A pivotal Chicago mayoral race, just a week away, on February 28, is an off-cycle election, and voter turnout could be low, as nine Democratic candidates court their vote and face pressure to address public safety and crime. Candidates include incumbent Mayor Lori Lightfoot, Congressmember Chuy García, Cook County Commissioner Brandon Johnson and former Superintendent of Chicago Public Schools Paul Vallas, who is endorsed by the Fraternal Order of Police. This comes as Republican Governor Ron DeSantis spoke Monday in Chicago in support of police. We discuss the race with Democracy Now! co-host Juan González in Chicago, along with Chuy García supporter Luis Gutiérrez, a former Democratic congressmember for Illinois and former member of the Chicago City Council, and Brandon Johnson supporter Barbara Ransby, a professor of Black studies, gender and women’s studies and history at the University of Illinois Chicago.
AMY GOODMAN: This is Democracy Now!, democracynow.org, The War and Peace Report. I’m Amy Goodman in New York, and in Chicago Juan González will be joining us in a minute.
We begin today’s show in Chicago, where a key mayoral race is just a week away, on Tuesday, February 28th. Voters are being courted by nine Democratic candidates. But on Monday, Republican Governor Ron DeSantis waded into the race from Florida when he gave a speech in the Chicago suburbs at an event hosted by the Chicago Fraternal Order of Police.
GOV. RON DESANTIS: The reason why you have crime that has spiraled out of control in so many of these different areas is ’cause you have politicians putting woke ideology ahead of public safety.
AMY GOODMAN: Chicago’s Democratic mayoral candidates tried to distance themselves from DeSantis, including Paul Vallas, who’s endorsed by the Chicago Fraternal Order of Police. He’s the former superintendent of Chicago Public Schools. Also running for mayor, incumbent Mayor Lori Lightfoot, Congressmember Chuy García, Cook County Commissioner Brandon Johnson and businessman Willie Wilson. Next Tuesday’s election is an off-cycle election, and voter turnout could be low. If there’s no clear majority, two candidates will go to a runoff election on April 4th.
For more, we go to Chicago, where we’re joined by two guests.
Luis Gutiérrez is a former Democratic congressmember from Illinois. He served from 1993 until his retirement in 2019 and was a member of the Congressional Progressive Caucus. He was also a member of the Chicago City Council from 1986 until his election to Congress. We should note that he is supporting Chuy García.
Also with us is Barbara Ransby, historian, author and activist, who’s supporting Johnson. Ransby is a professor of Black studies, gender and women’s studies and history at the University of Illinois Chicago. Her latest book is Making All Black Lives Matter: Reimagining Freedom in the 21st Century. Her recent piece for Truthout is headlined “Ron DeSantis’s Attack on Black Studies Is Textbook Proto-Fascism.”
We welcome you both back to Democracy Now! Barbara Ransby, let’s begin with you. Can you talk about why this Chicago mayoral race is important for people to understand all over the country? What’s at stake?
BARBARA RANSBY: Yeah. Thank you for having me, Amy, and thank you for covering the DeSantis issue, because that’s an important one, too.
You know, Chicago is at a crossroads. Chicago is a city historically steeped in racism, deeply divided by both race and class. We’ve had some pretty awful mayors over the years. And it’s been a site of police violence and torture for many years, and communities have been traumatized by that. This mayoral election, we have an opportunity to have a truly progressive candidate, a truly progressive mayor. And that opens possibilities for our movements in Chicago in ways that we have not seen in a very long time.
I would say, you know, it’s a complicated race. There’s nine people in it. And some of their demands do overlap. Some of their platforms do overlap. But one of the reasons I’m supporting Brandon Johnson — and I supported Chuy last time, and Chuy does come out of progressive movements, but Brandon is the movement candidate in this election. He is supported by the leftists in the City Council, from Rossana Rodríguez to Byron Sigcho-Lopez and others, and the fighting unions in this town. You know, the unions have — the teachers’ unions all over the country have been an inspiration, but Chicago Teachers Union has been a particular inspiration, and that’s the movement that Brandon comes out of, a protégé of Karen Lewis.
