The Chicago Sun-Times Editorial Board sent mayoral candidates a list of questions to find out their views on a range of issues facing the city. Susana Mendoza submitted the following responses Dec. 23 (the Sun-Times does not edit candidate responses):
Who is Susana Mendoza?
Her political/civic background: I’m a Chicago native who loves this city and has stood up for working families in city and state government my whole career. As a six-term state legislator from 2001– 2011, I was proud to fight to improve healthcare, invest in education, and grow high-tech jobs.
For five years as city clerk, I improved government transparency, streamlined public services, and worked as an independent watchdog and advocate for saving taxpayer money.
And as Illinois state comptroller, I fought every day to hold Bruce Rauner accountable for the damage he had done to Illinois’ communities while saving the state from fiscal collapse.
Throughout my career in public service, I have been proud to fight for working families throughout this state and this city. As Mayor, I hope to build on my record of success and help all of our neighborhoods thrive.
Her occupation: Comptroller, State of Illinois
Her education: B.A. in Business Administration, Northeast Missouri State University
Campaign website: susanamendoza.com
Chicago is on the hook for $42 billion in unfunded pension liabilities, which works out to $35,000 for every household. Those pensions, in the language of the Illinois Constitution, “shall not be diminished or impaired.” Should the state Constitution be amended to allow a reduction in pension benefits for current city employees or retirees? How about reducing pension benefits for new employees? Please explain.
Susana Mendoza: I believe pensions are a promise and will not cut promised pensions.
Of the following often proposed sources of new revenue for Chicago, which of the following do you favor, and why?
- A Chicago casino
Susana Mendoza: If done responsibly, a casino can be a critical source of revenue with a portion earmarked to address pension payments. I would make this a priority of my Springfield agenda.
- Legalized and taxed recreational marijuana
Susana Mendoza: Legalizing marijuana in a responsible way, with the input of law enforcement and community stakeholders, can be a critical revenue stream that can help address funding for social services and pensions. I am in favor.
- A LaSalle Street tax
Susana Mendoza: In today’s digital economy, any meaningful tax on financial transactions will simply lead all trading operations — and the jobs and tax base that come with them — to leave the city. This would be a net loss for the city rather than a new stream of revenue. I am opposed.
- A commuter tax
Susana Mendoza: I am opposed to a commuter tax. It’s an idea that could seem appealing in theory, but it has proven to be legally dubious and rife with unintended consequences, specifically in major cities like Philadelphia, Cleveland and Detroit. Those major cities have all experienced population decline and economic stagnation since levying their commuter tax.
- A property tax increase
Susana Mendoza: will look to meet our city’s obligations and invest in our neighborhoods without balancing our city’s budget on the backs of the middle class. Raising property taxes should always be a last resort. I will continue to fight for Springfield to take on greater responsibility for school funding, so that local taxing bodies don’t have to keep going to the same well, property taxes, to fund our schools.
- A municipal sales tax increase
Susana Mendoza: I am opposed to raising the regressive sales tax because it hits low-income families the hardest.
- A real estate transfer tax increase
Susana Mendoza: The real estate transfer tax has been proposed to cover nearly every program imaginable, from pension stabilization to addressing homelessness. Before we turn to the tax, we must fully implement reforms at the State and County level that would allow for a targeted implementation that only affects downtown properties that can afford a minimal increase. I am opposed to a general increase on middle class homes.
- Video gambling
Susana Mendoza: I would consider video gambling if implemented in a way that does not target our most disenfranchised neighborhoods and as part of a larger discussion on a city casino. I am in favor of adding video gambling/slots at O’Hare and possibly Midway airports, although those revenues would have to remain in the airport system.
- What other sources of new revenue do you favor or oppose?
Susana Mendoza: I also support passage of a progressive state income tax at the state level, which will generate significant revenue to help the city address its revenue challenges.
The City of Chicago has entered into a federally monitored consent decree to overhaul the training and practices of the Chicago Police Department. Civil libertarians say it is long overdue, but others say it is unnecessary and could make it tougher for the police to do their job. What’s your view?
