Martha Garcia Barragan was one of approximately 750 people from across the city gathered on Saturday afternoon to hear how candidates in the packed race for Chicago mayor plan to address issues impacting women in the city. She decided to attend because she knows the importance of the contributions of women in Chicago.
“I just think that all candidates should be really aware that women really empower the development of a city, and they should all put a lot of attention on equality for women and women’s rights,” Garcia Barragan said.
The Chicago Women Take Action Alliance hosted the Women’s Mayoral Forum, featuring eight of the nine candidates running for mayor. The forum covered topics from crime to abortion to education and trades.
The forum also included discussions about other issues that affect women in the city such as affordable housing.
Activist Ja’Mal Green proposed incentivizing stores and businesses to build housing on the top floors of their building as well as having the city get more involved in housing.
“We need to get private owners who have builders that aren’t being used and acquire them to increase our affordable housing supply dramatically,” Green said.
U.S. Rep. Jesus “Chuy” Garcia said that federal funds from the infrastructure act should be used to build affordable housing but that the city needed to remove barriers.
“We need to streamline and make it easier for nonprofit developers to build new housing on the South and West Side. They’re trying to do that, but the city can’t be an obstacle,” Garcia said.
Rishona Taylor, a DePaul University alumna, was one of around a dozen Alpha Kappa Alpha sorority members in attendance at the forum. She explained that members from chapters across the city chose to attend because it aligns with their bigger platform. “It was something that we all wanted to take a part of, to get the knowledge and information that we could share with our communities at large,” she said.
Joan Flanagan, former adjunct faculty at DePaul, said she was hoping to hear about candidates’ proposals for the city.
“Several of those candidates have run before, and I think it would be good if [we had] some new ideas, some fresh ideas,” Flanagan said.
At the forum, all eight candidates affirmed their pro-abortion rights stance while speaking on abortion access. Mayor Lightfoot took the opportunity to openly criticize Paul Vallas for not being more outspoken on the issue after the overturning of Roe v. Wade last year. Businessman Willie Wilson spoke about being anti-abortion when he was younger and now being pro-choice and sharing support for all reproductive choices.
Beyond abortion, forum moderators Carol Marin,the co-director of the DePaul Center for Journalism Integrity & Excellence, and Cheryl Corley, NPR correspondent, asked all of the mayoral candidates how they plan to address the low numbers of women in trades. ”In Chicago where women and men are equally represented in the population, less than 5% in the construction trades are women,” Corley added to her question.
Mayor Lori Lightfoot was quick to defend her administration’s efforts to tackle the issue through their work with Chicago’s Women in Trade, a nonprofit providing support and advocacy for women working in skilled trades.
Green criticized the city’s efforts so far.
“When you look at the percentages from the city, as well as the state, in the contracting process, it is abysmal to see the amount of women that actually have obtained these contracts,” Green said. “We need to remove all of those barriers as a city and make women the centerpiece.”
Some candidates spoke about the need for trades in schools. Ald. Sophia King (4th) criticized the placement of apprenticeship programs in the suburbs, arguing they are restricting accessibility for kids in the city.
“We need to bring the trades back to the schools,” King said.
This is something attendees, including Taylor, think Chicago Public Schools need.
“Overall I thought the answers could have been answered a little more deeply,” Taylor said. “However, it is something that is definitely needed. I grew up in an age where we had a lot of vocational schools around the city, and that’s the thing that we always have to have options when it comes to students and their futures.”
Garcia Barragan was glad that education was a topic being discussed at the forum.
“I think education should be important for everyone, Not only for those of us who had children in the [CPS] system. I mean no city, no country, can grow without education,” Garcia Barragan said.
Former CPS CEO Paul Vallas said public schools should open year-round to help reduce crimes involving school-aged children.
“We have got to open the campuses through the weekends, the summer, the holidays, and bring the community-based organizations and park district programs to the campuses so the kids have a secure place. We have got to create a universal work study in all of our schools,” Vallas said.
Extending school hours was not the proposal candidates had for reducing crime. Cook County Board Commissioner Brandon Johnson proposed a city-wide youth summer job program and more mental health supports that are not dependent on police officers.
“The reason why we are experiencing so much disconnect on the front line is because we are asking way too much from our police officers,” Johnson said.
Garcia said that he would tackle crime by investing more in neighborhoods that have been impacted by violence and by appointing a superintendent of police that is from Chicago.
After a surge of domestic violence in the city in 2021, candidates were asked about the immediate steps they would take to combat the issue.
Lightfoot cited the gender-based violence and human trafficking strategic plan that her administration created. She said that it is important that it is not just a law enforcement-based solution.
“Our policies are informed by my sitting directly with victims, with advocates, and making sure that their lived experience is actually reflected in our policies,” Lightfoot said.
Ald. Roderick Sawyer (6th) said that there needs to be stronger enforcement protecting victims of domestic violence.
“We need to increase our response. So we’re actually talking about attacking the problem directly … resolving the issue, making sure that offender is brought to justice and we can move forward and also give that victim the resources that are necessary,” Sawyer said.
The forum ended with the moderators asking the candidates what they liked about Chicago. The candidates highlighted the food, music, culture and diversity of Chicago as its strengths, while also acknowledging more could be done to make the city even better.
Header Illustration by Dayna Teemer