Mayoral candidates get candid about Chicago


Lou Foglia

Dorothy Tucker from CBS 2 levied audience questions for mayoral candidate Cook County Commissioner Jesus “Chuy” Garcia at the National Association of Black Journalists-sponsored forum Feb. 11 at Film Row Cinema in the 1104 S. Wabash Ave. Building.

By Metro Editor

With little more than a week before the election, the only thing Chicago’s mayoral candidates seem to agree on is that stripping Little League team Jackie Robinson West of their national title was a travesty. Each candidate shared his vision for Chicago at the Feb. 11 National Association of Black Journalists-sponsored mayoral forum hosted in Film Row Cinema at the 1104 S. Wabash Ave. Building as the mayoral race nears its Feb. 24 conclusion.

Students, professors and administrators, such as President and CEO Kwang-Wu Kim, Dean of the School of Media Arts Robin Bargar, and Senior Vice President and Provost Stan Wearden, attended the event.

After waiting for the candidates to arrive, all of whom were late, the moderators from NABJ hastily called each up to give a short speech before answering audience-generated questions. The forum was structured so that no two candidates were present at the same time, and each section took on a different atmosphere.

Incumbent Rahm Emanuel was the first candidate to speak, lauding the successes of his first term: Four balanced budgets and improvements to Chicago Public Schools, including a 40 percent increase in after-school activities and an increased graduation rate. Four years ago, 42 percent of CPS students were dropping out before graduation. Now, eight out of 10 students graduate, he said.

Emanuel also championed the Chicago Star Scholarship program, which allows CPS students who graduate with at least a 3.0 GPA to pursue an associate’s degree at any of the seven City Colleges of Chicago for free, at the second-largest community college system in the country. The program served as a model for President Barack Obama’s proposal to offer free community college tuition, Emanuel said.

“More adults and kids go through that system than all four-year institutions combined in the city of Chicago, and they were being relegated to an educational system that did not provide a job or a career in the same way Columbia’s providing you a ticket to your future,” Emanuel said.

As the former White House Chief of Staff, Emanuel mentioned his friendship with the president multiple times during his 20-minute talk.

“The City of Chicago is known as the city that works,” Emanuel said. “I will not rest until it works for everyone.”

Candidate William “Dock” Walls contradicted Emanuel’s rosy outlook, claiming that institutional inequality is the reason the city needs new leadership. Walls, who was the chief scheduler for former mayor Harold Washington and who has run for mayor three consecutive times, is the least visible candidate in the race. He was not invited to speak in the first televised debate. However, he said his experience with Washington qualifies him for the office.

Demanding economic and social justice for residents living in impoverished black communities, Walls said Emanuel’s administration has fostered economic development in predominantly white communities while largely ignoring the plight of black communities on the South and West sides. Walls said there are two Chicagos, “world class” and “underclass.”

“World class Chicago is safe, it’s beautiful, it’s robust and full of resources and unlimited opportunities,” Walls said. “Then there’s that underclass Chicago: Decaying neighborhoods; unsafe streets; people dodging potholes and bullets; abusive, trigger-happy police and few city services; no jobs; no schools; no parks; no economic development … real life.”

Jesus “Chuy” Garcia, who calls himself “the neighborhood guy,” called for economic development in neighborhoods “that have been left behind.” He touted his long public service career—he currently serves as Cook County Commissioner and is a former Chicago alderman and Illinois state senator. 

Garcia said he would restore Chicago through civic engagement by forming coalitions and opposing corporate interests.

“Building good, healthy communities has been my passion through the years,” Garcia said. “I have become a community builder over that time, I have fought for social justice, I have been a practitioner of community development, addressing some of the most detractable issues that we face in many communities.”

When asked if he felt betrayed by challenger Alderman Bob Fioretti (2nd Ward) attacking him, even after the two agreed to limit their stabs to Emanuel, he said he did not.

“He is not my opponent,” Garcia said, “He is a mayoral aspirant.”

Candidate Willie Wilson touched on the business environment. When asked about the Jackie Robinson West Little League title, Wilson said he would hire an attorney to look into local, national and international laws to challenge the Jackie Robinson West decision by Little League International President and CEO Stephen Keener.

Wilson, an entrepreneur who received only a seventh-grade education, told the crowd full of students and administrators that it was acceptable for them to drop out if they needed to do so and pursue business. 

“If you ever drop out of school, don’t think you can’t make it,” Wilson said. 

Steering questions back to the economy, he said that as mayor, he would lower taxes and encourage small business entrepreneurship. A self-described religious man, he concluded with a prayer.

“You don’t raise taxes on people who lose their homes,” Wilson said. “I hate taxes, OK?”

In contrast, Alderman Fioretti, who appeared last, was direct to the point of curtness, intentionally limiting how long he spoke to make time to answer more questions. Other candidates answered three or four questions, but Fioretti answered six.

A Polish-Italian Southsider from a working-class family, Fioretti said he fights for and represents the average Chicagoan better than any other candidate. 

A civil rights lawyer, environmental advocate and member of the City Council progressive caucus, Fioretti has fought Emanuel’s caucus in City Hall. Fioretti said his ward has given him a broad perspective on the many problems Chicagoans face.

“When I was elected in ‘07, I was the first white, Caucasian person out of a historic black ward, the 2nd Ward,” Fioretti said. “I’ve built five more parks, I had more schools than any other ward … more senior citizen homes, almost 40 schools, and so I’ve learned a lot about the city of Chicago.”

When asked what jobs he would eliminate in the mayor’s office, he replied, “Oh, there’s a whole host of them.”