Ponce struggles under criticism over Garcia, gangs

The issue of Cook County Commissioner Jesus Chuy Garcia’s ties to street gangs surfaced on Tuesday during the third and final mayoral debate with Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel. But WTTW Channel 11’s Chicago Tonight host Phil Ponce  focused on the gang affiliations of Garcia’s son causing a major backlash.

By Ray Hanania

WTTW Chicago Tonight host Phil Ponce acknowledging that he "failed."

WTTW Chicago Tonight host Phil Ponce acknowledging that he “failed.”

The issue of Cook County Commissioner Jesus Chuy Garcia’s ties to street gangs surfaced on Tuesday during the third and final mayoral debate with Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel.

But the host of the Mayoral Forum on WTTW Channel 11’s Chicago Tonight program, Phil Ponce, focused on the gang relations of Garcia’s son which caused a huge negative backlash against Ponce, forcing him to acknowledge he “failed” as a journalist.

The Mayoral Forum between Emanuel and Garcia aired Tuesday night, March 31, 2015.

During his segment on Chicago Tonight the following night on Wednesday, April 1, Ponce was forced to address the controversy as the station was inundated with criticism of Ponce and the questions, much of it posted on the TV station’s online Comments section.

Ponce didn’t ask one question. He asked several questions as Garcia answered them, and repeated a question over the hissing booing that came from the audience.

Mayor Rahm Emanuel protested against Ponce and the excessive focus on the question after Garcia answered the first question, and has been praised for his principled stand even against a longtime and harsh critic like Garcia. Emanuel made the point that there’s a difference between questioning candidates and questioning their families.

The controversy forced Ponce to address the issue in the final minutes of the Wednesday evening Chicago Tonight segment.

Jesus Garcia press conference from his website

Jesus Garcia press conference from his website

Here is what Ponce told viewers the next evening, Wednesday night:

“Before we go, some viewer feedback. Response to last nights mayoral forum was overwhelmingly critical, particularly regarding my questions to Commissioner Jesus Chuy Garcia about his son’s gang affiliations,” Ponce began.

Ponce then read six of the viewer comments which included four that were critical, one that praised him for asking the question, and one praising Garcia for the way he responded to the question.

“I hear you. Our job, my job is to ask tough even awkward questions to candidates who want your vote. The story about the gang affiliation of Commissioner Garcia’s son has been in the news and Gang violence is a problem that anyone sitting in the mayor’s seat will have to address,” Ponce said.

“My questions last night were intended to put this issue on the table. And while Commissioner Garcia addressed the questions effectively, the way I asked them clearly missed the mark. It’s my job to get all the questions right and I failed here. As painful as it is, I appreciate your feedback and we all take it seriously.”

Ponce then concluded, “As always, we appreciate hearing from you. Send us your comments at WTTW.com/comments.”

The link goes to a contact page where website visitors can post moderated comments and thoughts.

But what Ponce did not address was the issue of how well Mayor Emanuel handled the issue during the debate.

Here’s Ponce’s gang exchange (about 37 minutes into the Mayoral Forum video):

Ponce: “Commissioner, I do have another question. Your son has been arrested numerous times and court records describe him as a gang member. In 2013, he was charged with a felony for attacking an off-duty police officer. Is he still in a gang?”

Garcia said he lived in a tought neighborhood and he and his wife tried to give him love and support “He turned his life around and I am proud of him.”

Ponce: Is he still a gang member?”

Garcia: “No.”

, former White House Chief of Staff

, former White House Chief of Staff (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Mayor Emanuel: “I don’t actually think this is a fair line of questioning. We’re both fathers.”

Ponce: “With respect. A lot of voters might wonder, Commissioner, if you can’t keep your own son out of a gang, how can you steer …”

Audience boos.

Ponce, louder over the boos and jeers: “Excuse me. If you can’t keep your own son out of a gang, how can you steer this city away from gangs and violence?”

Garcia repeated his response that he lived in a neighborhood plagued by gang violence and that he has dedicated himself against gangs.

Ponce then said: “Commissioner that is not the questions.”

Ponce repeats the question again, to growing jeers. “If you can’t keep your own son out of a gang, how can you steer this city away from gangs.”

Garcia: “My son has only been convicted of two misdemeanors.” He then praised his son, noting he worked with Ceasefire.

Then Ponce turned the question to “Pay-to-Play” and noted one of the county’s leading law firms, Mayer, Brown and Platt, represented Garcia’s son and Garcia supported a major bond issue award to the law firm right after. Ponce asked if that was not pay-to-play?

You can also read a recap of public reaction tot he forum in Tweets posted during the show broadcast by clicking here:  @wttw #ChicagoTonight

Here’s the complete WTTW Mayoral Forum from Tuesday night March 31, 2015. You can view it by clicking here, or by using the podcast widget below.

Ray Hanania

Ray Hanania

Blogger, Columnist at Illinois News Network Online
Ray Hanania is senior blogger for the Illinois News Network news site. He is an award winning former Chicago City Hall political reporter and columnist who covered the beat from 1976 through 1992 (From Mayor Daley to Mayor Daley). And, Hanania is a stubborn and loud critic of the biased mainstream American news media.

Hanania Chicago political beats and Chicago City Hall at the Daily Southtown Newspapers (1976-1985) and the Chicago Sun-Times (1985-1992). He published the The Villager Community Newspapers covering 12 Southwest suburban regions (1993-1997). Hanania also hosted live political news radio talkshows on WLS AM (1980 - 1991), and also on WBBM FM, WLUP FM, WSBC AM in Chicago, and WNZK AM in Detroit.

Hanania is the recipient of four (4) Chicago Headline Club “Peter Lisagor Awards” for Column writing. In November 2006, he was named “Best Ethnic American Columnist” by the New American Media;In 2009, he received the prestigious Sigma Delta Chi Award for Writing from the Society of Professional Journalists. Hanania has also received two (2) Chicago Stick-o-Type awards from the Chicago Newspaper Guild, and in 1990 was nominated by the Chicago Sun-Times for a Pulitzer Prize for his four-part series on the Palestinian Intifada.

Hanania’s writings have been published in newspapers around the world. He currently is syndicated through Creators Syndicate. He has written for the Jerusalem Post, YNetNews.com, Newsday in New York, the Orlando Sentinel, the Houston Chronicle, The Daily Star of Lebanon, the News of the World in London, the Daily Yomimuri in Tokyo, Chicago Magazine, the Arlington Heights Daily Herald, The Saudi Gazette, the Arab News in Jeddah, and Aramco Magazine.

Hanania's Chicagoland columns are published in the Southwest News-Herald, the Des Plaines Valley News, the Regional News and the Palos Reporter newspapers.

He is President/CEO of Urban Strategies Group media and public affairs consulting which has clients in Illinois, Florida, Michigan and Washington D.C.

His personal website is www.TheMediaOasis.com. Email him at: [email protected]
Ray Hanania

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