Last week, Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel held a press conference to announce that he will not seek re-election in the 2019 Mayoral Race. The two-term mayor shocked residents, who had been bracing for a long political season as more than 9 candidates had already announced their campaigns. No clear front runner had been determined before the mayor made the surprising announcement, but now, the race is clearly wide open.
Early polls ironically list Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle as front runner (25 percent polled)—and she is still “deciding” if she will run. Following Preckwinkle, the SEIU (Service Employees International Union) poll conducted by Public Policy Polling shows more voters undecided (at 19 percent) and Paul Vallas in third (at 16 percent). Former Chicago Police Superintendent Garry McCarthy comes in fourth at 13 percent while businessman Willie Wilson ranks third at 10 percent.
The poll doesn’t rank several other formidable candidates, in our opinion, including Lori Lightfoot, former president of Chicago Police Board, and Dorothy Brown, the Cook County Circuit Court Clerk.
The poll also doesn’t take into consideration other possible candidates like Congressmen Luis Gutierrez and Jesus “Chuy” Garcia, who forced Emanuel into a runoff during the last election in 2015, or Kurt Summers, City Treasurer, who has recently set up a portal (www.ourchicago.net) to find out what Chicagoans think they need to solve the City’s problems.
In a statement, Summers summed up what many are saying: “The future of this city should be determined by the many, not the few. The future should be determined by the people, not just the powerful. In order to make that a reality, you have to truly engage in a different way and genuinely seek people’s opinions and aspirations for our city.”
If anything, the broad pool of candidates will hopefully gather ideas from every day people who are directly impacted by the challenges in Chicago. Brown has been conducting listening tours and Candidate Amara Enyia literally runs through different neighborhoods each Wednesday and then has coffee with residents to discuss their concerns.
Like Enyia, Brown and Summers, the Chicago Defender wanted to know what do people think we need in a mayor. We went to the people of Chicago, especially those in our community, to find out. This week we held our own informal poll and asked: what do we need in a mayor?
The People Speak
Renita Dixon, 44, of Auburn-Gresham said: “We need someone who knows and understands Chicago and its diversity; we need someone who has taken the time to get to know the different areas of the city and its needs.”
Dixon said the ideal candidate will “have an inclusive approach to running the city, entice businesses to develop in all parts of the city, and improve the schools and infrastructure throughout the entire city.”
In addition to those qualifications, for Dixon, the mayor must be a person of integrity, strength and one who strives to do what is best for the city, regardless of the pressures he or she is facing.
She said the mayor should be financially savvy. “If you can’t manage your personal finances, you have no business handling city finances.” And she said the mayor should be able to represent us on the global stage.
Kianda Lee of Washington Heights said she wanted a mayor who would put an elected school board in place. “We need a school board with people from education.” She also said we needed a mayor who would hold parents more responsible. “People know their kids are out here [doing crime],” Lee said. The parent of two said we need a system that makes parents accountable if their underage children are caught outside past curfew.
Education was also a concern of Keyonda Pyles, 33 of Lawndale. Pyles said, “We need a mayor who has a history of doing positive things in the community. Someone who understands the value of education from all students. They would have to be willing to get their hands dirty to fight the violence in Chicago while helping clean out the corruption in the Police Department.”
Brenda Ogden, 65, of Pullman wants education reform also. “I would like the next mayor to show economic parity in the communities and the schools,” Ogden told the Defender. “They need to get rid of the two-tiered education system where they have magnet schools for some. All the schools should be able to provide a good education. I would also like the next mayor to focus on reforming the police department in the way they operate and in the way they recruit police officers. I would also like the next mayor to get rid of the garbage tax where property owners have to pay $10 per unit.”
In addition to education, crime is of course a hot button issue in this race.
Ronald Holt, 57, a retired Chicago Police Commander who lost his son Blair Holt to gun violence in 2007, said “Crime is also a huge issue. I retired April 16 as a police officer. We need to incentivize police officers to do better. The next mayor should be someone who will focus on police reform as well as Black on Black crime in the city.” Holt of Bronzeville is also the executive director of the Blair Holt Memorial Foundation.
He continued, “We need a mayor who will have our interests (the African-American community) in mind when we bring him/her our agenda. In politics, race matters, let’s not deny that. We need an African-American mayor who first and foremost, will look at how to infuse resources into the Black community and fairly distribute the wealth. We need someone who will put African-Americans back to work in this city. There are an overwhelming number of African-Americans who are qualified and want to work.
“We also need someone who will distribute (TIF) Tax Increment Finance district funds fairly and who can figure out how to keep youth enrolled in high school because schools stabilize a community. What we don’t need is someone who is beholding to their campaign donors. I wish I could talk to the pool of candidates to figure who is the best candidate and ask the rest of them to put their pride aside and get behind the most qualified candidate.”
Shirley Foster, 73, of Roseland said: “I think the next mayor should be someone who will do for all the communities and someone who will get the police department together. We just saw those two officers arrested for making referrals about traffic accidents. Something needs to be done about the police department because right now, Black people are afraid of the police.”
One resident of Roseland, Undra Ware Sr., 52, author of a book of poetry titled “The Purpose of Being,” summed up what we needed in two words: fair-minded and empathetic. “I think if he or she has those qualities that would help take care of everything else.”
And politicians and consultants have not been quiet either about what is needed in Chicago’s leadership. The day after Mayor Emanuel’s announcement opened up the race, Illinois State Representative (8th district) LaShawn Ford released a statement detailing what he thought we needed in a mayor. Ford, whose name has also been circulated as a possible replacement for Emanuel, said in part, “As I see it, the next mayor of Chicago should show that they are a mayor for ALL of Chicago. For much too long, resources and opportunities have been concentrated in a few areas, while the West and South Sides have been passed over. Our next mayor should work hard to bring new jobs, including new manufacturing jobs, to the West and South Sides of the city. We need to see construction cranes and economic development on the West and South sides, just like we see in other parts of Chicago and the suburbs.
Ford continued, “We need to move beyond the idea of TIF districts and implement incentives for large businesses to move in to employ people who are looking for good jobs. But, as these companies move in, we need to make sure that there is not discrimination or segregation in employment. We need to reform our criminal justice system to ensure that people who have done their time have a true second chance and are able to get good jobs.”
Just as the candidates for mayor have their work cut out for them in the months ahead, Delmarie Cobb, political consultant, Publicity Works, thinks voters do also.
“What we as Chicagoans need to look closely at is people’s record…everybody has a record whether it is in the private or public sector….We can’t just accept what people say on the surface,” Cobb told the Defender. “We have to do our homework…we need to be digging and saying ‘where were you when this happened…. I was in this fight, but where were you?’”
Cobb said voters need to beware that things will change.
“It’s a whole new ball game now that Rahm Emanuel has stepped down,” she said. “Those who threw their hats in early on may not be around after petitions are circulated…the field that we see now is going to look very different than the field we see December 1.”
Nomination paperwork is due November 26, 2018 for the February 2019 race. Get ready for a critical race filled with fireworks, Chicago! (and make sure your family and friends are registered to vote)