A prominent Austin elected official is considering entering an already crowded race for Chicago mayor and he believes he could get the backing of most West Side elected officials.
State Rep. La Shawn K. Ford (8th) said during an interview over the weekend that he currently has volunteers circulating petitions and that an exploratory committee has formed to vet the feasibility of a possible mayoral run.
"It appears we've been getting a great response," Ford said. "I'm hoping to make an announcement in the next week or two."
Ford said his flirtation with running for mayor was "sparked" after Westside Black Elected Officials, an organization comprising African-American lawmakers from across the West Side, voted unanimously to support his exploratory committee.
Ford said U.S. Rep. Danny K. Davis (7th) had been at the top of the organization's list as the person they would back to run for mayor, but Davis declined the offer, clearing the way for Ford — the group's second choice.
Although he is not formally endorsing a candidate for mayor until after the gubernatorial elections in November, Davis said in a recent interview that he would support a candidate who would prioritize building an all-purpose high school in Austin -- something Ford has pushed in a ballot initiative -- and appointing West Side residents to key seats on commissions and other governmental bodies, among other measures. Davis also lavished praise on Ford's governing experience and leadership skills.
Ford said Ald. Chris Taliaferro (29th) made the motion while Ald. Walter Burnett (27th) seconded. When reached by phone on Monday morning, Taliaferro referred questions about the process to Ald. Emma Mitts (37th), the chairman of West Side Black Elected Officials. Mitts could not immediately be reached on Monday morning for comment.
"Maybe they'll say they don't like the findings of the exploratory committee, but what's great is that they feel I'm qualified enough to run; otherwise they wouldn't have [endorsed the exploratory committee]," said Ford, adding that if he decides to join the race, his candidacy would be a "strong community grassroots campaign," noting that his record in Springfield "proves I'm pretty independent and not controlled by any party."
The longtime state legislator, who was first elected to the General Assembly in 2007, said he thinks "it's important that the black community has someone willing to raise the issues for black people and bring the city together. I'm not afraid to talk about the struggles of black people in a way that lets white people know we're in it together and that the black struggle is their struggle, and the brown struggle is our struggle."
When asked if he thinks his 2014 misdemeanor income tax charge would be a problem, Ford said he hopes to leverage the issue in order to raise awareness of criminal justice reform.
In 2012, Ford, who owns a real estate company, was indicted on 17 felony bank fraud and false information charges after allegations that he submitted misleading information in order to obtain an additional $500,000 on a line of credit.
Two years later, prosecutors dropped all 17 felony counts in exchange for the lawmaker pleading guilty to the misdemeanor charge.
"I'm looking forward to making sure that people understand I have knowledge and experience with the criminal justice system," Ford said.
"I was wrongfully charged and 17 counts of bank fraud were dropped," he said. "I think this is the perfect way to bring criminal justice reform front and center. It's one of the [top] issues in the state and the country, but for some reason it doesn't get the attention that's needed."
Ford also said that, if he runs and is elected, his administration "will build schools in communities left behind" and implement more community engagement than the current administration.
"We really don't need to constantly have a dictatorial, strong mayor not listening to the community," he said. "Citizens protesting to be heard, all that kind of stuff has to end. We have to have a more participatory form of government, which is why I believe the old book of Chicago politics will be put to rest and we'll start a new chapter."
The race for mayor has only widened ever since Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel announced last month that he would not seek re-election to a third term.
As of Sept. 28, there were 17 declared candidates in the mayoral race, including Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle, former Chicago Police commissioner Gary McCarthy, former CPS CEO Paul Vallas, and former Police Board president Lori Lightfoot.
So far, Amara Enyia, the head of the Austin Chamber of Commerce, is the most high-profile, black, West Side resident to have declared her candidacy.
The filing deadline for the Feb. 26, 2019 mayoral race is Nov. 26.
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