Former U.S. Education Secretary Arne Duncan said Tuesday he loves the violence prevention work he is doing and is “not interested” in running for mayor.
The former Chicago Public Schools CEO didn’t lock the door and swallow the key to a 2023 campaign for mayor after joining the men he called “my teammates, my brothers” for a panel discussion before the City Club of Chicago.
But Duncan clearly was trying to change the subject from the rampant speculation — on social media and in political circles — that he is being urged to challenge Mayor Lori Lightfoot by those dissatisfied with her leadership style in general and with the continued surge in homicides, shootings and carjackings in particular.
“I’m 100% focused on doing exactly what I’m doing. It’s where I’ve been focused for five years and where I’m gonna continue to focus. What I want is for people to really listen to these men. These are the guys with PhD’s in this work,” Duncan said of the street outreach workers at his side, including former gang members who have turned their lives around.
Does that mean “no, never?”
“I’m not interested,” is all he’d say.
His current anti-violence work is “the hardest thing I’ve ever done. It’s the most impactful thing I’ve ever done. It’s the most important thing I’ve ever done. … I love what I’m doing. ... I want to keep doing this work. We’ve got a long way to go.”
Duncan runs a non-profit for at risk-youth known as Chicago CRED, which stands for Creating Real Economic Destiny. It operates in 15 of the city’s most violent neighborhoods.
Chicago CRED is working with roughly 500 young men, ages 17 to 24, disconnected from work and school and most in danger of being victims — or perpetrators — of gun violence.
The painstaking process starts with what Duncan has called “street outreach teams with tremendous credibility with different cliques.” They approach young men who are justifiably cynical because “they’ve been lied to so many times” and had so many programs give up on them. They ask these forgotten young men to “give us a chance.”
Those who agree are “surrounded by a team of adults totally focused on their long-term success” with counseling, education, job training and job placement. Some of the “life coaches” are ex-offenders themselves.
The success rate has been great. Some young men who never thought they would graduate from high school — and some who left school before they even made it to high school — are getting high school diplomas. Some are now in college.
Program participants now work in health care, manufacturing, hospitality, culinary and construction jobs. Some are at downtown law and accounting firms.
Duncan appeared before the City Club 13 months ago to proposed a $150 million-to-$200 million-a-year expansion of his violence prevention efforts bankrolled by shrinking the Chicago Police Department through attrition and eliminating vacancies.
Urging Chicago to “lead the nation in reimagining public safety,” Duncan argued then that CPD could be reduced to 10,000 sworn officers and still have enough officers to safely patrol the city and improve a 45% homicide clearance rate — but only if violence prevention were a key component of the city’s strategy.
On Tuesday, Duncan returned to the City Club with the men he called “my teammates, my brothers” in violence prevention to deliver a similar message.
“Chicago is six times more violent than New York, three-to-four times more violent than L.A. So we are absolutely the anomaly. We don’t have to be this way. Other cities have figured this out,” Duncan said.
“People often think, ‘More violence. We need more police.’ New York has the same number of police-per-citizen than us and is six times less violent. And L.A. has significantly less police than us and is significantly less violent.”
Duncan noted Chicago violence is up 50% while “randomized control trials” coming out of Northwestern University of the violence prevention work he is doing shows just the opposite — a “50% reduction in victimization” of the men he’s working with, as well as a “48% reduction in arrests.”
“There’s never one easy answer,” he said. “But the fact that, as a city, we’re choosing not to scale the kind of work that these men are doing across the city is a little stunning to me.”