January 16 Chicago Mayor Campaign Forum Has Two �Missing in Action� (Chuy and Rahm)... Those Present Spoke Eloquently

Arriving 30 minutes late to campaign forum at UIC�s Student Service Building on Friday, January 16, 2015, there were two things immediately noticeable when I walked into the room: only three candidates were present, while two were missing, and the room was full, as over 100 people were seeking to get a handle on the campaign. The gathering had been sponsored by the Chicago Center for Working Class Studies and Undergraduate Student Government at UIC.

Bob Fioretti (left) and Dock Walls were two of the three mayoral candidates who showed up for the candidates' forum at UIC on Friday, January 16, 2015. Mayor Rahm Emanuel ignored the event, and Cook County Commissioner Jesus "Chuy" Garcia called in that he would not be there at the last minute. Substance photo by Kim Scipes.Missing were Mayor Rahm Emanuel, who had been invited but never confirmed, but even more surprising to see absent was Jesus �Chuy� Garcia, one of Emanuel�s major challengers. Garcia�s absence was even more glaring than Emanuel�s, as he is a challenger and he had confirmed his willingness to attend to event organizers. Organizers said that Garcia only informed them he was not coming until the last minutes.

The absence of Emanual and Garcia left three candidates who were present: Alderman Robert �Bob� Fioretti; William �Dock� Walls, a community activist; and Willie Wilson, a medical supply company executive. A panel of four � University of Illinois Professors Bob Bruno and Steven Ashby, The Reverend Calvin Morris, and Paul Aldron of the Better Government Association � questioned them.

As stated, this reporter came into the meeting a half-hour late due to being at another meeting, so he missed the opening statements. Still, he was there for the rest of the scheduled two-hour event.

The questions from the panel covered a wide range of areas; needless to say, the financial situation of the city was a major topic. Each panelist got one question to ask, and then Bob Bruno, who moderated, rotated the order of responses among the three candidates, with each candidate answering each question. The questions were thoughtful, as were the answers. After all of the panelists had asked their respective question, questions were taken from the audience, members of which stood up at the microphone on the floor.

Since there were many questions and answers, it seems best for me to report answers by each candidate, and these candidates are presented by alphabetical order of their last name. Accordingly, I�m going to go through my notes and present responses largely in the order they were offered.


FIORETTI: Stated that getting the City�s financial house in order was not going to be easy. He pointed out that the City had a $500 million pension obligation to its workers. He was unequivocal: the City needed to fully fund pensions, and to quit demonizing City workers. He said the pension problem was caused by elected officials taking pension �holidays� where they did not contribute to obligated pension funds, and he said the City cannot take pension holidays. One of his suggested solutions was to transfer money in the TIFs (Tax Increment Funds) to restore the pension obligations. Fioretti wants to go to Springfield and seek a commuter tax. He claims there are 660,000 people who work in Chicago but live outside the city, who earn approximately $30 billion dollars a year. He suggested a 1% tax on their Chicago-earned incomes would raise $357 million a year.

He says another option is to allow the establishment of a casino in Chicago. He says studies suggest a casino could bring in $600 million a year in taxes. While he has supported this over the last few years, he�s aware of the �troublesomeness� of gambling, including addiction. Later on, he said if a casino were to be established in Chicago, it must be held to �the highest of ethics.� He obviously has some hesitations about establishing a casino, as he stated it would be it would be last of the responses to the economic problems of the City. He said it was a �complex subject,� but that it had to be �highly regulated.�

He says there must be TIF reform, saying �a complete overhaul� must be made. However, Fioretti says there will be no income tax established on the citizens of Chicago.

When asked �What kind of leader is needed for the City of Chicago?,� he answered �one that must be �tough and fair.� He says there are �two Chicagos,� one that gets resources and one that doesn�t. He says there needs to be same level of resources evenly distributed across the City. In an interesting comment, he claims he was the first white alderman to be elected in a traditionally Black ward�the 2nd�since 1915. He says that 76% of the ward�s population is African American.

When questioned about the Freedom of Information Act in the City, he said he wanted to open the process up: �People need to know how things get done.� He wants to reform the whole structure of the City Council, although he didn�t say how. However, he argues that lobbyists and �big money� continue to run the City.

He wants to make city government more accessible: �The elevator on the Fifth Floor [of City Hall], �is for all of us.� He mentioned that efforts in his ward to establish parks was proceeded by �multiple meetings� across the ward. He pointed out �top down doesn�t always work,� so government should �embrace the people.�

Fioretti spoke about education. For years, he said, he has supported an elected school board. He wants to have a moratorium on charter schools, at least until they get their fiscal houses in order. He wants to put $17 million into Head Start. He opposes privatization of schools, arguing that it �collateralizes� our children. He reported that he had testified at five different school closing hearings, claiming that the process was a �charade��the decisions were all-but-decided beforehand�and again, he called for an elected school board, yet one that was representative of the city. Interestingly, he noted that Democrats had controlled the governorship, the State House and the State Senate over the past 12 years, and that nothing was done to address the problems of education during this time.

