Video of the full, 2-hour forum can be found here. The author of this piece is Deputy Political Director for the mayoral campaign of Amara Enyia. Care has been taken to maintain objectivity in reporting. The forum began with candidate opening statements, six main policy questions iterated by the event’s moderator, Evan Moore of the Chicago Sun-Times newspaper, inter-candidate questions, audience member questions posed to specific candidates, and ended with closing statements. In the interest of brevity, candidate opening and closing statements have not been included. The questions posed to and main points iterated by each of the five candidates have been summarized. Candidate responses are presented in speaking order.
At the well-attended mayoral candidate forum sponsored by progressive advocacy groups Action Now, Chicago Teachers Union, Grassroots Illinois Action, SEIU Healthcare Illinois Indiana, and United Working Families, candidates sparred, while protestors decried the lack of black men on stage, the presence of former Chicago Public Schools CEO Paul Vallas, and the issue of the large-scale displacement of African-American residents of the city. In attendance were a handful of local politicians and community leaders, including Congressman Bobby Rush, Cook County Assessor-elect Fritz Kaegi, retiring Alderman Ricardo Muñoz, and the heads of the host organizations.
Besides Vallas, at the debate were other controversial figures like Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle, taking some audience heat for the infamous soda tax, repealed in the face of large public outcry, and Illinois Comptroller Susana Mendoza, who announced her candidacy for mayor eight days after winning re-election to her state-wide seat, and whose mayoral announcement video leaked days prior to her 2018 re-election.
The aforementioned two took critical aim at one another when time came for candidates to answer one another’s questions. Preckwinkle called out Mendoza’s past support for the death penalty, drawing a large audience reaction when she quoted Mendoza as saying that she would “flip the switch” on those sentenced to the electric chair. In response, Mendoza rebutted with her own question about Preckwinkle’s ties to incumbent Cook County Assessor Joe Berrios. Berrios’ property tax assessments placed greater burdens on working class families, by overvaluing their properties and undervaluing the properties of more affluent residents.
Former Chair of the Chicago Police Accountability Task Force Lori Lightfoot was present at the debate, sporting a cast on her arm, along with celebrity-endorsed activist and policy consultant Dr. Amara Enyia. These two tended to emphasize their independence from the political machine, referencing their work with specific activist groups and non-profits like Good Kids Mad City and the Heartland Alliance in their discussions of police accountability and the spread of affordable housing options for city residents.
On the substance of policy, the five mayoral contenders tended to strike similar chords in their discussions of the equitable distribution of funding for various public goods and services across the city, the combating of crime in a holistic manner that extends beyond policing, the targeting of economic development in the historically neglected South and West sides of the city, and the need for both specific institutional reforms and paradigm shifts in combatting Chicago’s endemic problems over the next four years. Candidates also took note of the same-day mass shooting at Mercy Hospital, in which a gunman, seeking to target a former fiance, killed three innocents: emergency room Doctor Tamara O’Neal, who called off an engagement with the gunman in September, a young police officer named Samuel Jimenez, and pharmacy resident Dayna Less.
Candidate Policy Agenda Questions:
1.) The requirement to purchase costly city sticker vehicle registration tickets have stuck many poor African-American residents with hefty fines. How will you generate revenue as mayor without burdening poorer Chicago residents with excessive taxation?
· Thinks excessive taxes create financial burdens for lower-income families in the city, some of whom have declared bankruptcy
· Thinks that there should be tax breaks for working-class residents, while those who make more should be expected to contribute more.
· Supports a progressive income tax
· Wants more local and state funding support for Chicago’s public schools
· Thinks TIF reform is also necessary to address inequities in how city funds are allocated
· Fought to build 1500 affordable housing units as a South Side alderman
· Fought Mayor Rahm Emanuel against raising the price for the sticker and won
· Would impose an amnesty and payment plan program for those residents unable to pay upfront
· Supports bigger ideas such as a public bank
· Wants to diversify Chicago’s economic ecosystem through co-operative business enterprises to attract new residents and raise revenue
· Thinks the ability to pay burdens is an issue of economic justice for lower income residents.
