Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle and former federal prosecutor Lori Lightfoot met for their final TV debate of the mayoral campaign Wednesday night, giving viewers a last glimpse of them squabbling over who has taken cheaper shots.
“You’ve made it a hallmark of your campaign since Feb. 26 to denigrate me, to challenge me, to portray me as someone other than what I am,” Lightfoot said.
But Preckwinkle wasn’t having any of it, calling Lightfoot a hypocrite and reminding the former Chicago Police Board president of some of her own choice insults.
Six days before their April 2 grudge match, the two mayoral candidates debated live on CBS 2. They have one final radio debate on Friday.
Lightfoot, who is leading in the polls and has racked up a string of high-profile endorsements, largely sought to stay above the fray. At one point, she even channeled Ronald Reagan’s famous 1980 line to Jimmy Carter.
“Well, there she goes again,” Lightfoot said.
That came during the sharpest exchange of the night. Moderateor Irika Sargent gave the two candidates the chance to question one another. Lightfoot lobbed Preckwinkle a softball about how she would encourage hope in young people if she is elected.
But Preckwinkle used the opportunity to note Lightfoot’s time as a corporate lawyer where she “defended corporations accused of age and race discrimination,” asking her opponent to reflect on her biggest professional regret.
Lightfoot scolded the County Board president, accusing her of mischaracterizing her background and tearing her down.
“You talk about your grandchildren all the time, and I have to explain to my daughter, and I have to explain to my daughter … what it means when an adult says something that’s not true just to try to score political points,” Lightfoot said. “Our children are watching, and I think it’s critically important that we conduct ourselves in a way that they can be proud, and we can be proud.”
Preckwinkle swatted away the criticism, saying “this is a person who is complaining now about the tenor the campaign, but in the first debate called me a liar and has repeatedly said I’m a cockroach, so I think it’s a little bit hypocritical for her to complain now about the tenor of the campaign.”
Until that point, the gloves had mostly stayed on between the two, though the differences in their stances were more apparent.
Lightfoot said affordable housing, not rent control, was the answer to addressing the city’s housing and gentrification woes. Preckwinkle said she is open to having a conversation on it.
Preckwinkle wouldn’t say what changes she’d bring to a new police contract, explaining that it would be “a mistake to negotiate a contract in public rather than with the workers first.” Lightfoot gave a short list of what she’d do in a new contract.
Preckwinkle was also made to reckon with her record on taxes and connections to embattled 14th Ward Ald. Ed Burke. When asked if she’d promise not to go for “regressive” taxes and fees, such as the county’s controversial penny-an-ounce tax on sweetened beverages she said “of course not.”
As for hiring Burke’s son to a county spot, holding a fundraiser at Burke’s home, and whether or not she’d do both of those actions again she said those questions weren’t the ones she was hearing from people out in the community.
“I have done more than anybody in the last four years to meet the challenges of patronage hiring in the county,” Preckwinkle said, opting to not say yes or no.
“He worked for the county for 20 years, his resume was sent to the Department of Homeland Security, he was vetted and hired for a very similar position to the one he held at the sheriff’s office,” Preckwinkle said to whether or not the hire was based on Ed Burke’s clout. “I think the real issues that people want to talk about as I go around the city are not these, they’re about their own neighborhoods.”
Lightfoot was more direct.
“Of course it was a clout hire, it was a mistake … but you can’t acknowledge that because you have aspired to climb the ladder of the broken and corrupt machine. That’s a problem and that’s exactly what people see.”
After leaving the airwaves for a few days, Preckwinkle released an ad Wednesday focusing on Lightfoot’s handling of a 2004 fatal fire during her time at the Office of Emergency Management and Communications. Lightfoot called the ad and it’s timing “an act of desperation.”
Preckwinkle says she’s done her best to contrast her record with Lightfoot’s without the personal attacks, but while there have been many questions about her record there haven’t been many posed to Lightfoot about hers.
“I think this is a question of character and ability to lead — how do you respond when bad things happen?” Preckwinkle asked after the debate. “I think those are critical issues if you want to be a leader of the city of Chicago. You don’t engage in cover-ups when things go wrong, you take responsibility and you try to address the problems, you try to fix things.”