There are presently 21 candidates in the race for mayor of the city of Chicago. The final field will undoubtedly thin considerably by the process of nominating signature challenges — candidates must have at least 12,500 nominating signatures to get on the final ballot for mayor, but in what’s become a Chicago electoral tradition, opponents have historically found ways to disqualify signatures and knock potential challengers out of the running.
With current Chicago Mayor Rahm Emmanuel having already announced he isn’t running for reelection, the field is even more wide open than usual. Candidates turned in their signatures at the end of November.
It’s during these weeks while the signature challenges shake out that Chicagoans are taking time to hear about the widest possible set of ideas for addressing their city’s needs. Some 1,300 attendees packed the UIC Forum, located on the University of Illinois at Chicago campus just south and west of downtown for the Mayoral Candidate’s Forum on Affordable Housing and Equitable Development, on Dec. 11, 2018.
The forum was organized by the Chicago Housing Initiative and co-sponsored by nine additional housing-related organizations. Six Chicago mayoral hopefuls participated in the forum: Amara Enyia, director of the Austin Chamber of Commerce; Dorothy Brown, clerk of the Circuit Court of Chicago; Former Chicago Police Superintendent Garry McCarthy; Activist and entrepreneur Ja’Mal Green; Lori Lightfoot, chair of the Police Accountability Force; and Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle.
Preckwinkle is the generally acknowledged frontrunner in the race, while Enyia’s profile received a considerable boost due to backing from Chance the Rapper and Kanye West. On the other hand, Illinois State Comptroller Susana Mendoza and former CEO of Chicago Public Schools Paul Vallas, also considered strong candidates, were notable exceptions at the forum.
Mayoral candidates participate in the Mayoral Candidates Forum on Affordable Housing and Equitable Development on December 11, 2018. Seated from left to right: Dorothy Brown, Garry McCarthy, Amara Enyia, Lori Lightfoot, Toni Preckwinkle, Ja'Mal Green. (Photo by Audrey Henderson)
The forum organizers resorted to an interesting tactic in a bid to discourage audience members from cheering or making verbal responses during the forum. Each person in attendance was provided with one red card and one green card, with instructions to raise green cards in favor of specific statements made by candidates and red cards to express opposition.
The main portion of the forum consisted of questions presented by representatives of each of the co-sponsoring organizations.
As the first questioner, Raymon Barrera, Logan Square Neighborhood Association inquired about closing loopholes in the Affordable Requirements Ordinance that impede on the development of family-sized units. In response, Enyia cited growing up in a large family and understanding the acute need for housing that is adequate to accommodate families. Lightfoot called for outright elimination of the opt-out clause of the ARO.
Reina Meja of ONE Northside asked about Chicago Housing Authority (CHA) reform and preserving public housing. All the candidates present broadly criticized CHA. Preckwinkle cited evidence that public housing units were being torn down and replaced with commercial developments. She criticized the finding, and called for 1-for-1 replacement of public housing units torn down. She also stated that public housing should be more equitably distributed throughout the city, with more units located in affluent areas of the city, rather than concentrated in low-income areas.
Annie Hodges of Kenwood Oakland Community Organization asked specifically about each candidate’s support for rent control — specifically, about lifting the statewide ban on rent control that has been in place since 1997. Green was particularly passionate in his support of rent control, stating that the real test would be whether a future mayor would resist developers and their financial clout and “stand with the people”. McCarthy deviated from other candidates on this topic, claiming that broad-based rent controls were not the answer, that landlords would simply cut services in less affluent areas to maintain their profit margins. His response was met with a significant number of red cards — but also a smattering of green cards.
Jon Adams of ONE Northside inquired about raising revenue to provide services for homeless individuals, like the 1.2 percent transfer tax on high-end real estate transactions proposed by the Chicago Coalition for the Homeless. Mayor Emanuel shot down the idea earlier this year. In contrast, all the candidates present agreed to the idea.
Lanessa Young of Southside Together Organizing for Power (STOP) asked candidates about their positions on obtaining a community benefits agreement for the proposed Obama Center and additional developments. This question generated enthusiastic support from candidates and spirited responses from the audience. Green specifically emphasized the need to separate admiration for Obama from allowing the Obama Foundation to ignore the needs of the community. McCarthy expressed support for community benefits agreements, but added that “stimulus measures” were also needed.
In response to a question about environmental justice from Cheryl Johnson with People for Community Recovery, there was general consensus around the need for more accountability. Green stated that the city should make a serious effort to address lead contamination, stating “we should be dealing with this problem now. We don’t want to be like Flint in 20 years.”
Monica Dillon of Neighbors for Affordable Housing posed the final question about fair housing and aligning city departments and planning processes to advance equity for citizens. She cited the O’Hare region, which is rich in jobs but lacking in affordable housing. The candidates expressed consensus. McCarthy in particular, stated bluntly that Chicago was a place where “you have to have a guy to get things done,” and insisted, “that this situation needs to change.”
The event ended somewhat abruptly, to give time for candidates to get to a later debate — held on the northwest side of the city.
Audrey F. Henderson is a Chicagoland-based freelance writer and researcher specializing in sustainable development in the built environment, culture and arts related to social policy, socially responsible travel, and personal finance. Her work has been featured in Transitions Abroad webzine and Chicago Architect magazine, along with numerous consumer, professional and trade publications worldwide.