And then, most importantly, I’ve really been won over by young grassroots organizers, Black and Brown, the kids who were in the streets to protest Laquan McDonald’s murder, who have been marching and demanding jobs, demanding attention to neglected and abandoned communities. They have been marching in the streets, sit-ins at City Hall over the years. And this cycle, they are knocking on doors and phone banking for Brandon Johnson.
So, to have a candidate that comes out of movement, committed to movement, accountable to movement and who can speak to and excite young Black and Brown people in this city, to me, is a real opportunity to point Chicago in a different direction and to not have it be the place where rogue cops run the town and racist cops run the town and rich people feel comfortable and poor people are afraid. So, that’s why it’s an important election. And we are hoping for a good outcome next week.
AMY GOODMAN: And former Congressmember Luis Gutiérrez, it’s great to see you again.
LUIS GUTIÉRREZ: Thank you for having me back.
AMY GOODMAN: You’re supporting Chuy García. Can you address why you are? Neither of you are supporting the current mayor, Lori Lightfoot.
LUIS GUTIÉRREZ: Sure. Well, we both supported Lori Lightfoot, as did the immense population in the city of Chicago, because we looked at her as a true reformer four years ago. She’s turned out to be an abysmal failure, abysmal failure because property taxes have skyrocketed in the city of Chicago, crime has skyrocketed in the city of Chicago. And guess what: So has pollution in the Latino community. She said she was going to be against the asphalt company, and then gave them $50 million. She blew up a chimney in the middle of COVID, causing devastation and environmental hazards to our community that we still don’t know. That’s Lori Lightfoot.
Jesús García? Yes, Karen Lewis, eight years ago, as she was dying of cancer, called Jesús García and said, “Would you carry on the progressive movement?” The president of the CTU. He’s the same Jesús García today, a progressive leader who has crisscrossed this country for Bernie Sanders. We all know that, that he’s a national spokesperson for him. We know where he’s at on immigration. We know where he’s at on crime. We know where he’s at on income inequality. And as Harold used to teach us, both Chuy and I, because we learned from him, the first progressive mayor of the city of Chicago, the first Black mayor of the city of Chicago, where we built a coalition of Black and white and Latinos — and I’m proud to say that Latinos, over 60% of us, in the general election in 1983, and subsequently in 1987, voted to build such a coalition. Who led that coalition? Jesús “Chuy” García. Brandon Johnson is a great Cook County commissioner. He’s been a Cook County commissioner for four years. Chuy has been a Cook County commissioner for eight years, a state senator for eight years, a member of Congress for five years, a city councilmember for seven years. He has over 34 years of experience. He is the experienced candidate, and he can build coalitions, as he has in the past.
Now, addressing the issue of crime, I think we have to understand something. I don’t go by the polls. I don’t go by the rhetoric of the politicians. I go by speaking to people each and every day in their homes. Over 600 households, I have sat in their homes, speaking to them. They are afraid to go out and let their children play. They’re afraid to do grocery shopping. They won’t come downtown. It’s not a psychosis that’s occurring in the Latino community, as I go out there and knock on doors, in white communities, in Black communities. They are afraid. And we need to bring a leader to the city of Chicago that is going to free them from that. And Jesús “Chuy” García is the one person who can finally make sure that policemen are held accountable to the highest standards when they go wrong. Laquan McDonald, that will not go in vain. Laquan McDonald, he lived 17 precious years, and they put 16 bullets into him. That should not happen in the city of Chicago, where it’s seven times more likely if you’re Black to be shot by a Chicago police officer, three times more likely if you’re Latino. We’re going to hold them accountable, and at the same time — at the same time, we’re going to make sure that the community and the men and women that put on that blue uniform each day are speaking to each other, are fighting together to reestablish order in our community and to reestablish security in our community.
