If the mayoral candidate forum Monday on “Chicago Tonight” was punctuated by testy exchanges between candidates Susana Mendoza and Bill Daley, Tuesday’s crew of five candidates – moderated by Carol Marin – kept it mostly civil.
Candidates Garry McCarthy, Gery Chico, Amara Enyia, La Shawn Ford and Lori Lightfoot began the discussion by weighing in on Tuesday’s court ruling that allows a lawsuit against the construction of the Obama Presidential Center in Jackson Park to move forward. Chico, a former head of the Chicago Park District Board, was not concerned about the plaintiffs’ claim that it’s illegal to build the center in federally protected public parkland.
“I do support it. I think it’s a wonderful asset for our city,” Chico said.
Lightfoot said she supports both the lawsuit and the Obama Center, but that it shouldn’t have come to this.
“As mayor, I would not have let this situation fester,” Lightfoot said. “I would have gone on the front end and negotiated a site people could have been happy with.”
The candidates were also asked about Tuesday’s front-page story in the Chicago Sun-Times outlining the so-called golden parachutes that some top-level members of the Emanuel administration are set to receive once the new administration takes over.
“It’s not ethical at all and it’s typical of what we do here,” said McCarthy. “What’s happening is, the next mayor, whoever it may be, is getting their hands tied by a series of events that are happening.”
“The next mayor should have the privilege of picking their team,” Chico said. “It’s not fair to tie the hands of the future mayor with people who were in the previous administration.”
And late Tuesday afternoon, a controversial $900 million TIF proposal for the Lincoln Yards project cleared a major hurdle when the city’s Community Development Commission voted unanimously to green-light it.
“We have to slow down the process, and I don’t think this mayor should be rushing the process before his term is out,” Enyia said. “TIFs were used to spur economic developments in communities, and this isn’t for that. It has been horrendously rushed forward.”
The conversation next turned to the city’s bleak finances, and a question about where to find $1 billion more per year to put into the city’s beleaguered pension funds.
“There’s only two ways to deal with the pension crisis,” Ford said. “We have to deal with it in Springfield or raise revenue. If we don’t stop the bleeding in this city, stop the police misconduct lawsuits, stop the high-rises from not paying their fair share, we can never raise enough revenue to fix this problem.”
“We have a lot of out of control expenses in city government,” Lightfoot said. “But the reality is, we have to have a conversation about revenue. There’s no two ways about it.”
Candidates mentioned the obvious solutions, like marijuana and casino revenue, but acknowledged it would be a drop in the bucket when dealing with the upcoming fiscal cliff. Chico proposed an extra tax on million dollar-plus home sales, something that other candidates, including Mendoza, have echoed.
Chico also answered for his connections to embattled Ald. Ed Burke, saying that he has “repudiated” Burke’s behavior. Enyia answered questions about her problems with personal finances, saying that people with sterling personal finances have run the city off the fiscal cliff.
Lightfoot defended her two-year tenure as head of the now-defunct Office of Professional Standards, the old police oversight agency, saying that she was proud of her efforts there even though it had a track record of bringing almost no disciplinary recommendations against cops who were accused of wrongdoing. McCarthy says he was proud of the way he ran the Chicago and Newark police departments, despite the fact that they have both come to be governed by consent decrees. Ford defended his past federal indictment on tax fraud charges, saying that he was the “victim” of overzealous prosecutors, noting that the charges were eventually dropped.
On crime, the candidates all opposed the mayor’s plan to build a $95 million police academy on the West Side. McCarthy called it a “vanity project.” Chico said that it should go somewhere else in the city, because the community doesn’t want it.
The candidates all agreed that police accountability was an essential part of a new labor contract with the Fraternal Order of Police.
“The FOP has to come into the 21st century and realize that policing has changed,” McCarthy, the former CPD Superintendent, said.
A total of 14 candidates will appear on next Tuesday’s ballot. Early voting continues at multiple city sites until then.
Follow Paris Schutz on Twitter: @paschutz