The first of three Chicago runoff mayoral election debates took place Monday night. Rahm Emanuel outperformed his challenger, Jesus "Chuy" Garcia. But there are two debates in a little over two weeks before we'll know who's the last man standing. Here's my Chicago Defender column.
Chuy win over Rahm still debatable
Jesus “Chuy” Garcia had to do just one thing during Monday night’s first mayoral debate: Channel his inner Harold Washington to show Rahm Emanuel and the rest of Chicago who was the boss.
Garcia came off as the man who would be mayor. Emanuel came off as the mayor.
In a testy verbal battle between Commissioner Congeniality and Mayor Meany, both men made valiant efforts to go against type. It was obvious that Emanuel was working hard at being more likeable. It was just as apparent that Garcia was attempting to be No Mas Mr. Nice Guy. At the same time, each man was out to typecast the other.
Without name calling, Garcia, the community organizer, reminded voters why there is a book out there entitled, Mayor 1%.
“Chicagoans need to know that this mayor has provided corporate welfare to his cronies, millionaires and billionaires, in Illinois in terms of tax increment financing and that he promised four years ago to put Chicago’s fiscal house in order,” Garcia said. “We’re in a financial free fall. The city has been downgraded, three of its agencies over the past two weeks, to near junk bond status.”
Cook County Commissioner Garcia charged that while “trying to talk in a sophisticated way,” the mayor wasn’t saying anything that would help any Chicagoan who wasn’t physically or professionally in the Loop.
Mayor Emanuel, chum to the corporations, was far smoother than Garcia but just as combative while sticking to the story in his TV attack ads charging that his runoff challenger is all Windy City planner with no specifics on how he intended to get things done.
The mayor even threw in a short lecture. “The difference between being a legislator,” said Rahm, once a Congressman, to Chuy, once a state senator, is “you pass a bill. When you’re the mayor, you have to pay the bills.”
Throughout the hour-long debate the mayor stuck it to Garcia for not being specific while glued to talking points that sounded more specific than they actually were. Neither candidate has presented a scenario that would hoist Chicago out of the deep financial hole that 20 plus years of Mayor Richard M. Daley dug for the city. Garcia wouldn’t say whether he will or will not raise property taxes. Emanuel who once said that property taxes were the last resort, now says they’re off the table.
The mayor has let his $15 million war chest do the talking. A constant barrage of TV ads telling Chicagoans that Garcia hasn’t a clue and others, with the mayor in a Mr. Rogers sweater explaining that while he may be a jerk, he’s our jerk appear to be working. An Ogden and Fry poll Saturday showed Emanuel at 47.1 percent, compared to Garcia’s 37.6 percent. A Chicago Tribune poll released the day before reported Emanuel at 51 percent and Garcia at 37 percent with 11 percent undecided.
In order for the mayor to win another term all that may be required for the next 20 days is for him to keep up the attack ads while playing nice. Saturday’s endorsement by the powerful Service Employees International Union should deliver Garcia more money and an army of campaign workers but he’ll still have to throw more elbows.
The mayoral challenger needs to rally the old Harold Washington coalition of Blacks, Hispanics and progressive whites. But more than anything else, Garcia will need to get out the Black vote.
To do that, he needs to hold news conferences in front of one or two of the 50 closed neighborhood schools. While at one of them he needs to point out that Emanuel’s closing of the six mental health clinics was just one more blow to the same low-income neighborhoods impacted by the school closings. He needs to talk about how, as with the parking meters under Daley, Emanuel has privatize the CTA fare system, thus killing another of the city’s geese that should lay the taxpayers golden eggs.
Garcia needs to emphasize and re-emphasize that unlike Mayor Washington, Mayor Emanuel has not been not fairer than fair while waving the Chicago Sun-Times report that whites continue to dominate the city’s highest paying jobs at City Hall and throughout city government. Among Chicago’s 32,500 city employees, 46 percent are white, 31.8 percent are Black, 18 percent Hispanic and fewer than three percent Asian.
These are the specifics Garcia should be addressing, not suggesting improbable fixes to what is nearly an impossible problem--pulling a $9 billion rabbit out of the hat. He’ll get a second chance next Thursday at the second mayoral runoff debate.