The candidates for mayor of Chicago all met on one stage for the first time on Wednesday night, at a forum sponsored by the Chicago Defender. At the DuSable Museum of African-American History on the city's South Side, the candidates spoke to a crowd of 500 people. Due to a scheduling conflict with an LGBT mayoral forum that was scheduled just before the debate at the DuSable Museum, the candidates had to scramble to make both events. The Chicago Defender forum was supposed to take place last week, but was rescheduled because of the blizzard.
With less than two weeks until the first round of voting, and Rahm Emanuel leading in a recent poll, the former White House chief-of-staff took shots from all directions. Perpetual candidate William "Dock" Walls pointed to Emanuel's time in Washington -- and absence from Chicago. "Mr. Emanuel, when you were chief of staff, we had children dying in the streets of the city of Chicago," he said. Carol Moseley Braun criticized Emanuel's record in Washington. After the debate, she faulted Emanuel for holding down President Barack Obama, saying that as chief of staff he "spent two years dragging his poll numbers to the ground, damaging the
president’s agenda, a lot of people in Washington think so."
Gery Chico continued his criticism of Emanuel's tax plan and his proposal to cut pensions. Chico said, "I will not tax people. I am not going to expand under the guise of a tax swap the very largest tax increase we’ve seen." And Miguel del Valle pointed out the campaign war chest Emanuel has accumulated, suggesting that he is buying the office.
The most raucous moment came as the candidates answered questions about reparations for slavery. All six agreed that African-Americans at entitled to reparations, but Emanuel's proposal that the funds be used for economic development drew the ire of Patricia Van Pelt-Watkins. "Fifty-five percent of adult black males in the city of Chicago have
felony records, meaning they can’t work, they can’t get public housing,”she said. “It’s a cycle that keeps us in a
state of poverty. Let’s stop acting like black folks are the only ones
who commit crimes." Watch the exchange here.
Rahm Emanuel's city finance plan forsees a spending freeze starting this year, departmental mergers, "reducing layers of management bureaucracy and consolidating redundant tasks," cutting the costs for the city's fleet, building maintenance, and billing, canceling and renegotiating contracts, shuttering tax increment financing districts, and introducing "managed competition" to the city's Department of Streets and Sanitation, among other measures, to realize $500 million in savings. The pitch is in chart form here.
Should Emanuel be elected mayor how this may ultimately play out isn't altogether clear. For starters, if the tepid recovery continues, Chicago may face operating deficits at least as high as the nearly $655 million Mayor Richard Daley and City Council closed last year by leaning heavily on one-time cash infusions. The council could see up to 25 new members, and their priorities, along with those of incumbents re-elected for another term, could influence the shape of any budget restructuring. And some of the changes Emanuel is talking about would be subject to negotiation.
At least 8,000 employees and the City of Chicago ratified 10-year labor deals in 2007, and both the police and firefighter unions have collective bargaining contracts in place through June 2012. Emanuel's relationship with public employees has taken a frosty turn, though during his budget address Tuesday he claimed he wanted a "cooperative" approach, especially with regards to dealing with shortfalls in the city's four pension funds. But the candidate provided no details about how he'd address the pension issue on Tuesday. He did not tell reporters he favored cuts, as earlier reports indicated. Just this:
There's some overlap between Emanuel's plan and that of candidate Gery Chico, who is in second place (but trailing significanlty) according to the latest independent poll. Chico promises to eliminate the clerk and treasurer's office, merge entities such as the Licensing Appeals Commission and Department of Administrative Hearings, move to a grid-based garbage collection system, cut "top-heavy" management in the police department, open a casino in the city, and implement cost-saving other proposals.
Since 1989, the City of Chicago has shed more than 6,600 non-public safety jobs, according to Daley administration budget documents. At present, the city's police force is operating with more than 2,300 officers less than its authorized level, the Sun-Times has reported. In a new television advertisement, mayoral candidate Rahm Emanuel declares the city is not "an employment agency."
In the ad -- you can watch it here -- Emanuel goes on to say he wants better service delivery in Chicago. "I want that mindset to be different," the candidate says. "We’re going to deliver a service to the taxpayers. We’re going to get them the best price for what they pay for, whether that’s protecting a street, cleaning a street, or plowing a street. That means making sure everybody that works for the city government knows that they’re actually a public servant representing and helping the people that pay them."
Talk about ill timing. Two days out from when the first flakes of Snowmageddon 2011 began to fall, it seems obvious that the Chicago firefighters who rescued stranded motorists, snow plow drivers working to clear and salt the streets, CTA employees who are steering jam-packed buses and trains, police officers on patrol during a major weather event, and other public employees at work while many took a snow day know very well that each of them are, to use Emanuel's words, "actually a public servant representing and helping the people that pay them."
The same cannot certainly be said of the disgraced ex-water department boss Donald Tomczak, whose pro-Daley patronage army helped Emanuel get elected to Congress.