Ed Burke’s power, perks topic at mayoral debate
BY FRAN SPIELMAN AND ABDON M. PALLASCH Staff Reporters February 14, 2011 9:58PM
Mayoral candidates (L-R) Rahm Emanuel, Miguel Del Valle, Gery Chico and Carol Moseley Braun participated in a Mayoral candidate forum hosted by The City Club of Chicago at WTTW studios at 5400 N. St. Louis Monday night. Braun arrived just prior to the start of the forum. Carol Marin was the moderator. | Tom Cruze~Sun-Times
Updated: May 21, 2011 5:14AM
Mayoral candidate Rahm Emanuel said Monday he would re-organize the Chicago City Council — and strip Ald. Ed Burke of his police bodyguards and possibly his Finance Committee chairmanship — if he is elected mayor.
“There will be reform of the committees. There will be some committees closed, chairmanships will change,” Emanuel said. “There will be a shared sacrifice, including for Ed Burke and all the City Council. If Ed Burke has six police officers, that just can’t continue.”
During an hour-long debate at WTTW-Channel 11, Emanuel was not the only mayoral candidate who talked about reducing the starring role that Burke has played in the City Council.
City Clerk Miguel del Valle said the Council has developed “an unhealthy dependence upon Ald. Burke,” and it has to stop.
“It shouldn’t be one-person rule — you can’t have everything going through one alderman,” del Valle said. “It does not mean that Ald. Burke will not be Finance Committee chairman. It does mean that Ald. Burke will have to give up a lot of that power that he has exercised to make the City Council a more democratic place.”
All four candidates said the City Council — with as many as 25 new members — would have more power under the next mayor than it did under Mayor Daley’s autocratic rule. They all say the Council will have to cut some of its 19 standing committees as part of “shared sacrifice.”
Gery Chico, a close friend and former employee of Burke, did not say Burke’s power needed to be trimmed.
Asked to pinpoint Daley’s greatest mistake, Emanuel identified Daley’s failed crusade to host the 2016 Olympic games.
“Too much of the economic future was pinned on one endeavor, which is the Olympics, and once we didn’t get it we were left without an economic strategy,” Emanuel said.
Del Valle said Daley’s biggest mistake was his notorious midnight — “Was it 3 a.m.?” – destruction of Meigs Field. Chico said it was Daley’s heavy-handed treatment of the City Council. Braun cited Daley’s “benign neglect” of the neighborhoods.
Emanuel and Chico hinted without specifically saying that the city would have to cut pensions for existing employees.
Del Valle and Carol Moseley Braun said they would not consider that.
“It’s going to end up in court,” del Valle said. He said he thought it would be unconstitutional to diminish a current employee’s pension.
Emanuel warned that if workers did not entertain such proposals at collective bargaining sessions, they might face more extreme options such as private 401(k) plans being proposed for government workers in Wisconsin and Florida.
Moderator Carol Marin hit each candidate with their Achilles’ heels:
With Emanuel, it was his service on mortgage giant Freddie Mac -- he was paid $360,000 for attending six meetings a year -- and whether he should have seen the housing crisis coming during that time.
“The only person who thought I could have seen that was my mother,” noting he served on the board seven years before mortgage foreclosure crisis hit full-bore.
For Braun, it was her personal finances. Braun said her struggles to make her organic food company solvent should be less of an issue than her rivals’ overflowing bank accounts.
“I didn’t leverage my public office to make millions of dollars, I could have, but I didn’t,” she said.
Chico was asked about the demise of his law firm while he was chairman. He once again said the failure did not cost taxpayers any money, and he moved on to found a successful new firm.
Del Valle used the Hispanic Democratic Organization and other “illegal patronage armies” at the center of the city hiring scandal to attack both Emanuel and Chico.
“When Gery was chief of staff, HDO was born, then a few years later they worked in Rahm Emanuel’s congressional campaign.”
After the debate, Chico said Emanuel’s performance proved the front-runner to be “A pathological evader of the truth. The citizens are about to go to the polls in a few short days. We have no answers on Freddie Mac. No answers on the patronage army that was used to install him to Congress. It was happening right there. He saw it. He met with these people. But again, no forthcoming answers about what really happened.”
Emanuel, who made $18.5 million in 2 1/2 years as an investment banker, said he would forgo a pension as mayor.
The candidates were asked about their Valentines Day plans.
“I’m taking my wife to dinner. She doesn’t even know it yet,” Chico said.
“I’m going to join the Chicos,” Emanuel quipped.
Monday’s debate was co-sponsored by WTTW and the City Club of Chicago.
Less-well-known candidates Patricia Van Pelt Watkins and William “Dock” Walls both stood out on front of WTTW’s studios in protest at their exclusion from the debates. Though trailing in the polls, Watkins drew louder cheers and applause than any of the other candidates in one of the two debates she was allowed to participate in.