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Mayoral Candidates Talk Jobs, Education, Public Safety

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Mayoral Candidates Talk Jobs, Education, Public Safety
Mayoral Candidates Talk Jobs, Education, Public Safety

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All six Chicago mayoral candidates appeared together Thursday night to answer questions on major issues facing the city.

Three topics were specifically on the agenda for the debate:  jobs, education and public safety.

The candidates -- Rahm Emanuel, Gery Chico, Carol Moseley Braun, Miguel del Valle, Patricia Van Pelt Watkins and William "Doc" Walls -- all seemed reticent to answer the first question:  have you ever been out of a job, and if so, what caused it and what did you do about it?

Del Valle was the first to speak up, announcing that there was a period after college when he didn't have steady employment.

"I experienced hardships.  I know what it's like to be in the neighborhoods and not have a job," he said, using the moment to talk about the need for business/education partnerships to train people for employment.

FOX Chicago political editor Mike Flannery asked Carol Moseley Braun to list some specific steps she would take if elected mayor to bring jobs to Chicago.

Her answer:  cut the red tape, pressure banks to provide loans as outlined in 1977's Community Reinvestment Act, and invest in funds that will reinvest in local companies that create jobs.

(On the first point, a CBS Chicago report on Wednesday indicated that Ald. Bob Fioretti hadn't given one small business a permit to put a sign outside its location.  Fioretti said he was waiting for three city departments to weigh in on the sign.)

It was a point later echoed by both Chico and del Valle.

WVON radio host Cliff Kelley asked Rahm Emanuel about contracts to minority-owned businesses. 

"How will you do better... in bringing city business to minority firms across Chicago, particularly in the high-impact sectors such as construction and personal services?" asked Kelley.

Emanuel said reforming the procurement process, by standardizing and centralizing it, would allow greater access to minority-owned businesses.  Secondly, he proposed auditing each department on their use of minority-owned business and then setting new goals for each individual agency.

"Thirty percent, nearly, of our business [contracts] are minority businesses.  Of that, only three percent go to African-American [businesses], so clearly of the 30 percent, that is not representative of the city and not goals that we should be proud of," said Emanuel.

Walls, who has made nanotechnology a platform issue, was asked to define it and describe how he would attract investment in it.

Public/private partnerships, the region's robust collection of institutions of higher education and its transportation network could all be better utilized to bring investment "in the next big industry after Silicon Valley," explained Walls.

Kelly asked Watkins about her plans to combat the problem of high school dropouts and how she would get them into the workforce.

She said "Chicago has lost its way when it comes to education," and criticizes the fact that a business-minded person has been at the helm of the Chicago Public Schools for the last number of years. 

She endorses putting an educator in charge of CPS and having some school board members elected by citizens.  Walls later expressed similar sentiments.

On dropouts, specifically, she said doors to education need to be reopened for those who've walked away in the past, particularly for African Americans. 

Moseley-Braun, responding to a question about the documentary "Waiting for Superman," said the current education system, with its charter and special enrollment schools, has left neighborhood schools behind.

Chico, a former head of CPS, was asked of his plans to get high quality teachers into the schools that most need them.

He said a quality "pipeline" of educators from the state colleges needs to be established to bring good teachers in.  Once employed, the teachers need to be provided with mentoring and constant feedback and compensated on their performance (Emanuel outlined similar ideas in December).

"I think that time has come and we have to earnestly get behind that effort," said Chico.

On the issue of how schools are funded, Watkins said she agreed with a Chicago Urban League lawsuit alleging that funding by property taxes is a violation of students' rights. 

"If it's public education, it should be public.  Everybody should get the same opportunity," she said, saying the state should "take the burden off property owners."  She didn't specify how exactly education should be funded.

The first personal attack of the evening came from Moseley Braun, responding to a question about what she would do to address health disparities in the African American communities.

"I'm almost sorry you asked me this question because this has been such a civil conversation," she said before pointing out that Emanuel, as a Northwest Side congressman, voted against minority health funding.

In answering the question, she said there are inefficiencies in the city's health care delivery system and said investments should be made to improve specific healthcare needs for each neighborhood.

When the conversation turned to public safety, Emanuel and Chico were asked if and when they'd ever feared for their own safety in the city.

Chico said he became accustomed to violence while growing up in the Back of the Yards neighborhood.

"There are people, like Mr. Emanuel, who grew up in the wealthy North Shore who probably never experienced that and I think it makes it harder to come to grips with what a plan would be to combat this," he said to audible laughter from the audience.

Chico reiterated his call to hire an additional 2,000 police officers.  He said he would pay for them by "rearranging the entire city budget."

"We're talking about two to three percent of the budget.  If we can't find two to three percent of the budget, don't run for mayor.  This is the single greatest priority people have," he said.

To keep young people out of the criminal justice system, Watkins said efforts need to first be made to reach their parents and give them hope. 

Del Valle said current programs aimed at re-introducing ex-offenders into daily life need to be expanded.

"They're just too small.  And there aren't very many opportunities for an individual, coming out of prison, to connect with a program that's going to help them reintegrate into the community," he said. 

Asked whether he supports using 20 percent of TIF funds for affordable housing, Emanuel said the TIF system first needs to be reformed.  He said the use of TIFs should be tailored to the specific needs of the area, whether it be for commercial or residential improvement.

Emanuel said the current way that TIFs have been organized have "starved" the CPS budget.

Moseley Braun was asked what she would do to make Chicago one that working people can afford to live in.  Her answer: no new taxes, improving education and making it easier for people to find and get to work.  She cited improving public transportation and doing away with the parking meter lease deal.

Emanuel was asked what he would do to end corruption in city politics. 

Anyone he appoints to a position, he said, would be banned for two years from lobbying city government.  He would expand the perview of the city's Inspector General and improve transparency of government, he said.

Chico, who once served as Mayor Richard Daley's chief of staff, was asked if he would distance himself from the Daley Administration.

He pointed out that he believes Daley has done many positive things for the city but said that he has openly criticized the administration by suggesting that school reform had lost momentum.

"I don't have a problem, ever, with standing on my own two feet and talking about what I think needs to be done in this city.  And I think if you do that, people will see that you're independent, you have your own ability to think and you can chart your own course for the city of Chicago," he said.

The forum was held at Kennedy-King College on the city's South Side, sponsored by the Chicago Urban League, Harriet's Daughters and broadcast on FOX Chicago.

MyFoxChicago.com has video of Thursday's debate.

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