Public safety, economic development and education were discussed by six of the nine candidates vying for Chicago’s mayoral seat at a West Side forum last weekend.
Cook County Commissioner Brandon Johnson, Ald. Sophia King, state Rep. Kam Buckner, Ald. Roderick Sawyer, activist Ja’Mal Green and former CPS head Paul Vallas shared their proposals with several dozens of West Side residents who attended the forum organized by a coalition of community groups, Westside Rising.
Congressman Jesus “Chuy” Garcia and incumbent Mayor Lori Lightfoot, two of the leading candidates in a recent Sun-Times/WBEZ/Telemundo Chicago/NBC5 poll, were notably absent, as was businessman Willie Wilson.
Their vision for the West Side and their first 100 days
Vallas said his vision includes improving the response time to 911 calls, “making sure there is police integrity” and opening schools for community organizations to operate out of school and summer programming, along with creating universal work-study programs for high school students.
He said if elected, he would immediately create an independent economic development authority, overseen by representatives from the South and West sides, to ensure a fair allocation of resources.
“So whether it’s TIF money or casino money or gaming or video poker money or developer fees, that money is going into an investment fund that is lock boxed, and it is yours,” Vallas said. “That investment fund will underwrite and subsidize investments on the South and West sides.”
King pushed for economic development and education, citing her work in the 4th Ward including last year’s approval of the $4 billion redevelopment of the Michael Reese site.
King said she would capitalize on opportunity zones to develop housing and incentivize home ownership through interest-free mortgages and down-payment support. She would also create “good” schools that offer selective enrollment with neighborhood components.
“We need somebody who’s been there, done that,” she said.
Johnson said he would push for economic security and job creation.
“We’re gonna hire as many people who want a job … and we’re going to challenge corporations to put some skin in the game.”
He also said he would pass “treatment, not trauma” in the first 100 days to keep West Side communities safe. “And the last thing is, y’all know where I live … on a West Side address.”
Sawyer said West Side residents would drive his plans, telling the crowd, “You tell me what’s needed in this community, and we’ll work collaboratively and make sure that happens.”
Green tapped into his background as a community activist, saying one of the first things he would do would be to hire grassroots organizers from the community and “sign an executive order to ban the process of moving and seizing vehicles in the city for unpaid parking tickets.”
Buckner said he would “make up for the wrongs of the past” by making sure there are people in his administration “solely dedicated to the West Side.”
Their commitments if elected to office
In a series of “yes” or “no” questions, all candidates said they commit to ensuring that community benefits agreements require developers to hire local community members, a way to benefit local residents through development projects directly. It remains to be seen how they would do it, as candidates did not have an opportunity to elaborate on their responses.
They also committed to holding public listening sessions to involve grassroots organizations and residents when making decisions that affect West Side communities. Lastly, all candidates said they commit to providing support so residents and youth can have access to affordable housing.
Forum organizers asked all candidates to publicly sign their commitments in a “covenant for collaboration.”
Public transportation, food security and parks
King called for a regional transportation system that incorporates the Metra train system, CTA bus and train system and suburban PACE bus system, funded through state, city and county funds. She also emphasized using opportunity zones as investment tools to make more vibrant business districts and increase housing opportunities.
Johnson said his proposed budget plan invests in public schools on the West Side and provides free transportation for students. “We spend more on incarceration than in educating our people.” He said he would bring improvements to the CTA Green Line, as it is “the most inaccessible in the entire city,” and create more bus-only lanes.
Sawyer said he would ensure public transit is clean, safe and reliable. He said he would remove unarmed security services, and “get someone there that can really control the rail lines and the buses.”
To improve food systems and parks, he said he would ensure Tax Increment Financing (TIF) programs invest in creating self-sustaining communities that have their own grocery stores, parks, restaurants, entertainment and children’s areas.
Green said public transit needs to be “clean, safe and eventually free.”
“Right now, it is a mobile homeless shelter,” he said, adding he would file a state-of-emergency order to help redirect people experiencing homelessness to the services they need. He also would push to have publicly-owned grocery stores.
Vallas would opt for increasing the Chicago Police Department‘s presence on the CTA to make it safer, noting that 50% of the riders feel it is unsafe. He also said he would open school facilities to be used by the Chicago Park District.
Buckner said his campaign includes a “robust and comprehensive transportation plan” because it is a “civil right.” He said he would “change the way” the Chicago Park District funds programs and wold make targeted investments on the West Side to open more grocery stores.
In addition to choosing the city’s next mayor, voters are selecting all 50 alderpeople and deciding who will represent them in 22 new Police District Councils.
Early voting in all 50 Wards begins Feb. 13. The 29th Ward’s polling place will be at Amundsen Park, 6200 W. Bloomingdale Ave. The 37th Ward’s polling place will be at the West Chicago Library, 4856 W. Chicago Ave.
Both polling places are open from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. on weekdays, 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. on Saturdays, and 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. on Sundays.
For more information about early voting, visit the Chicago Board of Election Commissioners website.
To view a forum recording, visit Westside Rising’s Facebook page.