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Bridget Gainer mulls 2019 race for mayor to save Chicago neighborhoods ‘at risk’

Cook County Board Commissioner Bridget Gainer has said she'll decide soon whether to run for mayor of Chicago. Rich Hein/Sun-Times

Arguing that Chicago neighborhoods are “at risk,” Cook County Commissioner Bridget Gainer said Friday she will decide in short order whether to enter a 2019 race for mayor that’s getting so crowded, “pretty soon, we’ll have to rent a bus if the candidates have to go anywhere.”

One day after Circuit Court Clerk Dorothy Brown declared plans to challenge Mayor Rahm Emanuel despite a federal investigation that’s been swirling around her for years, Gainer laid the groundwork to join her as the second woman in the field.

“The thing that I think makes the city what it is — and one of the things that is at risk right now is what’s happening in the neighborhoods,” Gainer said.


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“I grew up in a great neighborhood. I live in one now. That’s how people live and die. Downtown is incredibly important, but it’s not the only song in the song book.”

Gainer then referred to what she views as her proudest accomplishment on the county board.

It’s the Cook County Land Bank that acquires vacant properties in inner-city neighborhoods for resale to predominantly black and Hispanic developers who rehabilitate those properties and create affordable housing.

“I’ve been able to have a pretty serious impact on neighborhood development and could you take that to the next level. That’s why I’m considering it,” said Gainer, a former city planner and Chicago Park District director of lakefront services under former Mayor Richard M. Daley.

On Sunday, Brown will formally announce her intention to run and will join a crowded field that already includes fired Chicago Police Supt. Garry McCarthy, former Chicago Public Schools CEO Paul Vallas, Chicago Principals and Administrators Association President Troy LaRaviere, tech entrepreneur Neal Sales-Griffin, millionaire businessman Willie Wilson and community activist Ja’Mal Green.

Chicago Police Board President Lori Lightfoot is also considering entering the race.

If Gainer enters the Feb. 26 race, she will have a leg up on the competition. She has $804,142 in her campaign fund, second only to Emanuel’s revised total of $3.8 million after a flood of contributions reported Friday.

“Who else is in the race is irrelevant . . . It’s not about who is in the field and who is not in the field in this incredibly growing field. Pretty soon, we’ll have to rent a bus if the candidates have to go anywhere but it’s a big field. That’s not the reason. The reason is the motivation to have an impact,” Gainer said.

Pressed on when she plans to decide whether to enter a mayor’s race now just ten months away, Gainer said, “You’ve got to go one way or the other soon. I have a case to make. When the time is right, I will make it.”

Emanuel has spent much of his second-term trying to prove that his development efforts are not downtown-centric.

A decision to relocate city facilities to inner-city neighborhoods — like the Fleet Management facility in Englewood and the new police academy in West Garfield Park — is central to that effort.

In addition, Emanuel hired Chicago Urban League President Andrea Zopp to serve as a $185,004-a-year deputy mayor and chief neighborhood development officer. Zopp has since moved on to World Business Chicago.

The mayor also proposed a series of incentive programs aimed at boosting minority contracting and employment, a $100 million Catalyst Fund to bridge the funding gap outside the downtown area, and a Robin Hood plan to let downtown developers build bigger and taller projects so long as they share the wealth with impoverished neighborhoods.

Still, failed Democratic gubernatorial candidate Chris Kennedy accused the mayor of being part of a “strategic gentrification plan” to intentionally push black residents of Chicago.

By referring to Chicago neighborhoods as “at risk,” Gainer is laying the groundwork for a similar line of attack.

But she has some issues of her own to overcome — like having the worst attendance record on the Cook County Board and responding to that investigation by the Chicago Sun-Times and ABC 7, in part, by using a “working mother” defense

“Have I missed some meetings? Sure. I’ve missed some of my kids’ games, too. And that bothers me more,” she told the Sun-Times in January.

After Emanuel’s running mate, City Clerk Anna Valencia, rose to her defense, Gainer flatly denied that she had used the difficulties of juggling work and family as an “excuse” for chronic absenteeism.

“Being a working mother is part of who I am. Like starting the land bank is part of who I am. Just like encouraging women to run for office is part of who I am. I don’t think it’s something to hide behind,” she said.