Chicagoans are not very easily persuaded or pushed over when it comes to understanding their voting rights. That’s why this mayoral election is an important and defining one that will shine light on strategy vs. execution. The Chicago Defender’s Editorial Board interviewed each mayoral candidate and heard their platforms and viewpoints on education, public safety, economic development, unemployment and other important top concerns of Chicago residents.
The Editorial Board members pondered several questions prior to making their endorsement decision. What major issues will impact African Americans residing in Chicago? How will the decisions affect our future and the welfare of our next generation? Will our next Mayor manipulate the hybrid of machine politics that has been a generational legacy for more than 50+ years? Is it important that our Mayor be ‘down to Earth’ or just ‘down to business’? Will Chicago’s next Mayor have the ability to negotiate with Illinois’ new Republican Governor who has already begun to slash programs affecting child care tax credits, state funded youth programming, immigration and other key issues?
We have reviewed and called into account the extended work and collaborative efforts on a local, state and federal level that the incoming Mayor would need to endure for the next four years. It is not an easy task. In 2015 the City of Chicago has projected a $297.3 million deficit – slashed nearly in half from $580 million in 2010. However, Chicagoans are still fuming over the 75-year parking meter fiasco which did not give citizens any financial benefits, but instead benefitted financiers Morgan Stanley. Now, we are dealing with the shortest yellow light percentage in the country at 2.9 percent with the national average at 3.9 percent, which is being reviewed by City Council.
Although each candidate brought forward his ideas to move Chicago in a better direction while focusing on economic empowerment in the areas of job stimulation and quality education, we are respectfully endorsing Mayor Rham Emanuel as the best qualified candidate in this election season.
It is important that we take into account each candidate’s experience, as well as a well- defined strategy followed by an execution plan to build a legislature that can work on behalf of all residents from various parts of the city. We may not always agree with Mayor Emanuel’s method of execution, but he has achieved the following in his first term as Mayor:
- In the past four years, unemployment has fallen by more than a third and 73,000 new jobs have been created in Chicago – the largest gains in employment of any major city in the country. His focus has included reducing food deserts, expanding and upgrading parks and playgrounds and increasing the number of high-quality schools and neighborhood libraries.
- Key Chicago high schools currently afford their students the opportunity to earn college credits in STEM courses at a four-year university. His goal is to make STEM a priority across the school district.
- In an effort to ensure proper transition for college bound students, the Colleges to Careers program has linked City Colleges with partners in areas that are growing within the economy so their students will graduate directly into good-paying jobs and careers. This includes Olive-Harvey College with its focus on transportation, logistics and distribution.
- Chicago’s afterschool programming has increased by 30 percent and the number of summer jobs has grown by 60 percent – from 14,000 to 22,500 – even while the federal government decreased its financial support.
- To build better trust and community engagement, Mayor Emanuel and Superintendent Garry McCarthy revitalized CPD’s Chicago Alternative Policing Strategy (CAPS) program by moving resources out of headquarters and into the neighborhoods, assigning CAPS officers to each district. These efforts have doubled the number of bike patrols from 200 to 400. CPD has trained more than 10,000 police officers in procedural justice, representing more than 80 percent of the force.
- Juvenile arrests in 2014 are down nearly 35 percent, equaling roughly 9,500 fewer arrests compared to 2010. The citywide RISE program connects youth arrested for minor offenses with a mentor, group counseling and community service projects in lieu of a court referral. This program will be expanded in 2015.
- Since taking office, Mayor Rahm Emanuel has invested in expanding programs that help formerly incarcerated individuals work toward a second chance. According to the Mayor’s office, 2,200 formerly incarcerated citizens have benefitted through skills training, job placements and other support programs in 2014, more than double the 900 served in 2011.
In addition, Mayor Emanuel plans to execute the following programs beginning in 2015 if re-elected:
- To provide better protection for both the citizens and police officers, the Mayor has proposed the use of body cameras by CPD officers. Starting in 2015, CPD will launch a pilot to test the effects of cameras prior to expanding their use more broadly.
- In the next term, the administration will focus on making it easier for small businesses to obtain loans between $50,000 and $250,000. This effort will help to close the gap for those businesses that are often unable to secure financing.
