Mayoral candidates trade jabs at Copernicus
by KEVIN GROSS
Ten candidates for mayor discussed policing, affordable housing, charter schools and other issues at a forum held Tuesday, Dec. 11, at the Copernicus Center, 5216 W. Lawrence Ave.
The forum was organized by the 38th Ward Democratic Organization and other Democratic groups. It featured former Chicago Public Schools chief executive officer Paul Vallas, businessman and past mayoral candidate Willie Wilson, state Comptroller Susana Mendoza, former Chicago Police superintendent Garry McCarthy, Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle, Austin Chamber of Commerce executive director Amara Enyia, state Representative LaShawn Ford (D-8), former Police Board president Lori Lightfoot, lawyer and past mayoral candidate Gery Chico and activist Ja’Mal Green, who replaced lawyer Jerry Joyce, Jr. who was scheduled to attend but did not show. Patti Vasquez of WGN Radio moderated the forum.
"I didn’t sit back and wait until Rahm Emanuel was off the ballot, until the ‘Goliath’ had been slain," Lightfoot said, taking shots at candidates who have announced their campaigns after Emanuel announced he would not seek a third term. "I got into this race because I saw the disparity that is decimating neighborhoods and generations of our young people," she said.
Preckwinkle highlighted her record of constructing 1,500 affordable housing units while being the former alderman of the 4th Ward in Hyde Park and said that "we do spend money that the governor appropriates to us" but that "we’re way behind cities like New York and Los Angeles and Boston in our corporate investment, that is, our own tax dollars, in housing."
Vallas, who also served as a city budget director, said he intends to spur West and South Side capital investment by "taking advantage of the opportunity zone (program), which can offer billions in investment, and combine that with the diversion of tax increment financing revenues." Green proposed creating "Downtown Benefits for Everybody" districts that redistribute funds from a proposed LaSalle Street transactions tax and corporate head taxes for South and West Side projects.
Candidates all supported rent control measures under various conditions, with the exception of Portage Park resident Mendoza and Chico, who were opposed.
The issue of crime and police oversight was discussed in regards to officer Jason Van Dyke’s conviction months earlier in the shooting of Laquan McDonald in 2014.
McCarthy, the CPD superintendent at the time of the shooting, replied to a question about whether "voters should trust you to fix the department?"
"I was accountable for the behavior of every police officer in that department, yet I wasn’t in charge of the discipline system. I could only make a recommendation to the police board for terminations and suspensions of more than 30 days," McCarthy said.
The answer drew a sharp rebuttal from Lightfoot.
"The issue Garry, about Laquan McDonald, was not what you could do to the officers, it was the false narrative that you allowed to fester," she said. "Pat Camden (a Fraternal Order of Police spokesman) lied about that shooting, and you didn’t change the narrative."
McCarthy ended the back-and-forth argument and replied, "You just can’t make up history. Pat Camden did not work for the police department."
Preckwinkle said, "The culture of the police department is basically to cover up, and not hold fellow officers accountable," while Green pointed out that "I’m the only candidate up here that lead those protests" following the release of the McDonald shooting video.
"We expect them (police) to clean up the mess that leadership has failed to do to address the root causes of violence," Enyia said.
Mendoza defended her past "tough on crime" and pro-death penalty stances by saying she was affected by a child’s murder in her old Little Village home and that her votes and stances have since changed, while Vallas focused on police funding.
"They gutted the police department. They didn’t fill almost 2,000 vacancies," he said. "That’s why the clearance rate is at 5 percent of shootings, 17 percent of murders. They went to one to 30 ratios for sergeants (to rank-and-file officers)."
Regarding schools, Vallas answered a question asking about his role in the "massive" expansion of charter schools and said, "We were very cognizant of the fact that we didn’t want to open charters in areas that compete with traditional schools."
Chico, who was also CPS board president after serving as former Mayor Richard M. Daley’s chief-of-staff, said, "Today there are 62,000 students in charter schools in Chicago, and not one parent had their arm bent behind their back to go. They chose to go there…Lets be practical about this, they (charters) aren’t really going anywhere."
Other candidates were opposed to charter schools except for McCarthy, with Green and Preckwinkle proposing a full charter moratorium.
Enyia highlighted the lack of analytic research to predict demographic changes when building new schools, leading to competing schools "cannibalizing themselves," while she warned that the "selective enrollment model is widening disparity."
All candidates expressed support for an elected school board, with Vallas, Mendoza, McCarthy and Chico saying they support it under certain conditions and others supporting a fully elected board. All candidates also proposed various forms of support for public neighborhood schools.
"Its not about what will I do as mayor, but what I’ve already been doing," Ford said, referring to his work for teacher’s pensions as a legislator.
Lightfoot attacked Preckwinkle and Mendoza’s record of supporting education and said "I wish they had found that voice … when Rahm Emanuel was shutting them (public schools) down." Mendoza rebutted by highlighting her role as state comptroller and said, "I was the one taking on (Governor Bruce) Rauner, fighting for school funds."
One of the only issues where candidates expressed full consensus was on attacking Emanuel’s "broken promises" when he proposed a constitutional amendment to potentially allow reduced pension payouts to public employees.
"I was criticized earlier for reinstituting the penny sales tax. The reason I did so was to meet our pension obligations," Preckwinkle said. "We used 90 percent of the money in the first two years to ramp up our payments."
To fund pensions, Enyia proposed re-amortization of debt and expanding the services tax. Vallas said he devised a 5-year budget plan "based around fully funding pensions" and warned about errors with how pension fund interest is calculated.
Regarding revenue, Chico expressed a strong anti-taxation stance throughout the debate except on certain commercial taxes, and Wilson said that the government could do more to contract with minority businesses.
All candidates supported some form of marijuana legalization and the possibility of a Chicago casino except for Enyia and Green, who would only support gambling facilities at airports.
Other mayoral candidates include County Circuit Court clerk Dorothy Brown, former White House chief-of-staff Bill Daley, former Alderman Bob Fioretti (2nd), lawyer and former 11th Ward aldermanic candidate John Kozlar, coding entrepreneur and Northwestern University faculty Neal Sales-Griffin, police officer and former 24th Ward aldermanic candidate Roger Washington, former 15th Ward aldermanic candidate Sandra Mallory, activist Catherine Brown D’Tycoon, former city clerk and treasurer candidate Richard Mayers, and 87-year-old school volunteer Conrien Hykes Clark.