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Garcia And Emanuel Spar One Last Time Before Election Day

By aaroncynic in News on Apr 1, 2015 6:00PM


Mayor Rahm Emanuel and challenger Cook County Commissioner Jesus "Chuy" Garcia squared off one last time in a contentious and feisty third and final televised debate, with each attempting to paint themselves as the candidate with the better budgeting skills. As in both previous debates and campaign ads, Emanuel hammered away at Garcia for lacking specifics and details while Garcia continued to exploit his opponent’s image as Mayor 1%.

Emanuel was much more combative this time around and took the opportunity to levy a couple of snarky jokes toward Garcia. "You're walking around all over the place like typical career politicians promising everything like 'Hanukkah Harry,’ the mayor said, mocking some of Garcia’s plans that he often alleges the city can’t afford. “What ends up happening is like what my grandmother used to say—'such a deal!” When Garcia tried to use Emanuel’s tenure at mortgage giant Freddie Mac to tie him to the recession, Emanuel threw it back, saying “Single-handedly, I ushered in the recession. Only you and my mother think that.”

But it wasn’t all snark and SNL references for the Mayor. Emanuel dodged questions from moderator Phil Ponce and comments from Garcia on his borrowing practices, and was also put on the defensive regarding his largest wealthy donors and the frequent charges of “pay-to-play” politics. Garcia also hit Emanuel on a lack of transparency with the City’s finances, saying they’re shrouded in a “veil of secrecy” and took him to task for not meeting with actual residents of Northwest side neighborhoods complaining of increased airport noise. “They have some ideas that ought to be heard,” said the Commissioner. “Give them a half-hour. Come on.”

Despite their often heated disagreements and frequent attempts to talk over each other, the two candidates agreed that Phil Ponce was far out of line by pressing Garcia on his son’s alleged gang involvement. “I actually don't think this is a fair line of questioning,” Emanuel said after Ponce pressed Garcia to confirm whether or not his son was “still in a gang.” Garcia, who denied his son was in a gang, said:

“My wife and I live in a neighborhood that’s had its share of problems, including gang activity. My son grew up in that neighborhood, it’s been challenging. We’ve tried to be as loving and as caring and as supportive as my son as possible...Gladly, my son learned from his mistakes.”

That didn’t satisfy the moderator, who doubled down on the line of questioning despite being booed by the mostly silent audience. Ponce, who also lives down the block from Rahm Emanuel, seemed to really want to know how parents in Chicago encounter gangs, apparently having the privilege of being unaware. Unfortunately, that's not the question he asked, instead going with “if you can’t keep your own son out of a gang, how can you steer the city away from gangs and violence?” Garcia responded by saying:

“It was growing up in a neighborhood of gang violence, that deepened my wife’s resolve and my resolve to stay there. To work and improve the community. To reduce gang violence. It was one of the highlights of my work at Enlace.”

The Commissioner’s work at the non-profit was another favorite punching bag of both the mayor and Ponce. Emanuel criticized Garcia’s management skills for running a deficit during his tenure as executive director, at one point even waving around a 990 for dramatic effect. Garcia made a weak effort to counter and turn it back around on Emanuel, saying “"There was a deficit, but no one missed a paycheck, no one was laid off, we didn't borrow any money,” but the return jab just didn’t land. That said, the entire exchange was somewhat disingenuous.Micah Uetricht at In These Times points out:

“When we’re talking about a couple hundred thousand dollars of deficit for an organization that was growing, we’re not talking about issues like the explosion in the use of bonds to pay for basic city functions—an explosion that is handing staggering amounts of money over to Emanuel’s old colleagues on Wall Street and leaving future generations on the hook for enormous bills.”

In the end, there were no clear winners in this last debate before voters head to the polls next week. If anything, there were only losers. Ponce lost big by continuing to press an elitist question that shouldn’t have been asked, and the viewers lost by Ponce allowing so much time to be wasted on that and other minutiae regarding Garcia’s tenure at Enlace. Entirely too much time was spent on these issues and Chicago voters deserve better from both the candidates and public media. With only a short period of time before election day, it’s going to be difficult to get anything else new out of either candidate that isn’t the same talking points we’ve already heard.