Phil Ponce (back to camera) moderates a debate between Mayor Rahm Emanuel and Cook County Commissioner Jesus “Chuy” Garcia Tuesday on WTTW.

Laura Washington: Chuy shines when asked hard question close to home

SHARE Laura Washington: Chuy shines when asked hard question close to home
SHARE Laura Washington: Chuy shines when asked hard question close to home

Sometimes, it’s not the questions, but the answers.On Tuesday, at the final debate in Chicago’s historic mayoral campaign, a question set off a firestorm.OPINION

WTTW host Phil Ponce asked Cook County Commissioner Jesus Garcia about his son, who has had several brushes with the law, and was once charged with a felony.“Is he still a gang member?” Ponce asked. And: “If you can’t keep your own son out of a gang, how can you steer the city away from gangs and violence?”Ponce pursued the questions, again and again, triggering boos from the audience, and a firestorm on social and mainstream media.The next day, Ponce acknowledged his questions had “clearly missed the mark.” I applaud him for that.But it was Garcia’s answer that spoke volumes.In that high-pressure, high-stakes moment, Garcia was forced to publicly acknowledge the pain so many Chicago families privately face every day.“Phil, my wife and I live in a neighborhood with its share of problems, including gang activity,” he said. “My son grew up in that community. It’s been challenging. We try to be as loving and as caring and as supportive of my son as possible. He made some mistakes. I’m not proud of it. Perhaps all the love that we gave him wasn’t enough. Gladly, my son learned from his mistakes.”The trauma seared through the TV screen.Then, with a quite pride: “He has four children that he’s raising. He is a chef. And he mentors kids in the community. He turned his life around. I’m proud of him.”Garcia concluded: “It’s a great story, Phil. I’d like to introduce him to you.”Garcia could have flown off the handle. He could have railed or cursed. He responded with grace, courage and resolve. He displayed the temperament of an effective leader.Rahm Emanuel is nationally known for his caustic, take-no-prisoners style. He has been called abrasive, elitist, hard-headed. He has cursed his critics.No matter, his supporters say. Emanuel is the tough decision-maker who gets things done.Garcia is not as accomplished. He is calm, quick with a smile, respectful. He wants to get things done, with fairness and equity, he says.Back in 2011, NBC 5 reporter Mary Ann Ahern asked Rahm Emanuel, then a newly minted mayor, where he planned to send his children to school that fall.That is a “private decision,” Ahern reported Emanuel as saying in the taped interview. Ahern persisted, according to her July, 2011, account on the NBC 5 blog.“While I appreciate the desire for privacy,” Ahern wrote, “I tried to explain that the mayor’s family is now in the public eye as Chicago’s First Family, and that the public would want to know whether Emanuel is confident enough in the public school system to send his own children there.”In his trademark, curt style, Emanuel cut her off. “Mary Ann, let me break the news to you. My children are not in a public position.”Ahern tried again. “Then, the Mayor of Chicago positioned himself inches from my face and pointed his finger directly at my head. He raised his voice and admonished me. How dare I ask where his children would go to school!”She followed up later, by phone, to “clear the air.”He told her: “You are wrong and a bully. I care deeply for my family. I don’t care about you.” He hung up the phone.Two very different answers. Two very different choices.Email: Lauraswashington@aol.comTwitter: @MediaDervish

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