· Supports City sticker tax waivers and amnesty policies
· Supports implementing a corporate tax
· Wants full state funding equity for the teacher’s pension system
· Wants a cap on local property taxes to alleviate displacement
2.) The next mayor of Chicago must address the high rate of black unemployment, in addition to disparities in economic development between Tax Increment Financing (TIF) districts downtown and in the South and West sides of the city. How will you do so?
· Supports decent wages for working people
· Will fight for employment training, resources for employers
· Wants to boost jobs in the manufacturing, hospitality, and service sectors that have high scalability
· Will pay particular attention towards young people out of school and out of work
· Wants to create jobs and invest in job training for workers
· Wants to re-invest in neglected neighborhoods
· Will put pressure on the philanthropic community to re-invest in black and brown neighborhoods
· Supports Blue 1647, a tech innovation center working on workforce development
· Wants to expand programs like advanced manufacturing, information technology, and coding
· Wants to help kids graduate with the tools they need to be competitive
· Supports re-investing TIF dollars to encourage more businesses to develop in black and brown communities
· Wants to take advantage of the federal Opportunity Zone tax credit program for Chicago
· Thinks there must be a comprehensive plan to promote economic development and curb black unemployment
· Worked with the Heartland Alliance to combat poverty
· Will fight to protect the funding of neighborhood schools, which act as community anchors
· Supports the equitable distribution of mental health clinics, and affordable healthcare
· Will promote small business opportunities
3.) Chicago is known as the murder capital of America, with a murder rate that surpasses that of New York City and Los Angeles combined. How will you address and reduce crime in the next four years?
· States that crime is personal to her: “I moved from my neighborhood at the age of seven after a shooting occurred on my block”
· Thinks the police must be trained to de-escalate, and we must hire more detectives to solve crimes
· Thinks crime reflects a lack of investment in human capital by city government, we must re-prioritize how we spend taxpayer dollars
· Thinks we must get to the root causes of violence, systemic failings of public policy
· Thinks that mental healthcare clinics must be reopened, with a greater number of licensed counselors in public schools
· Thinks that crime reflects problems of environmental justice, lead in our water can lead to brain development and neurological problems
· Thinks we must expand access to the economy
· Thinks that crime in the city requires a Marshall Plan, with reforms in contracting and hiring of police officers
· Thinks we must take advantage of the Opportunity Zone program to curb crime stemming from joblessness
· Thinks incumbent Mayor Rahm Emanuel gutted the police department, which must be rectified
· Wants to make sure that police have the resources and infrastructure to combat crimes that do occur
· Is the only candidate in the race that has a perspective on crime from every side of the issue
· Thinks we must treat the murders in the city as a public health crisis
· Thinks crime is a result of systemic racism and segregation in the city of Chicago
· Thinks we have to address economic injustices, the most inequitable regions in the city have the least economic viability
· Thinks we must implement anti-violence, anti-recidivism programs, and an office of violence prevention
4.) How will you fight to promote equitable funding for all Chicago Public Schools, which are still lacking key resources despite funding boosts at the state and local level?
· Thinks the issue must be tackled with an equity lens, and requires re-evaluating where capital is spent
· States she fought to get an International Baccalaureate school on the West Side, and against the closing of a Level 1+ predominantly black school in South Loop
· Thinks we must reject selective enrollment requirements which perpetuate racial exclusion and a lack of access to good schools for those in under-resourced neighborhoods
· Thinks we must stabilize school finances, and promote fiscal responsibility
· Thinks the CPS school budget must prioritize growth areas
· Thinks we must rebuild the quality of our neighborhood schools
· Thinks schools play a role in economic development
· Thinks we must bring community members into discussions, neighborhood concerns matter
· Supports an elected school board
· Thinks varying life expectancies around the city affect student performance
· Thinks we must invest and fully fund our Neighborhood Elementary and Secondary institutions
· Supports a freezing of all new charter schools, and a stop to any more school closings
· Fought Bruce Rauner on his attempts to cut the education budget
· Believes she got reform done, and prioritized payments for schools when there were budget shortfalls
5.) We have a crisis of homelessness, displacement, and lack of access to affordable housing in the city of Chicago. How will you fight to reverse these trends?
