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CHICAGO — At 27 years old, community activist Ja’Mal Green has never held political office and, if elected, would be the youngest mayor in Chicago’s history.
So what is his response to those who think he might be a little bit “too green” to run a city with a $16 billion budget?
“If you look at my record of what I’ve accomplished as an organizer and a business owner, I’m willing to put that record up against all of [the other candidates’] political records put together,” Green said Monday. “I love being the underdog.”
In a lively, wide-ranging interview with Block Club Chicago board President and Tribune political columnist Laura Washington that focused on everything from public safety to a public bank, Green vowed to clean house in the Police Department and the CTA, eliminate property tax raises, ban “the boot,” put a moratorium on charter schools and turn the Magnificent Mile into a “strip of experiences.”
The interview was the first in a series of livestreamed conversations Block Club has scheduled with mayoral candidates as the Feb. 28 election approaches. The next conversation is 3:30 p.m. Wednesday with Kam Buckner.
Watch the interview:
Green, a community activist who has led protests against police violence and Chase Bank’s racist lending practices, announced his mayoral campaign in June. He said on Monday that he grew up the son of a postal worker and was raised by a single mother. He is a self-identified progressive and supported Bernie Sanders’s 2016 presidential campaign.
Green has been critical of Mayor Lori Lightfoot’s assertions that crime has declined in the city. He’s advocated for a $100 million investment in public safety measures, including having unarmed social workers respond to police incidents, and $30 million for a youth intervention program.
While police data shows homicide and shootings decreased in 2022 from 2021, other forms of violent crime have continued to stay high.
On Monday Green offered other ideas to address crime. He pushed for the immediate implementation of Police Department reforms detailed in the 2019 consent decree, which is overseen by a federal court-appointed monitor. Green also called for a zero-tolerance policy for officers affiliated with the Proud Boys, a right-wing group involved in the Jan. 6 riots.
While criticizing the city’s current handling of police misconduct, Green suggested making police officers carry their own liability insurance. And unlike many other candidates, Green backed off from saying he would increase the police force.
“We cannot continue throwing police at the problem, because then we have more Tyre Nichols and more George Floyds,” he said. “I am sick of it.”
Asked about education, Green said the system of testing for admission to selective enrollment schools is “discriminatory” because it leaves many students without quality options. He called for a moratorium on charter schools, voiced opposition to school choice vouchers and said the city needs to work with the statehouse to change CPS’ funding from an enrollment-based system to a needs-based system.
“The funding for CPS is wrong,” Green said. “Every neighborhood should have a Walter Payton,” referring to one of the city’s top selective-enrollment high schools.
Listen to the interview:
One of the centerpieces of Green’s agenda is the creation of a public bank to fund reinvestment projects, affordable housing and small business development in underserved areas of the city.
On Monday, Green also said he would try to end aldermanic prerogative and implement tax breaks for developers who build within one year to try to decrease blight and revitalize some of the more than 600 vacant lots in the city. He criticized Mayor Lightfoot’s Invest South/West initiative, calling it “politics,” and said he would scrap the program in favor of his own.
While the program has promised $2.2 billion in economic and community development projects on the South and West sides, it has faced criticism from opposing campaigns for being repackaged from earlier administrations, slow-moving and exaggerated in its scope.
“It’s really, really terrible how they’ve unrolled the Invest South/West, how they’ve lied to people and lied to the public,” Green said. “We’re going to start with our own signature plan that is transparent, is community driven, is backed by real data, and is not a plan that is just for politics.”
Green also responded to questions on transit submitted by Block Club readers and subscribers by voicing support for a city infrastructure audit and the creation of a bike grid, and he said he would fire CTA President Dorval Carter Jr.
Despite proposing a hefty slate of investment initiatives for public safety, transportation and education, Green vowed on Monday to not raise property taxes — instead saying he would start discounting property taxes for people who stay in the same home and help people at risk of losing their homes with interest-free loans.
Green said he would fund the initiatives in part by increasing the city’s tax base, incentivizing small business growth and revitalizing Downtown.
Polls have shown Green trailing significantly behind other candidates in the race. He brushed off those concerns Monday, calling the polls “bogus” and saying they don’t reflect inroads he’d made with undecided and young voters. He said he will launch his first television ads soon after a donation from a supporter who he did not name.
The interview ended with Washington putting Green on the spot, literally, by asking about his support for “dibs” — the time-honored but controversial practice of reserving a parking spot with furniture if there’s snow on the ground.
“I would have a real problem with my mom if I was not pro-dibs,” he laughed.
A recording of the interview is here.
Read about all nine candidates running for mayor here.
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