A baby, a bozo, a jerk, a firebrand and a stiff.
The quintet of men who would be mayor for the next four years stopped by the Sun-Times Friday for a debate, of sorts — 90 minutes to talk about their vision of and for the city.
It wasn’t pretty.
Let’s go in order, left to right.
Wilson is a political novice, a millionaire running for mayor because he’s missing whatever gene keeps you or me from doing embarrassing things that we aren’t capable of accomplishing half well.
In my case, I suppose it keeps me from auditioning for “Swan Lake.” Wilson, who built a successful medical-supply business, but is missing that gene, is running a campaign half as a mission from God — he closed his remarks with a prayer — and half as a how-can-we-lose-when-we’re-so-sincere, Charlie Brown trust drop.
“I’m running for mayor wanting to make some definite changes,” he said. “I want to come from the heart.”
Given that his transit of Chicago history will end Feb. 24, it would be cruel to focus too much frank assessment upon him. Wilson points out that his formal education ended after one day of eighth grade, and perhaps after the campaign he can use his example to inspire kids to stay in school.
Fioretti — well, “clown” is a harsh assessment, especially since he dialed his hair color back, though his smile is still a chilling, facial appliance that walked off from “American Horror Story.” He was a competent, block-by-block alderman before his ward was redistricted away. Now he is hammering away below Emanuel’s belt, dragging the mayor’s son into the campaign for getting mugged, hoping for a miracle. He continued his unfair flailing Friday, tossing everything that comes to mind into the blender, from Emanuel’s spearheading Bill Clinton’s hugely successful rollback of welfare — he seemed to think that was a bad thing — to blaming him for the assault rifle ban expiring. Oh, and wrecking the city.
“Chicago is moving in the wrong direction,” he said.
The mayor needs no explanation. We all know. He seems to have sincerely believed his high opinion of himself would simply be imparted to the voters by osmosis and is hurt to discover otherwise (though $30 million of TV ads ought to do the trick). He did not actually say anything jerkish Friday. He was the same as always, reptilian, his voice a little softer, which to me seemed restrained fury, an I-spend-four-years-trying-to-save-this-frickin’-city-and-THIS-is-the-thanks-I-get? seething resentment.
But unlike the others, he actually has a record.
“In the last four years, we’ve presented four balanced budgets without a property, sales or gas tax increase,” Emanuel murmured. “Four years in a row we increased our investments in after school, summer jobs and early childhood education.”
Walls was the surprise. In my mind he dwelled, in the realm of perennially ambitious street hustlers trying for a legitimate score — I wasn’t 100 percent sure he was a different person than Wallace “Gator” Bradley before now. But he came on strongest of the five.
“There’s two Chicagos,” Walls said. “There’s a world-class Chicago and and there’s an underclass Chicago. The world-class Chicago is beautiful, safe tourist-friendly robust, full of resources and unlimited opportunity for Rahm Emanuel and the other 1 Percenters. That’s the Chicago the media loves to brag about. Then there’s the underclass Chicago that nobody wants to talk about: decaying neighborhoods, unsafe streets, people dodging potholes and bullets.”
Too true, and well-put, though he jumps to a surprising conclusion.
“Under Rahm Emanuel, Chicago is the most racially segregated city in America,” Walls said.
Garcia carries himself like a man balancing phone books on his head, like the profile off a coin, a minor bureaucrat in a small country who should be wearing a red sash and applying wax seals to official documents while ceiling fans slowly turn overhead.
“I have been living in the same bungalow for . . . 24 years, 34 years married to the same woman,” he began.
Well Jeez, why didn’t you say so? Here’s the keys to the city.
Chicago’s problems burst the confines of our 90 minutes — we really only talked about the ballooning pension disaster and the crumbling schools. None of the would-be mayors equated one to another. All seemed to toss airy notions at the former — Wilson brought up the will-o-the-wisp of a Chicago casino, Fioretti a tax on La Salle Street trading.
All except the mayor discussed schools as if we had all the money in the world, and Rahm just hates to spend it on poor folk.
“They want to put children at risk, that is intentional,” Walls explained, calling charter schools “a diabolical plot.”
I can’t vote in this election, not living in Chicago — as I’m sure you’ll point out, trying to undermine the plain truths outlined here. But watching the sorry spectacle, I kept thinking, “Rahm may be a jerk, but he’s our jerk.” Walls speaks a good piece but has done nothing to make anyone suspect he could do the job. The others have neither the language nor the experience. Voters seem resigned that Rahm Emanuel will win. Looking at his opponents, I can say with confidence: not only he will win, but he should win. God help the city if he doesn’t.