Where do the mayoral candidates stand on Chicago’s big issues?

Candidates for Chicago Mayor in an ABC debate televised ahead of the 2015 municipal election.
Candidates for Chicago Mayor in an ABC debate televised ahead of the 2015 municipal election. ABC
Candidates for Chicago Mayor in an ABC debate televised ahead of the 2015 municipal election.
Candidates for Chicago Mayor in an ABC debate televised ahead of the 2015 municipal election. ABC

Where do the mayoral candidates stand on Chicago’s big issues?

Chicagoans go to the polls on Tuesday, Feb. 24 (or before then for early voting). We dug through debates and speeches to make voters a study guide of where candidates for Chicago Mayor stand on the big issues.

To learn more about who’s footing the bill in Chicago politics, check out our Campaign Finance Tracker. Use it to explore every dollar raised by a candidate for mayor or alderman and who gave it.

Public Safety | Education | Jobs | City Budget | Museums

All candidates say the number of lives lost to gun violence in Chicago is too high. But their ideas on how to make streets safer varies.

Rahm Emanuel: When faced with questions on public safety, the mayor will often say that “too many kids in the city of Chicago have had the familiarity of gunfire not the familiarity of laughter.”

Emanuel says that’s why in his first term, he moved 1,000 cops from behind desks to the streets, focused on community policing and increased funding for preventative activities.

Emanuel says his administration increased after school programs by 30 percent and the number of summer jobs by 60 percent, and he says he would continue to grow those programs.

In a public safety policy speech, Emanuel said he would hire more cops and that the city will soon start a pilot program for body cameras.

The mayor has also said many times that he believes crime can’t be properly addressed without tougher statewide gun laws.

Jesus “Chuy” Garcia: He has come down on Emanuel for moving officers to the street, rather than hiring new ones. Garcia says if he’s elected, it would be a “priority” of city government to hire 1,000 more police officers.

He says the city is spending too much on overtime, and so he says he’d use savings from decreasing those overtime costs to pay for new officers. Garcia says the hired officers would be trained in community policing to ensure that “we rebuild trust and involve people in solving crime and preventing crime.”

Bob Fioretti: He has been a big critic of the city’s decision to lean on police overtime.

“We have an understaffed, overworked police department that needs help,” he said.

Fioretti says he wants to hire 500 police officers, and that’s in addition to the 500 that he says the city loses annually due to retirements or people leaving the force.

He says he wants to see a more “holistic approach” to policing, and that would include restorative justice.

Fioretti also says he’d fire Chicago Police Superintendent Garry McCarthy, who worked in New York and New Jersey, and replace him with someone from Chicago. Fioretti is also for enhancing penalties on gun crimes to reduce the “flow of illegal guns into our city.”

William “Dock” Walls: He says he’d make sure the police department was proportionately reflective of the city’s population “so we have policing that’s community friendly and not adversarial.”

On his website, Walls says he’d declare a “state of emergency” once he took office, which he says includes outdoor roll calls around high crime areas, stationing police cars near parks and around schools and libraries until they’re dispatched to a call, and moving officers who are on desk duty to street patrol.

Willie Wilson: He says he wouldn’t hire any more police officers, as he says that the city has done that before, and that it hasn’t “done any good.”

Wilson says he’d pull a majority of the current police officers out of their squad cars and make them take public transit or walk the streets to create a more “friendly police atmosphere.”

He’d also fire Superintendent McCarthy, break the city up into four additional districts, and hire four superintendents for each of those districts.

Public Safety | Education | Jobs | City Budget | Museums

With historic school closings and a teachers strike in this city’s recent past, the state of Chicago’s schools is a top issue.

Emanuel: When the conversation turns to schools, Emanuel commonly repeats a list of accomplishments from his first term: implementing a longer school day, longer school year, and full day kindergarten.

He also brings up his new program, Chicago STAR Scholarship, which he says will offer free community college tuition to public school students who graduate with a B average or better.

Emanuel believes in the mayoral-appointed school board for Chicago Public Schools.

He’s said he “understand[s] people wanting to make sure their voice is heard” but he feels the local school councils (or LSC’s) are a way to do that, so if elected to a second term, he’d strengthen them.

He also wants to triple the number of Pre-K programs and increase neighborhood high schools that have a “specialty focus” like IB (international baccalaureate) or STEM (science, technology, engineering, math) programs.

Fioretti: He has long called for an elected school board that “represents the diversity of our city.”

He also wants to see a moratorium on new charter schools in the city of Chicago, and he says he’d like to see more funds directed to boosting neighborhood schools.

Fioretti says he’d also cut down on the number of standardized tests given to students, and he’d invest in other resources like wraparound services or meals for low-income students. Fioretti says many of the 50 schools that were closed should have remained open.

Garcia: He is also against the school closings, but says he’d work with neighborhood groups to repurpose the vacant buildings.

He is also a big proponent of an elected school board, as he says the current mayoral appointed board has too many conflicting interests.

Garcia says he’d like to see smaller class sizes—he doesn’t have a specific number, but says 30-40 is too large—and more wraparound services in the classroom. As for charter schools, Garcia says he isn’t against them, but many are underperforming and need to be evaluated, and that until that happens, the city shouldn’t open any more.

Walls: He said he never would have closed the 50 schools, and would have repurposed portions of the buildings instead—using them for police or human services.

Walls also believes in an elected school board, and he would create eight single-member districts, and a president of the board, who would also be elected. He also wants a moratorium on charter schools.

Wilson: He wants an elected school board, and he says he also wants to reopen the 50 schools.

Wilson says he’d like to put trade programs back in those buildings.