· Supports the development of tens of thousands of new housing units
· Thinks the city should take delinquent properties and turn them over to developers for refurbishing
· Thinks we must modify delinquency and foreclosure laws to be easier on property owners
· Thinks we should cap property taxes at 5 percent or at the rate of inflation, whichever is lowers
· Thinks we must need to want to build affordable housing
· Thinks we must get rid of Aldermanic prerogatives, which contribute to segregation and economic injustice
· Thinks that to address homelessness, we must implement a progressive increase in the real-estate transfer tax
· Thinks we must preserve our existing stock of affordable housing
· Supports rent-control, and have worked with the development, business, and philanthropic communities to promote access to affordable housing
· Thinks we must make sure that developers aren’t just downtown
· Supports a “land bank” for the city, purchasing vacant lots, taking foreclosed homes and renovating them
· Thinks we have a racist property tax system
· Thinks affordable housing and neighborhood revitalization plans must be demanded of developers
· Thinks affordable housing is for and about the city’s families
· Thinks we mustn’t crowd development of affordable housing units in certain areas, but rather spread them out across the city
· Thinks we must hold the Chicago Housing Authority accountable for failing to build more public housing units, while accruing a surplus
· Thinks we must hold the new assessor accountable as well, and stop penalizing lower-income communities
6.) How will you reduce violent interactions between law enforcement and community members, and bolster police officer accountability as mayor?
· States she’s the only one on stage who has investigated police involved shootings and other misconduct
· Led the report issued by the Police Accountability Task Force, which was the foundation for the larger Department of Justice report issued on the Chicago police department
· Supports the consent decree for the Chicago Police Department
· Supports the work of Cook County State’s Attorney Kim Foxx, who has worked to acknowledge the abuses of the CPD and exonerate those victims tortured under Jon Burge
· Will fight for openness and accountability with regards to the release of video footage for police involved shootings
· Thinks we must train officers to enter situations with the intention to de-escalate
· States we’ve paid $1.7 billion in police settlements as a result of our refusal to implement reform
· Thinks the Mayor must value community voices, and negotiate a more just contract with the Fraternal Order of Police
· Thinks we must support block-clubs, which empower communities to resolve crime without having to call the police
· Thinks we must work to preserve beat integrity, and hire more sergeants
· Thinks we must implement “training and redundant training”
· Thinks we must teach students to become the next generation of public servants, firefighters, police
officers, paramedics, etc.
1. Preckwinkle to Mendoza: How do we know you’ll be a genuine advocate for criminal justice reform when you’ve supported the death penalty, and said “I’ll flip the switch” regarding executions in the past?
Mendoza’s response: My perspective on the issue has changed and is informed by the community violence that impacted me as a child. I was also the deciding vote against the death penalty in the Illinois Legislative Assembly as a State Representative—it would not have passed without my vote (This statement has been rated mostly false by Politifact).
2. Mendoza to Preckwinkle: People have been displaced by burdensome taxes like the soda tax. How can we trust you to be an advocate on progressive taxation when you’re an ally of Joe Berrios?
Preckwinkle’s response: As County Executive, I don’t have control over what the County Assessor’s Office. When I learned about the disparities in property tax evaluations, I brought in the Civic Consulting Alliance, and worked with them and Berrios, who was chiefly responsible, on revising the tax assessment tool.
3. Enyia to Mendoza: The city has experienced failed leadership at all levels, a massive wealth gap between black and white Chicagoans, and a loss of 250,000 black residents. How can voters trust that you will be different from Rahm Emanuel?
Mendoza’s response: I’m not Rahm Emanuel, and have a different agenda than his.
4. Vallas: No question to ask of another candidate.
5. Lightfoot to Vallas: How do you feel about the economic situation of Roseland, the neighborhood where you grew up?
Vallas’s response: We need a comprehensive plan for development in the city’s most vulnerable neighborhoods. Areas like the “other Michigan avenue” have been development starved.
