Chicago Mayoral Candidates Respond To Racial Equity Ideas

Chicago United for Equity Racial Equity Survey
Paula Friedrich / WBEZ
Chicago United for Equity Racial Equity Survey
Paula Friedrich / WBEZ

Chicago Mayoral Candidates Respond To Racial Equity Ideas

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The top racial equity issues Chicago voters want mayoral candidates to address involve undoing a number of outgoing Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s policies.

More than 2,000 residents participated in the Vote Equity Project survey sponsored by Chicago United for Equity (CUE). Everyday people submitted and voted on policy ideas to improve racial equity. The top 10 focused on funding neighborhood public schools and reopening mental health clinics. In 2011, Emanuel closed several mental health clinics. In 2013, Emanuel closed 50 schools. That same year, his administration introduced student-based budgeting in the public schools.

Seven mayoral candidates responded to the survey: Amara Enyia, LaShawn Ford, Lori Lightfoot, Paul Vallas, Susana Mendoza, Toni Preckwinkle and Bob Fioretti. They answered 50 questions on safety, housing, health, revenue and community development.

CUE’s Niketa Brar said the proposed ideas go beyond reversing the policies of the past.

“As the pendulum swings in politics, you see one vision and say no and let’s go back to the drawing board. That’s what we asked people to do — help us reimagine what Chicago would look like if we had the explicit goal that all people are able to thrive,” Brar said.

Some of the questions asked if the city should use restorative justice as an alternative to jail, provide free universal public childcare, prioritize resident-driven community development on the city’s South and West sides, pass rent control and distribute tax increment financing revenue in areas with low employment.

Most of the candidates answered yes in support. But results differ, especially on revenue. The answers vary on whether a tax on millionaires should fund community investment and whether tax breaks and subsidies should end for wealthy corporations.

Last fall, Chicago United for Equity created a website for people to submit ideas for how government can make better policy decisions around race. The University of Illinois at Chicago’s Institute for Policy and Civic Engagement designed a ballot to allow Chicagoans to vote on those ideas. More than 52,000 votes were collected.

“For the first time in Chicago in a really long time, even the people who don’t want to talk about race, have to acknowledge the deep racial disparities in our city,” Brar said.

For too long, CUE said city leaders have avoided race and segregation when they make policies or decisions. The city boasts its diversity — blacks, whites, and Latinos each make up roughly a third of Chicago’s population — but residents tend to live in separate neighborhoods. The result is racial inequities in housing, employment, resources, economic development, health, poverty, violence, and education.

In “A Tale of Three Cities: The State of Racial Justice in Chicago,” scholars at the University of Illinois at Chicago dive deep to show what current segregation challenges look like in terms of racial inequality. Among the findings:

  • The typical white household in Chicago owns a home worth $275,000; for blacks it’s $145,000; and for Latinos it’s $180,000.

  • More than 50 percent of white Chicagoans own their homes, compared with 43 percent of Latinos and 35 percent of African Americans.

  • 30 percent of black families live below the poverty line, 25 percent of Latinos, and less than 10 percent of whites.

This weekend and next week the voters guide will be distributed on a bus tour throughout the city. The first stop is on Saturday where the DuSable Museum is hosting a mayoral forum on racial equity.

is a reporter on WBEZ’s Race, Class and Communities desk. You can follow her on Twitter.