Four years ago, Gazette Chicago, like so many of you, responded to the fervent call for change in leadership in City Hall. After eight years under the tyrannical thumb of Rahm Emanuel, preceded by the long run of Richard M. Daley, Chicagoans were seeking something different. The controversy of whether Emanuel hid from public view the video of the tragic shooting of Laquan McDonald by a Chicago police officer was one of several scandals. It seemed the right time to “bring in the light,” and as a result former Federal prosecutor yet newcomer to the political scene Lori Lightfoot swept all 50 wards in a historic rebuke of the “same old, same old” in City politics.
Gazette Chicago was the first local media outlet to endorse Lightfoot in the 2019 primary. That was then; this is now. After nearly four years of Lightfoot’s up and down—and almost always combative—term in office, where no foe has been too big or too small to face her wrath, it’s time for change, again.
This is sad for Chicago as Lightfoot has done some good things in her time as mayor. She led us well through the COVID-19 pandemic, working closely with Federal, State, and City agencies and local health care organizations to offer COVID testing, vaccinations, and other resources to stem the virus. In a time of historic challenges, she showed empathy. Lightfoot also pushed back against pandemic- and vaccine-deniers, and even battled with then-President Donald Trump. At times, her feisty personality and leadership style have come in handy—as when dealing with the pandemic, or strengthening Chicago’s role as a sanctuary city when right-wing governors Greg Abbott of Texas and Ron DeSantis of Florida began treating asylum seekers from Mexico and other parts of Central America as political pawns, bussing them unannounced to Chicago and other cities. Or, when she has stood up for women’s healthcare rights or railed against selling weapons of mass destruction in Illinois.
Lightfoot’s INVEST South/West initiative is bringing $1.4 billion in public and private investments to Chicago’s ten most economically strapped communities on the South and West Sides. She increased the City’s minimum wage to $15.40 per hour and created the Chicago Resilient Community Pilot by giving 5,000 low-income families $500 monthly stipends. She has stopped the Water Department from shutting off service when people cannot pay their bills, and her other economic and social justice programs have generally been helpful, with the exception of her ill-advised move to tie future property tax increases to inflation.
But it is her everyday confrontational engagement with members of the City Council who are not in lockstep; business and civic leaders who call for better measures to curb rising crime; the media; and other government officials and members of the public that have many of us seeking someone else—again.
Lightfoot’s unwillingness to admit she made a bad hire in David Brown as police superintendent and the City’s inability to handle rising violent crime has people not only worried but leaving the city in significant numbers; she has been unable or unwilling to usher in true and effective police reform; and she has walked back on numerous other campaign promises. Including her promise of transparency—her backroom deal to bring NASCAR races to the streets of Chicago for the next three years, while choking off major city arteries for weeks, is just one example of her being no different than any other recent mayor. That leaves us no other choice but to look elsewhere.
Eight other candidates are in the race. State Rep. Kambium “Kam” Buckner (26th District) represents our community and has shown a passion for improving the lives of his constituents, but does not seem to be getting the traction to make a two-person run-off in April (with such a crowded field, we don’t see any candidate or the incumbent garnering 50% of the vote plus one in the Feb. 28 primary). His four-point plan focuses on safety and economic justice, education, economic opportunity and recovery, and Chicago’s finances. He says an exodus of Black residents is due to a sub-par Chicago Public Schools (CPS) system and other disinvestments in communities of color.
Buckner joins with community activist Ja’Mal Green in saying they would reallocate portions of the Chicago Police Department (CPD) budget to address root causes of crime. Green, in his second attempt to become mayor, is running on a slate of progressive economic and social justice reforms. He wants to create a City bank so residents can invest in and profit from their neighborhoods. He wants to upgrade the City’s technology platform to give residents greater access to services. He wants to add 10,000 new homeowners by creating a single-family mortgage bond that would generate a $1 billion investment annually. He wants to create a green new deal for the City to battle climate change and address the lead pipe crisis.
Millionaire businessman Willie Wilson has a tough stance on crime, but he worried us in a recent debate when he said the handcuffs should be taken off Chicago police and that they should be able to “hunt down criminals like rabbits.” We sympathize with residents who are living in fear these days—especially those whose communities are seeing ever-increasing violent crime—but a one-sided attitude such as this is not helpful to improving police-community relations or implementing much-needed police reform. His stance is surprising coming from a successful Black businessperson who has significantly benefitted economically from the Black community, and feels he is the voice of that community. Another problem is Wilson’s continued inability to see that his gas and food giveaways are merely a publicity stunt, and cause us to question how Wilson would manage myriad ethical issues with which a mayor must address.
Alderwoman Sophia King (4th Ward) and Alderman Roderick T. Sawyer (6th Ward) have experienced first-hand Lightfoot’s heavy-handed approach to City Council members and her lack of interest in collaborating with them. King is a progressive candidate running on a slogan of “We can do this together.” She has fought for equity in Bronzeville and has brought new housing and jobs to that community. She believes police reform is possible while the City also gets tough on crime. Sawyer’s economic plan calls for an end to “a tale of two cities” in Chicago, with the downtown district and other affluent neighborhoods benefitting from big investments while other communities are left wallowing. He calls for a reform of the TIF program to bring funding to neighborhoods that need it most, and away from areas that are booming.
If current polls are accurate—and who really knows these days?—the candidates at the front of the pack are U.S. Congressman Jesus “Chuy” Garcia (D-4th); Cook County Board Commissioner Brandon Johnson; former CEO of CPS and member of the Daley administration Paul Vallas; and Lightfoot.
Garcia ran for mayor in 2015 and pushed Emanuel into a runoff—the first ever in Chicago mayoral politics. Since then, voters elected him to Congress three times and he has created a powerful Latinx political base in Chicago. We applaud Garcia’s representation of Chicago and Illinois in Washington, DC, where he has advocated for financial investment in this area and for immigration reform at the national level. We are concerned, however, with Garcia’s increasing focus on building his own political machine. Even in this election cycle, he is putting his weight behind several candidates for City Council, as he did in the November election. As Chicago and Illinois break away from machine politics led by former powerbrokers with names such as Daley, Burke, and Madigan, we at Gazette Chicago express a level of discomfort with Garcia’s power-play. We acknowledge and celebrate an increasing Latinx population in Chicago, as we acknowledge and celebrate a growing Asian population as well. We just offer a warning against one person or group wielding too much political weight. The Lightfoot camp is pummeling him with ads that question his ties to Madigan as well as the campaign contributions he received from indicted crypto currency mogul Sam Bankman-Fried.
Garcia has outlined a women’s agenda calling for creating a deputy mayor focusing on gender and pay equity gaps—especially for Latinas, who earn just 53 cents for every $1 earned by white males in Illinois—a critical issue with 40% of Latina women being the primary wage earner in their households. Garcia also seeks to eliminate pharmacy, contraception, and health deserts on the South and West Sides. He calls for community birthing options to allow licensed midwives to serve as birth attendants, and providing free sanitary products at the Chicago Transit Authority to support women struggling with homelessness. Garcia also is running on a public safety platform that calls for funding of a modern police department engaged in the community, with comprehensive violence interruption efforts. He calls for the ouster of Brown as police superintendent, improved data collection, investment in current rank and file officers, and increased staffing for front line officers and support staff.
Cook County Board Commissioner Brandon Johnson made headlines recently with his $4.5 billion progressive wish list of revenue generating initiatives that he said would bridge the economic gap between Chicago’s most affluent and those struggling to get by. His plan primarily focuses on a tax-the-rich strategy that is backed by United Working Families, a progressive organization closely aligned with the Chicago Teachers Union. A former CPS educator, Johnson got way in front of Garcia in entering the mayoral race as a progressive and earned the financial backing of the CTU to a tune of $350,000, with another $900,000 coming from allied teachers’ unions.
Johnson would impose heavy taxes on the airline industry for polluting Chicago’s air—bringing in $98 million annually. He would reinstate the $4 per month head tax on employees working in the City but limit the tax to “large companies.” A new Metra city surcharge of suburbanites working in Chicago would generate $40 million yearly. He would increase Chicago’s hotel tax by 66%—despite Chicago’s tax already being the highest in the country. Johnson would impose a financial transaction tax, generating $100 million annually (Gazette Chicago has been on record in support of this tax for some time). His “Chicago Mansion Tax” would garner an additional $100 million annually by raising the real estate transfer tax on high-end home sales (something Lightfoot also promised to do). Johnson would not raise property taxes and would cancel the automatic escalator introduced by Lightfoot. And he promises to do all this in a four-year timeline.
Whew! That’s a lot to digest and we are concerned that such a far-reaching and complex plan would be very, very difficult to pass through City Council, or stand the inevitable court challenges that will result. Johnson expresses concerns that rising property taxes are causing a death spiral for the City—but some of his measures, as significant as they could be in generating much needed revenue—also would send more Chicagoans and Chicago businesses and corporations to the exits.
For public safety, Johnson would make CPS comply with a Federal consent decree and increase its homicide clearance rate, eliminate the controversial gang database, and invest holistically in the community through good schools, jobs, housing, and increased mental health services. As a former teacher, Johnson would work to expand Sustainable Community Schools from pre-kindergarten to the City Colleges, providing academic, health and social support beyond the school day.
Well-known to many Chicagoans, Paul Vallas touts himself as the candidate with the most noteworthy executive experience, and noted that as CEO of CPS he restored a failing education system and brought a record increase in student academic achievement. His time as head of CPS was controversial, however, as he received criticism for the growth of charter schools in Chicago under his watch. Vallas is proud of that, stating that school choice is the last great act of the civil rights movement, and that every family and every child should have the opportunity to attend any school—regardless of zip code or economic capability.
Vallas is running on a particularly “tough on crime” platform. If elected, he promises to fire Superintendent Brown immediately. He believes the CPD is failing to do its job because of failed leadership at the top. Vallas says we must stop public scapegoating of police officers and by doing so will help retain staffing levels and stop the rampant increase in early retirements.
Vallas promises to restore community policing, which Brown damaged after he arrived in 2020. He says he will shut the door on the “friends and family” system of promotions within CPD and will make merit promotions based solely on competency, performance evaluations, and ability. He will increase rank and file hires from the current 11,710 to the “fully appropriated” 13,500 level in place when he was the City’s budget director from 1993 to 1995. Vallas promises to rebuild the detective ranks to 10% overall staffing; use the monies ($100M) currently spent on a private CTA security force to add CPD officers to every station; and convene a summit of City, County, and State agencies to craft integrated solutions to the City’s growing crime surge. A long-time critic of the Cook County State’s Attorney Office and Cook County judges, Vallas will create a Case Review Unit within CPD to review States Attorney’s and judges’ decisions on charging, findings, sentencings, and bonds to publicly hold them accountable for their failures. Vallas charges that Mayor Lightfoot should stop complaining about State’s Attorney Kim Foxx and start doing something about crime through the mayor’s own office. Touting his ability to balance budgets, Vallas, who recently brokered a City agreement that created the first contract with the police in years, says he is the right person for the job of managing the City’s $28 billion budget.
Vallas not only has raised money to compete with Lightfoot, Wilson, Johnson, and Garcia for media attention, but is running an aggressive grassroots effort to meet Chicagoans where they live—in their own wards.
We believe this race will come down to Lightfoot, the incumbent; Garcia; Johnson; and Vallas. They each offer their own plusses and minuses. Garcia and Johnson are the progressive candidates, with Johnson further to the left than Garcia. Johnson’s financial agenda that would tax corporations and the well-to-do has sent shockwaves through the city. His agenda would bring in $1 billion in new revenue annually and would address a lot of our fiscal and societal problems, but would do it on the backs of already financially strapped taxpayers.
Can Garcia hold together his coalition of Latinx voters and meld that with enough other voters to outdistance the field?
Does Vallas have the fiscal and political acumen to get the City back on solid financial ground? Is his “law and order” campaign resonating with enough voters?
Which candidate is best appealing to working citizens, police and fire fighters, those in the corporate suites, and other stakeholders? Who will the lakefront liberals coalesce around?
All tough questions and if you know the answers, you win the soothsayer of the year award.
At Gazette Chicago we want a leader who can get us out of our current morass. We believe two very different candidates can: Brandon Johnson and Paul Vallas. In a close call, we endorse Paul Vallas for mayor of Chicago.
With Alderwoman Sophia King stepping down from her 4th Ward post to make a run for mayor, seven candidates seek to succeed her for the right to represent the South Loop and Bronzeville in the City Council.
