Women’s voices were heard in a big way this past Saturday in Chicago. For the first time, all five candidates were present, and they were present at a forum specifically organized to discuss issues concerning women and families.
Chicago Women Take Action Alliance (CWTA), a group of women committed to achieve women’s leadership and economic and social equality, held the mayoral forum. All of the candidates had a half hour of conversation with moderator, NPR correspondent, Cheryl Crowley, about topics like domestic violence, sex trafficking, CPS (Chicago public schools), minimum wage, paid sick leave, mixed status, and gentrification.
It was like a marathon sitting in the balcony at the United Methodist Church (77 West Washington St. #2) from 2-5 pm.
1. Domestic Violence
“Violence against women looks different than violence against men,” stated Crowley,”According to the Center for American Policy, from 2001 through 2012 alone, 6,410 women were killed with a gun by a husband or boyfriend. This is a figure that, according to the Center for American Progress, is ‘more than the total number of U.S. troops killed in action during the entirety of the Iraq and Afghanistan wars combined.’”
Issues include how the police department responds to calls concerning domestic violence and the limited resources to help women who are in these paralyzing situations.
2.Education in Chicago: Chicago Public Schools
Rahm Emmanuel closed 50 public schools in 2013. Huffington Post reported that it was the largest number of school closures at one time in U.S. history. This caused a few issues including safety for students who have to choose between an education and safety when traveling across gang lines to attend school. The main question is, was it the right course of action to improve education in Chicago? Should there be an accountability group committed like an elected school board to handle decisions like school closures?
There are plans to increase the minimum wage to $13 per hour. Should the minimum wage increase to $15 per hour?
4.Paid Sick Leave
Legislation for paid sick leave has passed in a few cities like New York City, but in only one state, Connecticut. Should Chicago join fellow cities and offer workers guaranteed paid sick leave?
5.Mixed Status – Undocumented Immigrants
Mixed Status families are those that have at least one family member who does not have legal status. One instance would be an American born daughter, whose father is an illegal immigrant. The big question was, would you support a Municipal ID program for immigration? Cities like New York City have them in place to handle immigration.
6.Gentrification and Affordable Housing
Gentrification occurs when a group of people start moving back to neighborhoods that they had previously left. Chicago is racially divided, some would say, between the north and south side. One candidate, Willie Wilson, stated that there are 77 communities in Chicago, 21 of them are 96 percent black. Other communities are 90 percent white and less than five percent black.
How do you make living affordable for lower income families? What amenities does a successful community include? How do you go about fixing the problem?
Candidate #1: Mayor Rahm Emmanuel
The forum began with current mayor, Rahm Emmanuel, who started out by noting that what we were talking about today are really family issues.
You can always tell how receptive people are to a candidate by the applause. He was well-received. Emmanuel had a plan. He was clear about his intentions. We were all on the same page with Emmanuel, even if we didn’t agree with what he wants to do and how he wants to do it (like closing 50 schools), he was the only candidate where we at least could tell you what he wanted to do and how he was going to do it.
The mayor was first asked about domestic violence. Emmanuel is opening up the first domestic violence center in Chicago in a decade. It will be in the southwest side. His approach includes two goals. The first is for women to take the steps of independence and the second is to emphasize women with children. He plans to retrain officers on handling domestic violence calls.
Emmanuel invites the crowd to look at his actions as part of an overall strategy and not singularly.
“Would you have taken a better approach—not closed 50 at once?” asked Crowley.
There was a loud applause.
“It was a very difficult thing to do,” he replied, and then went on to point to the progress that has been made, first in K-12 and secondly in college education. He does not support an elected school board, rather he believes in the power of local school councils (LSC) and would focus his energy on re-energizing those groups.
He has made gains in education. “Kids stop dropping out of college at 3rd grade,” Emmanuel said. He has placed a greater emphasis on earlier education. Now, all kids will have full days of kindergarten, rather than half days. Children in low-income homes will also have pre-K available to them. He also notes achievements in high school graduation rates noting that four out of 10 were graduating and now eight out of 10 will be. They aren’t just graduating, they are performing better.
“ACT scores are the best in CPS history.”
For college, in the past three years, Emmanuel has doubled graduation rate from seven percent to 14 percent.
“If you choose to work, your children should have a home where work is valued.”
Emmanuel stands behind the 15 person task force that advised that $13 was a good amount for minimum wage.
He believes, “raising the minimum wage is part of the fabric.” Other pieces include expanding earned income tax credits.
On building communities, Emmanuel believes that there is work to be done, and he’s doing it. He wants affordable housing but not absent from the equation are good retail, housing with minimum wage, one mile away grocery stores, and retail.
They are rebuilding the red line south, “an area ignored by other parts,” he said. There is a Whole Foods opening up in Englewood and a Mariano’s coming to Bronzeville. Emmanuel believes you need to build places where people want to live, and one of those is a grocery store within a mile. He has also looked at parks and libraries.
“Right now parks and libraries are number one,” alluding to the quality of life we have in Chicago. Children have access to free English or Spanish tutoring online through the Chicago Public Library. There is also an on-site teacher at libraries from 2-6 pm during the week to help children with their studies.
Candidate #2: Alderman Robert “Bob” Fioretti
Fresh from hearing where Chicago is and where the current mayor plans to take it, Fioretti said, “Chicago is moving in the wrong direction.”
