Susana Mendoza: “You cannot just be in the business of closing schools”
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Susana Mendoza has set out to distance herself from Mayor Rahm Emanuel and prove that her first term as Chicago’s mayor would be a whole lot different than Emanuel’s third term.
Mendoza said she would re-open some of the six mental health clinics Emanuel closed, support the elected school board he steadfastly opposes, and derail the mayor’s controversial plan to open a high school at the South Loop site of the top performing National Teachers Academy.
“I don’t think we should close the NTA. … They’re performing really well. There’s no need for that, other than we’re shuffling people around to take care of other groups of folks that might not need those changes,” Mendoza told the Chicago Sun-Times in a wide-ranging sit down interview.
“The NTA — the mayor needs to support that school. And I would put a two-year moratorium on closing any schools once elected mayor — at least.”
The Chicago Public Schools have 150,000 more seats than students. Much of that excess capacity is located in South and West Side neighborhoods hit hard by a black exodus from the city.
Pressure is building for another round of school closings now that a five-year moratorium has expired.
Still, Mendoza said she would resist the pressure to close more schools and hammered Emanuel for the top-down, dictatorial way he went about it the first time.
“You cannot just be in the business of closing schools. Remember, they are the anchors and the lifeblood of neighborhoods. So, I’m not for that. Other people may have done that. I’m not going to be doing that,” she said.
“I look forward to an elected school board that will actually hold mayors accountable because transparency, which would come with that, is gonna breed accountability. That’s a good thing. People should have voices in how their school system is run. … I don’t fear democracy.”
Although she co-chaired Emanuel’s 2015 re-election campaign, Mendoza charged that Emanuel’s bullying missteps had instigated the seven-day teachers’ strike in 2012 that was Chicago’s first in 25 years.
“I would not have, as the mayor did, taken away their pay raise just a few weeks after taking office,” she said.
Mendoza also drew a sharp distinction between herself and Emanuel on the issue of replacing lead service lines carrying water from the mains to an estimated 360,000 Chicago homes.
She argued that it’s the city’s responsibility to replace lead service lines at a cost that could approach $2 billion. Never mind that the city also faces a looming, $1 billion spike in pension payments.
“We can’t afford not to do it. If those are our lines, we need to replace them. I know it’s gonna cost money. But this is an issue we need to tackle. … I really don’t feel like putting a price tag on childrens’ health. I’m a mom. I worry about drinking my own water,” she said.
“We’ll figure out how to do that. But, I’m not going to let children die because of lead poisoning, or stunt their developmental growth.”
The Emanuel administration has yet to put forward a plan to help homeowners defray the $4,000-to-$7,000 per-home cost to replace those lines.
The problem took on greater urgency earlier this month after the Department of Water Management went public with the alarming news that 17.2 percent of tested Chicago homes with water meters had elevated lead levels.
Mendoza jumped into the crowded race for mayor just eight days after being re-elected as state comptroller.
Surrogates for County Board President Toni Preckwinkle promptly declared Mendoza’s first term would be more like Emanuel’s third.
By articulating her differences with Emanuel, Mendoza aims to prove them wrong. She even accused the mayor of trying to hoodwink Chicago motorists into believing that red-light and speed cameras were something more than cash cows. If elected, she promised to yank out at least some of them.
Also during Thursday’s wide-ranging interview, Mendoza:
• Said it was an “insult” that residents of the majority-Hispanic 14th Ward “will not forget” for local Ald. Edward Burke (14th) to do property tax reduction work for the riverfront hotel and condominium that bears the name of Donald Trump. If elected, Mendoza said she would move to prohibit aldermen from representing clients that do business with the city.
• Argued that the Chicago Police Department needs a dramatic increase in detectives — beyond the 970 additional police officers hired by Emanuel — to reverse a 17 percent homicide clearance rate.
• Called for a Christmas shopping boycott of Target stores and demanded that the city cancel $13 million in assistance for a shopping center at Foster and the Edens Expressway, as a way to protest the retailer’s decision to close two South Side stores.
“I’m done shopping at Target myself. I would encourage Chicagoans to protest through their wallet and not do any shopping at Target. They’re not a good neighbor of ours,” she said. “Let’s remind them, they’re not ‘Tar-zhay.’ They’re Target.”
• Acknowledged that, in her glee to celebrate J.B. Pritzker’s landslide victory, she may have gone a bit over the top by dancing on the political grave of Gov. Bruce Rauner.
“That night, I was very happy that the destruction that this man has inflicted upon the state for the last two years was ending,” she said. “If I had to do it over again, maybe I’d be a little more gracious about it.”
• Claimed she’s for a Chicago casino, “open” to video gambling and against a city income tax, but offered no other concrete funding source for the $1 billion spike in pension payments.
• Said she was “pretty horrified as a woman” to learn that Preckwinkle found out about sexual harassment allegations against her now-former chief-of-staff months ago, but waited until a few days before she entered the mayor’s race to act on it.