UPDATED: 1:32 PM 3/17/2015
Chicago’s two mayoral hopefuls turned up the heat for their first one-on-one debate Monday night.
In the first of three live, televised events before the April 7 runoff election, Mayor Rahm Emanuel and Commissioner Jesus “Chuy” Garcia hit each other in the same spots as usual during the NBC and Telemundo debate: Emanuel criticized Garcia for not giving specifics, and Garcia called out Emanuel for paying too much attention to downtown, rather than the neighborhoods.
The two went back and forth on a number of topics that are familiar to the campaign trail, like public safety, schools, city finances and red light cameras. On finances, Emanuel said a property tax hike was not on the table, despite comments to the contrary from a top ally last week, as well as a warning from Emanuel himself last Friday that property tax bills would “explode” if Springfield didn’t help reform pensions. Campaign staff later said that property taxes are the “very last resort” and any increase would “protect middle-class homeowners and seniors.” The city of Chicago faces a looming $550 million dollar state-mandated payment toward police and fire retirement funds.
“Every effort going forward on police and fire is to avoid a property tax. I’ve laid out a specific plan before the election. You’ve laid out a commission,” Emanuel said to Garcia.
The mayor says he’d ask employees “to help us a little” to stabilize pensions, and that he’d lobby Springfield for reforms to the sales tax and a Chicago-run casino that would be “fully dedicated” to pensions.
Meanwhile, Garcia sought to further define himself as the “neighborhood guy,” taking many opportunities to try and convince viewers not only that his experience in the community will drive his decisions, but that Emanuel focuses too much on the “rich and wealthy” or on downtown interests.
“The mayor doesn’t mind taxing low-income people and working people,” Garcia said, referring to the city’s red light camera program. “That’s why on day one I will get rid of all those cameras.”
The two candidates also sought to blame the other for the city’s financial crisis. Emanuel took a new swipe at his opponent where he maintained that Garcia, as a state senator, voted in 1997 to create a holiday for Chicago Public Schools teacher pension payments. Garcia continued to accuse Emanuel of not following through on his campaign promise to put the city’s financial house in order.
On public safety, Emanuel contended the city was “safer than it was before, but not safe enough where people from all parts of the city can enjoy it.” Garcia repeated his push for more police officers, and said he’d start hiring them with half of what the city spends now on police overtime.
Lauren Chooljian is a WBEZ political reporter. Follow her @laurenchooljian