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Fact-check: Checking the resumes in mayor’s race

Mayoral candidates, l-r, Gery Chico, Bill Daley, Amara Enyia, Garry McCarthy, Lori Lightfoot and Susana Mendoza get ready for the start of the NABJ Mayoral Forum January 17, 2019. | Rich Hein/Sun-Times

Mayoral candidates, l-r, Gery Chico, Bill Daley, Amara Enyia, Garry McCarthy, Lori Lightfoot and Susana Mendoza get ready for the start of the NABJ Mayoral Forum January 17, 2019. | Rich Hein/Sun-Times

The race for Chicago’s next mayor features many contenders with government experience, so we weren’t surprised to encounter lots of boasts and jabs about performance in office while fact-checking the 14-candidate field in the lead-up to Tuesday’s initial round of voting.

With an April 2 runoff for the top two vote-getters all but certain, we decided to revisit some of the questionable things candidates have been saying about each other’s records.

Garry McCarthy, the former Chicago police superintendent fired in the wake of the police shooting death of Laquan McDonald, recently released an ad claiming Chicago saw its lowest murder rates in a generation under his leadership. In two of the four-plus years McCarthy led the department, murder rates fell to a low not seen since the mid-1960s. But those years were bookended by ones in which murders spiked, so we rated the claim Mostly False.

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Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle made a campaign issue out of McDonald’s 2014 shooting in an ad that credits her with bringing to light key information about the circumstances of his death. The commercial says Preckwinkle made sure the public learned about the medical examiner’s autopsy of McDonald, which showed the teen had been shot 16 times by an officer later convicted of murder. The reporter who broke the autopsy story has confirmed Preckwinkle’s role.

In the same ad, however, Preckwinkle also suggested she had been an early voice for demanding the release of police dashcam footage of the shooting that Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s administration kept under wraps for more than a year. We could find no evidence of that, leading to a Half True rating for her claim.

(From left) Mayoral candidates Comptroller Susana Mendoza, Lori Lightfoot and Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle meet with the Chicago Sun-Times Editorial Board, Tuesday afternoon, Feb. 5, 2019. | Ashlee Rezin/Sun-Times

(From left) Mayoral candidates Comptroller Susana Mendoza, Lori Lightfoot and Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle meet with the Chicago Sun-Times Editorial Board earlier this year. File Photo. | Ashlee Rezin/Sun-Times

Two other candidates — Paul Vallas and Gery Chico — have sought to play off their experience guiding public education in Chicago.

Vallas and Chico ran the Chicago Public Schools together for several years under former Mayor Richard M. Daley, Vallas as CEO and Chico as president of the school board.

In the campaign, Vallas cast himself as a turnaround specialist who fixed dire financial problems at CPS. We rated one of those frequent Vallas claims Mostly True but added a caveat. Vallas — and Chico, too — were able to improve CPS finances in part because of new state laws that removed fiscal handcuffs that had made the task harder for their predecessors.

From left to right, mayoral candidates Gery Chico, Lori Lightfoot, Garry McCarthy, Toni Preckwinkle and Paul Vallas, attend a forum in December. File Photo. | Nader Issa/Sun-Times

From left to right, mayoral candidates Gery Chico, Lori Lightfoot, Garry McCarthy, Toni Preckwinkle and Paul Vallas  attend a forum in December. File Photo. | Nader Issa/Sun-Times

Chico has also run ads touting spending and property tax cuts at the City Colleges of Chicago during a brief stint in 2010 when he chaired the board of trustees. Not said was that the savings from those cuts were so modest it’s doubtful the average taxpayer took note. That earned his claim a Half True from us.

The evolving death penalty position of mayoral hopeful Susana Mendoza, now the Illinois comptroller but once a member of the Illinois House, figured in two fact checks.

Mendoza had once backed the death penalty but in 2011 voted for its repeal. During a candidate forum she claimed her vote had been the deciding one, but records and news clips made clear that it was a different House lawmaker who put the repeal vote over the top. We rated her claim Mostly False.

Preckwinkle, meanwhile, aired an ad that misrepresented Mendoza’s change of heart in 2011. It used deceptive video editing of a House floor speech Mendoza made prior to that vote to make it falsely appear Mendoza was pushing to retain capital punishment rather than end it. For that, we handed Preckwinkle a Pants on Fire! Rating.

Mendoza was also the target of a slap from Chico who claimed in an ad that as a legislator she “voted to hit working families with a massive new soda tax.” Mendoza supported a major capital bill that increased sales taxes on soft drinks and other common convenience store items to fund infrastructure spending, but it didn’t create a designated soda tax. We rated Chico’s claim Mostly False.

We also vetted an attack by Mendoza that linked rival Bill Daley with former Republican Gov. Bruce Rauner. On her campaign website, Mendoza accused Daley of “writing the blueprint” for record Springfield gridlock that occurred as Rauner fought Democrats over the budget and other legislative priorities.

Mayoral candidates, left to right, Bill Daley and Susana Mendoza participate in a debate at WTTW-Channel 11 on Monday. Screen image.

Mayoral candidates, left to right, Bill Daley and Susana Mendoza participate in a debate at WTTW-Channel 11. Screen image.

The claim hinged on Daley’s role as the co-author of a transition report for Rauner following his election in 2014. That document contained little in the way of concrete policy recommendations, and there is no evidence it guided Rauner’s later actions. We rated Mendoza’s claim False.

Daley in campaign ads has featured a less-than-straightforward promise to place a moratorium on property tax hikes. Not said was that only about one-quarter of a typical Chicago property tax bill goes to fund city government, so a moratorium would by no means eliminate rising tax bills.

What’s more, by far the biggest slice of property tax bills goes to fund CPS, which is effectively controlled by the mayor. A spokesman for Daley acknowledged to us that his moratorium on city tax hikes would not extend to the far more expensive school taxes.

We rated Daley’s tax claim Half True.

The Better Government Association runs PolitiFact Illinois, the local arm of the nationally renowned, Pulitzer Prize-winning fact-checking enterprise that rates the truthfulness of statements made by governmental leaders and politicians. BGA’s fact-checking service has teamed up weekly with the Sun-Times, in print and online. You can find all of the PolitiFact Illinois stories we’ve reported together here.

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