AMY GOODMAN: Juan González is now joining us, Democracy Now! co-host. And, Juan, last week, on February 8th, you co-hosted a mayoral forum with many of the candidates. And now this week you have the backdrop of the presidential aspirant, not yet declared, Florida’s Governor Ron DeSantis coming to Chicago, addressing the Fraternal Order of Police. And they are endorsing one of the candidates that’s running in the Democratic race. Can you talk about, having moved from the East Coast to Chicago, why this is all so critical, Juan?
JUAN GONZÁLEZ: Well, obviously, you’re talking about one of the largest cities in the nation, and the issues that are being raised here in the Chicago race are similar to many occurring in — that occur in the New York mayoral race, that are occurring in many local races around the country, the issue of how progressive police accountability will occur, what will be the nature of the empowerment of local communities in their governance. And so, these are some of the similar issues that are playing here.
But I wanted to ask Barbara — in all likelihood, if the polls are — unless the polls are way off, none of the nine candidates, including the current mayor, will get a majority of the vote here in this first round. And your sense of the — clearly, the business community is largely lining up behind Paul Vallas, the only white candidate of the nine in the race. I’m wondering what’s your sense of, depending on who ends up as the two facing each other in a runoff, what kind — will the progressive movement be still able to come together again, if one of the progressive candidates ends up among the two?
BARBARA RANSBY: I think, yes, we will. Look, we choose our candidate, the person who we think is the best person to move a progressive agenda at any given moment in time, and then we deal with the political reality and hand that we are dealt. None of us are going to vote and feel like our job is done. Whoever is elected, we’re going to have to fight to hold them accountable. We’re going to have to push them, because they’re going to be pushed on all sides. So I do think the movement will come together behind the most progressive candidate in a runoff.
Paul Vallas is our worst nightmare. And, you know, the fact that DeSantis comes now, I think, has really lit a fire under some people who may have been less excited about voting in this cycle — although I think there is a lot of motivation and a lot of excitement — because I think he really shows us a kind of authoritarian future, a neofascist future. You know, he is reminding us of the worst-case scenario — DeSantis, that is. And, of course, he’s aligned with folks who are aligned with Paul Vallas. So I think we take that threat very seriously.
But I do want to go back to this question of police and crime. Right? We saw the largest mobilization in this country’s history in 2020 after the murder of George Floyd. That was not an isolated incident. People feel terrorized in their homes, not just by crime but also by what the police will do if they go out of their homes. What will happen to their sons and daughters if they’re coming back from a party and get pulled over by police? You know, what will happen if police come and indiscriminately decide who’s a criminal and who’s not? So, there are a lot of fears. And we have to have complex answers to complex problems, right? I mean, we all want simple solutions. We want push-button solutions. Cops sound like a good answer to people, because that’s what we’ve been socialized to listen for, but that is not a solution. And so, what I’m looking to, you know, in this race, and what we’re all hoping for, is a set of solutions, from housing to jobs to deescalation in our communities to viable schools that really give children, young people alternatives. We’re looking for all that in whoever lands in City Hall in Chicago. But, yes, we will unite around the most progressive candidate, or the least harmful candidate, when this thing settles. But we have higher hopes than that.
JUAN GONZÁLEZ: And, Luis Gutiérrez, I wanted to ask you — clearly, Chuy García is the only Latino official running in this race, yet some of the polls are indicating that he’s not even registering majority support among the Latino electorate. I’m wondering your thoughts about that. Are the polls way off, or is the Latino community developed to the point where it doesn’t matter whether you are the same ethnicity, they’re looking at your political views and your perspectives primarily?
