Mayoral candidates discuss civil rights at Pritzker School of Law


Aaron Boxerman/Reporter

Mayoral candidates speak at Northwestern University Pritzker School of Law. Candidates discussed educational equity and community policing at a forum sponsored by a Chicago civil rights group

Aaron Boxerman, Reporter

Seven mayoral candidates discussed civil rights at a forum at the Northwestern Pritzker School of Law’s Rubloff-Thorne Auditorium Tuesday night.

About 450 students and residents attended the forum hosted by the Chicago Lawyers’ Committee on Civil Rights. Candidates Amara Enyia, Bob Fioretti, John Kozlar, Garry McCarthy, Lori Lightfoot, Paul Vallas and Willie Wilson spoke to voters about their visions for Chicago ahead of the upcoming election on Feb. 26.

CLCCR senior staff attorney and organizer Barbara Barreno-Paschall said she hoped the forum encouraged young voters to engage with the mayoral election and civil rights.

“There aren’t a lot of forums which address civil rights in particular,” Barreno-Paschall said. “We thought it would be productive to let voters hear dialogue between the candidates on those issues.”

Since September 2018, when Mayor Rahm Emanuel announced that he would not seek reelection, candidates from across the city stepped up to replace him, and 14 of them will appear on the ballot in February with no clear frontrunner. In a crowded field, candidates have struggled to differentiate themselves, and according to a Jan. 25 poll by the Chicago Sun-Times, one in four voters are still undecided.

At the forum, candidates answered questions about addressing inequalities in Chicago Public Schools, police contract reform and ensuring equal access to the ballot box.

In response to questions about reforming police contracts, Lori Lightfoot emphasized her progressive credentials and past work as the chair of the Chicago Police Accountability Task Force, created after the shooting death of Laquan McDonald by a Chicago Police Department officer.

Only one candidate — John Kozlar, a 34-year-old resident of the South Side — said he wanted harsher policing.

“These people who terrorize our city, they’re out there, and we need to change that,” Kozlar said.

Candidates also emphasized their commitment to increasing equity in education. Paul Vallas, the former superintendent of CPS, said he would establish neighborhood magnet schools rather than citywide ones.

Amara Enyia, the director of the Austin Chamber of Commerce, said the city needs to use an “equity lens” at every level in CPS. Enyia said recent reforms have left the root causes of inequality in the city untouched.

Chicago’s 11 selective enrollment high schools are one symptom of this problem, Enyia said.

“If CPS is serious about ensuring that everyone has access to a good education, we have to move away from that model,” Enyia told The Daily in an interview. “What is our investment strategy for ensuring that it’s not only selective enrollment schools that get the resources they need?”

However, many candidates were long on promises and short on proposals, forum moderator Alden Loury told The Daily in an interview.

Loury, an investigative journalist for WBEZ Chicago, said one drawback to these types of forums is that candidates tend to offer “platitudes.”

“It’s rare that you hear people give cogent, explicit details on what they plan to do,” Loury said. However, he said, he was pleased to hear the candidates discuss how to make voting accessible to incarcerated Chicago residents.

Candidates have attended over a dozen mayoral forums this year, from Ravenswood to West Garfield. But for La’Rie Suttle, a resident of South Shore, this mayoral forum was her first.

In a field full of progressive candidates, Suttle said Enyia and Lightfoot’s answers were substantive and striking.

“Personally, I care a lot about police accountability and police reform,” Suttle said in an interview. “(Enyia’s) response about community engagement spoke to me as a community organizer. I can see both of those candidates educating people within a community.”

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