By Chinta Strausberg
During the final mayoral debate before Tuesdayâ€™s election, Carol Moseley Braun Thursday offered some solid fiscal solutions and restructuring proposals that included no new taxes for Chicagoans.
She was joined at the ABC 7 forum by mayoral hopefuls Miguel del Valle, Gery Chico and Rahm Emanuel during an hour-long debate on topics that ranged from views on the Development, Relief and Education for Alien Minors (DREAM Act) to ending the pay-to-play politics.
In her opening statements, Braun, said, â€œI am a woman voter who also knows what it means to be in leadership. Born and raised in Chicago, I care deeply about the future of all of the children of this city.
â€œI am a candidate for mayor because I bring experience gained from elective leadership in local, state and national government as well as experiences on the international level and as an entrepreneur,â€ said Braun.
â€œI am uniquely qualified to be mayor in this time of history having overcome challenges by making them into opportunities,â€ said Braun. â€œI bring you leadership capacity to make our city reflect resourcefulness, productivity and straight forward determination of its people.
â€œOur city works very well for some and not at all for others,â€ Braun said. â€œThere are villages of homeless people under the bridges at Sawyer and Belmont in sub-zero weather and yet our downtown is one of the most beautiful in the world. Our cityâ€™s financial deficit is a reflection of its leadership deficit.
â€œI have a vision of a great city that includes all and excludes none, a city that respects every person and I look forward to working with you to get to that point,â€ said Braun.
In his opening statement, Del Valle said voters could help â€œchart a difference courseâ€ for Chicago and one where neighborhoods will be serviced like the downtown areas. â€œWe need to ignite democracy in the city of Chicago in order to ensure that course that will benefit all.â€
Chico talked about being born in the Back-of-the-Yards neighborhood. â€œItâ€™s time for our city to live within its means.
Emanuel spoke of the social problems and challenges. â€œWe need a mayor who is strong enough, determined with a vision and a resilience to see that futureâ€¦for the city so we can grow as one cityâ€¦.â€
The candidates took pot shots at Emanuel for his alleged political influence they say helped to line his pocket with millions of dollars.
While del Valle called for an end to the â€œpay-to-playâ€ political strategy by some of the candidates, Braun said it is time for Emanuel to disclose potential conflict of interests including whether he registered as a lobbyist, who he was representing at the time and who did he call. â€œHe is neither a CPA nor an MBA nor a lawyer; yet he was able to go into a field that traditionally requires that set of credentials in relations to management,â€ she said.
Braun wants Emanuel to explain why he voted against the Congressional Black Caucus (CBC) 128 times including efforts by that body to send $5 million for water for â€œdrought-starvedâ€ sub-Saharan Africa.
Â â€œHe voted to allow people to sell meat from down animals,â€ said Braun again wanting to get answers from Emanuel who never responded. Braun was referring to Emanuelâ€™s voting on a bill that protected sellers of â€œdownedâ€ animal meat. Emanuel, who allegedly leads in media polls, refused to take the bait and did not answer those questions.
When asked his opinion about the federal government wanting to increase collaboration with local authority to support undocumented people, Chico said, â€œI wouldnâ€™t allow it. Chico said he supports the cityâ€™s executive order that labels Chicago as a sanctuary city â€œwhich means that we will not allow our police officers, our firefighters or city personnel to help enforce immigration laws in this country.â€
Chico called it a â€œred herringâ€ because â€œwe ought to as a nation once and for all figure out federal immigration reform. It didnâ€™t happen on Mr. Emanuelâ€™s watch as chief of staff but I was so proud to see President Obama during the State of Union put it right back on the agenda and I believe he would push and make it happen.â€ Chico vowed to work with Rep. Luis Gutierrez â€œto make that happen because it is right and moral thing to do in our country.â€
Emanuel said he is the grandson of an immigrant who came from Eastern Europe to Chicago in 1917 and the son of an immigrant who came here in 1959. â€œI worked tirelessly in Congress in making sure every year I co-sponsored and voted for comprehensive reform and also opposed public methods to politicize the issueâ€¦.â€
He supports keeping Chicago a sanctuary city and said he would introduce a Chicago version of the DREAM Act.
A somewhat stunned Braun told Emanuel: â€œYou have shown that you were directly involved with killing the DREAM Act when it came through so to listen to you tonight is really surprising.â€
Braun is one of many immigrant advocates who believe Emanuel didnâ€™t support passage of the DREAM ACT when he was in Congress. â€œTo listen to you tonight is really kind of surprising,â€ she said. â€œChicago should continue to be a sanctuary city. We shouldnâ€™t allow families to get ripped apart because of the illogic of our immigration system and it is an illogical system.â€
She gave as an example how the federal government mandates activity by the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) Â â€œthat they donâ€™t pay for. It comes out of the city treasurerâ€¦. Â I still have floor privileges in the U.S. Senate. Â Iâ€™m prepared to go back to Washington to press for a reform of the ways that immigration laws are enforced, reform the way that the State Department treats people because there is no reason why people standing out in the rain waiting for somebody to talk to them. We need to certain that we press for fairness in the area of immigration,â€ said Braun.
