A group of mayoral challengers took aim at incumbent Rahm Emanuel Tuesday morning during an endorsement session at The Chicago Tribune.
All five of Chicago’s mayoral candidates faced off Tuesday morning, a first for the field of candidates, and the four challengers took sharp aim at Emanuel, who they say has not delivered on promises from the last election.
Emanuel and his challengers were asked to answer questions and further solidify their positions on major topics like education, violence in Chicago, economic development and law enforcement.
During the session, one of the most-discussed topics involved what questioners called a “tale of two cities.” Many challengers have questioned Emanuel’s presence in city neighborhoods, arguing that he has focused primarily on bettering downtown areas.
Emanuel argued that while he has worked to build the central business district, he has also highlighted efforts in struggling city neighborhoods.
“From day one I also made sure we invested in our neighborhoods in our city,” Emanuel said.
He repeatedly noted the building of a Whole Foods in Chicago’s poverty-stricken Englewood neighborhood and a Mariano’s Fresh Market in Bronzeville as evidence of that claim.
“You may have good intentions but you have failed miserably as the mayor of Chicago,” William “Dock” Walls, arguably the most aggressive commenter in the session, told Emanuel. “People are dying in the streets of Chicago.”
Jesus “Chuy” Garcia, who represents the Southwest Side on the Cook County board, also argued there is a disconnect between neighborhoods in Chicago and noted the need for more community policing.
“There really is a contrast between the central business district and the neighborhoods,” Garcia said. “Over the past four years in particular the contrast has sharpened.”
Alderman Bob Fioretti, one of Emanuel’s most outspoken critics, said the city needs to hire from within city limits and reopen mental health clinics.
“We need to hire from our city to make sure our city has jobs,” Fioretti said.
He also encouraged reopening trade and vocational schools in city high schools.
As for Chicago’s headline-making violence, many candidates supported the idea of hiring more police officers despite arguments that there’s no room in the budget to do so.
Garcia, who said he would hire 1,000 new police officers if elected, said “the money is there, what hasn’t been there is the will.”
“They say we can’t afford it, I say we can’t afford 10,000 shootings,” Garcia said.
Fioretti, an advocate for “aggressive community policing,” said he would hope to hire 500 new officers.
“We have the money, we found it last time,” he said. “There is money in this budget to hire more police officers.”
Businessman Willie Wilson said he would take a different approach on community policing, instead breaking the city up into four districts with four superintendents. He would also encourage officers to take buses and public transportation instead of squad cars.
Walls said police officers in the city need to reflect the diversity seen in the city’s neighborhoods, a move that will help “tear down that wall of silence.”
Emanuel argued for more after school programs and summer jobs to keep kids employed and off the streets and advocated for stricter gun control.
“This is about addressing the issue of putting police officers on the street and getting kids guns and drugs off the street,” he said. “Fundamentally to change the course, we need gun control legislation. We need a fundamental change in Springfield.”
Candidates also argued about TIF reform and how the funds are used in the city, with Emanuel arguing that 75 percent of TIF money used goes to public goods like transportation, schools, libraries, parks, and other city services.
But several candidates argued the money isn’t being used for its intended purpose.
The Tuesday session was one of five times the candidates will debate with each other. The next event will take place Friday as they take part in the Sun-Times Editorial Board endorsement session.