Recalling AWN's talks with the candidates who will be mayor

Austin Weekly News interviewed Lightfoot, Preckwinkle before their historic run-off, here are excerpts from those conversations

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By Michael Romain

Editor

In January, Austin Weekly News interviewed Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle— one of the last mayoral interviews this paper conducted in collaboration with City Bureau, the South Side-based journalism lab.

And last May, Austin Weekly News interviewed Lori Lightfoot, not long after she announced her candidacy. 

Lightfoot, the attorney and former head of the Police Board, said that the first day of her formal campaign for Mayor of Chicago started on the West Side for a reason. She took a train from the Austin neighborhood and rode it downtown, where she made her official announcement at the Hyatt Regency.  

The following are excerpts of interviews with both of these women — one of whom will be Chicago's first African American female mayor. 

 

Lori Lightfoot

On the proposed emergency training facility in West Garfield Park

Lightfoot said that she understands the need for the facility and for police officers to be training in "constitutional policing," but that the way the city is approaching the project is "ill-conceived." 

"When you say, 'I'm going to invest $100 million in policing,' without saying, 'I'm going to make other investments across the city for neighborhoods in need on this and this issue,' it creates an 'us versus them' mentality."

Lightfoot said that the activists behind #NoCopAcademy have legitimate concerns and may feel that "the mayor has not heard their voices" by investing $100 million in a police department that the activists "feel, to put it bluntly, has been against them on a number of different fronts." 

Lightfoot added that the city's approach fits a pattern endemic within the administration of Mayor Rahm Emanuel — top-down and technocratic rather than bottom-up and based on grassroots community organizing and coalition-building. 

Lightfoot said that city lawmakers should "engage people were they are," that investment in the city should be "part of a larger economic strategy" to spur desperately needed growth in neighborhoods, and that community input should not just be "filtered through local aldermen." 

 

On a major leadership contrast between her and Mayor Rahm Emanuel

Lightfoot said that she differs from Emanuel on her view "of community engagement and what equity and inclusion really mean." She said that the city should "engage people on the front end and not on the back end" in a variety of decisions. 

She added that in the area of education, for instance, "parents, teachers and public stakeholders are not regarded as valued partners." In public safety, for instance, she said that "people whose lives are most directly affected by police actions are not part of the administration." 

 

On how effective police reforms can be implemented

Lightfoot said that some reforms may take place in the context of a consent decree. In addition, she said, the city "should be speaking its values" during contract negotiations — "whether with police or with labor." She said that, "for far too long," contract negotiations have been viewed by the city as simply transactional. 

She said that over a year she's been calling for Emanuel's administration to name announce a value statement during FOP contract negotiations and to try working police in reforms during contract talks so that those reforms carry some weight — "but we've been met with total silence." 

 

On whether or not she is prepared to confront backlash from the police union over some of her policy proposals if she wins

Lightfoot said that she doesn't think that the reactionary behavior of the police union — for example, protesting against the mayor because he won't reinstate Officer Anthony Rialmo, who murdered an unarmed Betty Jones and Quintonio LeGrier, who was wielding a bat, on the West Side in 2015 — is "entirely representative of their rank and file." 

On Memorial Day, Lightfoot said, she was stopped outside of a Walgreens in the city by a 14th District police officer.

"'He said, 'Are you who I think you are?' And then he reached his hand out and shook my hand and said, 'I just want to thank you for what you're doing.'" Lightfoot said. "I have that encounter on a fairly regular basis with rank and file police union members." 

 

Toni Preckwinkle

On improving the Neighborhood Opportunity Fund, which gives grants to small businesses in order to fund capital improvements.  

Preckwinkle said that the fund is a great idea, "but when you make it based on a rebate it makes it inaccessible to some of the people who need it the most. If small businesses had access to the capital markets they wouldn't need the fund."

She said that she'll also commit to enhancing the benefit to entrepreneurs who live in the community and hire residents, particularly residents involved in the criminal justice system by, in part. Preckwinkle added that she'll increase bonuses for grantees who commit to employing workers in communities where they operate.   

"We've also supported increasing the amount of money that goes into the Chicago Microlending Institute, or CMI. This is a public-private partnership and our goal is to dramatically increase the resources for the CMI," she said. "These loans range from $500 to $50,000 and they help small businesses with things like meeting payroll and buying new equipment." 

Those two things [improving the NOF and CMI], will help small business owners get access to capital, which they don't have at the moment, Preckwinkle said. 

 

On making sure the enhancements translate into real access to capital for minority and woman-owned businesses on the West Side — not just more photo opportunities 

"We're going to try to market the program better and make sure that we assist applicants to help them prepare their applications," Preckwinkle said. "We don't want a situation where people don't know about the program and have difficulty getting applications together and receive grant that they can't access, because they can't make the initial investments and get reimbursed." 

 

On the proposed emergency training facility in West Garfield Park 

Preckwinkle said that "we need to push the pause button and look carefully at this process," adding that "we clearly need training for police, but I'm not sure we need $95 million for this." 

The board president explained that when she entered office, "there was a proposal on the table for the medical campus to spend $20 million on a parking garage." Preckwinkle said that she "put that on hold" and the county instead built a new $110 million ambulatory care campus on the Near West Side that "was built to serve people of the near West Side and Cook County more broadly."

 

On Chicago Public Schools' student-based budgeting model

Preckwinkle said that the district's current funding formula, which means that a school's budget is determined on enrollment (money follows the student), "doesn't address the challenges" in under-resourced communities. 

"I'm open to exploring an alternative formula," Preckwinle said, adding that "we need good teachers in our schools, but we also need social workers" and wraparound services to help students succeed. If elected, Preckwinkle said, "I'm prepared to work with [CPS CEO] Janice Jackson." 

 

On legalizing marijuana and wiping the records of those affected by marijuana-related charges

The War on Drugs basically criminalized back and brown neighborhoods," Preckwinkle said, adding that this was the case even though the "use of illicit drugs is pretty uniform around racial groups." 

She said that she's in favor of legalization and supports a recent measure by Cook County State's Attorney Kim Foxx, Preckwinkle's former chief of staff, which calls for expunging all misdemeanor pot convictions. 

CONTACT: michael@austinweeklynews.com 

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