By Chinta Strausberg
All six Mayoral CandidatesÂ on-hand forÂ Chicago Defender Mayoral Debate
Wednesday night at the historic DuSable Museum was peppered with criticisms, praises, hopes and positions on supporting reparations from all six mayoral candidates each trying to win over enough votes to pull them across the finish line come February 22, 2011.
For the first time, all six mayoral candidates appeared on a forum. Gery Chico, Miguel del Valle, Carol Moseley Braun, Rahm Emanuel, bill â€œDockâ€ Walls, and Patricia Van Pelt-Watkins field questions from a panel of journalists and the master of ceremony, NBC 5â€™s Marion Brooks.
Because Braun, del Valle and Emanuel attended a North Side mayoral forum sponsored by a coalition of 30 LGBT groups held at the same time as the Chicago Defenderâ€™s debate, they were late arriving. Chico greeted participants as they entered the North Side forum but left to attend the Defender mayoral forum. He did not speak at the LGBT event.
However, once all six were in place at the DuSable Museum, the debate was on and was stoked when James Glover, who was in the audience, submitted a written question asking if each supported reparations for the descendants of United States slaves.
â€œI always have,â€ Braun told the audience. â€œThat is what the record says. When I was in the United States Senate, I fought against the proponents of the Confederate Flag. â€œ
Braun, who was elected to the Senate in 1992 dubbed â€œThe Year of the Woman,â€ said she also supported legislation that commemorates sites on the Underground Railroad. I served as the first woman on the Senate Finance Committee,â€ she said not mentioning the fact that she was the first woman who sat on the powerful Judiciary Committee. Braun was the first black woman in the Senate.
Emanuel said he was â€œabsolutelyâ€ in favor of reparations but his reasons didnâ€™t sit well with two of his opponents. â€œI think we have to be honest and frank with ourselves. We have a budget deficit that also needs to be addressed and that means those who are making tough decisions that we are investing in the areas that will lead to economic growth,â€ said Emanuel. He believes there are choices that must be made like the â€œcity facing budget deficits,â€ improving schools, reducing the dropout rates and hiring more police.
Walls and Watkins were furious over Emanuelâ€™s reasons for backing reparations.
â€œWe can have a world-class ballet company and we do in this city. We can have a world-class opera in this city and we do. If half the kids donâ€™t graduate from high school, you wonâ€™t see a world class city much longer.â€œ He said if the murder rate is as high as it is, Chicago would not be a world-class city. Emanuel wants blacks to get an education.
His rationale for backing reparations ticked off Watkins who turned to Emanuel and reminded him that there are 2.4 million people in prison with more than 1 million who are black. â€œWe are only 12 percent of the population; so when I hear Rahm Emanuel talk about a budget deficit, to me, thatâ€™s offensive,â€ she told a cheering audience. â€œThis country was built off the backs, the backs of our ancestors. They bled. They died. They came in chains and they died in pain; so donâ€™t talk to be about budget deficits right now,â€ said Watkins.
Walls also bristled at Emanuelâ€™s remarks and reminded the audience about slavery and said while he is for reparations he is not for educational reparations.
Walls said educational reparations for an African American woman who is 75 years of age wonâ€™t be of much help to her. â€œWhich educational institution would you send people to and how can these educational institutions receive all of the African Americans? Will they be sub-standard educational institutions? No. It must be financial enumerationâ€¦just like you gave others reparationsâ€¦.â€
On reforming city government, Braun said, â€œI do not support new taxes. I believe that the middle class has been taxed enough. â€œ She suggested â€œWe can make government more efficient by â€œrenegotiating the horrible parking meter deal,â€ Braun described as a â€œripped offâ€ to taxpayers.
Braun said those who purchased the parking meter contract are now on Wall Street allegedly trying to sell it for $11 billion. â€œ Chicago lost $10 billion just on that,â€ she said. Braun promised to eliminate subsidies she said no one knows exist. She also said Chicago needs business growth.
On her ideas of reforming the cityâ€™s Tax Increment Financing (TIF), Braun said it began under the late Mayor Harold Washingtonâ€”a program she says â€œhas since been corrupted and shrouded in secrecy.â€ She said it was designed to restore blighted areas, to promote job creation, housing redevelopment, creating small businesses in the neighborhoods. Those are not the goals today. â€œThat was interrupted over the years; in fact, (today) TIFâ€™s are no more than a piggy bank that sits outside of the budgetâ€¦. TIFâ€™s took away money that would otherwise to go District 299 (CPS) and the result is that our schools get left and they spend the money on things that were never intended to be spent on.â€
Braun gave the example of the city spending $15 million on the Chicago Board of Trade (CBOT) and said that is hardly a way to restore a blighted area. She is calling for a moratorium and complete audit on the spending of TIFâ€™s and to make this program completely transparent and that the funds are spent â€œfor the redevelopment of blighted areas for economic development that serves the interests of the neighborhoods in this city,â€ she told a cheering audience.
On TIFâ€™s, Emanuel said there should be a standard established â€œto make sure TIFâ€™s are meeting their economic development commitments.â€ He said after 25-years they still donâ€™t have that statement.
Watkins said if elected, she would call for a forensic audit â€œThis city has been run by the same mayor for 20 years. Iâ€™m sure there is all kinds of waste, corruption and fraud in that budget.â€ Quoting former Ald. Dick Simpson, a professor at the University of Illinois at Chicago. Watkins said, â€œThe cost of corruption is $500 millionâ€ a year. She also vowed to bring in new revenue and to reduce the shootings.