On the issue of immigration, del Valle said, â€œThis question wouldnâ€™t be an issue tonight if we had comprehensive immigration reform.â€ He said Emanuel â€œreferred to immigration as the â€˜third rail of politicsâ€™ when he advised his colleagues in Congress not to pursue immigration reform and then as chief of staff to the president of the United States he also advised the president not to pursue immigration reform in the first year of his administration.
â€œIn Chicago, we need to do more than just protect the rights of immigrants in our city,â€ del Valle said. â€œThe mayor of the city of Chicago has to also look at what is happening at the County level and also has to advocate at the state level so that we can make sure weâ€™re doing what is right with immigrants in the city of Chicago.â€
Emanuel said he would ask Chicago police to follow the law here and said under Obama â€œnaturalization has dramatically increasedâ€ including making an historic appointment to the U.S. Supreme Court.
Saying the last time immigration passed Congress it was in 1986 under President Reagan, Emanuel said, â€œWe need a policy that reflects our values and also our laws and that means working together across party line to get it done.â€
Braun said, â€œOur immigration policy is broken and we need to fix it. We need to fix in ways that respect people, provide the fairness that is fair to the city of Chicago and the people who live here whether they are documented or not.â€
In fixing the broken policy, Braun said she would work with the administration â€œin behalf of comprehensive immigration reform in the first place but in the meantime, lobby to get the money back that we are right now having to pay as taxpayers here in Chicago for what is basically an unfunded mandate by the federal government. It is not right for the federal government to insist that we do a thing and then not send the money to let us do it,â€ she said.
Del Valle said many times people have been deported and children left behind. â€œThis has happened quite often in the city of Chicago.â€
He said the mayor should have all departments monitoring the activity and to establish a line of communication with the federal government about the status of those living here and â€œensuring the federal government is respecting our local laws,â€ he said referring to the cityâ€™s ordinance. Del Ville said if the federal government is not respecting the law â€œthen we need to take actionâ€¦.â€
Asked about the cityâ€™s probability of soon facing a huge unfunded pension liability and would proceeds from a casino be an answer, Emanuel said, â€œI believe in preserving the pension. â€œ He said if nothing is done within a decade there will be no retirement pension. He also opposed raising property taxes to plug this projected deficit. He believes in negotiating collective to preserve the fund.
Braun said, â€œWe have to protect the retirement security for city workers.â€ Referring to the time when she sat on the Presidentâ€™s Commission on Pensions and Retirement Security, Braun said they took a â€œdeep look at this and the first thing Iâ€™d say to people is donâ€™t panic. We do have to fix this problem, but weâ€™re right now at the top of the demographic bubble where there is the most pressure on the pension system. That will change as the generation moves forward.â€
Braun said the pensions need to be fully funded â€œand do better than weâ€™re doing nowâ€ and that includes improving the leadership deficit. â€œThe attention was not being paid to what was happening in our pension system as it was spending going on in other arenas. There was not enough planning and foresight to make the contributions sufficient. I refuse to increase property taxes, but we can address this if we grow the economy and create more jobs,â€ she said.
Del Valle said the pension problem was created by the city and the state â€œbecause of our failure to contribute the employer share at an adequate level.â€ He said it would be unconstitutional to take away employees current benefit. â€œWe have to find a revenue source to support our pensions; so casino license is one of those possibilities and if that is not what goes, then we have to find another sourceâ€ needed to make the pensions whole.
Chico is also opposed to cutting city workerâ€™s pensions; rather he vowed to sit down with labor and hammer out an affordable solution for all â€œbut we should honor the principle that a pension benefit level earned is a promise we need to keep.â€
He supports a casino in Chicago because he said the city needs the money.
Asked if their first budget would be smaller and would there be higher taxes and fees, Emanuel stuck with his campaign promise of offering a comprehensive health enrollment plan he says saves $50 million, consolidating procurement would save $40 million and â€œdoing garbage collection different saves $35 million to $40 million.â€
Braun rejected any new taxes, favors a balanced budget and said the budget must be fair and transparent. â€œI believe we should put every dime on line so the citizens of Chicago can see where the money is goingâ€¦.â€ She believes the budget will be smaller next year.
