Rahm Emanuel, Chuy Garcia get feisty in final mayoral debate

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Rahm Emanuel and Chuy Garcia | Ashlee Rezin/For Sun-Times Media

The third and final televised mayoral debate proved as contentious as ever, with a more energized Mayor Rahm Emanuel on the offensive, lobbing accusations at challenger Jesus “Chuy” Garcia, who lobbed them right back.

On Tuesday, the opponents talked over each other at times and accused each other of fiscal failures in a live debate moderated by Phil Ponce at WTTW-Channel 11. Ponce, who has cultivated a reputation for being a tough moderator, was himself the target of criticism after he asked Garcia a series of questions about Garcia’s son, who is now 32, but has had run-ins with the law.

Emanuel hit Garcia on his tenure with Enlace Chicago, a not-for-profit group, questioning the group’s finances when Garcia left. Garcia replied that the group suffered from the Great Recession, which he said Emanuel helped bring on when he was on the Freddie Mac board.

“Single-handedly, I ushered in the recession. Only you and my mother think that,” Emanuel said to laughter. “I appreciate you rewriting history, let me clear it up, I did not cause the recession.”

Garcia later said: “He can make fun of it. . . . He was a rubber stamp on the board that approved many decisions.”

Ponce pressed Garcia on whether he would give Emanuel any credit for the closures of coal plants in the Pilsen area.

“I give the mayor credit for cutting an ad to begin his re-election campaign, that’s what I give him credit for,” Garcia said.

It was a different Emanuel from the one who appeared in a debate last Thursday, when he took hit after hit from Garcia without fighting back. This time, Emanuel injected humor and went after Garcia on issues, saying he was promising the world to voters, calling him “Hanukkah Harry” and saying, “like my grandmother used to say, ‘such a deal.’ “

Ponce asked Garcia whether his son was in a gang. Garcia said his son was no longer in a gang, is now a father of four and a chef, and has turned his life around.

“Phil, my wife and I live in a neighborhood that’s had its share of problems, including gang activity. My son grew up in that neighborhood, it’s been challenging. We’ve tried to be as loving and as caring and as supportive as my son as possible,” Garcia said. “He made some mistakes. I’m not proud of it. Perhaps all of the love we gave him wasn’t enough. Gladly, my son learned from his mistakes.”

Despite getting booed — and one person in the live audience calling out “that’s wrong Phil” — Ponce doubled down, raising his voice over howls of the audience to ask his question: “A lot of voters might wonder, commissioner, if you can’t keep your own son out of a gang, how can you steer the city way from gangs and violence.”

“Phil, it was growing up in a neighborhood of gang violence, that deepened my wife’s resolve and my resolve to stay there. To work and improve the community. To reduce gang violence. It was one of the highlights of my work at Enlace,” Garcia said.

“My son has only been convicted of two misdemeanors, OK? And what you are spreading is something that was published anecdotal in the newspaper, OK. We did the best that we could,” he said. “There are other things you don’t know about my son and the work that he has done. He’s been a mentor with the YMCA. . . . He’s mentored kids in the neighborhood. . . . It’s a great story Phil, I’d like to introduce you to him.”

Later, Ponce was trending on Twitter in Chicago with viewers complaining about the line of questioning.

After the debate, Garcia said he felt Ponce’s initial question was fine, but the follow-up was unfair.

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