The candidates for mayor returned to familiar territory in the second debate of the campaign season when they argued their positions in front of the Chicago Sun-Times editorial board Friday.
The five men once again focused on budget woes, pension troubles, and crime.
Mayor Rahm Emanuel offered few specifics on his budget proposals, saying his plans will be highlighted in the October budget. He did, however, pledge to not raise property taxes in the operating budget.
He touted his latest pension solution, which increased employee contributions by 29 percent and trimmed benefits to shore up the underfunded Municipal Employees and Laborers pensions.
“Some people think we should just tax our way to a balanced budget I rejected that,” Emanuel said Friday.
Emanuel repeated his calls for a balanced budget that “puts money in the rainy day fund,” but offered few specifics for how he plans to handle the growing need for pension funds.
“We have a big challenge ahead of us, but I do think the past tells us where we’re going to go,” he said.
Few candidates offered solutions of their own. Alderman Bob Fioretti said he opposed an increase in property taxes and said he would look into TIF funds and possibly even a commuter tax.
“A pension is guarantee and we need to find the revenue for it,” he said. “I’m not talking about future employees I’m talking about what we owe now.”
Fioretti argued that “we need to put everything on the table,” except property tax increases.
Jesus “Chuy” Garcia said he would look to find revenue in the city’s ever-growing transportation departments and William “Dock Walls” said the solution may lie in allowing for more competition in contract bidding in the city.
Following pensions, the session turned to another highly debated topic in the city—the closing of 50 public schools in Chicago.
The shuttering of dozens of CPS schools is a move candidates have targeted Mayor Rahm Emanuel for.
“Nobody in their right mind would close 50 schools,” said Willie Wilson, who argued that the move hindered some of the city’s poverty-plagued neighborhoods. “Parents can’t think about education at the moment when they’re thinking about their kid getting killed.”
Several candidates agreed some schools needed to be closed, but some targeted the process rather than the decision.
“When you shutter those school buildings you snuff the life out of many of those communities,” Garcia said. “I’m not saying you shouldn’t have closed but you should have done it in a collaborative manner.”
Fioretti also argued that officials recommended several of the closed schools remain open, but Emanuel stood by the decision and offered plans for what the now vacant buildings could become.
Some buildings could be housing or incubator space for technology, he said.
While many in the session criticized CPS CEO Barbara Byrd-Bennett, Emanuel said he’s proud of her appointment.
In another familiar talking point, the mayoral candidates discussed their positions on gun control, with nearly all of them supporting stiffer penalties for those caught in possession of a gun used in a crime.
As for where the candidates see the city of Chicago’s future heading, Emanuel and Garcia both agreed the city’s transportation industry could be a huge economic boost for the future.
They both also chose to focus on the diversity of the population in the city.
“Chicago’s diversity is its strength,” Emanuel said.
Fioretti focused more on reintroducing trade schools to city high schools.
“We still need in our high schools, trade and vocation, we keep forgetting about that,” he said. “We need to reinstitute that kids can use their hands.”
Walls said the future of the city rests in the hands of small businesses, while Wilson simply said we need to brand our city.