Wilson says a lot of charters are failing and “just as you put emphasis on charter schools, you should put emphasis on public schools.”

He also wants more technology in the classroom: “Let’s put the book on the shelf, let’s bring out the computers, latest technology so they can relate around the world to anybody,” he said.

Public Safety | Education | Jobs | City Budget | Museums

A major theme in this race is the appearance that City Hall works harder for downtown’s economic growth than it does for the neighborhoods.

Emanuel: He says the city has made “dramatic” progress in hiring city workers of all races and backgrounds.

He commonly uses the renovation of the Chicago Transit Authority’s Red Line South branch as an example. He says not only were 1,500 jobs created, but the businesses around that area also participated in the project, and he’d apply that method to future projects.

Emanuel also touts two South Side developments as other economic drivers for the city’s neighborhoods, rather than downtown: the Method factory in Pullman, and the soon-to-be Whole Foods in Englewood.

Fioretti: He says as an alderman, he’s created jobs in his ward, and made sure city residents were hired for city projects, which he says he would implement throughout the city.

Fioretti also wants to create tax-free zones, and put trades and vocations back into high schools.

Garcia: He has said that working families will be a priority for his administration, and so the city needs to invest in its transportation assets—rail, air and highways—to attract manufacturing jobs.

He says the neighborhoods have been starved for employment and too much of the attention has been focused downtown.

Walls: He wants to bring in more “big box” grocery stores and neighborhood markets to stimulate economic development in underserved communities.

He also says he would establish a series of public-private partnerships that will help grow small-to medium-sized Chicago businesses. He’d award each of them a million dollar grant to help them grow and introduce their products nationally.

Wilson: He says economic empowerment is one of his top priorities, and that he’d push a City Council ordinance that would ensure fair hiring.

He wants to “reopen Meigs Field” which was transformed to the parkland and concert venue known as Northerly Island. Wilson says turning it back into an airport would create thousands of jobs and revenue.

He also wants to open a city-owned casino.

Public Safety | Education | Jobs | City Budget | Museums

If you want to do a deep dive into how dire Chicago’s finances are, the Civic Federation is a great resource. But in short: In addition to structural deficits, the city faces a looming $550 million payment to police and fire pensions.

When asked if they’d support an income tax hike to pay down the police and fire pensions, here’s how the candidates responded:

  • Emanuel: No
  • Garcia: Yes, to a graduated state income tax
  • Fioretti: No
  • Walls: Yes, on persons who own property over $500,000
  • Wilson: No

Emanuel: The current mayor pitches his list of financial accomplishments as a “roadmap” for how he’d solve future problems.

Emanuel says he cut the city’s annual budget deficit in half since taking office, and he’s balanced four budgets without a property, sales or gas tax increase, while still putting money away in the city’s “rainy day fund.”

On pensions, Emanuel says he’s secured three separate pension agreements through “reform and revenue by doing the tough things without a property tax.”

Fioretti: He has floated a number of ideas for revenue generation: A “LaSalle Street tax” on financial transactions, surplusing TIFs (tax increment financing districts), and a commuter tax.

He also wants to see an audit of city government to find ways to cut down on fraud or waste.

Garcia: He says he would use funds from tax increment financing (TIFs) and make a “good faith down payment” on police and fire pensions.

Then he says he’d sit down with the affected union representatives and work to negotiate a restructuring of that debt.

Walls: He says he previously supported a commuter tax, but after doing some research, he believes the financial burden on residents would far outweigh the benefits.

He says he’d find savings by making the city’s utilities more efficient and he’d cut down on administrative paperwork.

Walls says he’d also keep the city from being too reliant on municipal bonds—instead, he’d transition City Hall into what he calls a “pay as you go” revenue and expenditure system.

Wilson: He says he doesn’t support increasing taxes to fund the pension systems, in fact he would lower taxes, and he says solutions can be found by “cutting the budget.”

He also says he’d bring in a financial and pension expert who will “create innovative, legal ways for us to fully fund the pension system.”

Wilson also wants a citizen-owned casino in Chicago, and he says his Meigs Field proposal could also help with the city’s debts.

Public Safety | Education | Jobs | City Budget | Museums

There are two names that have popped up during the campaign that some voters may not have expected: President Barack Obama and George Lucas. The city could be the home of two new cultural institutions: the Barack Obama Presidential Library and the Lucas Museum of Narrative Art. And there have been big debates among Chicagoans and candidates alike about where these two museums belong: Should the Obama library be placed on city parkland? Should the Lucas museum be built on the lakefront?

Emanuel: The mayor has said he’d move “heaven and earth” to get the President Obama library and it seems the same would apply for the Lucas museum. Emanuel is a big proponent of having both institutions in Chicago, as he says they’ll both bring lots of construction jobs and economic development. He proposed a measure to the City Council and Park District that would allow park land to be used by the Obama Foundation.

Garcia: He doesn’t support using parkland for the Obama library, and he doesn’t want a “monument to Darth Vader on the lakefront” either. He says Chicagoans didn’t get enough of a say about the location of Lucas museum.

Fioretti: He says he doesn’t want the Obama library on parkland, and he doesn’t want the Lucas museum on the lakefront. He says, “strong leadership on both of them would have (included) letting citizens have a voice on it.”

Walls: He says he’s for the Lucas museum on the lakefront “if it has a community benefits agreement that makes sense.” He supports having the Obama library on parkland.

Wilson: He says the Obama library deserves to be here, in any part of the city, and he also supports the Lucas museum on the lakefront.

Lauren Chooljian covers city politics for WBEZ.