 25 new members, and their priorities, along with those of incumbents re-elected for another term, could influence the shape of any budget restructuring. And some of the changes Emanuel is talking about would be subject to negotiation.
At least 8,000 employees and the City of Chicago ratified 10-year labor deals in 2007, and both the police and firefighter unions have collective bargaining contracts in place through June 2012. Emanuel's relationship with public employees has taken a frosty turn, though during his budget address Tuesday he claimed he wanted a "cooperative" approach, especially with regards to dealing with shortfalls in the city's four pension funds. But the candidate provided no details about how he'd address the pension issue on Tuesday. He did not tell reporters he favored cuts, as earlier reports indicated. Just this:
There's some overlap between Emanuel's plan and that of candidate Gery Chico, who is in second place (but trailing significanlty) according to the latest independent poll. Chico promises to eliminate the clerk and treasurer's office, merge entities such as the Licensing Appeals Commission and Department of Administrative Hearings, move to a grid-based garbage collection system, cut "top-heavy" management in the police department, open a casino in the city, and implement cost-saving other proposals.