Rahm, Chuy Make Their Closing Arguments

Responding to new BGA questionnaire, mayoral hopefuls talk financial crisis, public safety and campaign reform. 

By the BGA

In the new BGA 2015 Mayoral Questionnaire, the opposing candidates in the April 7th election reveal plans for solving some of the city’s thorniest problems while addressing several major reform issues.

In the BGA questionnaire, Mayor Rahm Emanuel and challenger Jesus "Chuy" Garcia, a Cook County commissioner, outline their governing philosophy, including their views on privatizing city assets and services, using inspectors general and complying with the Illinois Freedom of Information Act (FOIA).

Candidates were also asked to tackle these topics: municipal finance; public safety; campaign finance reform and the use of public land and public input for major projects. The BGA questionnaire called for answering a total of five essay questions with each response being up to 500 words. To see the entire questionnaire, click here.  

This new BGA questionnaire follows the previous candidate questionnaire for the February 24th Chicago mayoral runoff election, where five people competed. That questionnaire included questions on education, tax increment financing districts and more. 

In the new BGA questionnaire, incumbent Emanuel often refers to his administration’s track record while outlining plans for going forward if reelected. Challenger Garcia often criticizes the mayor’s programs while making the case for his City Hall agenda.

Here are some of the candidates’ responses:

Governance

The BGA asked the candidates to describe what an open, transparent, accountable and ethical government will look like under your administration. They were asked to touch on the following: privatization, inspectors general (IG) and compliance with FOIA.

Emanuel noted that he will "build upon the reforms" of his first term by supporting an independent City Council budget office; supporting IG oversight of the City Council; and enhancing "transparency of city government and strengthen FOIA response."

He added that his administration is striving to "prevent the next parking meter deal" by working with unions and the BGA’s policy unit to draft an ordinance "that would establish an accountability and transparency framework to prevent taxpayers from getting shortchanged by future asset and service privatizations."  

In his response, Garcia said: "In my first 100 days in office, I will appoint a FOIA officer and make sure he or she complies with the letter and spirit of the law, which is to make City government open and accessible, and accountable to its residents."

Garcia went on to say that he would support efforts to "establish an Office of Financial Responsibility and to give the Office of the Inspector General authority to initiate investigations into City Council, subpoena witnesses, and compel production of documents."

Regarding privatization of city assets and services, Garcia says it should be the exception not the rule, saying: "The city's primary responsibility is to ensure that the public has equitable access to its services 

and assets, and my responsibility as Mayor will be to protect these for future generations. Therefore, I am generally opposed to the privatization of public assets and resources."

Finances

The BGA asked the candidates to address the City of Chicago’s financial crisis, including any major initiatives they are implementing or expanding. It asked the mayoral hopefuls to address issues of pension obligations, general bonding obligation and revenues.

Candidate Garcia said he would deal with the city’s financial burden in four ways:

  • Better and more efficient service.
  • Transparency and public accountability. 
  • Comprehensive revenue reforms that are equitable and fair and sized to meet the needs of well-functioning government. 
  • Collaboration with our government partners, public employees, city service providers, the City Council and our collective constituents. 

Regarding revenue, Garcia said he favored a "balanced" approach.

"I have long argued for more balanced revenue sources for Chicago and other local governments in Illinois such as a progressive income tax and taxes that are distributed more equitably among all sectors of the economy including services. However, those options will require action at the state level that is not likely to happen immediately. "

He added: "I will immediately organize a working committee to examine the full range of existing and potential revenue options that are available to the city and other units under their individual or collective authority…

Candidate Emanuel reflected on his administration’s efforts and offered his vision of what’s ahead:

"We have made real progress in righting the financial ship, cutting the structural deficit in half without raising property, sales, or gas taxes and implementing pension reform by partnering with labor.  We have paid millions into the City’s rainy day fund and we have eliminated hundreds of millions of dollars of taxpayer risk by terminating swap and swaption contracts of more than $1 billion and renegotiating an additional 11 totaling $1.25 billion…  

Our biggest remaining financial challenge is to provide retirement security for our workers without sacrificing our future as a city of opportunity…  

The pension reform package we put together in cooperation with 28 unions to strengthen the retirement security of 61,000 workers provides the roadmap for how I will approach safeguarding the pensions of our police officers, firefighters, and teachers.

