Mayoral candidates spar in first debate since midterm election

Seven candidates in the crowded race for Chicago mayor made their case for being elected to the city’s top political office at a Saturday forum in the Austin neighborhood, the first since the midterm election.

During the debate before a crowd of about 50 at Greater St. John Bible Church, the mayoral hopefuls discussed their plans to address the city’s violence and policing problems, education and how to stem the exodus of black people from the city .

Saturday’s contenders made up just over a third of the field — at least 17 are running to replace Mayor Rahm Emanuel — with participants including community organizer Amara Enyia, former CPS CEO Paul Vallas, activist Ja’mal Green, state Rep. LaShawn Ford, Chicago Police Officer Roger Washington, attorney John Kozlar and perennial candidate William “Dock” Walls.

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Nearly all seven said investing resources back into communities would help address the city’s full plate of problems, but from there, they split off.

Enyia spoke of creating a public bank for the city to help people get loans for homes, while Green urged a level playing field for all schools “because education must be a right” which could help slow the tide of people leaving the city.

Ford talked about reinvesting in trade schools “to train people to fill the jobs that are available,” while Vallas talked about establishing work study programs at CPS high schools to help teens get enough credits to go on to college.

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Washington urged a mandatory, four-year residency requirement for police officers to make sure officers have a good understanding of the city — Kozlar argued to change a city ordinance making it so that in order to police in a district, at least 60 percent of officers have to live in the district. Walls said if elected he’d put police officers on a rotating schedule of partners to make sure that they’re exposed to different philosophies and more officers on their beat.

When pressed by the moderator, ABC-7’s Evelyn Holmes, on how they’d pay for their loftier campaign promises, the candidates didn’t go far on specifics.

The “very vague” answers were troubling to South Shore resident and audience member Sharon Lewis, a candidate herself running for 7th Ward alderman.

“With the exception of Walls or Vallas, I felt like I was hearing a lot of supposition instead of how they’d roll out something that’s actionable,” Lewis said. “I’m scared for the city in terms of how things will roll out after Mayor Rahm Emanuel leaves office. For good or bad, he got a lot done — who will get a lot done now?”

Candidates have until Nov. 26 to gather at least 12,500 signatures to appear on the Feb. 26, 2019, ballot.

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