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Mayoral debate: Lightfoot, Preckwinkle hash out their pasts — and future

Mayoral candidates Lori Lightfoot, left, and Toni Preckwinkle, right, debate on WGN-TV Monday night. Screen images.

Mayoral candidates Lori Lightfoot, left, and Toni Preckwinkle, right, debate on WGN-TV Monday night. Screen images.

When asked what sort of relationship she would have with Lori Lightfoot if her rival wins the April 2 election, Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle laughed at first.

“You know, it’s in the interest of the people of the county that the County Board president and the mayor work together, and that will surely be the case,” Preckwinkle said, missing an opportunity to say she didn’t think she’d lose or that as mayor she’d have a good relationship with whomever succeeds her at the helm of the county.

Preckwinkle was asked about the “somewhat frosty” relationship she had with outgoing Mayor Rahm Emanuel, which led to the symbolic closing of the door between the city and county sides of the City Hall-County Building, though Preckwinkle stressed being able to work together and pointed to the Chicago Cook Workforce Partnership, an employment training initiative they created jointly.

Mayoral candidates Lori Lightfoot, left, and Toni Preckwinkle, right, debate on WGN-TV Monday night. Screen image.

Mayoral candidates Lori Lightfoot, left, and Toni Preckwinkle, right, debate on WGN-TV Monday night. Screen image.

Lightfoot, the former head of the Chicago Police Board, said regardless of the outcome of the election, “I certainly am going to do everything I can to uplift the quality of debate and the quality of life in our city.”

Eight days out from the historic April 2 election, the candidates fielded questions on the future of the city they hope to lead and reckoned with blasts from their pasts at WGN’s debate. A poll released Monday from Crain’s Chicago and WTTW shows the County Board president trailing Lightfoot, 17 percent to 53 percent.

Preckwinkle was made to defend her relationships with former Cook County Assessor Joe Berrios and beleaguered 14th Ward Ald. Ed Burke as well as her taxation record at the county — she reinstated the sales tax she campaigned to end and levied a penny-per-ounce tax on sweetened beverages for a few months before county commissioners repealed it.

Mayoral candidate Toni Preckwinkle participates in a debate on WGN-TV Monday night. Screen image.

Mayoral candidate Toni Preckwinkle participates in a debate on WGN-TV Monday night. Screen image.

Preckwinkle countered “the county has not raised property taxes in the nine years that I have been president of the county.” And she said “there can be no tolerance for corruption in government,” arguing that eliminating outside employment for elected officials was the real solution.

Asked about a judge’s reprimand of her “shockingly lax” handling of a lawsuit tied to a fire that killed four children, Lightfoot, who was chief of staff and general counsel for the Office of Emergency Management and Communications, said there was “nothing cavalier about the way we handled it.”

Lightfoot also admonished moderators Micah Materre and Tahman Bradley for the “tenor” of those questions, which she said didn’t “answer the questions on the minds of voters.”

Mayoral candidate Lori Lightfoot participates in a debate on WGN-TV Monday night. Screen image.

Mayoral candidate Lori Lightfoot participates in a debate on WGN-TV Monday night. Screen image.

Though she didn’t like the “rolling around in the mud” of the past, Lightfoot didn’t miss an opportunity to bring up a 2016 quote from Preckwinkle on the release of the Police Accountability Task Force report. In that quote Preckwinkle said in part “I want to commend Lori Lightfoot and members of the task force on their work and their honesty in bringing long-needed official focus to these issues.”

The debate also touched on similarities for the two — they both want a moratorium on charter schools, both believe in an elected school board and are successful black women who grew up in a time of segregation.

When asked what it meant to them to be black, Lightfoot touched on the historic nature of the election and said she’s focused on the “historic opportunity to bring real, meaningful change and make government work for the people.”

Preckwinkle said “it’s important to remind people that we continue to be challenged by racism in this country, and that that’s one of the challenges that’s really important for us to address, and elected officials ought to speak to those challenges.”

The Monday forum kicks off a gauntlet of debates leading up to Election Day. Fox32 will hold its mayoral debate Tuesday, followed by a debate at CBS2 Wednesday and a town hall Friday with WBEZ.