The race to become Chicago’s next mayor is, in a word, crowded. In fact, it’s bursting at the seams.
Even before Rahm Emmanuel announced that he would not seek reelection in early September, the list of mayoral candidates had already swelled to double digits. Only a few, however, have the established recognition to poll well in these early stages.
The highest profile candidates include former Chicago police superintendent Garry McCarthy, former Chicago Police Board president Lori Lightfoot, former Chicago Public Schools CEO Paul Vallas, and Cook County Board president Toni Preckwinkle.
But for all the familiar names catching the media’s eye, the race is also brimming with fresh voices.
Take Amara Enyia. The thirty-five-year-old public policy consultant and head of the Austin Chamber of Commerce began her career in journalism before earning a Master’s degree in education, a law degree, and a doctorate in education policy. Now, she’s using her unique position as a young political outsider to push for an ambitious progressive platform.
“Our campaign has always been the campaign of ideas … tangible ideas that move the city forward,” Enyia said in an interview with the Gate. She proudly distinguishes herself from other candidates who spend more time focusing on what they’re against, rather than what they’re for, she said.
The crux of her platform is a public bank for Chicago, which she believes could avoid the hundreds of millions of dollars in fees charged by private alternatives. Additionally, a public bank could prioritize providing low-interest loans to entrepreneurs, especially on terms more amenable to small business owners in challenged neighborhoods. And all interest the bank collects would be recirculated back into the economy as new loans to Chicagoans.
Ultimately, Enyia imagines “a bank whose sole responsibility is to ensure the economic vitality and growth of the city, [with] allegiance to the taxpayers.”
In the broader economic picture, “a lot of my platform is about building wealth,” Enyia said. “Generational wealth, community wealth so that wealth can then be recirculated back into the economy. It means stronger communities, it means individuals and families can sustain themselves, it means people are much more invested in their communities.”
To help secure this wealth, Enyia supports cooperative economic models. In her vision for the city, Chicagoans could minimize the personal risk of entrepreneurship by owning businesses together. Housing cooperatives could lower rent, while community land trusts could prevent lower-income citizens from being displaced from developing neighborhoods.
For Enyia, aspirations are more than thought experiments—she models her ideas off of successful projects. For example, she pictures a Chicago public bank in the mold of the Bank of North Dakota. The only state-run bank in the nation, it has recorded stellar returns for over a decade. Likewise, the U.S. is already home to hundreds of community land trusts.
Another candidate running against Chicago’s political establishment is activist Ja’Mal Green. Before seeking Chicago’s highest office, he started his first youth organization at fifteen and served in Bernie Sanders’s 2016 presidential campaign. Now, he’s the CEO of two companies, a community activist, and a frequent panelist on several national news networks. Still only twenty-three years old, he’s one of the youngest candidates in the race.
“We have to change the mindset that, just because you’re young or politically inexperienced, means that you shouldn’t hold political office,” Green told the Gate in an interview.
To Green, political experience is no guarantee that a politician will make decisions that benefit his constituents. “It’s about who actually cares enough to show up, who cares enough to listen … [and who has] the knowledge to make the best decisions,” he said.
On the campaign trail, Green, like Enyia, is translating his anti-establishment perspective into bold progressive ideas.
One notable policy he’s proposing is insurance for police officers. From 2011 to 2016, Chicago spent hundreds of millions of dollars on police misconduct settlements. The rate of payments per year shows no signs of slowing.
In Green’s vision, “[private insurance] companies would … assess the liability on police officers and [could] deem them too risky or uninsurable.” If a police officer receives too many complaints, the presiding insurance company would refuse to cover his misconduct settlements, and he would be reassigned to desk duty. Ideally, this system would prevent the police department’s “bad apples,” as Green says, from patrolling the streets while decreasing the cost of police settlements.
Another staple of Green’s campaign is a program that would allow CPS graduates to choose college, trade school, or entrepreneurial boot camp at the expense of the city.
“We have people that want to be plumbers or electricians or on a construction site,” Mr. Green said. “These trade jobs, which pay [well], are going empty because we’re constantly telling everyone to just go to college. Some people want to do other things. We want to make sure we have a path for everyone.” So long as they perform a prerequisite number of community service hours to compensate the city for the path they choose, program participants won’t have to pay a thing.
But beyond policy, Green and Enyia also realize the ideological significance of their campaigns. Both ended their interviews with an address to young voters.
Green called upon his responsibility to the future. “We must take the power back from the establishment and give it back to the people so that we can have a better future for the next generation,” he said to the Gate. “We must stand up, lace up our bootstraps and get involved.”
Enyia mirrored this obligation, with an emphasis on fostering the world of the future. “We have a responsibility to voice possibilities, to dream and to dream boldly,” she said.
The election for Mayor of Chicago is scheduled to be held on February 26, 2019.
Chase Gardner is a second-year Environmental and Urban Studies major and Statistics minor. He has interned at ActionStreamer, a tech startup in Cincinnati, and CinemaSol, a documentary film production company. On campus, Chase runs for the Varsity Cross Country and Track teams. In free moments, he enjoys impromptu guitar/synth jam-sessions and watching existentially angsty movies.