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On Feb. 13,  NBC 5, WVON, the National Association of Black Journalists (NABJ) – Chicago chapter, the Chicago Urban League and the Business Leadership Council hosted a mayoral forum focused on issues relevant to the Black community. NBC 5’s Marion Brooks and WVON’s Matt McGill moderated the forum, and The TRiiBE’s editor-in-chief Tiffany Walden asked questions on behalf of NABJ during the forum as well.

Public safety and policing were central topics during the forum. All of the candidates indicated they supported the elimination of cash bail, although businessperson Willie Wilson did not explicitly say so.* Wilson noted that he has personally “spent hundreds of thousands of dollars getting people out” of jail. 

Mayor Lori Lightfoot said that while she supports eliminating cash bail, “the concern is of who is getting out on bail, and the concern is specifically around community safety.” She added that “we should . . . hold all violent, dangerous and habitual offenders accountable and hold them pretrial.” This echoed a statement Lightfoot made in June 2022 in which she said people accused of violent crimes “are guilty.”

In his answer, former Chicago Public Schools CEO Paul Vallas said he supported no cash bail but added a caveat, saying that he thinks a distinction should be made between violent and nonviolent charges, as well as habitual offenders. Judges “aren’t making the right determination” in some cases, according to Vallas. Cook County Commissioner Brandon Johnson said that he “will trust the discretion of judges in this particular dynamic to determine what is a violent offense and what isn’t.”

State representative Kam Buckner noted that he “helped write a good amount of” the Pretrial Fairness Act, which eliminates cash bail. Ald. Sophia King said the elimination of cash bail is more “equitable,” because “a lot of violent rich criminals” are able to pay bail bonds. Activist Ja’Mal Green said that while he agrees with eliminating cash bail, neighborhood investment and better policing are also needed.

Ald. Roderick Sawyer said he supports eliminating cash bail, and reiterated judges’ discretion over keeping people they deem a public threat or flight risk held pretrial. “Judges do have the authority to keep someone in jail if they feel they are a threat to others, or a threat to society in general,” he said. “That portion still stands, and I still support that as well.”

Host Marion Brooks asked the candidates, by a show of hands, how many would support keeping ShotSpotter, the controversial gunshot-detection technology deployed across the city. King, Wilson, Vallas, Lightfoot and Sawyer raised their hands; Green, Buckner, Johnson and García did not.

In NBC 5’s spin room following the forum, The TRiiBE also asked Mayor Lightfoot about the Empowering Communities for Public Safety (ECPS) ordinance. The ordinance created the Community Commission for Public Safety and Accountability (CCPSA), a seven-member body that has police oversight powers, as well as three-member Police District Councils in each of the city’s 22 police districts. 

In 2021, Lightfoot initially resisted organizers’ calls for an all-elected CCPSA. The mayor attempted to pass her own ordinance, which would have kept control of the CCPSA largely in her office, instead of one proposed by organizers. When that failed to pass, Lightfoot agreed to negotiate a compromise ECPS ordinance, which passed in July 2021.

Despite the ECPS ordinance mandating the appointment of the CCPSA’s interim commissioners by January 2022, Lightfoot did not seat them until August, which prevented them from reviewing and making recommendations concerning police spending to the mayor’s 2023 budget.


In January, the Chicago Reader reported that at a CCPSA meeting in January 2023, the interim commissioners said that CPD superintendent David Brown had resisted their efforts to set goals for him, a duty that is also mandated by the ordinance. Brown, they said, had repeatedly asserted that the federal consent decree CPD is under prevented the commissioners from setting goals, and only relented the morning of the public meeting. 

When The TRiiBE asked the mayor after the forum how she will ensure the ECPS ordinance’s benchmarks are being met both by her administration and the CPD superintendent, Lightfoot said:

“Well, first of all, as you may recall, in leading the Police Accountability Task Force (PATF), I’m the person who authored, along with the other members of PATF, the language that said we need civilian oversight of the police, but we would leave it to the community to decide what form. It took much longer than I would have anticipated. But we laid the framework for that in the work that we’ve done,” she said. “Supt. Brown is fully cooperative with the Community Commission. I’m looking forward to the elections that are going to happen to stand up the permanent commission. And we will make sure that we continue to support this new form of civilian oversight of our police department, which is necessary. People in the city want to make sure there’s more transparency, more accountability. And that’s precisely why I was at the table and cut the deal that made it happen in July of 2021. [There’s] more work that we need to do, but we are on our way.”

On Feb. 13, Injustice Watch and WTTW reported on the challenges people who have recently been released from prison face upon returning to their communities. During and after the forum, The TRiiBE asked each of the candidates, “What policies will your administration put in place to support currently and formerly incarcerated Chicagoans and their families?” 

