Mayor Rahm Emanuel and mayoral challenger Jesus “Chuy” Garcia took the stage in front of a predominantly black audience at Chicago State University on Wednesday evening in a lengthy mayoral forum targeting issues that largely affect the black community.
But it didn’t come without some drama. Earlier Wednesday, the university issued a press release stating that the mayor would not attend the forum. That led to a hot debate on black-owned radio station WVON, where callers expressed outrage.
Soon after, the university announced the mayor would be at the forum.
Emanuel campaign spokesman Steve Mayberry denied the mayor had pulled out, saying Emanuel had never committed to the proposed forum because of a scheduling conflict, which his campaign had shared earlier in the month with CSU.
It was a misunderstanding with organizers, and the mayor shortened his stay at another event in order to participate, Mayberry said.
WLS-Channel 7 political reporter Charles Thomas, one of the moderators, warned the audience against cheers and jeers at the forum, which wasn’t quite a debate. The candidates took the stage separately, Garcia first, answering questions for nearly an hour, followed by Emanuel.
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Garcia reiterated many of his campaign promises, including opening up shuttered mental health clinics, investing in neighborhood schools and enacting an elected school board.
“If we’re going to be a good state of Illinois and a city that invests in all of its schoolchildren, we must have sustainable funding sources,” Garcia said. “I am an investor in our public school system.”
Garcia said he’s committed to promoting diversity in city government.
“I will ensure that from the top down . . . in every department of the city of Chicago, we hire, we’ll seek to ensure that every department looks like the city of Chicago and its people.”
He said he would work to hire more Chicago Police officers by modernizing the sales tax in a way that doesn’t affect low-income people. He said that might include a tax on “luxury services” but exclude taxes on things like “dry cleaning, nails and taking your dog to the veterinarian.”
Garcia railed against red-light cameras, and many in the crowd cheered. He also said he would promote an investigation into tax-increment financing money.
Emanuel addressed criticism of TIFs, telling the crowd that 80 percent of TIF money is going to neighborhood projects.
Emanuel said he is proud reforming Chicago’s public school system and his track record as mayor, despite the closing of 50 schools.
Thomas, the moderator, didn’t pull any punches, asking the mayor first why he hasn’t attended election debates hosted by black groups.
Emanuel said Wednesday’s event was the only “organized forum” to which he had been invited. He also addressed the city’s segregation, saying the problem is nothing new.
“We are not going to be the city where we need to be and need to be for our kids if we don’t find our commonalities. We can have differences without being difficult with each other,” he said.
Emanuel emphasized the “underinvestment” in Chicago’s schools, which he said led to the closings. He touted the city’s full school day, the air conditioning given to receiving schools, physical upgrades to schools and the Safe Passage program.
He became a bit defensive when Thomas asked what he thought of people calling him “Mayor 1 Percent,” and criticizing his family vacations.
“I know that people make fun of me. You always make a big deal where I take my kids. I will never let my kids play second fiddle to my job. They’re my children and I’m their father,” Emanuel said. “I know what my record is and I know who I’m helping. . . . I know why I fight for progressive policies that make a difference in people’s lives, and I know what I’ve done.
Follow along on our live blog for updates from Tina Sfondeles and others covering the forum: