Chico portrays himself as only candidate with experience to actually do the job

SHARE Chico portrays himself as only candidate with experience to actually do the job
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Gery Chico | Provided photo

Gery Chico prepared Tuesday to enter the crowded race for mayor of Chicago by portraying himself as the only candidate with the breadth of government experience to actually do the difficult job.

Chico served as former Mayor Richard M. Daley’s go-to-guy, with stints as chief of staff and president of the Chicago Park District and City Colleges boards.

When Daley seized control over the Chicago Public Schools in 1995, Chico was dispatched to the schools as board president in a highly acclaimed, dream-team pairing with then Schools CEO Paul Vallas that lasted until 2001.

He also served as chairman of the Illinois State Board of Education under former Illinois Gov. Pat Quinn.

It is that breadth of governmental experience that has Chico undaunted by County Board President Toni Preckwinkle, County Commissioner Jesus “Chuy” Garcia and Bill Daley.

“People will weigh the top-tier candidates side-by-side. When they do that, they’ll see that I’m someone who has the most experience to run this office. I know an awful lot about this city,” said Chico, whose entry in the mayoral race was first reported by Chicago Sun-Times columnist Michael Sneed.

“Nobody [else] has run the agencies of this city that basically make it up, including the mayor’s office. … I know Rich Daley a lot better than Bill Daley because I sat by him for not only four years in the chief of staff’s position, but also as president of the Chicago Board of Education. Those two things go hand-in-glove in determining the future health of this city.”

In 2011, Chico raised $4.5 million in five months for a mayoral campaign that nearly forced Rahm Emanuel into a runoff.

He aired clever television commercials that branded Emanuel’s proposal to broaden the sales tax umbrella to include professional services as the “Rahm tax.” Emanuel never touched the issue again.

Chico also won the endorsement of police and fire unions by embracing the idea of lifting the residency requirement that mandates city employees, including public safety workers, to live in Chicago.

On Tuesday, Chico declared Chicago’s never-ending gang violence the No. 1 issue and said Emanuel’s two-year plan to hire 970 additional police officers may not be enough to stop it.

“I don’t know whether 1,000 is the right number. It could be higher. We have to take a look at that very carefully and what’s happened over the last seven, eight years with attrition. We haven’t kept up with that. … We just may be bringing it to the bare minimum,” Chico said.

“We need the manpower to do coverage in areas where we have bloody shooting weekends. … We’ve now depleted the detective ranks, which is one of the reasons we’re having difficulty tracking down perpetrators and making the case for prosecution.”

Chico was asked how he plans to pay for an ever bigger hiring surge at a time when the next mayor of Chicago will also face a nearly $1 billion surge in pension payments.

“We don’t have a choice. If we have to cut back on other services which we determine are less important than bringing down the violence in our communities, we just have to do it,” Chico said.

Chico acknowledged that policing is not the only answer to violent crime. It’s about “investing in people and offering them the right path,” he said.

“There’s a program out of Heartland Alliance called the ‘ReadiChicago’ Initiative. It goes right after people in gangs and recruits them to teach them how to work in a proper job. Whether it’s mowing the lawn, lifting boxes or serving meals. That program in its early stages with just private money has proven to be very successful,” he said.

Like Bill Daley, Chico comes from a more centrist, business background at a time when Chicago politics appears to be trending toward the left.

Preckwinkle fashions herself as a progressive, even though she backed Hillary Clinton for president, Joe Berrios for re-election as assessor and now serves as chairman of the Cook County Regular Democratic Organization.

Garcia is even more progressive, having backed socialist Bernie Sanders over Clinton and helped Fritz Kaegi defeat Berrios.

But Chico said Tuesday he’s not at all concerned about Chicago taking a sharp left turn.

“The voters, when presented with this situation in 2015, chose a centrist in Rahm Emanuel. Voters in Chicago are very [attuned] to what they believe it takes to run this city effectively. I don’t think they’re gonna get hung up on ideology. They’re gonna look at people’s ability to do the job, work with others, cross over and work with everybody,” Chico said.

“I may be a Mexican-American. But I’m gonna work with everybody: African-Americans, Asians, whites. That’s very important to being able to guide this city into a healthy future.”

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