During a mayoral forum on Jan. 12 at the UIC Forum, Chicago mayoral forums addressed issues that are most pertinent to communities on the West and South Sides. 

For the most part, the 12 candidates who attended agreed that increasing job opportunities and providing more vocational training was key. Many candidates argued that the city has to make a conscious effort to encourage equity of opportunity and access to resources.

Many candidates argued that community should have more input in how economic incentives are handed out, and that the city should support quality of life plans, such as the ones recently adopted in Austin and North Lawndale. 

The forum was hosted by One Chicago for All Alliance, a coalition of community organizations and workforce development agencies from all across Chicago. On the West Side, that includes Austin Coming Together, Garfield Park Community Council, Lawndale Christian Development Corporation, North Lawndale Employment Network, Northwest Side Housing Center and Safer Foundation. Together, they are pushing to put more resources and investment in communities that haven’t seen much of either. 

Among West Side candidates still in the race, only Austin Chamber of Commerce head Amara Enyia attended, although campaign literature for state Rep. La Shawn K. Ford (8th) was scattered all across the building’s window ledges.

The forum coincided with the Chicago Board of Elections hearing where, among other things, the commissioners ruled that Ford would stay on the ballot.

When asked what the city could do to facilitate equity, Enyia said that it requires the city to make equity a priority, as opposed to relying on “failed trickle-down economics.” And she argued it requires input from community groups on how Tax Increment Financing district funds, among other city funds, are allocated. 

“The same intentionality that went into building downtown must be channeled to build our neighborhoods,” she said.

Lori Lightfoot, the former head of the Chicago Police Board, was among several candidates who argued that ensuring that encouraging economic development and “having pathways to jobs that have real affordable wage” was key. 

Gary McCarthy, the former head of the Chicago Police Department, said that, first and foremost, the city must recognize the nature of the problem — inequity is the direct result of past racist practices.  He also called for bringing back vocational schools and providing tax incentives to businesses.

Paul Vallas, former CEO of Chicago Public Schools district, called for TIF Funds to be put in an “equity fund.”

Former Ald. Bob Fioretti (2nd), whose ward included portions of East Garfield Park before the 2012 ward remap, called for “tax-free zones so businesses can thrive in those economically depressed areas.”

When asked how the city can achieve a more inclusive economic climate, Illinois state comptroller and former Chicago City Clerk Susana Mendoza called for expansion of the Neighborhood Opportunity Fund. That way, she argued, the downtown development would bring in money for the development elsewhere in the city. And she called for streamlining the permitting and licensing process.

McCarthy called for the creation of a municipal bank to offer affordable loans to residents, as well as for the city to establish training centers for technology jobs. 

Bill Daley, the former U.S. Secretary of Commerce and brother of former mayor Richard M. Daley, argued that the city couldn’t force businesses to invest in certain areas, but that it can do the next best thing.

“The most important thing that we do for inclusion is to have people ready for jobs wherever they are in city,” he said.

Cook County Circuit Court Clerk Dorothy Brown argued that ward-level approach to community development was ineffective. Instead, she called for splitting the city into eight “planning districts,” headed by committees that will determine development policies within each one. 

Vallas said that he would set higher goals for contracts with minority-owned/women-owned companies. Lightfoot called for creating small business incubators. 

Gery Chico specifically cited the Ogden Commons mixed-use affordable housing development north of Mt. Sinai hospital as an example of the kind of development he wanted to encourage on the South and West Sides. 

Enyia argued that the key to inclusivity was economic justice, citing traffic tickets as an example of policies that disproportionally hurt low-income people of color. She also dinged McCarthy, claiming that she proposed a public bank before McCarthy incorporated it into his platform.

The majority candidates agreed that the city should put more resources into helping ex-felons find jobs.

When asked what the city could do to reduce violence and improve trust between police and the community, Enyia said that she supports greater civilian oversight over CPD. 

CONTACT: igorst3@hotmail.com    

Igor Studenkov is a winner of multiple Illinois Press Association awards for local government and business reporting. He has been contributing to Austin Weekly News since 2015. His work has also appeared...