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Susana Mendoza already on the defensive on day one of mayoral campaign

Susana Mendoza celebrates her re-election as Illinois comptroller on Nov. 6. | Ashlee Rezin/Sun-Times

Susana Mendoza launched her whirlwind campaign for mayor on Wednesday by denying that she is a “wholly-owned subsidiary” of either the Hispanic Democratic Organization or of Illinois House Speaker Michael Madigan.

On day one of a campaign launched just eight days after she was re-elected as state comptroller, Mendoza was already under fire for being both.

Ald. Ricardo Munoz (22nd) branded Mendoza a phony reformer who owes her political soul to HDO, the “disgraced” and now defunct political army at the center of the city hiring scandal under former Mayor Richard M. Daley.

“She’s a wholly-owned subsidiary of the HDO organization…HDO created her in ’98, when she first ran for state rep and lost and then, ran again in 2000 and won,” he said.

An ally of Congressman-elect Jesus “Chuy” Garcia, Munoz also accused Mendoza of taking hard-line votes on criminal justice issues that earned her the nickname, “Electric Suzy.”

“Look at her history. Look at her voting record. It’s not a very nice one. Past proves future…She’s not a reformer,” he said.

Mendoza countered that her position on criminal justice issues were “informed by my life experience” and have evolved over the years.

“I was a 7-year-old old kid who was run out of her neighborhood essentially by violence. My parents thought the only option they had to keep us safe was to remove us from the city environment. That’s a terrible option,” Mendoza said.

“When a little boy in my neighborhood was shot five times for refusing to throw gang signs, yes, that informed my feelings on issues like the death penalty. But then, years later, after seeing that Illinois could just not get it right, I came around on the issue like a lot of other Democrats ….Were it not for my deciding vote, we would still have the death penalty in Illinois today.”

As for the claim that she was bought and paid for by HDO, Mendoza said that’s an insulting charge often made against strong women in politics.

“There were a lot of people that supported me in that first race. But HDO could claim no stake in my success over the years….I was not the HDO candidate. That’s the narrative they would like to create, but I wasn’t. I’ve always been my own person,” she said.

“People always say that we, as women, have to be someone’s candidate. Someone has to be telling us what to do. But you’ve seen me long enough to know that I’m my own person.”

Mendoza noted that she ran and lost that first race for state representative in 1998 — by 55 votes –– against Sonia Silva, a candidate backed at that time by both Madigan and Munoz.

“They’ve never forgiven me for it,” Mendoza said.

Since then, Mendoza and Madigan have forged a close political alliance.

When Madigan was under fire for mishandling sexual harassment claims against staffers he was forced to cut lose, he asked Mendoza to be one of a trio of Democratic women who recommended ways political parties and campaigns could combat sexual harassment and promote women in state politics.

On Wednesday, Mendoza made no apologies for her alliance with the speaker, who has now regained his super-majority in the Illinois House.

“The fact that I could work with him or any other elected official — Democratic and Republican — is a good thing. We need more of that. That’s how you get things done,” she said.

“I’ve stood up to the speaker before. I’ve stood up to the mayor before. I helped lead the impeachment effort against a governor of my own party. And I’ve spent the last two years of my life standing up to Bruce Rauner. That’s what you should want in your mayor.”

Apparently tired of taking incoming political fire, Mendoza tried to grab the offensive by resurrecting the thinly-veiled swipe she took in the video declaring her candidacy at two mayoral rivals in their 70s: County Board President Toni Preckwinkle and Bill Daley.

“Mayor Daley did a lot of great things for the downtown of Chicago. But the last four years of his administration, he was more of a caretaker. He didn’t tackle issues that needed to be tackled –– like thousands of people leaving CPS schools, disinvestment in neighborhoods, pensions and police reform,” Mendoza said.

“That’s what happens when you have a caretaker mayor. Chicago right now does not need a caretaker mayor. We need a mayor who’s focused on much more than just the next four years.”

Pressed repeatedly on who in the race would be a caretaker mayor, Mendoza, 46, said, “There’s multiple potential caretakers in the race. I can only tell you it’s not me.”

Ald. Carlos Ramirez-Rosa (35th), who has endorsed Preckwinkle, countered that Mendoza’s election would be more like “Rahm’s third term.”

“As an ardent Bernie Sanders supporter, as a progressive and as a millennial, the people I’ve been organizing and fighting with for the last four years do not want to see Susana Mendoza elected,” he said.

“We want change. We want to break with the corporate Democratic status-quo at City Hall. Susana Mendoza’s record as a legislator and as Rahm’s No. 2 at City Hall will show that, if she’s elected, we will maintain the broken status quo and see Rahm’s third term.”

Rival Garry McCarthy, the former Chicago police superintendent, also labeled Mendoza a “machine politican and slammed her mayoral bid as “politics as usual in the city of Chicago.”

Video by MitchelI Armentrout

“It’s outrageous to me that Susana Mendoza, barely eight days after being elected to a statewide position, has disrespected her constituents,” McCarthy said Wednesday afternoon at his Near North campaign headquarters.

“Individuals who live in places like Naperville and Springfield, who may have thought that Susana Mendoza was the best individual to be the comptroller of the state of Illinois, have put their trust in her. And now she’s turning her back on them.”

Contributing: Mitchell Armentrout