Business development strategist Tracey Y. Bey could help the local economy. Prentice Butler already is familiar with the workings of the aldermanic office as King’s chief of staff. Matthew Khari Humphries has experience reducing youth violence and increasing community safety with the City of Chicago. Businesswoman Ebony Lucas has been providing free legal seminars and food and hosting teen and senior events in the ward. Paul Pearson would bring an academic’s viewpoint to helping marginalized communities. State Representative Lamont Robinson has worked on a variety of local issues at the State level. Small business owner and educator Helen West would help the economy and students.
The two most experienced candidates are Butler and Robinson, and we believe the race comes down to them.
Robinson’s top priority is public safety, and he would use a holistic approach to fight crime, coordinating the work of Chicago police, Cook County sheriff’s officers, and police from the University of Chicago, Illinois Tech, and DePaul. This approach has been successful in the Near West Side/Little Italy/University of Illinois Chicago area. Social justice, increasing community resources and improving education also have been his focus in Springfield. He would work with educators to micro-target the area’s most at-risk youth with programs and fight crime’s causes with social workers, mental health professionals, and violence interrupters. We really like his ideas for putting City-owned vacant land to better uses and employing his Illinois General Assembly experience to obtain State funding.
Butler would bring continuity to the office. He believes strongly in investing in therapeutic approaches to fighting crime and poverty, including mental health assistance and violence interruption. As a member of King’s staff, he has worked on economic development successes such as redeveloping the old Michael Reese area and the Cottage Grove retail corridor. He finds tax increases of up to 51% in this community unacceptable and would fight the uneven distribution of tax burdens that harms marginalized communities. He has the ability to bring people together through his experience with Southsiders Organized for Unity and Liberation.
Gazette Chicago is familiar with and supportive of the work of Lamont Robinson in the Illinois General Assembly, and we endorse him because we believe he can leverage that experience to help his community as a member of the City Council.
In the days of the old Daley political machine, who would have thought there would be a wide open race in the Bridgeport and Chinatown ward that was its home base? Yet seven candidates—all good ones—are seeking to represent this increasingly diverse ward.
Anthony Ciaravino is a 30-year law enforcement professional and expert, having served with the Chicago police and Cook County sheriff’s police. Attorney Steve Demitro also has an expert understanding of fighting crime, would increase community policing and address the issues of mental illness and lack of education. Don Don has long served the community as a member of the Chicago Fire Department. He has advocated for police officers in the community that speak Cantonese and Mandarin and has cofounded watch groups on Facebook. Elvira Jimenez is a local businessperson and community activist. Froylan Jimenez brings a strong understanding of educational issues as a Chicago Public School teacher. Nicole Lee, the first Asian-American to serve in the City Council, has hands-on experience, having been in office for a year after Mayor Lori Lightfoot appointed her. Ambria Taylor is another education expert who also is a community organizer and volunteer.
For us, this race comes town to Ciaravino, Lee, and Taylor.
Ciaravino’s top issue is public safety. We like his experience as a sociology expert on a crisis intervention team that educates police about community mental health and his familiarity with community policing—two nuanced approaches vital to fighting crime. He volunteers in the community and would improve athletic programs for youngsters and use approaches successful in other neighborhoods to improve the ward’s business strips. We like his idea of using casino revenues for community needs.
Lee already has achieved a record of success as alderwoman, improving the ward’s infrastructure such as streetlights, cameras, and speed bumps to fight crime. We like her stances on gun control, affordable housing, and transportation that can improve life in the community. She wants a holistic approach to the property tax dilemma, understanding that transferring revenue raising from one taxing body does not solve the problem. Lee is addressing the need to improve the Halsted Street business corridor.
We strongly respect Taylor’s understanding of the problems and possibilities inherent in urban education. Her volunteering with a food pantry has given her an on-the ground understanding of food insecurity, and she has shown her commitment to diversity and community activism by organizing rallies against violence and racism. She understands that the City must deal with the issues that cause crime, and she wants to see an expansion of affordable housing. We like her plan for obtaining grants to refurbish entire blocks of business strips.
Gazette Chicago has found Lee to be accessible, communicative, and visible in the community. We have found her work to be valuable to the community, and we endorse Nicole Lee for a full term as 11th Ward alderwoman.
