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Budget, books and Burke — mayoral candidates discuss pensions, CPS and ethics

L-R: Susana Mendoza, John Kozlar, Bob Fioretti, Dorothy Brown and Paul Vallas participate in a forum at the Chicago Tribune on Wednesday. From Facebook.

L-R: Susana Mendoza, John Kozlar, Bob Fioretti, Dorothy Brown and Paul Vallas participate in a forum at the Chicago Tribune on Wednesday. From Facebook.

They pitched solutions to the city’s pension obligations that ranged from allowing video poker to creating a city lottery.

And they proposed a number of ideas to improve public education, including mentorship programs and private-public partnerships.

But not surprisingly, when five mayoral candidates appeared together at a newspaper endorsement session, the topic inevitably turned to Ed Burke.

“He’s been around longer than I’ve been alive,” Illinois Comptroller Susana Mendoza said, discussing the 14th Ward alderman lurking in a number of candidates’ backgrounds. “I actually got my start representing a large portion of his district, so it would be absolutely weird and abnormal for me not to have a relationship with him.”

Susana Mendoza speaks at the Chicago Tribune Forum. From Facebook

Susana Mendoza speaks at the Chicago Tribune Forum. From Facebook

Mendoza and four others attended the second day of the Chicago Tribune Editorial Board’s mayoral forums. The newspaper is dealing with the double-digit field by handling the candidates in shifts.

Joining Mendoza were former Ald. Bob Fioretti (2nd), Cook County Circuit Court Clerk Dorothy Brown, former Chicago Public Schools CEO Paul Vallas and attorney John Kozlar.

The newspaper began the endorsement sessions on Tuesday with five other candidates.

On Wednesday, topics included plans on allocating resources in CPS, covering the city’s pension debt and cleaning up corruption in the City Council.

The federal corruption charges facing Burke have changed the tone of the mayoral race, with candidates trying to shake off or explain their associations with the city’s longest serving alderman.

Kozlar, a 30-year-old lawyer, touted his lack of experience as an alternative to the candidates who’ve been tied to Burke. Fioretti went so far as to oppose Ald. Pat O’Connor (40th) replacing Burke as chairman of the Finance Committee, calling him “Ed Burke Jr.”

Fioretti called for Ald. Scott Waguespack (32nd), a member of the Council’s Progressive Caucus, to replace O’Connor.

“Ed Burke opposed every single reform measure that I have ever brought forth in City Council,” Fioretti said.

Brown, of course, has her own federal investigation to account for. When pressed for more information on the five-year investigation, Brown said she hasn’t been in contact with investigators in three years and said the accusations come from individuals that “had it out” for her.

Mendoza made sure that the candidates not in the room did not escape the Burke clouds, reminding voters that Gery Chico is the candidate with Burke’s endorsement and that Toni Preckwinkle is the candidate with a lack of “political courage” who has accepted contributions from Burke’s fundraisers.

Preckwinkle, who attended the Tuesday Tribune forum, swung back on Wednesday, suggesting that Mendoza will be “Rahm Emanuel’s third term.”

“Her own lack of ‘political courage,’ refusing to stand up to Mayor Rahm Emanuel and wealthy special interests, reveals a history of remaining silent on important issues and crises,” the Cook County Board president said in a statement responding to the Tribune’s forum. She listed the cover-up of Laquan McDonald’s murder as an example, an issue Preckwinkle has taken credit for in a TV ad. 

Candidates were also asked about their plans to improve the outcomes for students attending Chicago Public Schools.

L-R: Bob Fioretti, Dorothy Brown and Paul Vallas participate in a forum at the Chicago Tribune on Wednesday. From Facebook.

L-R: Bob Fioretti, Dorothy Brown and Paul Vallas participate in a forum at the Chicago Tribune on Wednesday. From Facebook.

Fioretti and Kozlar’s focus was on mentorship programs and giving students career guidance, Mendoza touted her 50NEW plan to partner with nonprofits in converting underutilized schools into community centers, Vallas emphasized his record in magnetizing neighborhood schools and in providing mentorship to teen moms, Brown proposed a new management structure to give greater oversight into the schools and Kozlar proposed.

To cover the cost of Chicago’s pension debt, Fioretti proposed a commuter tax and erasing the ban on video poker while Kozlar suggested cutting overtime and other “perks.” Brown suggested a financial transaction tax and city lottery, while Vallas said the city should consider looking at revenue from expiring tax increment financing districts.

Mendoza countered that her opponents’ suggestions would not solve the pressing issue of securing the funds right away, and said a form of Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s plan to borrow $10 billion in pension obligation bonds “has to be on the table.”

“We need the money,” Mendoza said.

The five candidates are among 15 currently vying to replace Mayor Rahm Emanuel in the Feb. 26 election. The Tribune will have a final forum on Thursday with the remaining candidates.