The TRiiBE sat down with the 2023 Black mayoral candidates to learn more about their political views. Read their Q&A profiles here. Visit The TRiiBE Election Center to learn more about the Chicago municipal election taking place on Feb. 28.

Ald. Sophia King (4th Ward) carries her roots with her each and every day. Her mother went from picking cotton in the Mississippi Delta to getting a scholarship to Northwestern University, earning a PhD over time while raising her family. Spending her childhood between Mississippi and Evanston deepened King’s love for her culture.

King has long been in community with other prominent Black Chicagoans. Barack Obama is a longtime friend and hoop-buddy of her husband (attorney and Chosen Few DJ Alan King), and the former president endorsed her 2017 aldermanic run. And before she got into politics, King helped establish the Ariel Community Academy, and founded Harriet’s Daughters, a group named for Harriet Tubman that brings Black professional women together to increase employment and wealth in the community.

“I’ve always been about uplifting our community,” she told the The TRiiBE, noting that as an alder she championed efforts to rename streets after Black luminaries such as Jean Baptiste Pointe du Sable, the first non-indigenous Chicagoan, and journalists Ida B. Wells and Lerone Bennett Jr. 

As part of our 2023 Black mayoral candidate interview series, King invited The TRiiBE on Jan. 10 to her Kenwood home, about a block away from Louis Farrakhan’s million-dollar manse. King sat on a leather couch in her living room, which was also furnished with a writing desk and accented by esteemed Black literary works such as Nikole Hannah-Jones’s The 1619 Project and Zora Neale Hurston’s Barracoon, an Indigenous painting, another depicting revolutionary Black men, and a sculpture made by her biological father.

“I’m very Afrocentric. Proud of who I am. My mother is a sociologist. I have two fathers. My biological father, who’s passed away, his focus was African American art,” King said. “I get a difference of opinion about who people think I am. They think they know me.”

Currently, King serves as chair of the City Council’s Progressive Reform Caucus, and a member of the Chicago Aldermanic Black Caucus. Since her appointment — by Rahm Emanuel — to City Council in 2016, King has been a co-sponsor of multiple progressive initiatives, including the Anjanette Young Ordinance to ban no-knock police raids, the Community Commission of Public Safety and Accountability and the Bring Home Chicago ordinance, and she led the 2014 drive to raise Chicago’s minimum wage to $15.

During our interview, King said she doesn’t believe in decreasing the Chicago police budget. She believes that good policing works, and in her public safety plan, that means redirecting resources to community policing, alternative response and violence intervention programs, as well as putting more cops in neighborhoods and “embracing” surveillance technology.

Read our full interview with King, as part of our 2023 Before the Polls mayoral candidate interview series.

(The interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.)

Quick jump

1 Background

Why did you enter the mayoral race this year? And what power does being in the mayor's office give you that you don't already have as alderwoman?

There are a number of reasons.There's just a lot of dissension coming from the mayor's office between that office and teachers, police, my colleagues — another one just left yesterday, I believe we’re up to 16.It's not coincidental. There's just a lot of tension.

I tried very early to make a connection, because I wanted to see an African American woman do well, as, that’s me, part of me, right? But, yeah, the tension continues. I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention that this is one of the most difficult periods in the country, in the world, with social unrest, with COVID. And so you have to acknowledge that and put it in that context, and I did. 

But the issue, I think — and it took me a while — is that, given that instability and insecurity that everybody was feeling, it was a time when we should have come together as a city, and we didn’t. And again, I think that’s part of leadership. 

And the other reason is because when I saw people stand up [to run for mayor], I didn’t see somebody who could represent the entire city while doubling down in our communities.

I represent [a ward that runs] from downtown to Hyde Park, and I have Bronzeville in the middle — we called it the Low End growing up — you know, it's very diverse. I got some of the poorest people. I have more CHA senior homes than probably any other ward in the city, but I also have part of downtown. I go up to Jackson Boulevard, Grant Park, Northerly Island, Soldier Field, Museum Campus, and I have Hyde Park, which is kind of the city’s epicenter of diversity and equity. And then I have some of the most segregated parts and poorest parts with plans for transformation sites. I've got Ida B. Wells, I've got the Washington Park Corridor, I've got Lake Park, North Kenwood, Oakland, Grand Boulevard, Douglas. I've got all of the CHA homes. I get to see everything.

Most wards are more contiguous, homogenous, and [made up of] similar folks, and that’s something that’s different; I have all of these communities that are very distinct and unique in their own ways. But I also get to see those similarities. 

I have two different police districts; one’s downtown, one south. I get to see the disproportionate amount of resources going to, in real time, I get to see the disproportionate amount of clearance rates. But I also lead with equity. So, with our [aldermanic] menu money, Grand Boulevard gets most of that money because they’re the most under-resourced area that I have. 

I see the juxtaposition of A Tale of Two Cities, as people would say it. But I think that puts me in good stead to kind of understand the challenges that we face as well as what’s working and what’s not.

