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Preckwinkle vows to revamp overly punitive ticketing policy targeting minorities

2012 Chicago city vehicle sticker

Mayoral hopeful Toni Preckwinkle says if elected, she will address inequities highlighted by a study released last year that showed fines for not displaying a city vehicle sticker were more aggressively enforced against minorities. | File photo

Mayoral candidate Toni Preckwinkle vowed Tuesday to bring equity to an overly punitive ticketing policy that has unfairly targeted minority motorists and forced thousands of them into bankruptcy.

In vowing to go easier on motorists, Preckwinkle is pointing the finger of blame directly at her No. 1 challenger: newly elected state Comptroller Susana Mendoza, the former city clerk.

Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s first city budget increased city sticker fees, created a new and higher-price category for sport utility vehicles and dramatically raised the fine for failing to display a city sticker to $200, up from $120.

Mendoza, who was city clerk at the time, fought Emanuel to modify the city sticker increase but was instrumental in the plan to jack up the fines.

On Tuesday, Preckwinkle vowed to undue a punitive policy that, according to a Woodstock Institute study, has targeted motorists in “low- and moderate- income communities of color” at a rate 40 percent higher than motorists in more affluent neighborhoods.

RELATED: City urged to go easy on scofflaws after study shows minorities bear brunt of enforcement

If elected mayor, Preckwinkle vowed to:

• Devise a “graduated cost schedule” for city stickers to “make them affordable for low-income motorists.”

• Roll back city sticker fines from $200 to $120, which is where they were before the Mendoza-inspired hike.

• Stop suspending licenses for outstanding ticket debt associated with non-moving violations.

• Reduce the downpayment required to participate in payment plans that allow motorists to satisfy their outstanding ticket debt over time by eliminating the penalty for booted and towed vehicles.

• Abolish what she called “anti-scofflaw” rules prohibiting Chicagoans with outstanding city debts from being hired by the city or other agencies of local government.

• Create a task force within her proposed Office of Criminal Justice to do a deep dive into the disparities between aggressive ticketing in black and brown communities and less-aggressive ticketing in white neighborhoods.

The task force might even recommend ways to “cap enforcement to eliminate racial disparities,” Preckwinkle said, without explaining how that might work.

“Common-sense reforms to the city’s fee and fine policies could lead to greater compliance with the city sticker program, greater participation in the city’s debt payment plans and, most importantly, a policy that doesn’t prey on the city’s most vulnerable residents,” Preckwinkle said in a news release.

“Our commitment to social justice demands reform that recognizes the dignity of all of our residents.”

Mayoral candidate Susana Mendoza, left, in the Sun-Times newsroom last week. File Photo.| Rich Hein/Sun-Times; County Board President Toni Preckwinkle,right, speaks with the media on the first day of the filing period Monday. | James Foster/For the Sun-Times

Toni Preckwinkle (right) is going after Susana Mendoza (left) over city policies enacted while Mendoza was city clerk. City vehicle sticker costs were hiked and penalties for not displaying a sticker also were increased. Preckwinkle says enforcement of those policies has unfairly targeted minorities and the system must be revamped. | Sun-Times file photo

Mendoza’s campaign called the plan “yet another desperate attack” by a county board president “who has hiked one regressive tax after another and gave Joe Berrios a Lifetime Achievement Award even after his rigged and corrupt property tax system that locked thousands of Chicagoans, especially people of color, into a cycle of poverty, was exposed.”

The statement noted that Mendoza has “criticized the Chicago Department of Revenue’s enforcement of city sticker penalties, which unduly burdens those with limited financial resources.”

If Mendoza is elected mayor, she intends to “implement payment amnesties and debt forgiveness for working-class Chicagoans and advocate for payment plan options and means testing fees which are made possible by her technology transformation as City Clerk,” the statement said.

Preckwinkle’s plans mirror those made last summer by the Woodstock Institute after a report showed the city’s get-tough enforcement policies were having a disproportionate impact on low-income and minorities communities.

At the time, the Woodstock Institute urged the city to end the practice of suspending driver’s licenses for non-moving violations such as parking tickets and expired city stickers and offer motorists the option of paying off their debts with community service, instead of fines.

Chicago was also urged to offer more generous payments plans; follow New York City’s lead by imposing an eight-year statute of limitations on old tickets; adopt a San Francisco-style “fix-it” option to fines; and stop requiring city job applicants to pay off their outstanding city debts.

Last fall, City Clerk Anna Valencia persuaded the City Council to create a four-month city sticker, restore a 15-day grace period, offer a monthlong amnesty and re-examine “exorbitant” penalties to ease the burden on 500,000 delinquent motorists.

The appointed clerk now facing her first run for elective office has been under fire for presiding over a city sticker enforcement system that has driven thousands of motorists into bankruptcy while having disproportionate impact on African-American motorists.

Valencia confronted that elephant in the room during her turn on the hot seat at City Council budget hearings.

In her opening statement and again under questioning by aldermen and reporters, Valencia openly acknowledged that harsh penalties imposed after Emanuel increased city sticker fees in his first budget may have gone too far.

“You have to think about it: 2011 was a financial crisis in our city. Everyone was looking at generating revenue. Over time, we just have to go back and look at our policies and see if they still make sense,” Valencia said.

“It’s good for our city, eight years later, to review policies and make sure that we’re not having unintended consequences.” She noted that, “A lot of it happens in black and brown communities.”

Last year, a joint investigation by Pro Publica and WBEZ-FM Radio shined the spotlight on the punitive nature of sticker enforcement and racial disparities system in the ticketing system.