It's 'experience' vs. 'resolve' as Chicago mayoral candidates face off in TV debate

With less than two weeks to go in the race for Chicago mayor, Cook County Board president Toni Preckwinkle and attorney Lori Lightfoot participated in a televised debate that featured telling blows delivered by both candidates from the outset.

Preckwinkle trails in the polls and in fundraising while Lightfoot, who finished first in the primary in February, has maintained her momentum, gathering key endorsements in the black and Latino communities.  Preckwinkle pulled some ads this week, apparently hoping for a big push the last few days of the campaign.

It would be a mistake to characterize the race as one between the "machine" and the "reformer."  The political machine that ran the city for seven decades is a shadow of its former self.  And there has yet to be a "reformer" candidate who has ever been able to "reform" much of anything in the city.

Instead, this is a race to see who will have the opportunity to preside over the continued decline of a major city as it falls to street thugs and grasping businessmen.

The debate was about Preckwinkle's experience versus Lightfoot's "resolve" to reform the mess.

Chicago Tribune:

"Change is not simply words, it's action.  Balancing a budget is a difficult, challenging process," Preckwinkle said to Lightfoot.  "The city has a huge budget.  What's the biggest budget that you've ever managed?  It's a complicated, difficult process.  How can people believe you can run this government, let alone change it?"

Lightfoot responded by saying she helped manage many city budgets during her tenure as chief of staff in the city's Office of Emergency Management and Communications, as a chief oversight official in the Chicago Police Department and as the top deputy in the city's procurement department under former Mayor Richard M. Daley before becoming a partner at Mayer Brown, one of the nation's largest law firms.

"I have a wealth of experience, not only as a senior executive in different departments in the city, but I've also, in my private practice life, helped small businesses, middle-market businesses really try to navigate the sometimes difficult world of city government," Lightfoot said.  "But what I think is most important is it's not about our resume, it's about our resolve.  It's about our resolve to form a city that is inclusive, that is responsive, and a city government that is open and transparent and is doing everything it can to move people forward."

"Moving forward" is difficult when the streets are a shooting gallery and grasping politicians are stealing the taxpayers blind.  And neither candidate would offer solutions to the public pension bomb that may go off while she is in office:


Both Lightfoot and Preckwinkle were vague on solutions to Chicago's pension funding crisis, with Preckwinkle alluding to her support of a progressive income tax at the state level that should benefit Chicago with a piece of the extra revenue the state takes in.  Lightfoot said emphatically that she would oppose a city soda takes [sic], calling it "offensive" that Preckwinkle had passed such a tax at the county level (it was swiftly repealed).  Lightfoot also said that she would not talk about increasing large pots of city revenue until she had successfully made the case that there was no other alternative.  Chicago faces the daunting task of finding $1 billion more to put into its four beleaguered pension systems in the coming years to prevent them from going insolvent. 

Both candidates support more gun control to address the violence, while both candidates agree that the police department should be reformed.  There: Problem solved.

One small note: Lightfoot, who is lesbian, became the target of some anti-gay flyers distributed in several wards.  They were actually quite amusing:

"The GAY EQUALITY ACT!!! ITS [sic] OUR TURN," the flyers stated, followed by a series of statements saying, "I promise to enforce the Gay Equality Act" and that all bathrooms will be "gender-free," public schools will "teach Gay History by mandate," and "All churches will abide by the gay marriage laws."

The flyers also boasted in all capital letters that all contracts, jobs, and employment opportunities would be "newly assigned exclusively to gay people!"

The fact that they were handed out near black churches highlights the split in the black community over Lightfoot's lesbianism, with many devout Christians appalled and others accepting.  With two black women running, Lightfoot, who denounced the flyers, nevertheless benefits by this split.

She's going to need all the help she can get.  Lightfoot is riding a wave of voter disgust at business as usual and appears to be well positioned to win.

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