With Chicago’s mayoral election right around the corner, hundreds gathered at the Mt. Carmel Baptist Church on Tuesday February 17 to grill candidates on issues of affordable housing. The sanctuary filled with the sounds of New Orleans jazz band (it was Fat Tuesday after all) warming up the crowd before the event. The audience was filled with representatives from the Chicago Housing Initiative, Logan Square Neighborhood Association, Access Living, One Northside, Jane Addams Senior Caucus, People for Community Recovery, STOP, and many other groups whose issues have not been at the forefront of the mayoral race.
Though all candidates were invited to participate (and it was a given that Mayor Rahm Emanuel would not be coming), front-running challenger Jesus “Chuy” Garcia was a no-show. Reportedly, Garcia cancelled at the last minute to attend a fundraiser in Logan Square on the same evening. Candidates Bob Fioretti, Bill “Dock” Walls, and Willie Wilson took turns answering questions from the audience, struggling to fit their main talking points in one minute increments. The questions proved more informative than the answers.
Attendees asked about:
- The candidates’ strategies for developing more affordable housing in Chicago
- One-for-one replacement of demolished public housing units
- Terms of sale and transfer of land owned by the Chicago Housing Authority into private hands
- Full voucher utilization
- Restoring accountability and oversight by the city over the CHA
- Equal access to CHA programs for Latino residents
- Renegotiating the terms of the Gautreaux consent decree
- Access to contracts with the CHA for resident-owned businesses
- Fighting segregation
- Saving single-room occupancy accommodations
- The highly controversial and totally under-reported issue of the CHA’s “two heartbeats to a bedroom” policy, under which boys and girls of all ages are forced to share bedrooms in public housing
Mayor Rahm doesn’t come to these events because he knows that these are not the issues that decide elections. However, the persistence of these groups to stay united and organized can sometimes make a difference in City Council and in court. As the candidates spoke vaguely about their commitment to the gathered voters, carefully eschewing any specific answers, the gathering presented itself as an educated, knowledgeable, and discerning force. This in itself that may prove more fruitful to the participants down the line than any of the would-be mayors taking turns at the pulpit.