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Crime the major focus again at Chicago mayoral forum

Crime again dominant topic in mayoral forum
Crime again dominant topic in mayoral forum 00:39

CHICAGO (CBS) -- Crime took center stage again at another forum in the race for Chicago's mayor.

WCPT 820 AM radio hosted the debate Thursday at Morningstar Auditorium. WCPT hosts Joan Esposito moderated the debate, along with hosts Patti Vasquez and Santita Jackson.

Rather than having all nine candidates at once, WCPT split up the debate. Mayor Lori Lightfoot, U.S. Rep. Jesus "Chuy" Garcia, Paul Vallas, Willie Wilson, and Cook County Commissioner Brandon Johnson, and faced off first. Ald. Sophia King (4th), Kam Buckner, Ald. Roderick Sawyer (6th), and Ja'Mal Green debated afterward.

In her opening statement – which came first in the debate, Mayor Lightfoot emphasized looking forward in an optimistic and hopeful way.

"We've been through a lot these last four years. Frankly, we've been through hell and back, and I, like most of you, have the scars to show it," the mayor said. "But what I also know is rather than reading into your fears as some are doing, I want to lean into your hope."

But other candidates did not express such optimism for the city's direction.

Vallas said the city was in a "leadership crisis," Wilson emphasized that businesses are leaving and also raised the issue of crime, and Johnson said evoked a theme reminiscent Bill de Blasio's first mayoral run in New York a decade ago – a "tale of two cities" where struggling families have a vastly different experience than the well-to-do. Johnson said he was looking to "retire this tale of two cities and usher in a better city, a united city, a safer city."

Lightfoot and Garcia sparred in particular about crime. When asked about homicides being the highest since the 1990s and violent crime soaring as a whole, Mayor Lightfoot took credit for progress in reducing crime year by year, but she said, "We have to make sure that Chicago is the safest big city in the country, and I'm not going to rest until that happens."

Garcia was asked whether he had ever supported a movement calling for defunding the police. He said he had not – and his plan to modernize the Chicago Police Department with a focus on a federal consent decree, which mandates reforms in several areas including use of force, community policing, accountability, recruitment, and training.

Of Mayor Lightfoot, Garcia said, "She's hanging onto the leadership that's proved failed in Chicago."

Lightfoot fired back and called Garcia the "OG" defunder, claiming that he had once appeared "crowing about the fact that he sponsored a piece of legislation that would not put one more dollar into policing nationally."

"I want to make Chicago a place where everyone feels safe. I want to make Chicago a place where neighborhoods are thriving, and the city is becoming more equitable. I want to be mayor because I want to reestablish trust among community residents and leaders of this city."

The mayor also later said the consent decree was at 80 percent compliance, and told Garcia, "Maybe you missed that when you were in the back room cutting deals with Mike Madigan."

The mayoral candidates also appeared Thursday night at a People's Unity Platform Mayoral Forum at New Mount Pilgrim Missionary Baptist Church in West Garfield Park.

The election is set for Feb. 28.

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