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A breakdown of 9 Chicago Mayoral Candidates

9 different candidates, 9 different plans. The question is who will govern the city?

By Featured, News

 

Crime and public safety are the top issues in this year’s mayoral race. Photo: Social media accounts and Campaign websites of candidates.

On Feb. 28, the people of Chicago will cast their ballots to elect the Mayor of the City of Chicago.

The last municipal general elections were held in 2019, which resulted in a run-off, where Lori Lightfoot won becoming the incumbent mayor. This year along with Lightfoot, eight others candidates are contesting to lead the city. The list of candidates ranges from new leaders to seasoned politicians. If none of these candidates receives a majority of 50 percent of votes, a run-off between the top two vote-getters is scheduled for Apr. 4.

Who are these candidates? What are their backgrounds? What are their main agendas and plans for the city? Here’s a breakdown by F Newsmagazine.

Lori Elaine Lightfoot 

In 2019, Lori Elaine Lightfoot made history by becoming the first black woman and the first person from the LGBTIQA+ community to serve as Chicago’s mayor. A former prosecutor and chair of the Chicago Police Board, in the run-off, Lightfoot defeated her opponent, Toni Preckwinkle, by securing 73 percent of votes.

This time, however, things are not looking easy for Lightfoot, who’s eyeing a second term in office. Since she took her oath as mayor, crime rates in Chicago have risen sharply. Her administration has come under fire for its handling of the Chicago Police Department (CPD), especially during the Black Lives Matter Protest. A 2021 report found that during the George Floyd protests and unrest, CPD resorted to violence against the peaceful protestors. 

Lightfoot has also been criticized for defending the decision taken by CPD to not fire an officer who had ties with Proud Boys, a far-right extremist organization. Instead of focusing on solving the root of the problem that leads to crime — poverty, and unemployment— she and her administration have been condemned by progressive groups for increasing the police budget and making plans to hire more police. During her tenure, it was reported that she fell short in the enforcement of the court-ordered consent decree that was brought to reform CPD, an institution that has a history of racism.

Meanwhile, recently, she was called out for abusing her power as her campaign sent an email to Chicago Public School teachers asking them to send their students to volunteer in exchange for school credit

The progressives, who once voted for her, claim that her administration has put the needs of the wealthy and corporations above the working-class Black and Brown communities. Her backing of a proposal for building a new school on land which was originally planned to re-house residents of Harold Ickes public housing complex has also met with controversy, as community members argue that she is ignoring their needs

Yet, Lightfoot isn’t giving up. 

“As your Mayor, I work every day to make Chicago safer, stronger, and more equitable. Other folks may have soundbites, but I have solutions. I don’t want to lean into your fears, but instead, inspire hope as we work together to build a better city,” wrote Lightfoot on Twitter.

Political Affiliation: Democratic Party

Lightfoot’s plan for the city: Lightfoot states that one of the major goals of her administration is to restore peace and safety in Chicago’s neighborhoods. A firm supporter of the law enforcement system, Lightfoot wants to hire more officers to provide better safety to Chicagoans. 

She also has plans to extend the services of the Chicago Transit Authority (CTA) by hiring more staff and improving transport alert systems. Affordable housing is also a key area in which Lightfoot claims she has made progress. Lightfoot assured the Chicago Tribune that her administration will address affordable housing in the upcoming term and is “advancing a comprehensive set of solutions to combat homelessness and housing instability.”

 

Paul Vallas

A former CEO of the Chicago Public Schools, Paul Vallas is the only white candidate in this year’s mayoral race. Vallas has experience in leading public schools in New Orleans, Connecticut, and Philadelphia. He’s not a new name in the mayoral race — in 2019, he ran for the mayor position but didn’t make it to the run-off. However, this time he has received support from many ends and is seen as a front-runner. 

The editorial board of the Chicago Tribune and the Fraternal Order of Police (FOP) Chicago chapter have endorsed Vallas.

The Tribune wrote: “Vallas has the ear of rank-and-file police officers on the street. We will expect him to use that trust to improve police conduct and the abysmal clearance rate for violent offenses.”

As reproductive rights have become a central political issue in this year’s mayoral elections, Vallas came under fire for his past statements about abortion. Although he states that he supports the reproductive rights of women and is “pro-choice,” an old video is circulating on the internet where he can be seen saying that he opposes abortion. However, Vallas denies saying such things. He claims the video has been edited out of context to malign him and his reputation. 