And more specifically about the power aspect. What power would you get as mayor compared to the power that you already have as alderwoman?

That's a great question. The difference is, as alderman, I spend all my time advocating for resources that the mayor’s office controls on behalf of my constituents. I have no control over it. And not that I want to have control, but I certainly want to be able to get those resources for my community. 

In this diverse ward, crime has touched places where people with power can weigh in, and they're paying attention. I've been able to see the differences and disparity there. But what I can't do is control how officers are deployed in a more equitable fashion. That comes from the mayor's office. If the garbage isn't picked up, if the snow isn’t plowed, the mayor's office controls that. The power is too centralized now. We need to decentralize it so that the community can feel that. 

There's no reason why me as an elected official shouldn't have better communication with the mayor. We share constituents. And so that challenge is a challenge for our city, because there's no way that she can singularly understand how each community is feeling. And that's why the City Council was made to be a strong council/weak mayor, so that you can balance that better. And so that's what I've found, that the challenges that I face for really helping my residents lay in the mayor's office. And so that's where I feel the differences. 

A city councilman really has two jobs. One is to balance a budget every year and legislate. Now, that's probably 10% of what I actually do. Ninety percent of it is truly advocating for, on behalf of, my constituents for their needs, whether that be for housing, or whether it be, you know, for violence intervention programs, or police presence, or homeless insecurities, or all of those things.

2 Safety & Policing

In October, you said we can deploy drones as first responders, and they can chase offenders if need be, and that we can also use other technology better, such as ShotSpotter. Also, your 10-point safety plan includes immediately increasing police presence in the community. To be honest, much of this sounds similar to efforts by previous administrations who have increased policing and surveillance. 

Is there any evidence that supports that the items that you highlight in your 10-point safety plan will effectively reduce crime in Chicago?

For our campaign, the power of “and” is really important. And so in the 10-point Plan, one of the biggest points of it is several hundred million dollars for violence intervention. I think that’s part of it. If you really read it, it’s a people’s racial redress plan. So, you know, having $600 a week to incent our most vulnerable [residents] and those likely to be shot and get shot to come into the legal market and to use wraparound services to supplement that. And, you know, job training, I think that’s the important piece of it.

But I do actually think that good policing works. And that's why I said that we can uplift police and hold them accountable, that they're not mutually exclusive. I've seen the evidence of that in my own ward. And I've also seen the evidence of the false narrative that we don't need [police] in our community. So let me explain.It's our communities that have the lowest clearance rates, meaning the unsolved murders, the unsolved shootings, unsolved everything. It's also our communities that disproportionately have less police than everyone else.And I get it. It is not the only solution.

How do you want to fund your 10-point plan?

The state has billions from the federal government; the city does, so does the county, and everybody's doing their own thing for violence intervention. So we need to come together, pool those resources. I would commit the $200 million from the city, I would get $50 million from the state, I would get $50 million from private industry.

Let's take this opportunity to actually do something about [violence] for real this time. So let's put real money towards it. We have it, and we won't in three years. But we should be saying our goal this year is to meaningfully impact 2,000 [residents]. Then next year, another 2,000. And after six months, and a year, they’ll be a productive member of our community, they’ll have a job, so it'll pay for itself ultimately. But the money immediately will come from federal funds that are here. Hell, I got $85 million to spend that [Lightfoot] didn't spend.

We as a City Council said violence intervention is a priority. Here’s $85 million. She didn’t spend it. And that also speaks to the dissension; we’ve lost a lot of institutional knowledge at the City, because people have just left. There’s so many vacancies. And that’s why it’s not personal. But it’s hard for us to move our city forward under this leadership, because everybody is either frustrated, moved on, and there is no sense of bringing us together as a city like, “Okay, we know we’ve got these challenges and issues, but how do we do it together?

Do you support the SAFE-T Act?

Do I support the SAFE-T Act? Yeah, I think they've got some tweaks to [do to] it . . . but in general, I do.

Do you support the GoodKids MadCity Peace Book, or any other initiatives outside of policing to invest in safety for Black Chicago neighborhoods?

Yeah, I do. I've told them that they need to tweak some of the budget issues, but the ideas of what they're talking about, yeah. I was the first to work with GoodKids MadCity. We put on the 1919 Project around the race riots. I brought them as well as Dr. [Timuel] Black together around that initiative. 

Besides policing, [on] the violence intervention, my recommendation is $300 million per year to put a dent, and kind of long-term systemic issues to really bring people and communities back together. And by the way, that should have an impact on housing, on jobs, on all kinds of things.

Does that mean increasing or decreasing the police budget in order to make that happen?

I don't believe the police budget needs to be decreased at this point. I will just tell you that. Because first of all, it's hard to tell whether we have enough police or not. But I do know that they're not in the places where they need to be at the right time. I do know that there's a disproportion. I see it. I see that my police district, which had over 600 officers, now has less than 200. And by the way, District 19, which doesn't have nearly [as much] crime, has more than mine. So if we were to redistribute it, would we then have enough? Perhaps. 

