In a speech given at the City Club of Chicago Monday, Cook County Commissioner and mayoral challenger Jesus “Chuy” Garcia attacked incumbent Rahm Emanuel as a Reagan-esque advocate of “trickle-down” economics, who is also more focused on possible future national office than he is on solving Chicago’s problems.
“Chicago is becoming a city of the very rich and the very poor with fewer and fewer people in between,” Garcia said. “We’re becoming a city with glittering buildings surrounded by crumbling neighborhoods. A city with the finest restaurants, surrounded by communities full of people who can’t afford a decent meal. A city with some job growth in a small area downtown, surrounded by a vast area where unemployment rates are 25 to 30 percent. A city with fancy shopping areas surrounded by other areas with boarded-up business districts.”
The implications of those told facts is that mayor Emanuel is heavily to blame for at least not attempting to reverse those trends in Chicago. It is interesting that these attacks, perhaps Garcia’s most pointed and eloquently specific of the campaign, came not during one of the previous three head-to-head debates with Emanuel that were televised city-wide, but instead in front of a relatively small audience inside one of downtown Chicago’s longest-running symbols of exclusivity and wealth.
Perhaps Garcia will hit these points, in particular, during the final head-to-head debate with Emanuel. It would appear to be a good idea.
In last week’s debate televised on Fox 32, Garcia all too often let out incredulous chuckles in reaction to claims made by Emanuel, instead of letting those outside of his own choir in on the joke and elucidating what about the mayor’s comments and record he found so preposterous and offensive.
Though he hasn’t detailed how, specifically, he’d reform the city’s use of TIF districts, Garcia at least was sharper than ever in his criticism of the unfair way they are currently appropriated, Monday. “Nearly half of the city’s TIF money, 48 percent to be exact, has gone to an area that stretches roughly from the Gold Coast on the north to McCormick Center to the south, and from the United Center on the west to the lake,” he said.
“In other words, our TIF money goes downtown. These locations contain just 11 percent of Chicago’s population and 5 percent of the geographical area. But they’ve gotten half of the $1.3 billion in TIF money the mayor has passed out since he’s taken office.
“The mayor of Chicago is spending TIF money in the exact opposite way that it’s supposed to be spent after promising not to do it. It’s Robin Hood, in the reverse. It’s been going on for years.”
Criticisms from Garcia that the way Chicago has long done business, including under Emanuel for the past four years, is largely broken and inequitable is on-point. Unfortunately for the challenger, he’s not giving many more specific alternative plans to the mayor’s own vague and potentially misleading ones.
As the incumbent, Emanuel has largely relied on a cautious strategy based on the notion that even dissatisfied voters will be uneasy voting for a relative unknown who doesn’t have executive government experience. As challenger, Garcia has chosen his own version of an equally conservative approach that relies on the idea that voters will be so upset with the incumbent over the city’s decline and financial peril that he doesn’t need to actually propose specific plans of his own that make better sense (and math) than the mayor’s.
Both approaches have been almost entirely negative and not inspiring in the least. As long as he’s content to ride a wave of disappointment in Emanuel, it’s at least good to see Garcia finally hitting a bit harder and tighter.