It is also important to note Vallas’s history with the Chicago Teachers Union(CTU), an organization of teachers, paraprofessionals, and clinicians in the Chicago public school system. Throughout the years, Vallas has condemned CTU and has spoken against the union. Likewise, the union members are also critical of his policies, as Vallas publicly supports using public tax money to fund semi-private charter schools

While he claims to be a true Democrat, many people question his political affiliation. Last July, he attended a fundraising event as a panelist, organized by Awake Illinois, a group that is infamously known for promoting queerphobic and anti-critical race theory rhetoric. John Catanzara, the union president of FOP, who is endorsing him, is a Trump supporter and has defended the misconduct committed by police officers. Recently, the TriiBE also reported that Valla’s son, Gus Vallas was one of the officers who fatally shot a Black man in Texas, last year.

Political Affiliation: Democratic Party 

Vallas’s plans for the city: Vallas has also largely focused on the issues of safety and crime prevention. He claims that if he becomes the mayor of the city, the first thing he will do is replace Superintendent David Brown and his leadership team and appoint new people. He also promises to ensure that every CTA station and platform has a police presence. 

According to his website, Vallas wants to bring reforms to Chicago’s educational system. If elected, Vallas plans to open schools in the evenings, on weekends, and even on holidays so students can get support to make up for the time lost because of the pandemic. Creating high-school work-study programs and expanding alternative school networks also fall under his agenda.

 

Rep. Jesús “Chuy” García

Congressperson Jesús “Chuy” García was the last person to announce his candidacy for the mayoral position. García, a member of the House of Representatives, represents Illinois’s 4th district. Like Vallas, he is not a new name in the mayoral race and politics. In the 2015 Mayoral Elections, he competed against Rahm Emanuel in the run-off.  

Similarly, he has served in the City Council, the Illinois state senate, and the Cook County Board of Commissioners. CTU, several other labor unions, and progressives had supported him during the 2015 election campaign. 

This time, however, many progressive people — a group García largely relies on to win the elections — are disappointed with him. While he has received support from a few alders in Chicago like Alds. Felix Cardona Jr., Michael Rodriguez, Susan Sadlowski-Garza, Andre Vasquez, and Gilbert Villegas, members of the progressive movement have questioned García’s political interests and values.

Political Affiliation: Democratic party

García’s plans for the city: García vows to rebuild the public safety system. He has also called to fire the incumbent Superintendent David Brown and replace him and his administration with what he calls a modern police department. He claims that during his tenure he will increase patrolling and increase diversity in hiring and promotion.

García has assured the voters that he will invest in CTA. While his affordable housing plans are not clear, he says his new administration will work together with organizations to build safe housing for underprivileged people. Some of his plans include hiring a Deputy Mayor who will focus on making plans and policies on gender equity and the economy. García has also committed to ensuring the representation of LGBTIQA+ people in his administration, city boards, and commissions. 

 

Brandon Johnson

A teacher, community organizer, and a member of the Cook County Board of Commissioners from the 1st district, Brandon Johnson was one of the last candidates to announce his candidacy for the mayoral race.

Johnson, during his tenure in the country board, is known for pushing a measure that made it illegal for people to refuse to show or rent property to people who have certain criminal records. He also previously worked as an organizer for CTU. Besides endorsing him, CTU is also the major donor for his election campaign.

Meanwhile, Johnson has received endorsements from many progressives and unions like the American Federation of Teachers, Illinois Federation of Teachers, and SEIU Healthcare, United Working Families as well. Many people consider Johnson the most progressive candidate for mayor of Chicago.

Political Affiliation: Democratic Party

Johnson’s plans for the city: Johnson plans to create new strategies for public safety which include directing more funds to prevent violence by investing in good schools, great jobs, proper housing, and mental health services.

In regards to improving public transport in Chicago, he wants to reduce and eliminate fares for some, so that public transportation is accessible to a larger population. He wants to introduce strategies like paying attention to the feedback provided by CTA riders and increasing the late evening hours of trains. 

His education policies range from expanding the technical and health resources of public schools to raising investing in dual language programs, ethnic studies, and English as a Second Language (ESL). He has made promises to fight for the right to abortion and expand safe and accessible reproductive health and abortion services.

 

Kam Buckner

Born in the South Side of Chicago, Kam Buckner became one of the candidates for the mayoral race last May. He’s a Democratic member of the Illinois House of Representatives from the 26th district. 

On his campaign website, Buckner says: “I am running for Mayor because we cannot wait a day longer for a safe and just Chicago for all of us. Now is the time to invest in Chicago’s schools and their future, to give our children more pathways to success.”

Political Affiliation: Democratic Party

Buckner’s plans for the city: While Buckner has made many promises, his platform revolves around four issues which he calls his 4 Star Agenda. They are: Safety and Justice, Improved Education for all, Economic Opportunity for All and Recovery, and Stabilize Chicago’s Finances.  

Buckner has stated his plan to form the nation’s first Internet Intelligence Unit. He says he wants to focus on monitoring online trends to stop crimes like carjackings, smash-and-grab retail theft, and murders carried out by gangs before they happen. Like his opponents, he has plans to strengthen CTA security by installing more security cameras, increasing monitoring, and making real-time information available to law enforcement officers.

