Head of Austin Chamber running for mayor

April 30, 2014
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Not long after 30-year-old Amara Enyia learned how to swim, the Chicagoan decided she’d attempt a Half Ironman.

Some told her she wasn’t fit enough to finish the 1.2-mile swim, 56-mile bike and 13.1-mile run. Others wondered why she would try such a grueling feat.

After months of intense training sessions, Enyia did indeed successfully complete in August 2012 the Half  Rev3Triathlon in Wisconsin.

“Nothing can compare to accomplishing something that seems impossible,” Enyia said.

“And I’ve done it over and over again. I always tell people there’s no enjoyment in life from doing things that we already know we can accomplish. There’s no fulfillment there, not for me.”

Now just two years later Enyia is taking on a new challenge; she’s decided to run against Mayor Rahm Emanuel in the February 2015 municipal elections.

“I can’t say that since I was a little girl I wanted to be an elected official, that’s not my story,” Enyia said.

But Ngozi Enyia, Amara’s older sister, said her younger sibling has never been afraid of doing something that seems impossible.

“She’s always been a person who’s up for the challenge and willing to take risks and step out of what might not seem like the safe thing or the ordinary thing to do,” Ngozi Enyia said.

This is the community organizer’s first attempt at pursuing public office, and so far, she’s up against Emanuel and former Ald.Robert Shaw.

Karen Lewis, president of the Chicago Teachers Union, and Toni Preckwinkle, president of the Cook County Board, have also been mentioned as potential candidates.

Enyia’s campaign has been largely under the radar, but she’s received some media attention, from In These Times and the Austin Weekly News.

An East Garfield Park resident, Enyia said she doesn’t have any concerns about being able to run the city.

From a policy, management and leadership stand point she said she can do it: She has a doctorate  in education policy and a law degree from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.

She said her experiences – Enyia also served as executive director of Austin Coming Together – and education actually make her more than qualified.

Enyia is CEO of ACE Municipal Partners, a consulting firm, and serves as executive director of the Austin Chamber of Commerce, a position she plans to maintain while she campaigns for mayor.

One of the reasons she’s running: to create a more united city. Enyia said it’s imperative the next mayor of Chicago represent all parts of the city and make everyone feel like they have a voice.

“For everyone that’s looking at this from a traditional stand point and from a conventional standpoint, we’re breaking the mold,” Enyia said. “This campaign is anything but traditional, but it has to be that way because the level of what needs to take place in the city requires it.”

Enyia said she’s glad she has been able to draw attention to the Austin community through her campaign.

“And not only to Austin, but to other communities that have been left out of the equation.”

Overlooked communities, like Austin, need to be empowered and in a position “to get to the table where decisions are being made,” she said.

Robert Starks, an associate professor of African American politics at Northeastern Illinois University, said Enyia is one of smartest, most gifted people he knows.

“She’s very bright, and personable and quite qualified,” said Starks, who met Enyia in 2012 through a political committee.

Though Starks said Enyia doesn’t have the kind of political support she needs, she still has time to put that together.

“She has a chance, it’s a slim chance at the moment, but she has [about] a year to grow,” Starks said.

But Don Rose, a longtime political consultant, said it’s not serious politics to talk about someone coming out of nowhere to beat someone like Mayor Emanuel.

Rose said Enyia has some qualifications and she looks like someone who could get elected to the Illinois General Assembly or to the Chicago City Council – but not mayor.

Kent Redfield, an emeritus professor of political science at the University of Illinois-Springfield, agrees Enyia faces a nearly Herculean task. 

One important factor that will be critical for anyone – including Enyia – challenging the mayor: raising campaign cash.

“When you start with kind of not a city wide name, then you have a much greater need for money,” Redfield said. “Money gets you name recognition and organization.”

Some political observers say it will take millions to beat Emanuel.

Yet Enyia said she isn’t worried about the financial aspect of campaigning; she understands she has to raise money. She said she hasn’t begun to raise money for the campaign yet, but has the infrastructure in place for her fundraising strategy.

“We intend to fully utilize every avenue to raise as much as money from as many people as possible who share our views,” Enyia said. “We intend to raise money from the people. We’re not going to be relying on corporate donations or major corporations or just a few of the wealthiest to fund this campaign. We actually want our funding to look like the people of Chicago.”

Enyia said she’s spending a lot of time getting out and meeting people, so they know who she is and that she’s “actually running.”

That’s what we’re really focusing on now,” she said. “But I think as we spread the message we will raise the money. Our focus isn’t on out-raising Rahm Emanuel.”

Enyia said her message of unity and leadership  that actually understands and cares about all of the neighborhoods is what’s going to make her campaign successful.

“A leader that people can identify with, I think that’s what going to resonate with people and that’s what’s going to lead to our success,” she said.

Candidates can start collecting signatures Aug. 26 and will have to get a minimum of 12,500 by Nov. 24.

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  1. Pingback: A mayoral challenger from Austin throws hat in ring | ChicagoTalks

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