When asked from the floor about what he would do to promote union growth, as a means of improving the financial situation of workers in the City, he says he wants to promote union growth. He wants to raise wages �across the board.�

Another question from the floor asked about providing sick days to workers in Chicago. The questioner pointed out that workers had to work currently when they were sick or they didn�t get paid, and he stated that 460,000 workers in Chicago have no sick days. Fioretti stated he would work on an ordinance requiring the establishment of sick days for all businesses as �a priority.�

Another question was about income inequality and education. Fioretti gave an example of how income inequality limited resources for students. He reported attending a school fundraiser in the east side of his ward: there were about 350 students enrolled in the school, and parents raised $117,000. He contrasted that to a fundraiser at a school on the west side of his ward, which had about 200 more students: they raised $4,000. He said, �This wasn�t right.� He said he wanted to establish early enrolment for all students, but he also recognized that college wasn�t the path for all students: he wants to find ways to help students, and wants to re-establish trade and vocational schools. In response to the part of the question that suggested corporations were taking over education, he said he wanted corporate involvement, not corporate take-over.

In regard to a question about how he sees small businesses, Fioretti stated that he wanted to provide them tax relief, and he reported he�s attended over 11 meetings with small business owners: small business is �the backbone of the City.�

And finally, when asked about expanding disability services, Fioretti said he wanted to open up services and contacts to businesses headed by disabled Chicagoans.

WALLS: Stated most clearly, �I abhor privatization.� He pointed out that when the workforce was controlled by the city, it was �responsive and responsible to the City,� something that no longer held when work was contracted out to private businesses. He specifically said that if or when a major privatization proposal came to him as Mayor, he would take time to carefully evaluate it, and then it would go to City Council for consideration. He also contrasted city workers, who were protected by the Schachtman decree, which meant that no political work could be required in exchange for employment, but employees doing City work under private businesses were not similarly protected by the law.

Walls said that he would not cut social services in the City. Further, there were would be no more fines, fees or assessments established under his administration. However, there are $900 million in debt service that needed to be paid in 2015. He said this was not the way to do, that he wanted to move the City from debt-as-you-spend to a pay-as-you-go system. He wanted to spend some of the $1.7 billion he claims are in the TIF accounts, and use that to pay down debt. One of the ways he suggested reducing City costs in contracting was to open the process to more people in the bidding process, arguing that more competition would hold costs down. He foresaw this saving $600 million each year, and that saving this money would put $8.9 billion into City reserves within six years. [No one questioned these numbers, which do not make sense to this reporter.]

Walls wants to create a �prosperity budget� for the City. He said this could be done by renouncing �the old way,� and replacing it with �the new way.� He argued that the City would immediately spend $7.9 million on capital improvements, and he wanted to promote cultural events across the City.

He condemned Mayor Emanuel, who he said �puts big business first� in the City. Walls wants to teach students not only academics but skills, as well as arts and music.

Walls wants to hold the Police Department responsible to the needs of the people of the City. He thinks the police should be representative of the City. In response to the FOIA question from the panel, he said one of the things he�d do first is demand that City departments respond to Freedom of Information Act requests �as soon as possible.� He offered that he thought the Mayor�s cabinet meetings be recorded and broadcast. He said he wanted �absolute transparency� in City government. As he said, �I�d love for the people to know� what�s going on inside City government.�

Regarding education, Walls said he thought 60% of all property tax funds should go to schools. He thinks the State of Illinois needs to �re-think� how it funds education. He strongly supports an elected school board, arguing that there should be eight, single-member districts from which board members are elected. He also said that there needed to be a Superintendent of Schools, not a Chief Executive Officer, and he stated that any such Superintendent should be focused on educating each child, and not on other things. Further, he states he wants a moratorium on charter schools. He says he wants to make sure �our children are taught the things they need.� He proposed testing children in pre-K, so that this information could be used over the years to make sure each students gets what she or he needs so they can graduate from high school.

In response from the audience-asked question of what he would do to promote union growth, Walls said he �favors unions,� and points out he was a member of the United Auto Workers (UAW) when he was younger. But he advocated a �sensible approach,� in discussions between unions and local businesses, arguing �we need to be concerned about business.� Walls doesn�t not favor establishing a casino in Chicago. He says they tend to attract people, not partaking in gambling as a recreational activity, but with the hopes of changing their lives. He also spoke of �addictions� that are gambling related.