Buckner addresses the burgeoning homeless crisis in his plans as well. He says he will take bold steps to reduce the number of students in temporary living situations and create affordable housing for them. Furthermore, he promises to make schools fully inclusive for students with disabilities within five years with plans like making the bus routes shorter and accelerate the building of ramps and elevators in bus stops and trains for students.

 

Willie Wilson

This is millionaire Willie Wilson’s third attempt to become the Mayor of Chicago. A businessman by profession, he ran for Mayor in 2015 and 2019 but never made it to the run-off. Wilson has owned and operated several franchises of Mcdonald’s and currently owns a medical supplies company called Omar Medical Supplies.

Political Affiliation: Independent (was a member of the Democratic Party until 2020). 

Wilson’s plans for the city: Unlike his opponents, Wilson hasn’t clearly stated his visions. On his website, he has listed a few plans and policies he will implement once he becomes mayor. This includes bringing back police in CTA and adding conductors to each train. Meanwhile, he told the Tribune that his administration will diversify police cars, hire four police superintendents, and financially invest in poor neighborhoods. 

 

Ja’Mal Green

The youngest candidate of this year’s election, Ja’Mal Green is a Chicago-based activist and community organizer. A Chicago-born, Green has actively organized and participated in many social protests around the city against issues of institutional racism and police brutality.

Green identifies as progressive and advocated for Bernie Sanders during the 2016 and 2020 Presidential campaigns. He is also a founder of a non-profit organization called My Turn To Own and is the CEO of consulting firm Majostee Marketing

Political Affiliation: Democratic Party

Green’s plans for the city: His website states that public safety is Green’s top priority. His administration plans to expand the unarmed social workforce. He believes that centering the budget on prevention and intervention is better to prevent crimes rather than focusing energy and resources on reaction and response.

He also wants to install live cameras in the CTA and hire armed and unarmed peacekeepers to ensure the safety of riders and staff. To combat the crisis of homelessness, Green has made several commitments. He plans to give tax subsidies to developers of box stores, grocery stores, banks, and churches so they can build affordable housing units a floor above that can be used by the homeless people.

His administration will also work on converting and acquiring vacant and private city buildings to turn them into temporary shelters or permanent housing units. 

Moreover, Green’s campaign website states that he will build healing centers around the center to help the locals suffering from mental health issues. The centers will include services like psychiatry, yoga, boxing, massage therapy, and more.

 

Sophia King

Another progressive candidate, Sophia King is making her first-ever bid as the mayoral candidate of the city. Until now, King has been serving as the 4th Ward alderperson, a position for which she took an oath for in 2016. She’s also the chair of the Chicago City Council’s Progressive Reform Caucus.

An educator, King advocated for raising the city’s minimum wage to $15.40 per hour. King has also served as vice president of Planned Parenthood Chicago. 

Political Affiliation: Democratic Party

King’s plan for the city: King joins the list of candidates who want to fire Police Superintendent David Brown and hire a new police superintendent with Chicago roots. Additionally, she plans to hire more police officers and detectives.

Her goal includes the revitalization of tech jobs in Chicago — she has aspirations of making Chicago the Silicon Valley of the Midwest. She wants to support tech entrepreneurs, and for that, she assures of creating a thriving environment, where people in STEM can carry out their work efficiently. King plans to create opportunity zones to create more affordable housing for people.

 

Roderick Sawyer

Representing the 6th Ward of Chicago since 2011, Roderick Sawyer comes from a political lineage — his father, Eugene Sawyer was the 53rd Mayor of Chicago and also served as the alderperson of the same ward that he is currently serving.

Sawyer has years of experience in politics and administration. He currently presides as the chair of the Health and Human Relations Committee and was the former chair of the Aldermanic Black Caucus. He is also a licensed stock and real estate broker.

Political Affiliation: Democratic Party

Sawyer’s plans for the city: He wants to invest in upgrading technology for CTA buses and trains ensuring the safety of the riders. This includes installing modern security systems like video monitoring and panic buttons that riders can press to alert CTA and nearby police units during emergencies and threatening situations.

Sawyer plans to hire more police officers and offer more incentives to those officers who stay in their assigned places for longer periods. In his administration, he wants to diversify emergency services and have a separate mechanism to handle non-violent situations.

He promises to launch aggressive programs to revamp Chicago’s economy by developing low-cost or even no-cost loan programs for small developers who can purchase and redevelop properties like food cops, community centers, clinics, etc.

So, these were the brief breakdowns of each candidate. F Newsmagazine advises you to go through their campaign websites and read more about them before you cast your vote.

Ankit Khadgi (MAVCS 2024) is a Nepali journalist based in Chicago. His work has appeared in several publications, including the Guardian, the Kathmandu Post, and the Gaysi Family.
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