Snappy, scrappy and visibly tense are how Rahm Emanuel and his challenger, Jesus "Chuy" Garcia, came across Monday night in the first of three live televised Chicago mayoral runoff debates.
Despite the incumbent mayor and the Cook County commissioner wasting no time slinging mud in the rapid-fire, hourlong forum that touched on everything from the city's ruinous finances to public safety and schools, no clear winner emerged.
Emanuel slammed his rival for being vague on how he would generate new revenue to ease the city's massively underfunded pensions or pay for more police boots on the ground. Garcia, meanwhile, hit back at the mayor for being an "out of touch" elite who failed to keep his promise of turning around city finances.
One of the critical issues the next mayor will face is debt: The city has a looming $550 million pension obligation for police and firefighters by year's end, as well as a dismal credit rating. (Moody's Investors Service downgraded Chicago to just two levels above junk bond status last month.)
Emanuel said he would look to city employees for help, asking for a pension reform in Springfield and opening a Chicago casino, the revenues of which he said would be dedicated to pensions.
When Garcia said he would form a commission to examine city finances, Emanuel criticized his rival: “Chuy, you laid out a commission, not a plan.” Garcia, however, noted the pension reform Emanuel mentioned is currently before the Illinois Supreme Court and said he believes they will be found unconstitutional.
"I'm not opposed to dealing with revenue questions of where we're at, but I'm opposed to moving forward with the current state of assumptions that's been provided by [Emanuel's] administration," Garcia said. "I believe there has been a lot of abuse with regards to subsidizing the rich and wealthy and disinvesting in the neighborhoods."
Another area where Garcia attempted to seize on the mayor's broken promises was crime. Emanuel claimed that crime was down -- a fact moderator and veteran political reporter Carol Marin corrected, noting that shootings are up -- and touted an increase in community policing.
"Everybody from [Chicago Police Superintendent] Garry McCarthy to the beat officer, everybody practices community policing," Emanuel said of his strategy, which has been criticized as mischaracterizing the true number of new police on the streets.
"You're the only one who believes that in Chicago," Garcia shot back. "That's the problem."
Garcia said the city's staggering shooting rate is proof the mayor's plans have not worked, adding, "[I've] been to more funerals for young people shot as a result of gun violence than the mayor will ever attend."
On education, both candidates agreed there should be no more school closures. Emanuel touted his success in bringing full-day kindergarten to Chicago schools, while Garcia noted, "You extend the day, but half of the libraries in schools don't have librarians. You extended the day with no resources"
After being forced into an unprecedented runoff in the Feb. 24 election, Emanuel has been using his well-stocked war chest of about $18 million to saturate the airwaves with campaign ads and mount a serious defense.
Garcia, meanwhile, has raised about $1.7 million for his campaign, mostly from labor unions and grassroots efforts.
Yet despite Garcia's backing from the influential Chicago Teachers Union, as well as black and Latino voters angry with the mayor for shutting down 50 public schools in 2013, a recent poll showed Emanuel claiming 55 percent of the vote to Garcia's 45, Reuters reports.
The candidates will meet for two more televised debates on March 26 and March 31 before the April 7 runoff election.