Del Valle agreed saying the cuts should begin in the mayorâ€™s office and the City Council including cutting committees. â€œWe have to lead by example. They would have to look at the upper level of management and start getting rid of some of these deputies who report to deputies.â€
He proposed there would be from $50 million to $100 million in cuts coupled with the use of the Taxing Increment Financing (TIF) surplus funds. Del Valle also suggested a change in how garbage is picked up and who is and who is not paying for water. â€œWe need to refinance debtâ€¦.â€
Saying that the cityâ€™s budget will not be balanced with line-item measures, Chico said, â€œThis budget is due for an overhaul.â€ He too believes the budget will also be smaller next year. He offered to cut his own mayoral salary by 20 percent.
Asked when prosperity returns why should the sellers of retail items be the only ones required to charge the sales tax and why shouldnâ€™t those who sell services including dog groomers, barbers and others, Chico accused Emanuel of proposing the largest expansion of the sales tax on services. He wants to know what will replace this tax. â€œItâ€™s a phony claim to say that somebody is going to get $200 savings when you have to make $600,000 a year to get $200 in savings. No one is going to be eligible for that in the city. It doesnâ€™t hold waterâ€¦.â€
At times, the debate got personal.Â When asked to expand on his allegation that Emanuel is a â€œpathological evader of the truth,â€ Chico said, â€œI agree with Mr. del Valle.â€ Chico said, â€œI have a daughter who is a single mom. I have a 2-year-old grandson. Sheâ€™s not going to benefit from this tax. She doesnâ€™t make $600,000,â€ he said Emanuelâ€™s proposal to reduce the sales tax by 20 percent.
In defense, Emanuel said he proposed three separate tax cutsâ€”one an employee head tax, a change in the natural gas tax, and a sales tax reduction of 20 percent. He said Chicagoans â€œare being nickel and dimed by taxes. We have the highest sales tax in the countryâ€ and said itâ€™s time to lower it in order to be economically competitive.
Braun, who is against raising new taxes, said Chicagoans â€œhave been taxed enoughâ€¦. I am a former member of the U.S. Senate Finance Committee. I ran the budgets of an Embassy. I ran the budget of the Recorder of Deeds Office; so I am familiar with this taxation issue.
â€œI believe the way we get this budget under balance is that we reform city government. We make it accountable and then we grow our economy here in Chicago. We create jobs, and when we create jobs it will grow our revenue base and that will let us fund essential services in the city without putting a greater tax burden even a tax swap on the people of Chicago,â€ said Braun.
Del Valle said, â€œItâ€™s ludicrous to be talking about changing the sales tax when itâ€™s not going to go anywhere. We should be talking about how to protect those businesses that are struggling out there in the neighborhood who have seen huge increases in their property taxes and are about to close their businesses because of thatâ€¦.â€
In closing, del Ville said Chicago â€œis ready for reformâ€ and while he says the city is on the right path, it has a long way to go because â€œwe donâ€™t have world class neighborhoods. Do we do it by electing an individual who has made millions of dollars and has profited from their association with government, or do we start with a reform government that is going to once and for all put the people first before special interests in the city of Chicagoâ€¦.â€
Braun said, â€œAs we grow our economy, we have to remain focused on fairness. Chicagoâ€™s three percent minority contract participation is a travesty in a city that has a 47 percent minority population and a sad commentary on race and diversity in this city.
â€œBy streamlining city government and making it more responsive, government can become an ally of the people who create businesses in this townâ€¦jobs in this town so badly needed. By protecting the kind of security, we preserve the standard of living for our workforce that a workforce has earned and deserved. By holding the line on taxes, we can ease the burden on working people,â€ said Braun.
Referring to the Egyptians who protested until they received a new government, Braun said, â€œWe should do no less in the city of Chicagoâ€¦. Here in this city, they try to tell you this election is over, that the money has won it, but I want to tell you something it is not over until you, the voter, speaks. I think if the voters on the 22nd vote for themselves, we will fight the power. We will have democracy in Chicago.â€
Saying, â€œwe need to go in a new direction in our city and that is the reason that I am running for mayor. The city that we love has lost its momentum.â€ Chico offered his experience as a venue of change. Chico spoke of his background and said, â€œI am not going to let the city rummage through your pockets to pay for waste and inefficiency. Iâ€™ll force the city to live within its means just like our working families are around the cityâ€¦.â€
Rahm said, â€œDenial is not a long-term strategy and for too long on the issue of facing crime on our streets to the strength of our schools and making sure â€œ that schools are adequate along with the economy, he said â€œwe have been operating in denials of long-term strategy.â€ He said Chicago is at the fork in that road and believes he can transform Chicago.
The moderator was Ron Majors and the panelists were ABC7 political reporter Charles Thomas and Univision anchor/reporter Paula Gomez.
Here are the links to Thursdayâ€™s ABC 7 Chicago mayoral debate.