Susana Mendoza: When it comes to tackling crime here in Chicago, there should be no “us and them”; there should only be “we.” I believe in fully implementing the consent decree and helping our police officers transition from a warrior mindset to a guardian mindset. To do so means giving our officers the training and tools they need to recognize mental health crises, engage in de-escalation techniques, and ending the code of silence in our department.
By taking these steps, and by enlisting families in neighborhoods across our city, I am confident we can make our city safer while repairing relationships between law enforcement officers and the communities they serve.
What should Chicago do to reduce the number of illegal guns?
Susana Mendoza: I will work with Governor Pritzker and Springfield legislators to pass common sense regulations to crack down on the flood of guns entering Chicago from suburban and downstate gun dealers. Over the past two years, legislators have worked to develop a balanced approach that would require gun dealers to obtain a state license or certification and put preventative measures in place including installing security systems, training employees on straw purchasers and other risks, and developing a safe storage plan among other changes. Due to Governor Rauner’s opposition, this bill has not yet become law. With change coming in Springfield, we have an opportunity to help push these reforms forward.
In addition to your thoughts on how to stem the problem of illegal guns, what else should the next mayor of Chicago do to reduce the rate of violent crime in our city?
Susana Mendoza: Data show that our neighborhoods suffering from the highest crime rates are also struggling with other challenges including high unemployment rates, lower life expectancies, and other public health issues. I recognize that the success of our families is inexorably linked to violent crime in our communities and will take a holistic view of the problem by investing in at-risk youth and police officers.
USA Today called big city murder clearance rates in general, and Chicago’s rock bottom 17% clearance rate in particular, a national disaster. They’re right. I will give our police officers the resources they need to do their jobs effectively by investing in smart, community policing that treats violence as the public health epidemic that it is. I strongly support hiring more detectives so that we can solve more crimes more quickly, building upon proven policing strategies that leverage technology to reduce response times, equipping officers with body cameras and tasers, and investing in street-level intervention. And I will fully implement the consent decree to ensure we create trust between police officers and the communities they serve.
Violence and education are inextricably linked.
That’s why I will continue to invest and expand investments in successful school-based violence prevention programs that have a significant impact on improving educational outcomes and reducing violent crime. Programs like BAM (Becoming A Man) and WOW (Working On Womanhood).
By investing in our neighborhoods and giving police officers and families the tools they need to thrive, I’m confident we can rebuild relations between police and the communities they serve while reducing the violent crime that plagues too many of our neighborhoods.
What is the appropriate role of charter schools within the Chicago Public Schools system?
Susana Mendoza: I believe that we need to first prioritize our neighborhood schools and ensure that we have a comprehensive conversation that includes every stakeholder in our school system to help shape the future of the district together and best serve every student in CPS regardless of where they live and the school they attend. I support the work that CTU did to negotiate a charter school cap in their contract. And, I support the right of teachers to organize in charter schools.
While my focus will be on empowering CPS principals and teachers, charter schools have historically played a role in testing new educational models that, if successful, can be scaled to larger districts. Charters can remain a piece of that overall strategy when needed, as long as they are held accountable to the same high standards and do not divert resources from our neighborhood schools.
Should the Chicago Board of Education be solely appointed by the mayor, as is now the case? Or should Chicago switch to an elected school board or some hybrid? Please explain.
Susana Mendoza: I support a school board mixed with elected and appointed officials. As a proud CPS parent, I believe community members deserve a voice on their school board, but I also believe a mayor has to have skin in the game and be held accountable for the performance of our neighborhood schools. As mayor, I will never abdicate or walk away from my responsibility and accountability to Chicago’s students.
What else would you do as mayor to improve the quality of public school education?
Susana Mendoza: I am setting the goal as mayor of cutting the educational achievement gap by half within eight years.
I will view every educational decision through a simple prism: does it help to close the achievement gap?
To help me towards this ambitious goal, as mayor, instead of looking to the next 50 schools to close, I’ll be focused on which 50 underutilized schools we should be doubling down on, turning them into true community hubs and stronger academic centers. I call it the 50NEW Initiative. 50 stands for the number of community schools we would create within existing, underutilized school buildings over the next eight years. NEW stands for Neighborhood Education Works. Rather than close a school with lower enrollment, my 50NEW Initiative would use the extra space in those buildings to offer wraparound social services to students and their families.
