WASHINGTON PARK — The mayor and his four challengers met in their final debate before the election Tuesday at the DuSable Museum.
And while Mayor Rahm Emanuel was peppered with questions by both panelists and challengers, he said it was like being at the "dinner table for me with three teenagers."
Emanuel faced off against Ald. Bob Fioretti (2nd), Cook County Commissioner Jesus "Chuy" Garcia (D-Chicago), business executive Willie Wilson and perennial candidate William "Dock" Walls in a debate sponsored by the Chicago Urban League and the Business Leadership Council, as well as WBBM-TV Channel 2 and WVON 1690-AM, both of which aired it live.
After a polite start, they clashed at the halfway point when given the opportunity to question each other. Emanuel at first tried to dodge the question by talking about the questions voters want asked.
"At least once follow the rules here," snapped Fioretti.
Emanuel then asked Garcia about a tax hike he voted for as an alderman in the mid-'80s, but Garcia responded it was a reform budget backed by Mayor Harold Washington.
Fioretti, Garcia and Wilson all questioned the mayor on fundraising, police and school closings, but Emanuel responded with typical responses emphasizing the end to the Shakman decrees on corruption, putting "police on the street" and instituting full-day kindergarten districtwide.
On the second round of questioning each other, Fioretti challenged Garcia on a contribution he received involving a vote on red-light cameras. Garcia said he trusted the campaign supporter, and that he and Fioretti had a pledge not to attack each other, although he added pointedly to Fioretti, on his political career, "I'm not as old as you are."
Asked about the tacit pact after the debate, Fioretti said, "That's the first time I heard about that."
Yet Garcia said it was about talks between the two campaigns agreeing, "We should focus our criticisms on the present administration," as they both advocate change.
During the debate, Emanuel challenged Fioretti on his vote for the initial parking-meter deal, but Fioretti lashed back that Emanuel's attempt to reform that deal was less than transparent.
Their final statements relied on stump-speech points, although Wilson again closed with a prayer, as he had before in a debate.
Emanuel promised "a city that works for everyone."
Channel 2 broke for commercials at the end, before Fioretti could give his final statement.
Early on, they were asked a yes-no question on whether marijuana should be legalized for the city to benefit from the taxed income. Walls and Fioretti said yes. Emanuel said no. Garcia said not yet, but the time is coming. And Wilson said yes, adding, "They're gonna smoke it anyway."
Walls charged that Chicago was no better than Jim Crow segregation and that "there are two Chicagos."
Garcia picked up support beforehand in the form of a rally outside the DuSable Museum of African American History. The rally was led by United Working Families, an umbrella group of community and labor organizations including Grassroots Illinois Action and the Chicago Teachers Union.
Introduced by Cook County Clerk David Orr, Garcia told backers he was "taking Chicago back for the people in the neighborhoods."
Protesters outside the debate also called for the University of Chicago to add a trauma center as a condition for its bid for the Obama Presidential Library.
President Barack Obama also made news Tuesday by announcing he'd come to town next week in the midst of the campaign to designate the Pullman neighborhood a national park.
Yet Wilson dismissed the president's visit, and his endorsement of the mayor, pointing out he'd visited Illinois twice to stump for Gov. Pat Quinn, "and it didn't do no good."
"I think the voters can see through it, and they know it's pure politics," Fioretti agreed after the debate.
In the post-debate media interview session, which Emanuel avoided, Garcia suggested the mayor's campaign planted a newspaper story on his son's legal problems.
"I think he was behind it," Garcia said. "I think he was part of an effort to try to smear me."
Garcia attributed that to "fear" and "negative campaigning," saying, "The mayor's worried. The mayor's running scared."
The election is in two weeks, Feb. 24. If no candidate earns a majority of votes, the top two finishers will engage in a runoff April 7.
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