Standing before a roomful of dozens of supporters, Amara Enyia, the executive director of the Austin Chamber of Commerce, formally announced her candidacy for mayor — becoming the 11th challenger looking to take two-term incumbent Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s fifth-floor seat in City Hall.
Enyia, who lives in West Garfield Park, made the announcement on Aug. 28 at Co-Prosperity Sphere in Bridgeport.
In her introductory remarks, Enyia, whose parents emigrated from Nigeria, linked her grassroots candidacy to her family’s long history of political activism in continental Africa, and with the social struggles fought by people like Martin Luther King, Jr. and Malcolm X.
The 35-year-old policy consultant had been aggressively hinting at the prospect of getting into the race for weeks leading up to Tuesday’s official announcement. Each Wednesday since the start of August, Enyia — an avid runner — has been hosting a series of evening runs across the city.
During her roughly 30-minute campaign speech — in which she introduced herself in multiple languages and lead the audience in a chant (“All people, all voices, one city!”) — Enyia presented perhaps the starkest political contrast yet to Emanuel’s technocratic approach to governing.
“It’s time for a new vision for Chicago,” Enyia said, before describing the policies of the Emanuel administration as being steeped in “neoliberal philosophy.”
The term neoliberal, Enyia said, simply means the prioritization of the interests of bankers and deep-pocketed investors over the interests of people. Neoliberalism, Enyia said, offering her own pared down definition of the term, means the mayor prioritizing “half-baked, big projects while potholes abound in the neighborhoods.”
Enyia decried what she said is the Emanuel administration’s standardized approach to policy-making — it emphasizes the privatization of assets and services, regressive taxation, police state strategies and public corruption.
“Here in Chicago we are some of the hardest working people on the planet and yet we still fight to keep neighborhood schools in place,” Enyia said. “We work hard only to pay higher and more abusive taxes, fees and fines as services diminish and infrastructure crumbles around us.”
In particular, Enyia lambasted the $95 million public safety training facility proposed for West Garfield Park and the plan to issue upwards of $10 billion in bonds in order to stave off another round of tax increases — both ideas pushed by Mayor Emanuel.
She also blasted what she said was City Hall’s indifference to the city’s massive population loss, particularly the steady exit of its black residents.
“If we value all of our communities as our city claims, then we will not turn a blind eye to an entire community lost — 250,000 black residents lost in 15 years,” Enyia said. “The silence of this administration bespeaks the moral bankruptcy of its policies.”
Enyia proposed the creation of a public bank for the city, which, according to her campaign website could “generate hundreds of millions of dollars in revenue for the city, eliminate hundreds of millions of dollars in interest rate costs and fees currently paid to private banks, reduce corruption, and guarantee more responsible use of funds to promote economic growth.”
She also touted the need for a local economy based on shared ownership and proposed to make Chicago “the number one city in the country in the advancement of cooperative economic models, worker-owned cooperatives, community land trusts, housing cooperatives” and other independently owned and operated enterprises.
This is Enyia’s second mayoral bid. She also ran in 2015 before dropping out of the race and throwing her support behind former Ald. Bob Fioretti. Although she may not have as much city-wide name recognition as some of the more popular candidates, Enyia is the most prominent West Side figure to enter the field so far.