Regarding sick days for Chicago workers, Walls took an approach different than the others. He said he wanted to change work days to 10 hours but only four days a week, which would allow workers more time with their families and he suggested this might help reduce days lost to sickness.

He said �a lot� of students graduate from high school in three years, and wanted to make that possible.

Regarding small businesses: Walls proposes establishing a $1 million fund, �with scrutiny,� to support small businesses across the City. He said small businesses need access to capital loans, and to engage in the political process.

Regarding disabled services, he said the Chicago Housing Authority had a �Section 3� in their contracts, and that he would develop something similar so as to establish �preferential treatment� for disabled small business owners to benefit from providing City services.

WILSON: He criticized the parking meter �deal� for the citizens of the City. He said he doesn�t believe in taxing people, and he doesn�t want to tax businesses, as ultimately those taxes are paid by consumers. Wilson wants to open up a casino in the City, but he wants the casino to be owned by the citizens of Chicago, not private interests.

When asked what kind of leader is needed by City of Chicago, Wilson started by discussing the school closures: he said he would not have closed down 50 schools. He said he would appoint an independent citizens committee to oversee the police force, and this committee would report directly to the Mayor.

When asked about the Freedom of Information Act requests, Wilson said he would launch a �quarterly investigation of all books in Chicago�; he believed in an �open book� policy.

He also stated that his petitions had been challenged when submitted for his mayoral candidacy, and that he had to spend $100,000 of his own money to defend his petition signatures and to get on the ballot.

When asked later about his education policies, Wilson stated that Chicago �should have an elected school board.� He argued that with an elected school board that the City would have never closed 50 schools. He said he would ask communities what percentages of these closed schools needed reopening.

Regarding Chicago�s economy, Wilson said that we needed to �come together�; that Chicago is embedded in a global economy. His approach? �Let�s do this thing together.� He again stated his desire to establish a casino, and that he thought casino monies and related jobs would help Chicago.

Regarding sick days: he thought workers should have sick days, but he wanted to limit the number of sick days available to each worker; after all, �we all know of people who show up at the ball park after claiming to be �sick�.�

Regarding economic development: Wilson argued that every company must present �equal opportunity� in hiring, and be able to have equal opportunity in obtaining City contracts. He favors economic empowerment. He said he favors equal opportunity for all citizens. He says he wants to �brand� Chicago for treating all of its citizens well.


Some comments from this reporter. While I commend the Center for Working Life and Undergraduate Student Government at UIC for sponsoring this forum, I don�t think it was well publicized, which was a shame: for those interested in the election, it was a useful forum. The approach allowed for thoughtful questions from a knowledgeable panel, and time for candidates to adequately respond. Unfortunately, there were not even any signs publicly announcing the event on Harrison Street near the Student Services Building, so that casual passer-bys could have found out about the forum and joined if desired.

Also, I could find no web site announcing the event, with any background information. To have major candidates speaking on the same platform within about five weeks of the election, and to not have a web site available, seems inexcusable. This is especially important in that I searched the Tribune�s and Sun-Times� web sites to no avail, nor was there any announcement on the UIC web site. My guess is that nobody thought to contact the media, either mainstream or alternative with the single exception of CAN-TV, to announce the forthcoming event. Again, this is inexcusable. I did not see any other reporters at the event; if they were there, they were not obvious. I could find no reporting of the event on the dailies� web sites afterward. There is nothing even on the UIC News web site. This seems like a lot of work to inform perhaps 100+ people: why such a limited effort? CAN-TV did show the forum live, but when this reporter checked, the forum was not available on-line for those who had heard about it but had been unable to attend.

However, there is another issue I want to raise: diversity. There were no Latinos on the panel, nor were there any women of any color: I think these perspectives would have broadened the discussion. The Latino community is large and getting larger in the City: to ignore it in inexcusable. Public political discussion in this City is all-but-totally dominated by males, and this simply is not acceptable in 2015.

Incidentally, I want to commend the candidates who did attend the event: thank you! I hope people who are interested in your positions will check out your individual web sites: ; ; .

And finally, I want to rebuke Jesus �Chuy� Garcia and Mayor Rahm Emanuel for not participating. If Garcia cannot honor his commitments, how can voters trust that he�ll honor his word once elected? And Mayor Emanuel, who�s again trying to buy his office�$11 million or whatever (much from outside of the City) allows one to buy a lot of media time and tell a lot of �stories��has got to address the public in forums that are not limited to participation or his control.


Kim Scipes is Chair of the Chicago Chapter of the National Writers Union.