Mayoral candidates face off on education, taxes and crime in WGN debate

Chicago mayoral candidates Lori Lightfoot and Toni Preckwinkle faced off in a debate hosted by WGN Monday. Watch the debate and post-debate analysis in the player above. 

Just over a week before voters head to the polls, the candidates for Mayor of Chicago faced off in a primetime debate on WGN Monday, tangling over education, economics, crime and corruption.

Here are some highlights from the debate between Toni Preckwinkle and Lori Lightfoot:

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Opening Statements

Lori Lightfoot and Toni Preckwinkle offer their opening arguments of why they should be elected Mayor of Chicago.

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On Endorsements and contributions

The debate began with Toni Preckwinkle on the defensive answering why Susana Mendoza became the seventh former mayoral candidates have endorsed Lightfoot this weekend.

“The endorsements that really count are the endorsements of the voters on election day,” Preckwinkle said.

Afterwards, Lightfoot was pressed on some of her campaign connections and contributions, including a “dark money” donation in which the public can’t see who made the donation. Asked whether such donations undermine her message of transparency, Lightfoot called the issue a "red herring," saying the groups that donated to her are legal entities.

“There’s nothing mystical about them,” Lightfoot said.

On incendiary remarks from Bobby Rush

Preckwinkle was asked about incendiary remarks from one of her supporters, Congressman Bobby Rush, who said: “Everybody who votes for Lori [Lightfoot], the blood of the next young black man or black woman who is killed by the police is on your hands"

“Congressman Rush speaks for himself. He’s been a civil rights activist his entire life. The concerns that he raised about police misconduct and the treatment of black and brown people in our criminal justice system are valid concerns,” Preckwinkle said.

“There are 91,000 people who supported me in February, I expect a similar this time around. It’s surprising to me that she would say they’re somehow murders,” Lightfoot said.

On addressing crime and reforming police

Lightfoot and Preckwinkle also offered their ideas to help curb violent crime and reform the police department.

Preckwinkle said when she was serving as a school teacher, she lost a student to gun violence. Her policies, she said, would improve cooperation between police and the community.

“We need to acknowledge that there’s a code of silence in the police department and unless we acknowledge it, we can’t possibly address it,” Preckwinkle said.

She said she would invest in community policing, training, and accountability for officers, as well as community groups that do violence prevention, anti-recidivism and restorative justice work.

“We’ve invested a lot in technology we’ve invested a lot in cameras and shot spotters and the real way to address those challenges is through better police community relations,” Preckwinkle said.

Lightfoot pointed to the findings of the Police Accountability Task Force, of which she was a part, and said she has offered detailed plans that make sure police are well-trained and well-resourced.

“We have the roadmap and the tools that we need it starts with the police accountability task force we laid out a series of recommendations and findings sadly most of which have not been picked up,” Lightfoot said.

Among the conclusions of the report was that some officers within CPD are racist, and treat people differently depending on their race.

Pressed on whether she thought the police department was racist, Lightfoot said,  “I think people have a perception that quality of policing they get is determined by their race and we can’t ignore that perception of people in the community."

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Taxes and Chicago's pension obligations

Laurence Msall of the Civic Federation asked:

Despite  spite of Mayor Emanuel and the City Council’s efforts to raise property taxes, 9-1-1 fees and water fees just to stabilize the city pensions, state law will require that the city increase its pension contributions by over a billion during your first term. Where you as mayor of Chicago turn either in cuts to existing city programs or where for sources of new revenue in order to meet that state mandated billion dollar contribution.

Lightfoot said that there would be a "conversation about progressive income sources," but did not get into specifics, saying beyond taxes she would also look for ways to save money, including consolidating different government departments.

"As I’ve said, I think we’ve got to go through a process of demonstrating to taxpayers because those are the ones who are going to be on the line that we’re taking their fiscal concerns seriously,” Lightfoot said.

Preckwinkle said there should be a progressive income tax on the state level, and stressed that taxes should be "equitable." She said there would be "shared sacrifice," but like Lightfoot did not get into specifics.

“Well let me just say If you want good government, you have to pay for it. But the first case you have to make is that you’re effective and efficient," Preckwinkle said.

Preckwinkle did point towards her own experience as President of the Cook County Board, saying they found a way to address major funding gaps.

"When we faced a $487 million gap in our budget the first thing I did was go to the 11 separately elected officials and tell them they had to cut their budgets 15 percent,” Preckwinkle said.

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On why they want to be mayor

Kathy Byrne, daughter of Chicago’s first and only female mayor Jane Byrne, asks:

Chicago has dire financial problems, a horrific crime rate and a lot of, unfortunately, very angry people. You both have successful, l happy lives, loving families, fulfilling work, why risk that, why do you want to be mayor?

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After the debate, and what lies ahead

 

Sparks flew in the "spin room" after the debate as each candidate took questions from the media, eventually leading to allegations of desperation.

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