General Audience Questions
1. How will you fight to promote access to mental healthcare services, which have been cut back in recent years?
· Will re-open the clinics closed by Rahm Emanuel
· Supports gun control, particularly in light of the Mercy Hospital shooting
· Thinks a city policy must recognize that those most at risk of being shot are at risk of being shooters
· Chicagoans must have access to mental health clinics, but we must also work to de-stigmatize mental health challenges
· Thinks addressing a mental health issue should as unproblematic as having heartburn
· Thinks access to mental health services is foundational for public health
· Thinks we must increase the number of licensed social workers
· Thinks we must make sure that clinics are equipped to treat substance abuse and addiction
· Thinks stress from joblessness, homelessness, and finances are triggers for mental health breakdowns, and must be viewed from a mental health lens
· Thinks we must fight to expand access to mental health centers
· States many people in poorer communities are suffering from traumatic stress on par with veterans who’ve toured in Afghanistan
· Thinks we must also legalize weed, and use some of the revenue to invest in a community based social service infrastructure
· Thinks we must rebuild neighborhood-based mental health services
· Thinks trauma is a huge problem in many communities, and must be addressed comprehensively
2. How will you fight to promote access to affordable healthcare for all city residents?
· Thinks people have been deceived by Governor Rauner, who has closed many social services in communities of color
· Thinks we must invest in people, the moral thing to do is often the fiscally responsible thing to do
· States that as a West Sider, she’s expected to live twenty years fewer than those who live downtown
· Thinks healthcare access for all residents must also include developing our transportation infrastructure
· Supported the establishment of a trauma center on the South Side, as trauma care is essential
· Thinks community healthcare must start at birth, I support cradle programs that help to close achievement gaps across all kind of metrics
· States that we must also work to revitalize neighborhood hospitals, and to establish trauma services in close proximity to the areas of greatest need
· States that residents need to afford quality healthcare, disparities in access are why West Siders have a lower life expectancy than those in the Loop
· Thinks we must also fight for a living wage, which will safeguard residents from relying upon the emergency room as their primary care provider
· States that two out of 72 Hospitals in Cook County, Stroger and Provident, provide 45 percent of all charity care to county residents, we must further this commitment to public health
· Thinks we must fight to provide greater treatment for addiction and substance abuse
Specific Candidate Questions
Amara Enyia, what is your stance on the closure of National Teachers Academy, and the plan by CPS to convert it into a high school for communities near the South Loop?
· States he served as part of an equity committee and have been vocal about the closure of NTA as an equity issue
· States that it has the highest performance rating as a Level 1+ black school, and should not be closed
· Believes he stood up for this issue long before campaign season, and stand in solidarity with the ongoing lawsuits to prevent the closing
Paul Vallas, how do you defend your record of school closings in Pennsylvania, during your time as the interim Superintendent of Philadelphia Schools?
· States that he didn’t close a single school, and to assert that he did is false
· States that he also left Philadelphia with five out of six budgets balanced, and he will do the same with CPS
Lori Lightfoot, what is your plan for a more equitable transit policy?
· Supports the expansion of the red line train service
· Thinks we need to work to establish less traffic congestion, and make sure that the Chicago Department of Transportation is doing its job properly
Toni Preckwinkle, what is your plan to combat the failed legacy of the war on drugs, particularly in light of new proposals to legalize marijuana in the city?
· Thinks we have to be willing to address racial disparities in the criminal justice system
· Believes that jail lies at the intersection of racism and poverty
· Chicago is the origin of 70 percent of Illinois’s prisoners.
· Disparities in arrest rates must be addressed, as black citizens are more likely to be arrested for the same crime as whites
· Thinks we must be sure not to tax marijuana too much
· Thinks a war on drugs is a war on black and brown neighborhoods
Susana Mendoza, how can you be qualified to represent the families of CPS students when you support school voucher programs?
· Supported vouchers before, in part because when I was a State Representative, my district’s schools were overflowing with students
· Will call for a 2-year moratorium on school closings as mayor
Photo courtesy of Michael Beyer.
Richard Omoniyi-Shoyoola is a rising fourth year in the University of Chicago studying Political Science. He has served as an Intern in the Office of U.S. Senator Claire McCaskill, as a Complaint Counselor for the ACLU of Missouri, and as an Investigations Intern for the Law Office of The Cook County Public Defender. All of these experiences have taught him that everybody deserves an advocate, and that being cynical is overrated.