The major concern that each of Mayor Emanuel’s opponents has objected to is the closing of more than 50 Chicago Public Schools. This plan was originally introduced by the Daley administration based on a school’s low performance rating in addition to low student attendance. Most of these schools were closed in predominately African-American neighborhoods to the dismay of many parents and the Chicago Teachers Union (CTU). This action resulted in the loss of employment for more than 7,000 teachers and administrators and also created an immediate concern for public safety for students having to travel through gang-infested areas to attend schools outside of their familiar routes.
Mayor Emanuel feels adamantly that the appointed Chicago School Board is effective and having an elected one would compromise the integrity of each person’s role and responsibility without outside influence and lobbying. Most of the candidates agree that the State should provide more educational funding to prevent Chicago taxpayers from having to pay more money for both Chicago and state teachers’ pensions through increased property taxes.
Candidate Willie Wilson has made it clear that his agenda would include supporting a new casino in Chicago that would generate revenue streams close to $800 million and some of these dollars would be allocated to support quality education for public schools. At this point, no casino is on public record for approval so we’re not clear how long this process would take to implement.
As a successful businessman and friend of a great deal of the Black religious community who donates considerable amounts of his own money to churches and other worthy cause, Wilson is very favored by older voters within the African-American community. His Christian roots and connection with voters may seem unorthodox but it is considered a change from the ‘norm.’ We are in agreement with many of the planks in his platform; however, we feel his increased contributions to this city can and will be made going forward as he continues to work closely with Governor Rauner to tackle some of the systemic problems in the community.
Alderman Bob Fioretti, the most outspoken of all of the candidates, has been very vocal on his disapproval of Emanuel’s tactics during the last four years. The remapping of the wards cut a considerable number of constituents that he no longer serves and has pushed him into residing in the 28th Ward. An attorney with a deep background in Civil Rights law, Fioretti is very educated on the legislative process of City Hall politics. The drawback, however, is that he spends too much time criticizing the Mayor which takes away the focus on his capabilities to lead this city with a solid platform. In addition, his shortfall of campaign funds also has prevented needed visibility in the African-American communities to drive through his agenda in its final leg of the campaign.
William ‘Dock’ Walls has the passion and obvious love for his community but has not presented a solid infrastructure that would make him a major contender. He made attempts in 2007 and 2011 to win the mayor’s office and in each election, he fell drastically behind in votes. Having served as a scheduler for the late Mayor Harold Washington, he has also worked in various capacities such as an administrator at Rainbow PUSH Coalition. He addresses each area of interest and concern but lacks public familiarity, connection and financial resources to build a sustainable campaign.
Lastly, Cook County Commissioner Jesus ‘Chuy’ Garcia has served the most time in public office than all of the mayoral candidates. He has an impressive record as an alderman for the 20th Ward, served in the Illinois State Senate, is a former executive director for a non-profit organization and is currently a member of the Cook County Board. Garcia understands local, county and state legislature and was endorsed by the Chicago Teachers Union and its President, Karen Lewis. He is invested in fighting for the rights of both parents and teachers for a quality education. Garcia will influence Hispanic voters, but unfortunately he has not influenced his colleagues Gerry Chico and Congressman Luis Gutierrez, both powerful stakeholders with Hispanic voters, to endorse his candidacy.
Immigration Reform is a major priority on Garcia’s agenda and he is not in support of Governor Rauner’s decision to recede executive orders to withdraw police officers from asking undocumented immigrants for documentation if approached. It will take some time to build that relationship with Springfield if elected to the mayor’s office. Although Garcia has relationships with key African-American leadership, his relevance with a new generation of African-American voters is questionable.
Our Mayor should be a Mayor that works for residents of the City of Chicago, not residents working for the Mayor. It is important that everyone understands the process and participate in what is going on in their communities. Residents should attend CAPS meetings and know which ordinances are being proposed and voted on by their aldermen. It is ultimately our responsibility as law abiding citizens and active voters to participate in the process – not get angry at the aftermath when the effort to register to vote has not been a priority. Without making voting a priority, we negate those who have sacrificed their lives for this privilege and the future of our next generation.
The progress that the Chicago Defender Editorial Board members have seen Mayor Emanuel accomplish in his first term has been effective. To expect him to have accomplished everything in one term is not realistic. Many may not like the method but we will continue to hold him accountable for long-standing results such as providing quality education by raising standards and accountability on the part of both parents and teachers, presenting a platform for students to pursue a higher education, supporting STEM programs and keeping necessary revenue within the neighborhoods through small business support and providing jobs.
Photos credit: Brian Cassella, Chicago Tribune