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Hosted by progressives, 5 mayoral candidates talk schools, economy at forum

Hundreds turn out for a West Garfield Park mayoral forum Wednesday evening at New Mount Pilgrim MB Church. | Nader Issa/Sun-Times

Five mayoral candidates shared similar progressive views on a variety of topics — including education, housing, policing and the economy — at a forum Wednesday evening in West Garfield Park.

Hundreds filed into New Mount Pilgrim M.B. Church for the event co-organized by nearly three dozen grassroots advocacy and activist groups.

The candidates were asked questions after speakers gave testimonials about each topic.

A mother of two children enrolled in Chicago Public Schools said her husband died two years ago, and since the family’s tragedy, the children’s school recommended she look for help at a hospital because there were no mental health clinics in her neighborhood, she said.

Austin Chamber of Commerce director Amara Enyia said CPS draws school boundaries in ways that “perpetuate segregation.” The schools near minority neighborhoods, she said, aren’t around supermarkets, mental health clinics or other vital resources.

“Only the few who can get into those schools get a quality education,” Enyia said.

Five of Chicago’s 15 mayoral candidates appeared at a forum hosted by dozens of progressive groups Wednesday on the West Side. From left to right, La Shawn Ford, Amara Enyia, Toni Preckwinkle, Willie Wilson and Lori Lightfoot, appear on stage. | Nader Iss
Five of Chicago’s 15 mayoral candidates appeared at a forum hosted by dozens of progressive groups Wednesday on the West Side. From left to right, La Shawn Ford, Amara Enyia, Toni Preckwinkle, Willie Wilson and Lori Lightfoot, appear on stage. | Nader Issa/Sun-Times

Enyia was joined by former federal prosecutor Lori Lightfoot and Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle in voicing support for an elected school board. Lightfoot went so far as to say she would demand the resignation of every member on the current school board.

“I will look for people who reflect the values of this city,” Lightfoot said. “Where we will begin is treating parents as welcome partners.”

Preckwinkle said a reinvestment in the public school system would bring improvements to more than just education in the city.

“[We need] strong neighborhood public schools — not magnet schools, not selective-enrollment schools, not charter schools — but strong neighborhood public schools,” Preckwinkle said.

Businessman Willie Wilson said he would reopen shuttered schools on the city’s South and West Sides, while state Rep. La Shawn Ford touted his teaching background.

On other issues, the candidates agreed the city needed to invest in its neighborhoods, not only downtown.

“It bothers me so much to live on the West Side and see vacant and abandoned buildings,” Ford said. “We don’t see vacant and abandoned buildings anywhere other than the South and West sides of Chicago.”

All five also said they would do all they could to protect immigrants and limit the power of federal immigration officers within the city. For all the candidates, that included eliminating the city’s gang database.