2023 Mayoral Field


Turn The Page

The theme of the 2023 Municipal Election should be, Turn The Page. After 35 years of benign neglect, disinvestment and failed public policies, Chicago’s Black community should be ready to not only turn the page, but also close the book.

Since the death of Chicago Mayor Harold Washington, 35 years ago, residents on the city’s South and West sides have watched the slow death of predominantly Black communities. When Washington died in 1987, Chicago was home to six Black-owned banks. Chicago was considered the Black publishing capital of the world. Chicago was known as the Black hair care capital of the world.

Over the same period, the city has lost the majority of its Black-owned advertising agencies. It also has lost claim to having more Black millionaires per capita than any other city.

From 2000 to now, more than 250,000 Black residents have left Chicago. Scores of public schools are closed in Black communities. Thousands of vacant lots are a haunting reminder that families once celebrated birthdays, graduations and holidays on the same spot. Black wards have lost most of the city jobs that were once held by South and West side middle-class head of households.

Since Washington’s death and Mayor Eugene Sawyer’s Special Election loss, the people in the mayor’s office on the 5th floor of City Hall have slowly destroyed Black Chicago by a million cuts. The first cut was changing the city election to nonpartisan so closeted Republicans could disguise themselves as Democrats while they pushed conservative policies detrimental to Black people.

The second cut was getting into bed with the Hispanic Democratic Organization in a deal to trade votes for jobs. Until 2002, most Black people refused to vote for Richard M. Daley. So, Black middle-class workers slowly started seeing the jobs and contracts disappear. By contrast, in 1985, Washington introduced an executive order requiring city agencies to award 30% of their contracts to companies owned by minority group members and women. Under each succeeding mayor the numbers have hovered in single digits. The most recent numbers show the share of city business with Black contractors at 11%.

The third cut was giving the mayor control over the Chicago Public Schools and hiring non-educators to run the nation’s third largest school system. The first CPS CEO was Paul Vallas, who embraced small schools, expanded charter schools and created contract schools, which was the start of diverting money and starving neighborhood schools.

The fourth cut was the elimination of the trades, arts and sports programs in schools in poor communities. Instead of giving teens an added reason to come to school and keep good grades, these activities practically disappeared in neighborhood schools.

The fifth cut was taking TIF money, which was introduced by Mayor Washington to incentivize development in blighted communities, to use as the succeeding mayors’ personal slush funds. The most recent misuse of TIF money is the $2.4 billion given to the developers of Project 78 in the South Loop and Lincoln Yards in Lincoln Park. This was Rahm Emanuel’s last official act as mayor.

The sixth cut was the demolition of Chicago Housing Authority projects on the city’s South and West sides. CHA residents were instrumental in Washington’s mayoral victory in 1983. Under the Housing and Urban Development’s Plan For Transformation, 25,000 mixed-income units were supposed to be rebuilt. More than 20 years later, the sites are mostly empty. A lack of residents means a lack of businesses that provide goods and services to these areas. The relocation of CHA residents without support services resulted in the destabilization of some of the city’s most stable Black middle-class communities.

These wounds and the resulting chronic conditions are the cause of the city’s current violent crime and public health crisis—and it all began with Mayor Richard M. Daley and Paul Vallas.

This is the former school’s CEO fourth run for elected office. Vallas ran for governor in 2002 and lost. He was Governor Pat Quinn’s running mate for Lieutenant Governor in 2014 and lost. He made a bid for mayor in 2019 and came in fourth.

This election, polls show Vallas might be one of the last two candidates in the runoff, thanks in large part to the millions of dollars being donated to his campaign by some of the city’s wealthiest Republicans. That’s one reason Daley made city elections nonpartisan.

This is Vallas’ last shot at winning elective office. He’s spent more than 20 years chasing this elusive dream. Unlike U.S. Senator Roland Burris, who was the first Black person to win statewide for Illinois Comptroller and Attorney General, the media haven’t tried to turn Vallas into a political hack or buffoon for running multiple times. He has enjoyed the benefit of being a credible candidate even though he’s never held an elected office. That’s the advantage of skin privilege.

Let’s not be coy. There’s a reason the white business establishment is supporting Vallas this time. He knows it and we know it. They want to take back the 5th floor of City Hall. They want business as usual. They want the person controlling the levers of power to look like them.

My only hope is that after making multiple bad political choices, starting with the 1989 Special Election that resulted in Daley becoming mayor, that we finally learn our lesson. We’ve read this book before and we know the ending. It’s time for Black Chicago to turn the page and close the book on these same tired people who got our city in this mess.

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