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Election 2011 Fri Dec 17 2010

Tis the Forum Season: Mayoral, Aldermanic Candidates Gather

This post contributed by Yana Kunichoff.

On a sharp, chilly Tuesday evening, a crowd of people that appeared to represent the full racial, ethnic and social diversity of Chicago gathered in the UIC Forum on the south-west side for the New Chicago 2011 mayoral forum.

Organized by a coalition of over 26 community organizations "united for a fair, progressive Chicago", including the Chicago Coalition for the Homeless, the Southwest Organizing Project and the Illinois Coalition for Immigrant and Refugee Rights, the forum was a rare opportunity for grassroots leaders to come together and hold mayoral candidates feet to the fire before an election that has galvanized Chicago's community organizing base like few others have.

Seven candidates whose petitions for mayor received at least 35,000 signatures were invited. Gery Chico, Danny Davis, Miguel Del Valle, James Meeks, Carol Moseley Braun and Patricia Watkins were present at the forum, with the announcement of the notable exception, Rahm Emanuel, greeted with boos.

The forum focused on five key issues - violence, human rights, education, jobs and housing - with testimony from a community member on each, a question, and then one minute for the candidates to speak on the subject, and a mystery question pulled out of a Cubs' hat at intervals.

On stage in front of organization representatives decked out in the orange, green or yellow T-shirts of their organization, the mayoral candidates cut stark figures in their regulation business attire. During the forum, the candidates traded jibes, spouted rhetoric and offered solutions to some of the biggest problems affecting the city on the lake.

Here is a run-down:

Violence

Inner-city violence in Chicago has included calls for National Guard troops to help quell the violence in the city, a weekend in June in which 52 people were shot, seven fatally, and Mayor Daley's legacy of violence-control intimately tied to gun-control.

The testimony given at the forum was about a young man who came to a community center on the south-west side of Chicago on Oct. 19th, found its doors closed due to a lack of staff and shortly after was hit on the head with a two-by-four and seriously injured. The mayoral candidates responses called for job programs, more vocational schools and stronger community involvement as answers to Chicago's violence.

Moseley-Braun that because she had personally been mugged, "nobody cares more about this issue than I do," and highlighted her Midnight Basketball Training and Partnership Act, passed while she was in the Senate, which encouraged men in the community to mentor boys while Davis said "we need to teach ourselves alternate methods of conflict resolution."

Anita Caballero, board president of the Brighton Park Organizing Council, said that her group was present "because we want to see and hear that changes they [the candidates] can make." However, said Caballero, she didn't think the candidates fully realized the violence in areas like Brighton Park, where gang recruitment and violence made young children afraid to go to school.

Human rights

The human rights portion of the testimony was given by Cindy Agustin, an undocumented senior at the University of Chicago, who said she was afraid of "coming home and never seeing my family again." With an estimated 1.4 million immigrants in Chicago and comprehensive immigration reform stalled at the national level, the mayoral candidates response to how they would address the needs of immigrants and refugees in Chicago brings up an issue hotly contested both locally and nationally.

Chico played on his immigrant background - his grandfather who had "no rights" when he came from Mexico and the immigrant relatives who used to hide at his house when they visited - but said the solution to immigration issues was ultimately to be decided on the national stage.

The first to mention the current mayor's infamous Tax Increment Financing, Meeks used his question time on immigration to call out Chico an earlier question address to Chico on food deserts. "Let me say to Gary Chico, the way to eliminate food deserts is the TIF fund," Meeks said, enunciating fully, "that's the downtown TIF, and put them into neighborhoods in the city of Chicago. There is no need to have $50 million sitting in a TIF fund somewhere."

Del Valle used the question to rail against Emanuel, whose empty chair remained on the podium: "The man who was supposed to sit in this chair is the individual who is most responsible for blocking immigration as a congressman and White House chief of staff," shouted Del Valle, to a standing ovation. "How can we expect him to protect the rights of immigrants in Chicago?"

Education

Of the students who will enter a Chicago Public High School as freshmen, about 44 percent will not graduate. Involvement with CPS does not easily leave a career record, and Moseley Braun, after stating that no school closures should happen without parent input, called out Chico for the state of the public school system. "Quite frankly, Mr. Chico, you need to be responsible for some of the things happening in the Chicago schools."

Chico, former president of the Board of Trustees of Chicago Public Schools, responded with: "Carol, long before I was there, you were there.... We didn't close the schools. We built them."

Watkins said "we need an educator over our schools," touching on what has been a major point of contention between education organizers and Daley, who has chosen members of the Chicago Board of Education for their success in non-education related endeavors such as business.

Jackson Potter, a teacher at Little Village Social Justice High School and education organizer, said a lot of the major concerns of educators were touched on by the candidates. "The candidates were taking views we agree with, the majority of them. We support an elected school board, we support an educator as a superintendent, and we support investing more in community and neighborhood school instead of charters and other outlandish alternatives," said Potter.

Jobs

Chicago and Meeks elicited the most fervent 'boo's' from the crowd by endorsing Walmart as the answer to the jobs crisis. Meeks argued that he did not support Walmart in his neighborhood of Roseland "until we negotiated the decent wage that the workers would be paid." Davis's Austin neighborhood houses the only Walmart in the city - he said he opposed the store's arrival but as alderman and county commissioner, he had introduced living wage ordinances.

Housing

With the recent closing of the infamous Cabrini-Green housing project, a moratorium on foreclosures in the city and a sprout of grassroots housing groups fighting evictions to keep families in their homes, the new mayor will be coming a housing landscape significantly different from when Daley originally took the post.

Del Valle said he supports the original Sweet Homes Chicago legislation, which would put aside $100 million a year to develop affordable housing units for families making under $37,000 a year, while Watkins reminded the crowd that she used to live in Cabrini-Green.

"The problem with affordable housing is that it's not affordable," said Watkins.

Henry Warfield, an organizer at Cabrini-Green and with the Chicago Anti-Eviction Campaign, said it was key for candidates to understand the distinction between affordable housing and fair housing in their rhetoric. "We all know affordable housing is not affordable for everyone," he said. "If you said fair housing, that's a whole totally different subject; it is more economically understandable."

Public transportation, food deserts and unionizing charter schools were also brought up as issues of concern.

However, one particular event during the forum highlighted how a novel event could be used in the slick Chicago political game. Near the start of the proceedings, Aldermanic candidate Mahmoud Bambouyani, of the 38th Ward came in, had his picture taken with the crowd of organizers watching the debate behind him, and left soon after. Whether the event was more than a photo opportunity for the mayoral candidates present remains to be seen.

Yana Kunichoff is a fellow at Truthout.org.

 
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WAJ / December 17, 2010 4:27 PM

Hillarious!

Mosley Braun -I was once mugged, so "nobody cares more about this issue than I"... so I got $3million in funds for kids to play basketball. At night. Almost twenty years ago. Seriously. I take violence seriously.

I can't stand Emannuel, but I'll give him props for not showing up to this gov't dependence Q&A session.

Grassroots / December 21, 2010 5:40 PM

The event represented the coming together of people all across Chicago. One candidate appropriately referred to this saying, "the definition of insanity is to do the same thing over and over again and expect something different to occur." We as voters need to be more active. We need to work together to benefit the entire city.

This wasn't a "gov't dependence Q&A", but regular people deciding to take responsibility for their communities by getting involved and telling the mayoral hopefuls that voters are paying attention to the real issues that matter.

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