Mayoral candidates analyze Black exodus from Chicago: ‘We didn’t leave. We got kicked out’

Seven of the nine mayoral hopefuls were also asked about their plans to address lead pipes and the concentration of red light cameras in Black and Brown neighborhoods.

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Chicago mayoral candidates attend the Project H.O.O.D. and Rainbow PUSH Coalition’s mayoral forum at New Beginnings Church in the Grand Crossing neighborhood, Saturday, Feb. 11, 2023.

Chicago mayoral candidates attend the Project H.O.O.D. and Rainbow PUSH Coalition’s mayoral forum at New Beginnings Church in the Grand Crossing neighborhood, Saturday, Feb. 11, 2023.

Pat Nabong/Sun-Times

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Mayoral candidates kept it cordial at another forum Saturday morning that primarily focused on issues impacting the city’s Black and Brown communities, including preventing the exodus of Black Chicagoans.

The forum was hosted by the Rev. Jesse Jackson’s Rainbow PUSH Coalition at New Beginnings Church in the Grand Crossing neighborhood. Jackson attended and led the audience in prayer.

Seven of the nine candidates participated. Mayor Lori Lightfoot and Willie Wilson were absent. The discussion was mostly civil, though occasional boos from the audience were directed at former Chicago Public Schools CEO Paul Vallas.

Rev. Jesse Jackson speaks before Project H.O.O.D. and Rainbow PUSH Coalition’s mayoral forum at New Beginnings Church in the Grand Crossing neighborhood, Saturday, Feb. 11, 2023.

The Rev. Jesse Jackson speaks before Project H.O.O.D. and Rainbow PUSH Coalition’s mayoral forum at New Beginnings Church Saturday.

Pat Nabong/Sun-Times

One discussion focused on the policies candidates would implement to entice Black people back to the city.

“We didn’t leave. We got kicked out,” said state Rep. Kam Buckner. “We got kicked out because we didn’t have a quality of life that we deserve.”

He used two neighborhoods he represents in the General Assembly to illustrate his point.

“Washington Park has a life expectancy of 59 years old. Streeterville has a life expectancy of 91 years old. Y’all know what the difference is,” Buckner said. “We keep Black folks in Chicago by giving them the same things every other demographic wants — opportunity and safety.”

Ja’Mal Green, a community activist, said housing is an essential solution to keeping and attracting Black people to Chicago.

“When you look at how they knocked down all the projects and promised us thousands of affordable housing units — have we gotten those units? No.” Green said.

One solution, Green said, is for the city to back home loans for residents living in disinvested neighborhoods, as well as for the people who left.

Moderator Santita Jackson, host of WCPT’s “The Santita Jackson Show,” asked candidates how they would work to remove the estimated 390,000 lead service lines in Chicago homes.

Not only does every household need both water filtration devices and testing kits, said Ald. Roderick Sawyer (6th), but the city needs a long-term plan to get all the lines removed.

“We need to work with federal and state partners, we need to do anything necessary to get these lead lines removed to protect our children and families and get them safe drinking water,” Sawyer said.

Cook County Commissioner Brandon Johnson said removing lead pipes should be a part of a larger effort to address all the environmental issues plaguing the city.

“I’m committed to not only expanding the Department of Environment, but making sure we have real reflection from the people who are most harmed,” Johnson said.

U.S. Rep. Jesus “Chuy” Garcia said the city needs to take more advantage of state and federal dollars to quicken the lead service line removal process.

Tia Ewing, moderator and Fox32 Chicago anchor, asked candidates about their position on red light cameras in the city, given that Black and Brown communities are more heavily ticketed than white communities.

Most candidates pledged to remove them entirely from the city, including Garcia, Green, Buckner, Johnson and Vallas.

“These cameras are just about taxing the poor, overwhelmingly harming poor families and Black families,” Vallas said. “This is not about public safety, it’s about taxing the poor.”

Ald. Sophia King (4th) supports redistributing cameras, something she proposed during City Council meetings.

“What we could have done is redistribute them. I raised my hand for putting them on Michigan Avenue, and I raised my hand for putting them in Lincoln Park. But they are not there,” King said. “We could be making 10 times as much if we redistribute them and stopped profiting off the backs of Black and Brown people.”

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