Fioretti was an attorney with a particular emphasis on civil cases. He is the current alderman for the 2nd ward.
He wants safe streets and strong neighborhoods for everyone, but he assured, “I’m not a rubber stamp alderman”.
He wants to abolish red light cameras. [applause]
He wants to re-open the 50 schools that were shutdown. [applause]
“I think we need an elected school board,” Fioretti said. [loud applause]
For education, he advocated for STEAM, rather than STEM because the arts do matter. “We are pushing our kids into buckets.”
Then, the conversation turned to human trafficking, the modern day slavery.
“I don’t think people understand the severity of this in the city.”
Fioretti would like to focus on the people who are buying sex, and not on those selling it, noting “We now ticket prostitution more in this city.” He believes this undermines the criminal justice system.
He would support a Municipal ID for mixed status families.
He ended by talking about women business owners and how he helps them with legal nights by talking about permits and tax laws.
The final note, “We all want the library here—the Obama library”.
Candidate #3: Commissioner Jesus “Chuy” Garcia
Jesus Garcia received a warm welcome. He made history when he was elected into the state senate, as the first Meixan-American to do so. Grounded by his Mexican heritage, his three children and his wife, who Garcia says turned him into a feminist, Garcia opened with:
“Given that women are the majority, what’s important to women is important to Chicago.”
The conversation began when Crowley asked Garcia about sexual assault. Garcia believes the answer is education, stating that we need to make it “unmanly”.
Garcia had a lot to say about schools. He recognizes that 50,000 families have children in Chicago schools. As mayor, one of the first things he would do is start an elected school board. He has served on LSCs and believes they are a good idea, but he thinks that the elected school board will hold people accountable. He also had a word about charter schools, calling the trend “charter mania,” and he would stop the expansion of charter schools.
“They [charter schools] take away resources in neighborhood schools.”
Garcia is a proponent of the minimum wage.
“I support an increase in the minimum wage to make it a living wage,” said Garcia, “I would do it before 2017.”
Garcia then talked about women’s health care. Though he is Catholic, he said,
“We need to keep the right of women to have control over their bodies.”
One of the last conversations was about immigration, a subject close to Garcia, as he is one himself. He pushed for more awareness in communities of things like scams.
Candidate #4:Willie Wilson
“I’m running to change things.”
Willie Wilson is not a politician, but he might be. Current successful businessman, he touched on his exceptional generosity to the community and to his employees at large.
As mayor, he would like to open a casino—on the water. He would also like to lower taxes so city dwellers will do things like buy gas in their neighborhood and not in the suburbs.
“I will not tolerate discrimination.” [light clap]
“I support minimum wage 100%,” he said, “as high as we can get.”
Even though he does support minimum wage, he does believe that the ultimate goal is for people to work for themselves, to be entrepreneurs. The goal is “we don’t want to ask for a raise.”
As a man greatly impacted by crime in this world, with one of his son’s killed by gang violence, Wilson had strong beliefs in police authority. He would fire the superintendent and hire four police officers to the job. He would also halt on-boarding police officers.
“I’m not for hiring more police officers.”
He would support full access to contraceptives.
When it comes to sick leave, “we have to be careful with things,” he said “if you’re sick, you need to take off, but you don’t need to be at a Bulls game.”
His stance is that everything is a cost, noting that if we have paid sick leave, then maybe senior citizens can’t pay their gas bill.
On topics like immigration, Wilson said,
“There are places I won’t go at 7 o’clock or 8 o’clock at night as an African American.”
In his closing statement, Wilson said,
“I believe in Jesus Christ, our Lord and Savior. I believe in hard work…America has been good to me, that’s why I’m wearing the American flag.”
Candidate #5: William “Dock” Walls III
This isn’t the first time William Walls is running for mayor.
Born and raised in Chicago, Walls attended Kent College to study law. He worked closely with former Mayor Harold Washington.
“Anytime I hear 19 shot and one arrest,” Walls feels that he must do something. “I know this is a woman’s forum, but men are important to women,” said Walls.
For violence against women, Walls believes that early education and awareness is imperative. He would initiate public service announcements (PSA). One interesting way he thought of handling things is to actually assess whether the phone calls made to 911 were volatile or benign. In cases where no physical harm occurs, he would prefer counseling rather than arrests.
He was the first to bring up Bill Crosby. He said in that case,the first thing to say is that the “woman must be lying”. He would like to break that way of thinking.
In terms of education, Walls said he would not have closed down the 50 schools, but would have divided them into multi-purpose buildings. He feels that when a child changes schools. she loses 6 months of education. In this case, he said the school closures caused kids to ask themselves,
“Do I want to go to school or do I want to live?”
He favors an eight person elected school board. Most importantly, the president of the school board should be chosen at large so that teachers, parents, and community activists can all have an impact without finances being an issue.
Speaking of education, Walls took the stance that the Bible should be taught in school.He made the distinction that the Bible is to be taught and not preached, similar to teaching hieroglyphics or Greek mythology.
“The Bible is the foundation of western civilization,” he continued “You can’t ignore…the Bible is part of our governmental system.”
As for why he is running again and his outlook, Walls replied,
“Just because the Bulls lost last night doesn’t mean they’re going to lose tonight.”
The mayoral election for the 56th Mayor of Chicago is February 24, 2015.
“I want you to vote”, in the words of Emmanuel, “We have a great city if we all do our role in building a great city.”