CN December 20 2018


Mayoral candidate Amara Enyia will not be returning any money she received from Ed Burke, as Toni Preckwinkle and Suzanna Mendoza have announced they will.

“Not at all,” she proclaims with a hearty laugh. “Apparently other people (got Burke money) but not us. Just that whole situation is emblematic of sort of what we are moving away from which is the politics of the past and the individuals who have really benefited from systems that have hurt taxpayers and hurt residents. We are very clear about what we represent and so donations or funding from someone like Ed Burke just was never on our radar anyway.”

We had two full pages of questions and issues to cover. Early on in the conversation, though, we seemed to be wandering off-topic a lot.

It turned out to be a broad discussion about Mayoral power, the ability of a city to rebuild itself, and the real meaning of community involvement – with plenty of Mayoral politics thrown in, of course.

For example, Enyia explains why housing, public health, violence and the environment are all, from a public policy perspective, the same.

“You cannot have a conversation about the economy without talking about housing,” she explains. “You can’t have a conversation about violence in my view without talking about public health and exposure to public health hazards that actually create impulsive behavior in children, so that would be exposure to lead or exposure to manganese in the soil, which is a reality for many families in different parts of the city. And so we would believe that violence is this intractable thing when really it is simply the manifestation of our public policy failings in all of these different systems. So the way that you address violence is by addressing all of those public policy failings. You have to address public health hazard exposure. You have to address an economy where people can actually plug-in, which might mean expanding trades and vocation in schools.”

We talk about the couple of years she spent in Mayor Daley’s policy office, and the lessons she learned.

“There is a disconnect, she declares. “There was, that’s what I saw. There was a clear disconnect between those who make policy and those who are affected by policy. And if you are not connected to people on the ground, not just those who have access to clout or access to money, but real people living in their neighborhoods you cannot make good public policy. And so as we see what’s happened over the last several years with the exacerbated displacement of individuals and families from their neighborhoods, we’ve seen what’s happened with the disruption and dysfunction in our public school system. We have seen the lack of affordability to be able to stay here. It has only increased over the last several years and that is a direct result of a top down policy-making paradigm that has favored one part of the city at the expense of the neighborhood.”

You may be interested to know that Amara Enyia has no intention of finding a way to cut existing pensions.

“Absolutely not,” she asserts. “Pensions are guaranteed. The individuals who are collecting on their pensions have already done the work. Those of us who do know why the pensions are not sustainable it was not because these individuals didn’t do the work that was requested or asked of them.

Ken:             Or put their payments in.

Amara E:      Exactly. They did what they were supposed to do. However, government elected officials made conscious decisions to not pay into those pensions, to take those pension holidays. They did not fulfill their end of the end so to me it seems very unfair and quite frankly insidious to now attempt a constitutional amendment to cover for the mismanagement of government and now doing so in a way that would hurt individuals who are collecting their pensions, many of whom are on fixed incomes and who are already dealing with affordability issues as it stands. So it actually erodes trust in the public sector when you put forth those sorts of proposals.”

Does everyone need a four-year university degree?  No, says Enyia, and its time to acknowledge that fact.

“I worked in the advanced manufacturing sector and I know the jobs, in many instances six-figure jobs that were vacant they did not require a four-year degree, they just required a certification. And those jobs are there but we have moved away from that because we shifted to this 100% college-bound philosophy which is not even in alignment with the global economy. That means expanding access to vocational trades, expanding access to – I worked with an organization that trains young people through adults in information technology, coding, cyber security, the jobs of the future. We’ve got to actually start preparing for that when they are in elementary school. That’s what the city can do. If we invest in people and invest quite frankly in neighborhoods violence becomes less of an issue. It does not become an issue, and we have to do it now because it is now becoming generational where you have one generation that has not had parents who have been able to work, right. So our willingness to address these issues at the root as opposed to the easy thing which is to say oh we will just put 1,000 more police on the street…”

Amara Enyia is the daughter of Nigerian immigrants, who were on the losing side of the Biafran war for independence from Nigeria. Enyia, who speaks Igbo, the language of many of the Biafrans (and also four other languages) learned a lot of political lessons from her parents. “I remember when I was maybe 13 or 14 my father was writing a book about the war. It was called The Blueprint for Nigeria’s Democracy, and I had to type that book,” she tells us. 

You can watch the program by tapping the image above.

You can listen to the show here.

Read the full transcript of this show here: CN transcript Dec 20 2018


About Ken

Ken's the host of Chicago Newsroom. A former news director, reporter and radio program host, he's also a past Vice President of the Chicago Headline Club.
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