CHICAGO — Rep. Jesús “Chuy” García believes nurturing conversations among residents is the key to improving public institutions throughout the city.
“Dialogue lends itself to empathy, and understanding each other’s realities is at the crux of being able to move forward,” García told Block Club board President and Chicago Tribune columnist Laura Washington in a livestreamed interview Saturday.
García — who previously served on the City Council, state Senate and Cook County Board of Commissioners and is now a congressman — announced his mayoral campaign in November, shortly after he was reelected to represent Illinois’ 4th Congressional District. García ran for mayor in 2015, but he lost in a runoff to Rahm Emanuel.
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García lives in Little Village, where he spent eight years leading nonprofit Enlace Chicago, which he founded to improve neighborhood resources and make them more accessible.
García’s 2023 mayoral campaign is focused on improving public safety and Chicagoans’ overall quality of life by investing in underresourced neighborhoods and prioritizing community input.
García’s plan for improving public safety includes firing police Supt. David Brown, investing in violence prevention efforts and addressing longstanding inequities.
García said he plans to fill vacant positions in the city’s public safety department and replace current police leadership with people who “embrace the importance of community policing” and “restoring trust between community residents and police officers.”
Making investments that “get at the root cause of violence” is key, García said.
“It’s clear that the communities that have been most disinvested have the greatest levels of violence,” García said. “We have the capacity to identify these young people at risk of being shot or being shooters themselves.”
More should be done to implement recommendations from the consent decree, a federal court order mandating Chicago reform its Police Department through training and more supportive policies, he said.
“I see the consent decree as the roadmap to modernizing the police department and ushering in many of the things that the department and its leadership have historically resisted, including accountability, transparency, use of technology,” García said.
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With six grandchildren enrolled in Chicago Public Schools, Garcia is especially concerned with finding solutions to address learning loss caused by the pandemic and increase enrollment. He’s started encouraging state legislators to increase funding for CPS and other schools in the state to address these issues and better pay teachers.
“I’m especially concerned about how many students fell through the cracks and we haven’t identified them or gotten them back into school,” García said. “We need to double our efforts on that issue.”
In 2001, García and his neighbors successfully prevented the proposed closure of Little Village Lawndale High School.
García hopes to avoid school closures, but if under-enrolled schools must be shut down he plans to engage with local residents to develop ways for the buildings to be repurposed to serve the community in new ways, he said.
García criticized the conversion of Woodlawn’s Wadsworth Elementary, 6420 S. University Ave., into a shelter for migrants, saying neighbors should have had more of a say in the building’s redevelopment.
“When you close a school, you take a part of the life and the soul of that school, it leaves a great sense of desolation and abandonment in those neighborhoods,” García said. “My sense is that by being honest with people … you can prevent the fallout.”
García plans to take a “holistic approach” to address rampant vacancies in underserved neighborhoods by investing tax-increment financing dollars and other grants to renovate unused properties and assisting owners with property taxes.
García supports developments that serve multiple purposes and originate from community input, like Englewood’s Go Green on Racine. Developments should also be connected to public transit to reduce dependence on cars, he said.
”The neighborhood folks will tell you and have a pretty certain understanding of what will work and what won’t,” García said.
To make streets safer for cyclists and pedestrians, he said he’d create more protected bike lanes and would set annual goals to ensure they’re implemented.
García’s primary economic goal is “to get the engines of Chicago’s economy churning again” so that revenue from Downtown is used to improve other neighborhoods. He wants to reduce the city’s reliance on punitive fees, like red light cameras and parking fines.
Although García hasn’t directly overseen a budget as big as Chicago’s, he said he’s done a lot of research himself and will hire the “best and brightest” staff to support him.
“We have to rebuild Chicago to get it chugging again, especially after the civil unrest experienced in the last couple of years. That is the number one priority,” he said. “I will be consulting with fiscal experts, and those who are looking at the growth of the economy to see what additional steps we need to take in the future to make the city more sustainable and fortify its tax base.”
García has been endorsed by a variety of progressive state representatives, state senators, county officials and labor organizations, according to his website.
“I’ve been a progressive before it got popular and easy to be a progressive,” Garcia said.
However, García has faced criticism for his longtime support of former Illinois House Speaker Mike Madigan. García endorsed Madigan’s reelection in 2016 and continued to support Madigan after his former aide Kevin Quinn was accused of sexual harassment. Madigan was accused of covering up Quinn’s actions, and he and the party settled the suit for $275,000 in 2019.
García said he endorsed Madigan in 2016 at the advice of labor organizers who feared the election of then-Gov. Bruce Rauner would roll back workers’ rights in Illinois.
Politico reported García made deals with Mike Madigan so that he would support his allies and former staffers in their bids for public office, but Garcia said “it’s sheer speculation.”
“All the decisions we have made, in the past 10 years in particular, came from a position of strength, from a position of good ethics and from wielding our newfound progressive power,” García said.
García’s campaign received a $290,000 donation from a PAC represented by disgraced cryptocurrency CEO Sam Bankman-Fried, WBEZ reported.
García said he never spoke with Bankman-Fried, but briefly worked with his brother on COVID-19 relief efforts. His campaign donated the money to charity when he realized where it came from and he “didn’t know about it until it was flagged,” García said.
“The past three years, as a member of the financial services committee, I’ve been a critic of cryptocurrency,” García said. “We have warned that they are a great risk to the financial system, we have sought to regulate them.”
When it comes to dibs, García said he’d never park in a street parking spot someone else shoveled out from the snow. He does wish he could end the practice, but “it’s hard to go against the grain,” he said.
“I clean out my space and I’m OK with somebody taking it, but I still give them a hard look when I see them parking in that spot I shoveled,” García said.
The conversation with García is the latest in Block Club’s series of livestreamed talks with all nine mayoral candidates as the Feb. 28 election approaches. Block Club has also hosted conversations with Ja’Mal Green, Kam Buckner, Roderick Sawyer and Sophia King, Brandon Johnson and Lori Lightfoot. Paul Vallas joins at 2:30 p.m. Monday.
If no mayoral candidate receives at least 50 percent of the vote, the top two candidates will go to a runoff April 4.