We will pursue a balanced approach that requires everyone to give a little:  sensible benefits changes for our workers and finding new revenue sources."

Public Safety 

The BGA asked the candidates to address the perception and experience of violence at the community level and touch upon police staffing, deployment and gun violence.

Candidate Emanuel said: "While we are experiencing the fewest murders than any year since 1965, and the lowest crime rate in decades, the measure of our success is whether a parent feels comfortable letting their child be outside. By that measure, we have more work to do…

Under my watch, we have implemented important reforms at the Chicago Police Department to focus on community policing. We have revitalized the department’s leadership while holding it accountable through CompStat and we have reenergized the ranks with more than 1,100 new recruits for the first time in a decade. We have moved officers from behind desks to behind the wheel of a squad car – or the handlebars of a bike...

Despite this progress, Chicago faces a significant gun problem driven by the ease with which guns can be purchased in the suburbs, Indiana or Wisconsin both legally and illegally.  We must strengthen state gun control laws in order to make continued progress in reducing crime here in Chicago."

Candidate Garcia said: "My main focus as Mayor will be reducing gang and gun violence, and my approach will be multi-faceted…

I will begin by staffing the police force adequately, keeping the promise to hire 1,000 officers, which Rahm Emanuel broke; training them to implement true community policing, a proven strategy for deterring and addressing crime; ensuring that they do not compromise their ability to earn the public’s trust by assuming federal immigration enforcement duties; and that they are trained to assist crime victims by referring them to the appropriate community organizations for resources and support... 

I will work to get illegal guns off our streets by going after retailers that sell to straw buyers—by linking Federal data that tracks guns manufactured and sold by serial number with the State’s database of illegal guns seized on the street or used in a crime."

Campaign Finance

The BGA asked the candidates to describe what they would do to limit the influence of special interest money on elections, including self-imposed restrictions and use of public financing.

Candidate Emanuel said: "Throughout my career, I have supported campaign finance reform and the public financing of elections.  As Mayor, my first act in office was to sign six executive orders that set a new standard for government ethics, including imposing new standards to protect City employees against pressure to give gifts or make political contributions to their superiors, including department heads and the Mayor, and prohibit City lobbyists from making political contributions to the Mayor."

He added: "I was proud to work with Alderman Joe Moore to sponsor a ballot question for the February 24, 2015 election that asked voters whether they would support a system that creates incentives for candidates to seek small contributions by providing a public match... 

This measure was supported by roughly 80 percent of Chicago voters…

And I have long supported the public financing of elections – in particular, I believe that television broadcasters should offer free advertising to candidates for office, which would eliminate much of the pressure to raise funds."    

Candidate Garcia said: "I am a staunch supporter of small donor campaign financing, as are 78% of Chicago’s voters, according to last month’s ballot referendum… 

I will push for a small donor system to be in place before the next election to increase political participation and ensure that voters have diverse, and viable, choices at the ballot box… 

And, with regard to my own contributors, I will follow the example Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle has set by refusing to accept political contributions from City employees, and limiting contributions from entities that have done business with the City in the previous four years, entities seeking to do business with the City, and lobbyists registered with the City to $750 per year."

Public land and public input

The BGA asked: "What is your opinion on the use of public land for private development projects or on constructing new buildings on existing open public space? What is an appropriate level of public input for such a project?"

Candidate Garcia said: "Our parks are vital access points for recreation, play and the solace that comes from the natural -- rather than built -- environment. They belong to the people as a free, open and critical antidote to the concrete and brick that dominates so much of our cityscape for so many of our residents…

Construction of new buildings on open park space should be a last resort after a public debate and well documented consideration of possible alternatives."

Candidate Emanuel said: "Our park system is one of the city’s most precious resources, and they should be protected and enhanced. That’s why I’ve added 750 acres to Park District ownership in four years – nearly a 10 percent increase – and why we have a robust plan to revitalize parks in every neighborhood…

The city faces two opportunities to attract world-class cultural institutions that will provide thousands of jobs, create neighborhood economic development anchors, enhance the downtown and South Side museum campuses, and in one case, honor Chicago’s most famous son – President Barack Obama... 

I support these public buildings on parkland as long as they enhance green space, ensure public ownership, and come with extensive opportunity for public input. "

The BGA is a non-partisan and non-profit organization. It will not endorse any candidate in the municipal election.

Robert Reed, BGA Director of Programming, wrote this post.