If he’s elected mayor, does Jesus “Chuy” Garcia want to abolish the city’s controversial red light program or not?
That’s the question opponents of the program and at least one of Garcia’s opponents want to know.
The questions come in the wake of what some see as potentially conflicting answers given by Garcia on the program’s future in various forums during the past few days.
As part of a January 10 radio broadcast hosted by Mark Wallace on WVON 1690 AM, Garcia read a pledge sponsored by Wallace in his role as director of the group Citizens to Abolish Red Light Cameras. To date, the pledge has been taken by two other candidates currently running for mayor, including Bob Fioretti and William "Dock" Walls.
The city's red light camera program has proven controversial in recent months. An investigation by the Chicago Tribune has found that the program, designed to identify and fine drivers who run intersection red lights, provide few safety benefits, was run with poor management and enforcement and possibly ticketed tens of thousands of drivers in error.
For its part, Citizens to Abolish Red Light Cameras calls for outright abolishing red light camera programs in Chicago, arguing the program is little more than a means for the city to collect additional revenue from drivers.
On the radio broadcast, Garcia pledged to "advocate for legislation to repeal the Red Light Camera and Speed Camera ordinances in the City of Chicago" and "vote in favor of repeal" any similar legislation that reaches the floor of the City Council. For the group, that meant Garcia was for getting rid of the program altogether--no if, ands or buts.
In days following the pledge, however, Garcia has made a number of comments that seem by some as an effort to tone down his previous stance. During a January 12 appearance before an audience at the University of Chicago's Institute of Politics, Garcia was quoted as being in favor of "scaling back" the program, while elsewhere his stance has been characterized as favoring an "immediate suspension of the program until independent data can be provided that documents their safety value."
As well, Garcia indicated he would keep at least some of the city's red light cameras in place if they can "can be fully proven to have reduced accidents" as part of his answers to candidate questionnaires from both the Chicago Sun-Times and Chicago Tribune.
For Wallace, such inconsistencies work to reduce the effectiveness and meaning of the pledge Garcia made to the group.
"[The red light camera program] is not a safety program but a tax and punish program which has extracted $500 million from citizens but has shown no safety improvement," Wallace told Ward Room. "[Garcia is] waffling on positions and seems to respond whatever way is convenient based on the audience. That's not what we need or look for for someone who represents citizens, because voters need to know where a candidate stands."
As well, fellow mayoral challenger Bob Fioretti is questioning exactly where Garcia's red light camera stance falls. "Calling Mr. Garcia’s views on red light cameras 'evolving' is being charitable and cavalier," said Fioretti campaign spokesperson Michael Kolenca statement. "I’d characterize it as political pandering and something that is becoming all too common in the race for mayor."
For his part, Garcia is pushing back on efforts to characterize his positions as "flip-flops" on the issue. Citing the process he and his fellow Cook County Commisioners use to require munipalities to prove proposed cameras will imporve public safety, Garcia points out Chicago has done little to provide compelling evidence to show which cameras improve pubic safety and which are nothing more than a revenue source.
"Cook County Commissioner Jesus “Chuy” Garcia’s position on Red Light and Speed Cameras has never wavered," his campaign said in a written statement. "The key question about each Red Light and Speed Camera in Chicago is this: Does this camera improve public safety, or is it only an additional source of revenue for the city?"
Further, the campaign stressed that "Commissioner Garcia supports an immediate moratorium on all Red Light and Speed cameras across Chicago until the city conducts its own comprehensive research and releases a report to the public."
Whether or not such back and forth between campaigns and advocacy groups on an issue like red light cameras will resonate with voters is yet to be seen. At a minimum, however, it's clear that all of the candidates--and not just Mayor Emanuel--are being held to the highest scrutiny as Election Day approaches.