In less than two weeks, the Chicago mayoral race will be over. Well, with a race of 14 candidates, at last count, an April 2 run-off is more than likely, but it would be between the two candidates with the most votes. And recent polls show it is still a toss-up with many voters still undecided; however, front runners include Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle, Businessman and former U.S. Commerce Secretary Bill Daley, Illinois Comptroller Susana Mendoza and Attorney Gery Chico. Not surprisingly, these four candidates have raised the most funds to date, according to public financial reports.
In an attempt to make sure Chicago Defender readers are well informed, we have been speaking with mayoral candidates since the election season began. This week, we caught up with Gery Chico, who has served as chief of staff to Mayor Richard Daley (1992-1995), CPS Board President (1995-2001), and Chair of the Illinois State Board of Education (2011-2015), among other key positions in city and state government. He ran for mayor in 2011 but was defeated by current Mayor Rahm Emanuel.
Chicago Defender: Please tell our readers why you are running for mayor.
Gery Chico: Chicago is at a crossroad. I’m so worried about the violence, the inequality of available access to an excellent education and the affordability of the city for so many residents. I was just reading a report from my staff about water bills…people are having difficulty affording their water bills and their water is getting shut off. That’s basic stuff for life…water bills have shot up in price, taxes have shot up and politicians are trying to impose new taxes. Preckwinkle imposed a tax on sugary beverages; you couldn’t even buy a Gatorade…thank God the people rebelled and they pushed it back.
I want people to stay in the City. I know tax payers are not an ATM for politicians….I am fighting for working class citizens in this city to maintain their standard of living…that’s why I’m running.
CD: What are your plans to improve the education system?
GC: I want to bring excellent education to all four corners of the city…there are a lot of places in Chicago where you can’t get that. Parents shouldn’t have to strain and struggle about whether they can stay in our city because they are worried about finding a good school. I worked to create Brooks, Simeon (new building and updated focus), Michelle Clark Middle School (now magnet school for grades 6-12) in different parts of the city. We created selective enrollment schools like Jones, Payton, Brooks, all of which have substantial percentages of African American and Latino students. We need to finish the effort to bring excellence to all our neighborhoods. We need IB (International Baccalaureate) and magnet programs in schools.
One of my biggest ideas is to create the largest expansion of vocational/technical schools in history. We let old trade schools go by the wayside…we need to bring them back with a modern twist. I would work with trades to come alongside of us at CPS to create skilled trade people. We need to provide everybody in the city a chance at an excellent education option. If you learn trade, you could make 100K a year without student debt. You can support yourself and a family nicely on that income—especially those in the African American community who have been locked out of these jobs for so many decades. We have a bad history of segregation in this city and I will address it head on.
I will invest in communities who haven’t seen it in years. We’re talking about Amazon again; I’m excited about Amazon but what about putting a fulfillment center on 79th street or ask them to put a fulfillment center in the closed Target store; don’t just come downtown with shiny office buildings and never leave downtown. I want the opposite of red lining…I want to go in there and make an investment; the history of segregation has caused disinvestment in so many communities and that has to end.
CD: You mention making the city more affordable, but how will you pay for what we need?
GC: I’ve proposed a Casino that Chicago owns—it won’t cost people a dime. Legalized marijuana…I was first to recommend this; it would bring $150 million to Chicago from that effort. I would add a 1 percent tax on million dollar home sales and reassess downtown office buildings taxes; they are getting away with murder because they are not properly assessed. That’s all new revenue. I’m just getting rolling.
Before I ask any citizen to go in their wallet again, I want to cut waste. We don’t need a treasurer or clerk’s office and other agencies. And we haven’t utilized technology to increase speed in government. When we do all of that, we’ll save money.
CD: And how will you address safety?
GC: Right now, no one has a feeling of safety in this city. People don’t feel safe. I opened up an office at Irving Park and Western and a man who lived in neighborhood for 20 years said he now has to look over his shoulder when he is parking his car. We’ve got to make the city safe. I believe we need community policing where neighbors are talking to the police again and vice versa. We are building trust. The sentencing for Van Dyke (Jason) was too light. And the officers accused of covering up the McDonald (Laquan) case (being acquitted) doesn’t sit well with people. We all saw what happened with our own eyes so you don’t believe justice will be served. Everyone is less safe including police officers. We need mutual respect between the police and community for us all to be safer.
We need new leadership in the police department; nothing against Eddie Johnson (current police superintendent).
I was recently at Captain Hard Time talking to mothers and relatives of mostly younger men killed by violence. They said there were no killers brought to justice in their loved ones’ cases. They were very emotional. They said “we can’t get justice for our families.” CPD needs more man power especially in detective ranks. We don’t solve murders. We have a 17 percent rate for solved homicides; in New York and L.A. you have an excess of 80 percent (solved homicides). We literally have murderers walking around and that makes people scared…that cannot stand, nor can the guns that are used in these murders.
CD: What can you do about the guns?
GC: Many of the guns come from the border states of Indiana and Wisconsin. You can go into Hammond, Indiana, and buy a gun and walk right back over to Chicago. We have more regulation in Chicago. Governor Pritzker has done a good thing to reach out to the neighboring governors (about the gun issue); if they won’t work with us, we need to file a federal lawsuit…we need to stop the flow of guns into gang bangers hands.
We also need to strangle the supply of people the gangs are recruiting. We need to recruit people out of gangs and put them to work. Many organizations like Heartland Alliance and Safer Foundation, to name a few, are literally recruiting people from gangs; they are putting the homeless and ex-offenders to work. We have to care about them; we can’t just write them off because they went down wrong path. We need to invest in these programs so that we can take them to a greater scale and they can help people get employment.
CD: You’ve been endorsed by Alderman Ed Burke, who has come under fire and been charged with alleged extortion. How do you respond to your connection with Burke?
GC: I think I’m the only candidate in the race who hasn’t denied knowing the man. The others are rewriting history. I know Alderman Burke. I do not condone any of his (alleged illegal) actions. I stand on my own two feet. I’ve worked in this city. I’ve ran a good operation. When I headed CPS, President Clinton called it a model for the nation. I’ve been a successful lawyer for 30 years. I’ve delivered results. Judge me as Gery Chico standing on my own two feet.
Everything I’ve said I was going to do, I do. A lot of these guys (candidates) have never run anything. The best predictor of what you’re going to do is what you’ve done.