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Phil Ponce Deals With The Fallout Of Tuesday Night's Mayoral Debate

By Jim Bochnowski in News on Apr 2, 2015 7:05PM

As we talked about yesterday, WTTW's newsman Phil Ponce made some interesting comments while moderating the latest mayoral debate on Tuesday night. During a conversation about gang violence in Chicago, Ponce began to ask questions about candidate Chuy Garcia's son, who has an arrest record that includes charges of felony aggravated assault and aggravated assault of a police officer.

At one point, Ponce asked Chuy Garcia, "If you can’t keep your own son out of a gang, how can you steer the city away from gangs and violence?"

The question was met with audible jeers from the audience, and even Mayor Emanuel stated that the line of questioning was absolutely inappropriate. (Though it should be said he has also had issues with the press asking him about his children.)

In the two days since, the uproar over Ponce's unprofessionalism has not waned. A petition has more than 1,500 signatures of individuals who want WTTW to fire Ponce, and local media has not spared Ponce in their commentary of the situation.

Steve Rhodes, in an Op-Ed contribution to Crain's Chicago Business, said that "I think we can all agree on how inappropriate this line of questioning was. It's illogical to question Garcia's parenting skills... and conclude that his son's situation somehow renders Garcia incapable of leading anti-violence efforts as mayor."

The Chicago Tribune's Kristen McQueary commented that Ponce "crossed a line. He went beyond questioning the legal entanglements of Garcia’s son."

In an interview with the Huffington Post yesterday, Ponce defended himself and said that "I do think it’s relevant to know if the future mayor of Chicago has a son that is a member of a gang. I think it is an intuitive question in the minds of a lot of voters. I felt there was a void of coverage of that topic, and so we saw that as an opportunity to address it.”

Though, after dealing with the criticism, Ponce released a follow-up statement that said, "On further reflection we feel that we missed the mark in the series of gang questions I asked Commissioner Garcia."

Right or wrong, the true disappointment of the last debate is that just a week before the mayoral election that will define the future of our city, we had a sideshow instead of a real discussion of the issues.

(Correction: We originally stated that Steve Rhodes is a reporter for Crain's Chicago Business. He is actually an Op-Ed contributor. We apologize for the mistake.)