LUIS GUTIÉRREZ: Sure, sure. Well, number one, Juan, WBEZ, NBC/Telemundo put out a poll 10 days ago showing Jesús García in second place. He’s always been in first and second place in every scientific poll, not survey. And he deserves to be there. And, Juan, I don’t know what the polls say, but I invite you to my home. Last night I called a Latino woman. She’s 72 years old. And you know what she told me? She said, “Tell Chuy, 'Yo soy de él.'” I have never heard such an endorsement of a candidate. “I am his. Yo soy de él.” I wish people could understand the impact of those words and what they had on me. He is going to carry — let me just make it clear: When he ran against Rahm Emanuel, he carried the Latino community, not only in the primary, in the first set of elections — as Dr. Lee has suggested, there’s going to be a runoff — he carried it even more overwhelmingly in the runoff. And that was eight years ago. Since then, he has stood up.
And I just want to talk a little bit about progressive politics. Who is the progressive candidate in this race? There may be more than one. Because I remember 1986, gay rights ordinance. Chuy and I had just arrived in the City Council. The cardinal, Bernardin, the cardinal of the city of Chicago, threatened with excommunication. Chuy is Catholic. I’m Catholic. He comes from a community devoutly Catholic. And yet he voted for the gay rights ordinance. It was defeated, because in 1986 we didn’t have the power to pass it. We subsequently passed it in the Chicago City Council, and we’ve moved forward. Chuy has always been standing by women and reproductive rights. He has a history of doing that for 34 years as a Cook County commissioner, as a state legislator, as a state senator, as a member of Congress. But he’s also been for immigrant rights. And, unfortunately, too many times in the progressive movement, immigrant rights are always put at the bottom of the shelf, not seen, not heard of. Chuy will make sure that those immigrants are heard. And many people will say, “Well, maybe because they’re Latino.” Yes, they’re Latino, but they’re also Haitian, but they’re also Irish, they’re also Polish. They come — they’re also Asian. They come from all over the world. The 11 [million] undocumented workers every day go to work in this country, build this country, but have no rights in this country. Chuy is going to put a bright light on those workers, too. See, the magic about Jesús García is that he sees everyone, that he was nurtured — nurtured — by Harold Washington, the first Black mayor of the city of Chicago. He knows what it is to build a coalition together. And as Harold said to us, “I see everybody. I will treat everybody fairly. But I also see people who have been unseen in the past.”
JUAN GONZÁLEZ: And, Barbara Ransby, we just have about 30 seconds, but I’m wondering your sense of the impact of other questions in this race — for instance, the elections of the new police councils, community councils at the district level. Is this going to have an impact on turnout? What’s your sense of what the turnout will be like?
BARBARA RANSBY: Yeah, I’m hoping the turnout will be great. I have — you know, Brandon’s numbers are going up. I was at a big community meeting yesterday, and people couldn’t get in the room, so I think it’s — you know, it’s ascendant.
I do want to speak to the question of experience, as we kind of wrap up this conversation, too. You know, I come from the same generation as Chuy and Luis. You know, we all have more experience than our younger colleagues and comrades. But I think experience can be measured in a lot of different ways. And one of the things that I’ve tried to be is a kind of humble elder in this movement, you know, is to defer to a set of experiences I have not had. You know, I think Brandon has been a teacher in the public schools, was one of the sit-in leaders at Dyett High School in 2015 fighting for education for all our children. We worked together in something called the R3 Coalition here, Reimagine Chicago. And in that coalition, you know, there were folks fighting for immigrant rights, labor rights, LGBTQ rights, and so that big tent for this generation. And sometimes they have a different lexicon and all kinds of different sensibilities that my generation did not have. So, I’m seeing Brandon as a candidate of the future. You know, we all loved Harold Washington. Brandon was only 7 or 8 years old then, so we can’t hold him accountable for not being there for that. But we do — you know, whoever is the most progressive candidate, we will support in the final runoff, but I am hoping that the most movement-affiliated candidate in this round, which I think is Brandon Johnson, will prevail. And we need Chuy to fight that fight in Congress. We’re counting on him. So —
AMY GOODMAN: Barbara Ransby —
BARBARA RANSBY: Yeah.
AMY GOODMAN: Barbara Ransby, we thank you so much for being with us, historian, author and activist; Luis Gutiérrez, former Democratic congressmember from Illinois.