We should know, an hour or two after the polls close on April 7, if Chicago’s getting a new mayor, Jesus “Chuy” Garcia, or re-hiring the current one, Rahm Emanuel, for another four years.
Election night may be short, but the next four years could feel like eternity for the winner. Chicago, as you’ve heard repeatedly, is facing daunting challenges, topped by a serious financial crisis, and that means eligible voters should be assessing the candidates—their backgrounds, track records, plans for solving the big problems, and leadership skills—so they can make informed decisions about who’s best equipped to keep the city from going over the fiscal cliff. Emanuel and Garcia addressed the big issues in the Better Government Association’s first 2015 Mayoral Questionnaire before the Feb. 24 election—you can read their responses here—but we thought it was important to draft another version with a slightly different format and a couple new topics in advance of the winner-take-all runoff. So we invited them to share their governing philosophies, including views on privatizing city assets and services, the scope and authority of an inspector general, and compliance with FOIA— the state’s open records law. We also asked about public safety, campaign spending, the use of public land, citizen input on major projects and, of course, municipal finance. Emanuel refers to his track record, and promises to “build upon the reforms of this first term.” He supports privatization in some cases, and backs two big projects—the Lucas Museum on the lakefront and the Obama Library on the South Side—while challenger Garcia criticizes the mayor’s overall performance, expresses skepticism about privatization, and argues for a new City Hall agenda that begins by “organizing a working committee to examine the full range of existing and potential revenue options.” Neither candidate has a specific revenue plan—they dance around the toxic issue of raising property taxes—and both allude to options that require legislative approval in Springfield. “I have long argued for more balanced revenue sources…such as a progressive income tax,” says Garcia, adding he’ll confront the city’s financial burden by delivering services more efficiently, transparently, accountably and collaboratively. Emanuel puts it this way: “We have made real progress in righting the financial ship, cutting the structural deficit in half without raising property taxes, sales, or gas taxes, and implementing pension reform by partnering with labor. “Our biggest remaining financial challenge is to provide retirement security for our workers without sacrificing our future as a city of opportunity.” You can review the entire questionnaire on our website. And if you’re feeling really wonky, watch my recent “Candid Conversations” with the candidates at bettergov.org. The final weeks of the campaign will also feature two more televised debates, so tune in to hear not just what Emanuel and Garcia have to say, but how they say it, because it’s helpful to see them side-by-side answering questions and interacting. You’ll also be bombarded with a final round of political commercials, mostly from Emanuel’s campaign because he’s raised so much more money. Keep in mind that candidates use paid media to burnish their own accomplishments and exaggerate their opponent’s shortcomings, so view the spots with a healthy dose of skepticism. And most importantly—big picture—remember what’s at stake here: The future of our city. So please: Pay attention, then do your civic duty and vote. Andy Shaw is President & CEO of the Better Government Association. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Find him on twitter @andyshawbga.