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Six Things We Learned From The First Mayoral Debate

By Chuck Sudo in News on Jan 28, 2015 3:50PM

(Photo credit: City of Chicago/Brooke Collins)

Rahm Emanuel, Bob Fioretti, Chuy Garcia, Willie Wilson and William "Dock" Walls engaged in the first of five mayoral debates Monday. Hosted by the Tribune editorial board, the five candidates sparred for close to 90 minutes over a host of issues.

For voters angry with Emanuel's policies during his time in office it was a first chance to see what Fioretti, Garcia, Wilson and Walls have to offer as alternatives. This and the four remaining debates (the five will meet again before the Sun-Times editorial board today) will determine whether voters will go to the polls to follow through on their "anyone but Rahm" sentiments or if the mayor can rally support for a second term.

Here are six things we gleaned from Tuesday's debate.

The Tribune editorial board wants you to answer the question!!
Several times during the debate members of the Tribune editorial board asked the candidates to answer in simple, no-nonsense terms, rather than the political speak that passes for substance. At one point, Fioretti said "everything is on the table" so often the board asked him to "stop answering the question in cliché." But Fioretti wasn't alone.

Willie Wilson doesn't like "Yes or No" questions
The businessman didn't hurt himself any more Tuesday after his rocky early media appearances, but he had a very hard time sticking with the "answer the question" format. At this stage, we're convinced the Trib's editorial board ran his questionnaire unedited as a way of stemming the rising tide of "is he a serious candidate" articles published after Wilson donated $1 million to his own campaign. (Answer: he isn't.)

Chuy Garcia has a red light camera problem
Supporters and opponents of the Cook County Commissioner are demanding he clarify his statements about the maligned program after he signed a pledge stating he wanted the network removed. Since signing the pledge, Garcia has walked a fine line with his stance and said during the debate he would remove cameras except where they have benefit. (Now you see why the Trib editorial board was a stickler for "yes or no" questions.)

Garcia will make Emanuel's suburban upbringing a campaign issue
Garcia brought up Emanuel's North Shore upbringing as a sign the mayor is "out of touch" with the issues facing the city. "He didn't grow up here," Garcia said. "He doesn't breathe what the city needs." It's a strategy that didn't work in 2011 and it won't work now. Argue if Garcia is correct if you must, his comments will only strengthen Emanuel's base.

There was a lot of Rahmsplaining
We had a bottle of bourbon at our side, ready to take a shot every time Emanuel said the words "world class city." Instead he trotted out his record for all to see and viewed it through rose-colored glasses as his opponents attacked it from every conceivable angle.

The truth on Emanuel's record is somewhere in between. Sure, the city's Open Data portal is a positive step toward government transparency, but Emanuel didn't mention his administration's belligerent stance on FOIA requests. And parents and teachers still smarting over Chicago Public Schools' closing of 50 schools in 2013 have some things to discuss with a mayor who said he's improved public education in Chicago.

For the "anyone but Rahm" contingent, WBEZ's interactive "Grading Rahm" series is a great resource to view Emanuel's talk of his record with the reality.

Emanuel is worried
If the mailers voters have been receiving in the mail recently weren't a sign, Emanuel's attacks on his opponents made clear he isn't assuming his re-election is a fait accompli. Emanuel saved some of his most pointed barbs for Garcia, the candidate with the most realistic chance of keeping pace with the mayor on fundraising thanks to big labor donations.