Bridgeport and Armour Square’s 12th Ward race features two extremely qualified candidates.
Appointed Alderwoman Anabel Abarca is an attorney who was previous Alderman George Cardenas’s chief of staff, so she has been fulfilling requests from the community for years. We like her proactive approach to fighting catalytic converter theft, which not only creates a hardship for victims but provides money for criminals to purchase guns and buy into the drug trade. We also like her stance on expanding the One Summer Chicago program, which helps fight crime by providing jobs for young people. She has a strong track record of working with successful programs to help youths and seniors. Her property tax appeals workshops are crucial to helping citizens reduce their property taxes.
Julia M. Ramirez would bring her vital social worker’s skills to the City Council. We like her community activism with progressive groups, and we agree with her that Cardenas and other City Council members stepping down (at least 30% of the wards will have new representation) provides a great opportunity for a new progressive voice to represent the area. As a social worker for the Chicago Public Schools she understands education issues, and she would expand the One Summer Chicago program. Ramirez would work to develop a chamber of commerce to promote area business. We really like her idea to use millions of dollars in unallocated COVID money to help people pay their bills, especially those trying to come up for air after the economic throes of the pandemic.
Abarca offers a continuation of the good work Cardenas’s office has done for years. Ramirez offers new ideas and a commitment to progressive policies. If you want stability, vote for Abarca. We would like to see another progressive voice in the City Council, so in a close call, we endorse Julia M. Ramirez for alderwoman of the 12th Ward.
Byron Sigcho-Lopez, incumbent alderman for Pilsen and Little Village’s 25th Ward, is simply one of the best City Council members with whom Gazette Chicago ever has worked, and we believe he is the best alderman in the City of Chicago.
Sigcho-Lopez is progressive and people-focused. He always is on the right side of every issue, backing the residents over developers, corporations, and other government officials every time. Sigcho-Lopez gets involved in every issue in the community, from fighting gentrification so as to keep current residents in the neighborhood through affordable housing; to battling crime by attacking its root causes, such as poverty, mental health, and lack of education; to standing up for the residents on specific issues such as the Hilco smokestack implosion and the proposed sale of St. Adalbert Church. He has opened his ward office for people of diverse languages who have been victims of the rampant increase in postal thefts and check laundering schemes. Sigcho-Lopez has spoken up with courage when current Chicago Police Department leadership has failed to fire a cop over his ties to the far-right Proud Boys.
He always is responsive to the media—and not as a showhorse, but as a workhorse who serves as a voice for the voiceless and who attempts to educate both the public and media on aspects of issues they may have missed. Sigcho-Lopez will never be a rubber stamp for the mayor, no matter who she or he is.
Aida Flores understands education and fighting crime, particularly advocating more community programs to help both. We really like her idea of the City Council electing its own committee chairs instead of kowtowing to the mayor to appoint them. She is Congressman Jesus “Chuy” Garcia’s candidate, and we are not enamored of Garcia or anyone else working to build up his or her own political machine now that the Daley/Emanuel and Madigan machines are out of power. According Sigcho-Lopez, PAC money funded by Emanuel cronies and developers recently funneled $100,000 to her campaign.
In this race, we give our strongest possible endorsement to Byron Sigcho-Lopez for 25th Ward alderman.
The 34th Ward is a new one in this area, with two good candidates hoping to represent the Near West Side/Little Italy, West Loop, and Greektown.
Real estate pro Jim Ascot has a long record of community service and helping people as a therapist and crisis intervention specialist. He understands the issues of crime, government transparency, and high taxes.
Gazette Chicago is more impressed with Bill Conway, however. A former Naval intelligence officer, he had a long career as an assistant Cook County State’s attorney fighting corruption. We endorsed him in 2020 when he ran for State’s attorney.
Conway has been reaching out to local institutions and community organizations and looking for effective ways to increase services and resources in these communities. This is especially important in Little Italy, which continues to be divided in the City Council under representation in both the 28th and 34th Wards.
We like his view that “we can’t arrest our way out of all our problems” and understands that treating mental health is an important crimefighting tool. He is one of the few aldermanic candidates talking about clean energy.
While both candidates would do well, Gazette Chicago offers a strong endorsement for Bill Conway for 34th Ward alderman.