Chicago, by ordinance, is an official “welcoming city.” This means the Chicago police are generally prohibited from detaining undocumented immigrants on behalf of federal immigration authorities. What’s your position on this policy? What more — or less — should be done with respect to undocumented immigrants who live in Chicago?
Susana Mendoza: I’m the daughter of hard-working Mexican immigrants. As mayor, Chicago will remain a beacon among sanctuary cities in this country, celebrating our city’s rich diversity as a destination for so many cultures and ethnicities from across the globe. I’ll ensure it remains so and will stand up to ICE and Donald Trump at every turn as they attempt to bring harm to immigrant families. I support expanding Chicago’s Welcoming City Ordinance with due process put in place for those who may have pending felony charges or open warrants. I believe in striving to keep families together.
What are the top three environmental concerns facing the next mayor of Chicago?
Susana Mendoza: The next mayor of Chicago faces big challenges to protect our environment and prepare our city for the next generation. The next mayor must be prepared to create green jobs, stand up to polluters, and be a leader in combating climate change.
I have fought to help create green jobs in Illinois for almost 20 years. As State Representative, I helped pass a tax credit for angel investors in biotech companies in an effort to create jobs in Chicago and throughout our state. I agree that one of the best ways to create jobs in our city is to invest in the clean energy economy. I will be a strong advocate to bring green jobs to our city and train today’s workforce for tomorrow’s clean energy economy jobs.
In this campaign I have fought to hold polluters accountable, publicly backing Alderman Hopkins’ proposal to hold General Iron accountable for their reckless disregard for our environment. As mayor, I look forward to working with Alderman Hopkins and all of City Council to close General Iron’s Chicago facility and give every community in our city the access to green space and clean air and water they deserve.
I will also be a leader in tackling climate change. I will hold Chicago to the standards of the Paris Climate Accords and help workers and businesses transition to the next generation’s green economy.
Chicago is famously a city of neighborhoods, which is part of its charm, but also in some ways a weakness. It can make it hard to build bridges across racial, ethnic and social lines. What would you do to build those bridges?
Susana Mendoza: My 50NEW Initiative would help lift up neighborhoods that have been left behind by investing in our underutilized schools and creating true community hubs where students and their families can get the wraparound services they need to thrive.
I will also work closely with the Chicago Police Department to end the code of silence, implement the consent decree, and transition our officers from a warrior mindset to a guardian mindset. With these reforms, I believe we can keep our neighborhoods safe and work to rebuild trust between law enforcement and the communities they serve.
By investing in communities that have traditionally been left behind and reforming our criminal justice system, I believe we can help break down the barriers we face and help close the achievement gap in our communities. I’m from the neighborhood, I understand the challenges our neighborhoods face, and I’ll be a mayor who always puts our neighborhoods first. I also believe that a thriving business district is critical to accomplishing the type of neighborhood investments that I believe will be transformational for the next generation. I will be looking to partner with our business community to bring the neighborhoods of Chicago back to life and make our city a city that works for everyone.
What past or present Chicago mayor would you model yourself after or take inspiration from? Please explain.
Susana Mendoza: I will be looking to be my own mayor modeled after the values my parents raised me with. Values that center around a relentless work ethic, love and respect for others, and a strong moral compass. A knowledge that the greatest strength and power is achieved through kindness. And the confidence to believe in myself and my potential to achieve what others may think is unachievable. Lastly, a passion for serving and helping others, before self. That is a mayor my parents would be proud of.
I draw inspiration from Mayor Jane Byrne. As the first woman mayor of Chicago, Mayor Byrne took on the party bosses, brought bold, fresh leadership to the city, and fought to put our neighborhoods first. I’m honored to have her daughter, Kathy Byrne, as a co-chair on my campaign and am so proud to wear the pin Jane wore on her election day.
Other than “Boss” (because everybody says “Boss”) what’s the best book ever written about Chicago, non-fiction or fiction. There are no wrong answers, of course, so we hope you’ll have some fun.
Susana Mendoza: The Devil in the White City by Erik Larson. Awesome. Couldn’t put it down. Needed eyedrops to soothe the redness in my eyes from lack of sleep from staying up too late reading it.
Also running for mayor: