The 2019 Chicago mayor’s race is heating up: Here’s what we’re watching

Video produced by the Chicago Sun-Times, in partnership with PolitiFact Illinois.
Mayoral hopefuls Toni Preckwinkle (left), Bill Daley and Gery Chico. (Preckwinkle and Chico: Rich Hein/Chicago Sun-Times; Daley: James Foster/Chicago Sun-Times)
Mayoral hopefuls Toni Preckwinkle (left), Bill Daley and Gery Chico. (Preckwinkle and Chico: Rich Hein/Chicago Sun-Times; Daley: James Foster/Chicago Sun-Times)

Unlike voters in most cities across Illinois, Chicagoans aren’t getting a break from political ads and campaign speeches in the wake of the Nov. 6 elections.

Seventeen would-be contenders have already tossed their names into the race to fill Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s seat in February. That crowded field will almost surely thin before the end of this month when candidates file signatures to appear on the ballot. But it’s likely the key issues that have defined the contest so far, including gun violence, pension debt and public education, will remain important throughout the race.

So we decided to take a look at the stances several big names in the race recently took on those topics amid all the sound and fury in the days leading up to Nov. 6 and review what we’d fact-checked before.

Facing violent crime

Chicago’s next mayor will be called upon to address the city’s endemic gun violence.

In 2016, Chicago experienced its most violent year in more than a decade, tallying more murders than New York City and Los Angeles combined.

Chicago’s bloodiest weekend this summer garnered national attention and elicited a Pants on Fire! claim from Rudy Giuliani, a lawyer for President Donald Trump. And back in April, we rated False a claim from former Chicago police chief and current mayoral contender Garry McCarthy on the financial cost of gun violence to the city.

In speeches and appearances over the past few weeks, several possible mayoral candidates spoke about how they would address the crisis.

At a City Club of Chicago appearance, lawyer and lobbyist Gery Chico said "there is no more top priority" than public safety. Chico, who has chaired both the Chicago and state boards of education, called for a return to community policing and stressed the need to ensure officers are properly trained and resourced.

Former U.S. Commerce Secretary Bill Daley, the brother and son of long-serving Chicago mayors, laid out a tough-on-crime stance if elected in a recent interview on WLS-AM.

"There are no excuses for someone shooting someone … Those people have to be aggressively prosecuted and they have to be punished for their actions," Daley said, suggesting there should be some sort of "outrage bill" from lawmakers in Springfield in response to the violence.

Also in the mayoral mix is Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle, who outlined a different approach in an interview with WBEZ, Chicago’s NPR station.

"Better policing can’t be the sole solution to the challenge these communities face," said Preckwinkle, just re-elected to her county post. Like another potential candidate, former Chicago Police Board President Lori Lightfoot, Preckwinkle argued gun violence should be addressed as a "public health crisis."

Balancing city finances

Whoever succeeds Emanuel will face a $1 billion spike in pension payments over the next five years, requiring a doubling of taxpayer contributions to four employee retirement funds.

"This is, next to crime, the single biggest issue that the city’s got to deal with," Daley said in his WLS interview. "And it’s not going to be solved simply."

Daley made it clear, however, that he isn’t suggesting raising property taxes to manage the increase. "If you do that, they will leave," he said, referring to city residents.

In May, we fact-checked a claim along the same lines from Lightfoot, the former police board president, about Chicago’s population drain and rated it Mostly False. Lightfoot argued that high taxes were driving families out of the city, but Chicago demographer Rob Paral told us that the correlation between taxes and population change is not particularly strong.

Chico, too, identified the city’s pension problems as a key focus of the next mayor, but also said he wouldn’t raise existing taxes as a knee-jerk response.

"I’m not going to impulsively hit the gas pedal on property taxes," Chico told his City Club audience, suggesting the city first seek out new revenue streams such as one that could come if Illinois legalizes the sale of marijuana for recreational use as have 10 other states.

Addressing pension payments is a high priority for most other mayoral hopefuls as well, though few will commit to tax hikes as a remedy.

In May, we highlighted how the pension problems facing Chicago Public Schools could be a sensitive topic for another mayoral contender, Paul Vallas, who was CEO of the city schools when the seeds of the crisis were planted as the district began skipping annual payments to its pension fund. Chico’s tenure on the Chicago school board also coincided with that era.

Strengthening public education

Beyond pensions, school performance has been another hotly debated topic among mayor hopefuls.

We’ve already fact-checked several claims from potential candidates, including one from Troy LaRaviere, head of the Chicago Principals and Administrators Association. He said that CPS is the most understaffed district in the state, which we rated True. We also rated Mostly False a claim from Cook County Circuit Court Clerk Dorothy Brown about Chicago’s pre-K program being in decline.

Though Mayor Rahm Emanuel is no longer seeking a third term, we also fact-checked a Mostly False claim he made that CPS had been ranked the best major urban school system in the nation by three universities.

It’s likely both the district’s successes and shortcomings will continue to play a central role among the remaining candidates as well.

Hear something that needs a fact-check? Email us at [email protected]

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