Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle and state Comptroller Susana Mendoza wasted no time going after each other Monday night in the first mayoral candidate forum featuring the two perceived frontrunners.

Given an opportunity to question another candidate, Preckwinkle and Mendoza each took direct aim at the other.

Preckwinkle zinged Mendoza for her reputation as a tough on crime state legislator who supported the death penalty including a comment that she’d be “happy to flip the switch.”

“Given the disproportionate impact the criminal justice system has had on black and brown people, how can we be confident that you’ll be supportive of criminal justice reform?” Preckwinkle asked, drawing hoots of approval from the audience.

“Well, thank you for that question,” Mendoza said to laughter. “I’d be happy to answer it.”

“I know what it’s like to be on the other side of crime, and my tenure as a legislator fighting to protect people in the communities of color, against violence against people in communities of color, has been informed by my own life experience,” said Mendoza, who spoke earlier about her family moving to the suburbs from Little Village when she was a child after a shooting on their block.

Mendoza acknowledged supporting the death penalty, but as she has in the past, emphasized that she later cast the deciding vote to abolish the death penalty.

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It was then Mendoza’s turn to ask a question, and she turned the tables on Preckwinkle, asking her about the role of taxes — such as the repealed soda tax and the “rigged property tax system”— in displacing minorities from the city.

“Why after eight years in office did you and your ally Joe Berrios do nothing to reform our broken property tax system?” Mendoza said in reference to Preckwinkle’s longtime political alliance with the since defeated Cook County assessor, who she then replaced as county Democratic chairman.

Preckwinkle said she took steps to bring in outside consultants to review the county’s assessment practices and implement changes in response to a Chicago Tribune investigation. She also promised to support the efforts of assessor-elect Fritz Kaegi.

Only five of the 18 announced mayoral candidates were invited to participate in the event, sponsored by a group of self-described “progressive labor and community organizations,” including the Chicago Teachers Union, SEIU Healthcare and Grassroots Illinois Action. SEIU Healthcare is part of the investment group that owns the Chicago Sun-Times.

The organizers of the event said Preckwinkle and Mendoza were selected on the basis of a poll in which they were tied for the lead. Amara Enyia, Lori Lightfoot and Paul Vallas were selected on the basis of a vote by text among grassroots activists.

Amara Enyia

Mayoral candidate Amara Enyia is interviewed by City Hall reporter Fran Spielman in the Sun-Times newsroom. File Photo. | Rich Hein/Sun-Times

Enyia emphasized her work as a community activist who knows best what neighborhood residents want, while Lightfoot presented herself as the best candidate to deal with the city’s violence. Vallas concentrated on the need for an experienced administrator who can tackle the city’s financial problems.

Mayoral Candidate Paul Vallas speaks to community members and the media at a mayoral candidate forum at Greater St. John Bible Church, Saturday, Nov. 10, 2018, in Chicago. | Tyler LaRiviere/Sun-Times

Mayoral hopeful Paul Vallas. | Tyler LaRiviere/Sun-Times

The forum was billed as “The Great Displacement — Candidate Forum on Reversing African-American Pushout and Building a Chicago for the Many.”

Lori Lightfoot

Mayoral candidate Lori Lightfoot | Colin Boyle/Sun-Times file photo

Former Chicago Police Supt. Garry McCarthy complained loudest about being excluded and was excoriated in response with the group releasing a statement calling him a “national disgrace” who is “unwelcome at our forum, and unwelcome in Chicago.”

The event was moderated by Evan Moore, a digital content producer for the Sun-Times.