Walls said he is the only candidate who understands how city budget operates and the only one who believes in term limits. Walls said Chicago has been void of an industry â€œto call our home since the stockyardsâ€ he describes as â€œbeing our bread and butter.â€ He wants to call in the experts who have money and â€œshow them our transportation centerâ€¦. We can make Chicago the world center forÂ anontechnology developmentâ€¦.â€
The audience laughed and cheered when del Valle turned and said, â€œI love Dock Walls. When Iâ€™m mayor, I want him to work in my administration. He has good ideasâ€¦.â€
Del Valle said â€œthis election is about opportunityâ€¦to set a new course in the city a course that says weâ€™re going to treat our neighborhoods the way we treat our downtown areas. This is an opportunity to build those bridges between communitiesâ€¦â€ Referring on the 77-neighborhood designation, del Valle said â€œwith a different kind of administrationâ€ all neighborhoods would be treated fairly. He believes communities should be built up and organized â€œto ensure that schools become anchors within communities and that we elevate the quality of educationâ€ complete with job opportunities.
Saying that leadership must come from the leadership, del Valle called for a federally funded year round youth employment program like it was when he was younger.
Watkins said if people want to see â€œthe schools put back on trackâ€¦entrepreneurial programsâ€¦murders go downâ€¦then Iâ€™m your mayorâ€¦.â€
Chico said he too loves Chicago but that â€œwe have been spending beyond our means. Heâ€™s prepared to hire more teachers and police and vowed to take a 20 percent pay cut. â€œ
Braun was critical of the recent sale of the cityâ€™s parking meters. â€œ The same group that bought it is on Wall Street trying to sell it for $11 billion.â€ She said Chicago is being cheated out of $10 billion.
Braun vowed to issue a moratorium on the Tax Increment Financing (TIF) saying it has become â€œcorrupt.â€ According to Braun, the city has strayed from its original intent of using those funds to improve communities. As an example, Braun said it is unacceptable for the city to spend $15 million for improvements to the Chicago Board of Trade (CBOT).
â€œI would call for a moratorium on the TIF and for a complete audit of where the (TIF) money has gone. It is shrouded in secrecy. I suppose the aldermen donâ€™t know where the money has gone either,â€ said Braun.
Chico, who said the city of Chicagoâ€™s needs an overhaul, wants to use the TIF funds to create jobs and economic development and admitted of the 162 TIFâ€™s no one knows if the job and promises of economic development ever materialized. He also wants TIFâ€™s to be on the Internet so that city government is transparent.
â€œWe donâ€™t know how much money is left in that (TIF fund) for economic development,â€ said Chico. â€œWe donâ€™t know if the jobs were promised to us and we havenâ€™t gotten them and maybe we should, and I will make sure all of this information is put on the Internet available for everyone to see for everybody to see at a momentâ€™s notice,â€ he stated.
Del Valle said in Chicago â€œwe have a tale of two citiesâ€ where TIF proceeds go primarily to the downtown area â€œand the rest of the cityâ€¦. All we have to do is go back to the original intentâ€¦. We know a lot of inside deals get cut. Thatâ€™s why we need transparency.
â€œWe need to know where every TIF dollar is and how every TIF dollar is spent and everyone in this audience should have access to that.â€ Del Valle said every alderman have to monitor these funds. He also said if there is no job creation then the recipient of TIF funds should â€œgive the money back.â€
On reforming city government, Chico said, â€œWe have to merge and consolidate departmentsâ€ but he will not impose any new taxesâ€¦.. We have to straighten out the pension problemâ€¦.â€ He also wants to cut the number of deputies reporting to deputies saying they â€œdo very little to protect the frontlineâ€ staff. Chico said there is too much bureaucracy government.
On TIFâ€™s, Emanuel said there should be a standard established â€œto make sure TIFâ€™s are meeting their economic development commitment.â€ He said after 25-years they still donâ€™t have that statement.
Walls said, â€œWe now have a TIF district on LaSalle Street. We have a TIF district to renovate Sears Tower. We have a TIF district to build Millennium Park. What about the black community…. â€œ
Walls wants to take 20 percent of the TIF funds to build low income housing. He said TIF funds should not be used as a one-time revenue source including Emanuelâ€™s proposal to use part of the funds to hire more police officers.
Walls turned to Emanuel and said, â€œ When you were chief of staff, we had children dying in the streets in the city of Chicago.â€ Walls questioned his silence during that time reminding Emanuel that â€œYouâ€™re a Chicagoanâ€¦.â€
Watkins, who wasnâ€™t familiar with the entire TIF program, said, â€œWe have to be a business friendly city. We have to cut the red tapeâ€¦.â€
Referring to Emanuelâ€™s most recent ad showing President Barack Obama heaping praises on him, including declaring that â€œWe could not have accomplished what we accomplished without Rahmâ€™s leadership,â€ Del Valle labeled it as being â€œdishonestâ€ and â€œmisleading.â€
Del Valle added, â€œThis ad should not be used to mislead people into thinking Barack has endorsed Rahm Emanuel, and I think that is really an insult to the intelligence of the community.â€
And, after the debate Braun shrugged off the controversial ABC7 Chicago poll concluding that Emanuel had 54 percent of the 600 voters interviewed, Chico came in second with 14 percent, del Valle had 8 percent and Braun got 6 percent.
And, reacting to the controversial ABC7 Chicago poll that has Emanuel leading by 54 percent of the vote and 53 percent of black support with her coming in last with 6 percent, Braun quipped, â€œI think we are looking at a repeat of 1992 when everybody said I didnâ€™t have a snowball’s chance in hell and by the way donâ€™t give her money and I wind up being senator.â€