Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel's challenger blasted the former White House chief of staff Thursday, accusing him of neglecting the city's neighborhoods and saying he's facing an unprecedented runoff election because voters are hungry for a leader who listens to them before making decisions.
Cook County Commissioner Jesus "Chuy" Garcia pulled few punches in the second of three televised debates prior to the April 7 runoff, telling the mayor at one point: "You are not the king of this city."
Emanuel pushed back, touting his achievements in office, including expanding full-day kindergarten to all students and bringing new companies and jobs to the nation's third-largest city. He also criticized Garcia for not proposing a concrete plan for dealing with the city's serious financial problems and for saying that if elected he'll appoint a commission to advise him on the budget.
"It's unaccountable," Emanuel said in a post-debate session with reporters. "Leadership requires being concise, consistent and steady."
Garcia, a former Illinois state senator, finished second to Emanuel in the five-candidate first-round election last month. But Emanuel failed to win a majority of the vote, forcing Chicago's first mayoral runoff.
Emanuel has acknowledged his hard-charging style has been a factor in the race. He released an ad in which he says he admits he can rub people the wrong way, but says no one will fight harder for Chicago.
On Thursday, he said he's also been tough enough to stand up to his friends when he needs to — including passing a $13 minimum wage that will take effect in the city in 2019, despite opposition from his supporters in the business community. He questioned whether Garcia, whose campaign funding and operational support has come largely from the Chicago Teachers Union and other unions, would be able to tell them 'no' during tough budget and contract negotiations.
"If you can't have the gumption to say 'no' then you're not going to be able to make the tough calls of being mayor," he said.
Garcia said the unions will be more likely to work with him to make difficult decisions because they don't have the same "animosity" they do with Emanuel, who was mayor when Chicago teachers went on strike in 2012.
Garcia also touted his connections to people in Chicago neighborhoods, and criticized Emanuel for governing by press release.
"He's not rooted in the day-to-day life of Chicago communities," Garcia said. "That's all that I know."
He told reporters after the debate that he was more aggressive than he's been in their previous meetings in part because voters are excited about the runoff and "that's contagious."
Emanuel and Garcia also disagreed over plans for "Star Wars" creator George Lucas' museum to be located along Lake Michigan. Garcia said the mayor should have let voters decide whether to use a prime piece of real estate and called it a "monument to Darth Vader." Emanuel said Lucas' decision to put the museum in Chicago rather than San Francisco will bring jobs to the city, and said there were several town hall meetings before the plan was approved.
Polls have shown Emanuel with a lead over Garcia, and the mayor has far surpassed his rival in raising money. In recent days Garcia traveled to Los Angeles and New York for fundraisers, meeting with unions and progressive groups to raise money for a final push.