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Lightfoot to Preckwinkle: Put donors’ money where your mouth is

Mayoral candidates Lori Lightfoot, left, and Toni Preckwinkle, right, spar Thursday night on WTTW-Channel 11. Screen image.

Mayoral candidates Lori Lightfoot, left, and Toni Preckwinkle, right, spar Thursday night on WTTW-Channel 11. Screen image.

Mayoral candidate Lori Lightfoot, who last year made a $1,000 campaign contribution to her opponent, Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle, would like a refund.

For the second night in a row, Preckwinkle used a televised debate to press her criticisms of Lightfoot as a wealthy corporate lawyer and government “insider” unprepared to lead the city.

Lightfoot has tried to stay above the fray, but failed in that effort Thursday night when Preckwinkle continued her attack on Lightfoot’s partnership at Mayer Brown, which Preckwinkle again portrayed as a “corporate law firm that defends tobacco companies, that defends polluters law firm.”

“President Preckwinkle, I’m really surprised you keep going down this path,” Lightfoot said on WTTW’s “Chicago Tonight” program, noting that Preckwinkle’s campaign has accepted $19,000 in donations from Lightfoot’s law partners, as well as $1,000 from Lightfoot herself.

“If you’re so offended by that, give the money back. Give it back. I’ll give you the address,” said Lightfoot, then gave an address as the two candidates started shouting over each other. “Give the money back.”

Mayoral candidates Lori Lightfoot, left, and Toni Preckwinkle, right, spar Thursday night on WTTW-Channel 11. Screen image.

Mayoral candidates Lori Lightfoot, left, and Toni Preckwinkle, right, spar Thursday night on WTTW-Channel 11. Screen image.

Lightfoot noted that Preckwinkle also has raised money from the lawyers at other big law firms that do similar corporate defense work.

“I’m just really surprised that you continue this hypocrisy,” Lightfoot said.

Preckwinkle responded by questioning Lightfoot’s receipt of a $40,000 “dark money” contribution from a non-profit group calling itself Change Chicago, which has not disclosed its donors. She said such donations are usually associated with conservative groups such as the Koch brothers.

Mayoral candidates Lori Lightfoot, left, and Toni Preckwinkle, right, participate in a debate Thursday night on WTTW-Channel 11. Screen image.

Mayoral candidates Lori Lightfoot, left, and Toni Preckwinkle, right, participate in a debate Thursday night on WTTW-Channel 11. Screen image.

Lightfoot called the accusation a “red herring,” then continued the tit-for-tat by accusing Preckwinkle of failing to return $116,000 in campaign donations raised during a fundraiser at the home of Ald. Edward Burke (14th), despite promising to do so.

“I know for a fact that you haven’t given any of that money back,” Lightfoot said.

An incensed Preckwinkle shot back: “That is just completely untrue. … I’m sorry, that’s just false.”

After the debate, Lightfoot said she had heard from several donors who said they didn’t get their money back, but her campaign could provide no evidence to back up her claim, arguing that Preckwinkle should have to prove she’s returned the money.

Preckwinkle’s campaign has insisted for weeks that, after initially resisting, it returned the money after Burke was charged in federal court with attempting to extort the owner of a Burger King in his ward.

But campaign finance reports that would prove the matter will not be made public until after the April 2 election.

Mayoral candidate Toni Preckwinkle speaks during a debate with Lori Lightfoot Thursday night on WTTW-Channel 11. Screen image.

Mayoral candidate Toni Preckwinkle speaks during a debate with Lori Lightfoot Thursday night on WTTW-Channel 11. Screen image.

Preckwinkle pointedly sidestepped a question about why her campaign stopped airing television commercials this week, focusing instead on the endorsements she has received in recent days and promising more this weekend.

Host Phil Ponce also asked Preckwinkle about a WBEZ report that her administration has only four Latino department heads out of 33.

“When we look at inclusion and diversity, it has to go beyond simply hiring,” Preckwinkle responded.

On other matters, Preckwinkle said she favors lifting a state ban on local municipalities enacting rent control measures, but didn’t say whether she supports rent control.

Lightfoot said she doesn’t “think that’s the solution to our affordable housing crisis.”

Mayoral candidate Lori Lightfoot speaks during a debate with Toni Preckwinkle Thursday night on WTTW-Channel 11. Screen image.

Mayoral candidate Lori Lightfoot speaks during a debate with Toni Preckwinkle Thursday night on WTTW-Channel 11. Screen image.

The candidates also differed on mayoral term limits. Preckwinkle said she’s opposed. Lightfoot said she supports a limit of two terms.

Lightfoot said she supports allowing an independent commission to draw the city’s ward map and would make it a key priority if she’s elected. Preckwinkle said the job should remain with the City Council “as we do across the country in every single legislative body.”

Likewise, Lightfoot said she favors merit selection of judges, while Preckwinkle is opposed, saying it would work to the detriment of minorities.