I think that's something that I need to take a look at. But what I see right now is that the places that need it the most don't have it, and they should have it in areas. I see how they do it up north. I see how many police are there to mitigate things before they're happening, to be able to talk to the community while they're there to really have that relationship. I think that's needed before things get bad. So, to me, there are two big things. There's the alternative responses to policing, as well as the violence intervention.

3 Mental Health

Do you support Treatment Not Trauma?

So it's called all of these things. So that's the mental health first responders, that's the pilot that I got money for singularly. I partnered with Ald. Rosanna Rodriguez Sanchez on it, but elevated it to give to her because that's who I am as a leader.

I supported it under Rahm when no other aldermen spoke up about bringing that back. So these aren’t things that are new for me. They’re things that are probably new to the public, because I haven’t been about marketing what I do, because I wasn’t doing it for that. I’m okay. I don’t care who gets credit. We just need to get this done. We need to have, you know, mental health first responders in the pilot and the treatment that trauma comes from that, comes from rebuilding the clinics.

Sophia King // Photo by Alexander Gouletas for The TRiIBE

4 Youth & Education

Mayor Lightfoot promised an elected school board, but later fought against such a board. Will you support an elected school board? And who would you think about appointing to the hybrid aspect of the board?

I haven't thought about who I would appoint. But educators are important. It would be important, you know, just to find people who understand how to engage disengaged students, because that's a huge part about it. Also, we need to bring the trades and the tech industry into the schools. And I want to make clear that apprentice programs, you can only access them after you graduate, after you turn 18, and they're generally in the suburbs. They need to be brought to our schools. So I would want somebody who really understands the importance of that and the tech industry. I certainly would want people who understand the impacts of education on the community from a very deep way. Because we really, we have to bring more engagement or more after school programs.

I think, ideally, it should have been smaller. It's kind of big and unwieldy. But it is what it's going to be right now. But I certainly like the elected part of it.

For decades, the mayor has been at odds with the teachers union, and many rank and file teachers, staff and students who complain about the lack of resources and other  important issues within the schools. What do you think the disconnect is there? And what will be your policy around improving CPS, especially in black and brown communities?

I have a relationship with CTU. I have a relationship with most of the unions. I would probably say that I’m everybody’s second choice, which is okay, because it shows that I have those relationships. I think if they didn't support Brandon [Johnson], they would support me. But my bigger point is that I have that relationship with them. And I'll continue to have a relationship where you can have honest discussions about what's going on for our kids, and what's in the best interest of our kids. 

Some of the big things in terms of education would be a co-curricular model. And because I come out of education, I use that vernacular, but it's really the after-school programming, to make a whole school. I think that's really important. I think we lose that opportunity to really do that. Because you've got these young babies who, you know, after school, why can't we still engage them? So disengaged students are one of the biggest hurdles that we face. 

I definitely [would] make better use of the park district. There's no reason why high school students shouldn't have some engagement there. That's a missed opportunity. 

I think it’s super important to make sure that not only are our kids  introduced to STEM at a very early age, but that we continue that through the job market and bring all these companies and all these universities, like Northwestern, University of Illinois, DePaul, USC. We have some of the best schools in the country, we don't take advantage of that.

5 Housing & Community

Historically, we've watched big developments displace and erase black communities in Chicago, and folks in the areas surrounding the upcoming Obama library, for example, are already experiencing some elements of displacement. How would you create policies to support Black residents who are being priced out by new developments, such as the Obama Presidential Center?

I've already shown how I've done it. So there are four striking developments in this city, the Obama library, the 78 Lincoln yards, and the Michael Reese Hospital, and I'm over the Michael Reese development. It's being heralded by the New York Times as one of the most equitable developments in the country. But you never heard any protests. We never heard about displacement or about any of that, because we formed a Michael Reese Advisory Committee. We brought people who care about housing, who cared about all of these things to the table, and we ended up with a $25 million commitment for education for schools. We ended up with 20 percent affordable housing on site, which is unheard of. We ended up with a 60 percent commitment to diversity, mostly African American because it's in Bronzeville, we've renamed it — from Michael Reese to Bronzeville Lakefront.

6 Accountability

Many of your donors are from the Black elite professional class in Chicago. I noticed that your husband contributed $50,000 to your campaign. According to Illinois Sunshine. How are you accountable to the people who have contributed to your campaign? What did you promise them?

Never promise anybody anything. I've gotten contributions in the past six-and-a-half years from different types of people from different walks of life, and I don't look at donations like that. First of all, it's illegal. And second of all, I just, I'm just a different type of person. I know what my North star is, I know why I got into this, and I know that it's not about me, or any personal gains or political gains.

I've always been focused on what's best for our community, and our community means something different to me in terms of the city. But again, I still think my background, whether it's in Evanston, Mississippi, all of those things, when people talk about the Great Migration, I lived that. I had an uncle who had to leave the South go to New York, because of fear of being lynched and things of that nature. So it's part of who I am.

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is the editor-in-chief of The TRiiBE and a 2023-2024 John S. Knight Journalism Fellow.