Mayoral Candidate Interview: Garry McCarthy

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It’s a safe assumption that the name “Garry McCarthy” currently doesn’t resonate well with Chicago’s Black communities.

For about a half-decade, the Chicago Police Department has faced a new movement demanding for police accountability and criticizing its daily practices. Even last year’s scathing report from the U.S. Department of Justice cited CPD’s “racist and abusive behaviors” due to “systemic and cultural failings.” McCarthy, the previous CPD Superintendent, became a central figure targeted by protests, especially during the height of the Laquan McDonald video release. When cries for transformative change reached the 5th floor of City Hall, Mayor Rahm Emanuel fired McCarthy in December 2015 and selected Supt. Eddie Johnson as his replacement.

Now, McCarthy eyes the very mayoral seat responsible for his termination. After being the self-described “scapegoat” for Chicago’s corrupt politics, adding the title of Mayor of Chicago would not only be an interesting turn of events for the city but a personal karmic justice for McCarthy against the machine politics he believes he fell victim to.

“Chicago chose me,” says McCarthy. “I’m not being facetious. I’ve never chosen my path. I got recruited to become superintendent and we all know how that ended.”

A big concern of McCarthy’s in the mayoral race is history –– which is also the subject in which he earned his bachelor’s degree from SUNY. McCarthy wants to inform voters on who he is, what he was responsible for as superintendent, and how his life experiences have prepared him to handle city hall’s most coveted seat.

For starters, he is 59 years old and happily married to 39-year-old current President of the Illinois Bar Association Kristen McCarthy. The couple parent a 2-year-old child in their River North home.  McCarthy is a New Yorker –– born and raised –– and it’s easily identifiable when he speaks. Additionally, as a teen, McCarthy learned how to fluently speak Spanish after frequently visiting the home of one of his Puerto Rican best friends.

“It comes in handy being a White guy,” he jokes.

But the former CPD superintendent details his resume as the prime reason he should be Mayor of Chicago, having sat next to some of the nation’s Democratic and Republican mayoral elite as a police leader.

“Because I’ve run some of the largest police departments in the country, I’ve been at the top of city government in three major cities for 17 years,” he states. “I sat at the right-hand of Bloomberg, Giuliani, [both in New York] Booker, [in Newark, NJ] and Emanuel. I learned from all of them. –– what to do and what not to do.”

He holds the highest contempt for Rahm Emanuel calling him “…the most treacherous individual I have ever met in my life [who]…makes every decision on what is best for him.”  Of course, there is bad blood between the two due to history, but McCarthy legitimately concludes that Mayor Emanuel has ineffectively chaired the city. However, the inciting event that pushed McCarthy to action was the murder of CPD Commander Paul Bauer.

“The straw that broke the camel’s back was Paul Bauer getting murdered by a four-time convicted felon, in the shadow of city hall, in the middle of the afternoon,” McCarthy somberly recalls. “That was it.” McCarthy personally knew Commander Paul Bauer; he promoted him. He promises to raise his own child in a city where the child would not witness another cop killed in that fashion.

But what does Garry McCarthy want to do for Black Chicagoans, especially those negatively impacted by police like Laquan McDonald, Rekia Boyd, or Ronald Johnson?

Well, it’s complicated but he does know his criticisms.

McCarthy points his finger at the Chicago Police Board as preventing accountability during the time in which his name was associated with police brutality. Interestingly enough, he is competing against former Chicago Police Board President Lori Lightfoot in this mayoral race.

“They [the Police Board] overturned 75 percent  of my recommendations to fire police officers,” says McCarthy. “I’m a very principled person. I worked for Internal Affairs in New York and arrested police officers. I’ll do it again.”

McCarthy rebuffs a Chicago Magazine exposé that accused his department of juking the numbers by categorizing homicides as “non-criminal” deaths. He calls it “bullshit.” “You want a great journalism project? Take that article and dissect it,” says McCarthy. “Look at where those cases are today. You will see that it was complete bullshit.”

If elected mayor, McCarthy promises to address the constant divestment in the South and West sides of the city.

“We’re the third largest city in the country; we’re about to become the fifth because people are leaving –– actually middle-class African-Americans are leaving because of gun violence and high taxes.”

McCarthy thinks that the decreasing population fuels the pulling of community schools and social services in the neighborhoods where they are a necessity.

What makes McCarthy’s policy positions interesting –– and probably surprising to some –– is that many of them echo the organizations and activists who were routinely arrested for protesting. He cites socioeconomic conditions as the fundamental reason for protests under Rahm’s administration. In education, his campaign website calls on the reinvestment of community schools and special education, and a new partially-elected school board. He has stated that he would reopen the city’s mental health clinics that Mayor Emanuel closed.

Perhaps the biggest shocker is that McCarthy opposes the current proposed $95 million cop academy on Chicago’s West Side. “That’s a $180 million issue, not $95 million because nothing gets done on time around the budget,” McCarthy said emphatically.

“I’m absolutely against it. That is a bright shiny object to say that Chicago is all about police reform and that’s nonsense. The building does not do the training, the trainers do the training with a program.”

The cheaper alternative, says McCarthy, is for the city to assume the $1 vacant lots and use them as CPD training grounds. He also promises that protests won’t be as frequent during his mayoral tenure compared to Mayor Emanuel’s because he is willing to have tough conversations with “friends and foes.”

“Access. It’s that simple,” declares McCarthy. “I’m not going to be sitting in the chair. I’m going to be out here. People shut down the Dan Ryan and Lake Shore Drive because they didn’t have access to the mayor. My administration will be inclusive, but you better be ready for frank conversation.”

But the most important promise Garry McCarthy is making to the Black community is safety:

“I’m going to save Black people from dying,” he says. “That’s the big picture: Fundamental fairness for everybody and a recognition of the root causes that got us here.  But I’m going to stop Black people from dying.”

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