With the Mayoral Election, We Have the Chance to Make Real Change. Let’s Not Waste It.

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The flag for the city of Chicago.

by Damayanti Wallace

After the November 6, 2018 election most folks began mentally preparing for the 2020 presidential elections — but Chicago has been playing catch up.

We haven’t had time to check out the presidential news because our Twitter feeds have been filled with news about the candidates for the Chicago mayoral election — which will take place on February 26, 2019.

It’s been hard focus on anything else when our city is on the cusp of a potentially huge change. All over the world, activists — including myself — have been chanting for years, “Hey, hey, ho, ho, Rahm Emanuel has got to go.”

Emanuel took office in 2011 and was re-elected in 2015. Technically a Democrat, Emanuel has governed the city with surprisingly conservative politics, and has grossly mis-managed public education, the police department, and the city’s finances.

Seemingly everyone is waiting to get him out of office and put someone new in. The question that stands is, Will this be someone truly new? Or will we elect a carbon copy of Emanuel and previous mayors?

For a long time, the decisions in Chicago were made by white men with a lot of money and strong ties to politics. The reason that Chicago is as segregated as it is is because of the Daley family (two of the Daleys, Richard and William, have been mayors) and their plans to quote-unquote better the city. These plans have only benefited wealthy white people in Chicago, and the reverberations of these decades of policy can still be felt in 2019.

As a city, Chicago has a long history of redlining. Ironically, one of the easiest ways to see its effects is to ride the literal red line train through the south side of Chicago. The train takes folks from 95th Street and The Dan Ryan Expressway to Howard Avenue. Most people who don’t live past Roosevelt Avenue never travel past that stop; but everyone who lives south of Roosevelt Avenue has has to go out of the way for the resources they need to survive.

This is one of the biggest problems facing Chicago today: where the resources are going and who is distributing them. The conversations we have around this city and resources leave out people of color almost all the time and we should all be ready for a change.

In 2019, the leaders of this city are no longer rich white men with strong ties to politics: the leaders are youth organizers. The voice of the city comes from the people who are on the ground and who do the hard work of rising up for change. Youth organizers, who have come to prominence in the past several years with the #BlackLivesMatter movement and others, are coming of age, and most of us who have always hated Emanuel now have the power to vote him out.

We are worried about our families. While many of us are leaving the city for college, we have younger siblings and parents who will still be here. We have helped to shape this city and we want to leave knowing that our voices meant something.

The current race for mayor includes people who have policy experience under Emanuel. What this city needs is someone who is completely different and will be the first of their kind. This city has a true opportunity for change right now; this could be our turning point. We have shouted all over the world about how terrible Rahm has been, and if we don’t push to get someone new in the seat, how will we look to the rest of the world?

The people in the race now have standings that are constantly changing. Here, I will discuss the top five candidates and the others in the race as well. The standings below reflect the time of this article’s filing in early February.

Currently, Paul Vallas and Toni Preckwinkle are leading the race. They both have had prominent seats in policy-making over the past few years. Vallas is the former CEO of Chicago Public School and Preckwinkle is the current president of the Cook County Board. Most voters are confident in their positions with Vallas or Preckwinkle because they have solidified policy positions and people can verify their work. Vallas is currently has a higher projected voter percentage but that is expected to go down because he lacks strong coverage outside of the public debates.

Behind Vallas and Preckwinkle are Susana Mendoza and Bill Daley.

Mendoza is the current comptroller of Illinois, and she has handled the state’s budget. She has grown up in her comptroller role under Emanuel; they have similar views and became buddies because they both disliked former Governor Bruce Rauner (an outspoken Republican). Mendoza is third on the list because the people of the city feel secure with her. 

Daley is the son of former mayor Richard M. Daley and worked as chief of staff in the White House under President Barack Obama. People’s confidence behind both Preckwinkle and Daley may come from the same sense security that comes with experience. They have done documented policy work and people can go back and track their progress. In fact, that can be a good and a bad thing.

In fifth place right now is Amara Enyia. She is different from the candidates above because she has policy work that can be tracked — but she has also done important work that has not been officially tracked. That scares the people of Chicago. Enyia is a candidate who believes in people power. She is well-educated and well-connected in the city. She is an activist and has worked with many political forces. She comes from a family of immigrants and speaks multiple languages. Enyia has degrees in journalism and political science; she earned a Master’s degree in education; a law degree where she focused on international and environmental law; and a Ph.D in education policy.

The problem that people currently have with Enyia is that she isn’t as decorated as the other people running. That is the main problem that this city has: We always want someone with accolades, but don’t always understand that the most decorated are the most corrupt. If we want to change this city, we’re going to need someone with enough experience and enough heart to do the job.

The following candidates are falling further and further behind in the race. Most of them are also involved in policy. These candidates haven’t gotten enough (or favorable enough) press to make a real impression.

Gery Chico (Attorney and former mayoral candidate); Bob Fioretti (former alderman for Chicago’s 2nd ward); La Shawn Ford (state Representative for the 8th District); Jeremiah Joyce (lawyer and son of Daley Ally); John Kozlar (lawyer and former city council candidate); Lori Lightfoot (Former Chicago Police Board president and federal prosecutor); Garry McCarthy (Former CPD Superintendent); Neal Sales-Griffin (tech entrepreneur); and Willie Wilson (wealthy businessman and previous candidate).

When we talk about the future of Chicago, we have to actually mean “future” and understand it. We cannot put a carbon copy of Rahm in office: that is problematic and destructive to everyone in this city who is not rich and white. It’s time for a change. Chicago has dealt with so much and having to do that for another four years is damaging.

February 26 is the election that will determine the two top candidates in the runoff. There is a lot of anticipation around this election coming up because the top two candidates will determine the direction in which this city will ultimately.

Popular activists in Chicago over the past week have been declaring their candidate(s). It is very difficult to take their word, because most of the time they are speaking from a personal view and not policy view. So far, no one has been completely objective about this race yet. Folks have just been talking out of the side of their necks; and that’s not necessarily a bad thing — until it’s only a few weeks until the election and everyone needs a concrete answer.

These elections are some of the most important that we will go through. We have to be able to fight for what we believe in as people, not for what we believe is politically safe. As a city, we have to have the courage to promote change and the voice to make it happen. There is true belief in the city that we are creating, and that every one of its citizens has value and worth. This is our chance to have someone in office with that same mindset.

It’s time for a change, Chicago.

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