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Chicago mayoral candidates face off at forum hosted by women-led organizations

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From left to right, Garry McCarthy, Lori Lightfoot, La Shawn Ford, Susana Mendoza and Bob Fioretti, take the stage for the second of two panels at the mayoral forum hosted by Chicago Women Take Action Alliance on Saturday. | Nader Issa/Sun-Times

A majority of Chicago’s mayoral candidates faced off Saturday afternoon at a forum held to address issues important to women in the city.

Less than a month from the election, 11 of the 14 candidates still on the ballot gathered at the Chicago Temple, 77 W. Washington St., for the event hosted by the more than 50 organizations that make up the Chicago Women Take Action Alliance.

Notably, Bill Daley, one of the front-runners in the race, was not in attendance. Organizers of the forum said Daley, Jerry Joyce and Neal Sales-Griffin “could not be reached” to complete a survey required for participation in the forum.

The candidates in attendance were split into two panels. On the first panel, Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle addressed the federal indictment of Ald. Ed Burke (14th), who is accused of shaking down a Burger King franchisee, in part for a $10,000 campaign contribution to Preckwinkle.

“The real challenge for all of us is that these ongoing stories erode confidence in government,” Preckwinkle told the audience. “And let me just say, in my own circumstance, I have returned all the money that Ed Burke gave to me.”

Attorney John Kozlar, who is running primarily on a platform to end city corruption, responded with an apparent shot at Preckwinkle.

“I never accepted a nickel from [Burke], so therefore I don’t have to pay him back anything,” Kozlar said.

On the topic of police, Gery Chico, former chief of staff to Richard M. Daley, said “it’s time” to consider a woman to lead the police department. Chico has promised to fire Chicago Police Supt. Eddie Johnson if he is elected mayor.

When asked why people not directly affected by the city’s violence should care about curbing it, Austin Chamber of Commerce Director Amara Enyia said that all residents, regardless of neighborhood, share the same city. Enyia added that the larger financial and social impacts of violence affect everyone in the city, not just in certain hard-hit neighborhoods.

Responding to the same question, businessman Willie Wilson said reducing violence is about “fairness.” People living in violent-ridden neighborhoods don’t want handouts, he said, they want opportunities for education and jobs.

Former CPD Supt. Garry McCarthy said it’s no longer a choice not to care about violence, citing shootings at Water Tower Place and carjackings on Lake Shore Drive.

Only four of the 11 candidates — Preckwinkle, Kozlar, Wilson and Paul Vallas — said the city missed an opportunity when the it lost the sweepstakes to become the home of Amazon’s second headquarters. The rest of the candidates — Enyia, Chico, McCarthy, Lori Lightfoot, Susana Mendoza, La Shawn Ford and Bob Fioretti — said Chicago “dodged a bullet.”

On education, Vallas, a former Chicago Public Schools CEO, said there’s a lack of equity and stability in the current schooling system. Vallas also said he wants to add a 24/7 crisis hotline and a team of specialists to deal with sexual abuse in schools.

Ford, in response to a question about how he would ensure that women are paid a livable wage to support themselves and their families, said women should have decision-making roles in policies that affect women.

Mendoza, the state comptroller, said women should be empowered to be small business owners.

Lightfoot, a former federal prosecutor, said that she would work as mayor to educate men about how to act in the workplace.