Here’s what they said: 

Ja’Mal Green: One of the things I’ve done is have a program in Kewanee [Life Skills Re-Entry Center, a prison with programs to help incarcerated people transition that the Illinois Department of Corrections (IDOC) opened in 2017], where we went in to teach them how to transition home with businesses, resumes, affirm them, gave them temporary housing, etc, for all those who graduated the program. We’re going to do that on the city level. 

We’re going to have a reentry program embedded in IDOC as well as Cook County Jail, so when folks come home, they’ve already been through our program, and we give them housing, we give them free counseling as well, we make sure that we partner them with job opportunities. The people who are incarcerated and return home, those are the changemakers of our communities. So we need to put a big budget towards making sure that they have a pathway to middle-class jobs. We got 50,000 manufacturing jobs open. We have trade jobs open. We need a pipeline for them when they return home to make sure that they get in those jobs, and give them the resources and stability until that happens.

Sophia King: We have a very comprehensive program that puts hundreds of millions of dollars towards violence intervention, towards those most vulnerable residents, returning citizens and others, that gives them an incentive to come off the street and into a livable economy. That incentive is $600 a week. Then, with that comes responsibilities of job training, trauma-informed care, a real community approach to wraparound services. So you would have their pastor, their commander of police, [and] other stakeholders in the community sitting down and saying, “Listen, we know this is a pathway you’ve been on. But this is a pathway you could go on.” And if we put hundreds of millions of dollars into violence intervention in a real way, we can put a dent in this problem so that we’re not back here in 20 years.

Kam Buckner: That is a huge issue in this city, and I don’t think that this current administration has done enough. I’ve been on record talking about creating individualized reentry plans for people who are returning from incarceration, because one size does not fit all. There are some folks who need expungement, some folks who need a driver’s license or state ID; there are other folks who need housing help, or other folks who are veterans need to find a way to tap into their federal benefits. So I’ve talked about standing up some real reentry services, but individualizing them so that people can get exactly what they need to be able to one, not [recidivate], and two, be productive members of our society.

Willie Wilson: First of all, you have to make sure that the people that get out are trained. I’d work with the Cook County Sheriff so that while those people are incarcerated in there, let’s create a trade school within the prison system itself. So when people get out, they have a good trade that now they can get out with experience. Those people who get out with experience can find good jobs. A lot of them can become entrepreneurs, do business with the City. Set aside the necessary dollars for working with the banks that you do business with to help support small business. 

I’m a businessperson and I understand business. Look, small businesses only go so far. The major corporations can help you grow nationally as well as internationally. We don’t need a lot of small businesses, particularly in minority communities. We need large businesses in minority communities to take small businesses, help develop them, partnership them together for training programs together and expand. We once were a small business. Now we’re international.

Brandon Johnson: When I was on the County Board of Commissioners, we put that work in right away. It’s why we eliminated the gang database. It’s a racist system that, quite frankly, did not make anybody safer. So we got rid of that. I passed the Just Housing Ordinance that eliminated housing discrimination for families and individuals who were seeking housing who had previous arrest records. So we’ve eliminated that. 

As the mayor of the city of Chicago, I’m going to invest in workforce development, creating opportunities for families who are seeking real rehabilitation, to have an opportunity to actually have a W-2. We’re also going to make sure that we open up our mental health centers. We [will] pass Treatment Not Trauma. We’re going to have mobile operations to make sure that our students who are experiencing that type of violence and trauma—that is actually quite wicked right now—that they have real outlets. You know, it’s a pretty sad state of affairs when you have an economy that’s addicted to locking up poor Black and brown people in particular. We spend more money on locking individuals up than we do educating them. We spend more money on building buildings than building minds and lives. Under a Johnson administration a better, stronger, safer Chicago is possible, because you’re actually going to have someone who’s prepared to invest in people, and particularly those who are formerly incarcerated.


Paul Vallas: Look, the first thing you have to do is create education and occupational training alternatives to incarceration, so that judges have the option, just as they have the option of putting people in drug rehabilitation instead of being incarcerated, number one. And there’s funding both at the state and federal level to do that. Second thing you have to do is, you really have to open adult and occupational training centers, so when individuals are returning from incarceration, they’re able to work on getting a high school diploma and occupational training, and you need to subsidize them so it almost becomes a work-study job. Because when people are incarcerated, people need to be working while at the same time being trained. And you also have to remove the obstacles to them being hired in the first place, because there are so many obstacles, both in terms of the private sector as well as to City to people formerly incarcerated being hired.

Lori Lightfoot: Well, number one, you have to view it as a priority. That’s why for the first time ever, there’s a person in the Mayor’s Office who reports directly to me, who’s from the lived experience as a returning citizen, who focuses like a laser beam on creating opportunities for returning citizens. You cannot talk about public safety unless you create a pathway home for these folks. So number one, you put the resources in, as we’ve done. We’ve funded more money for returning residents than any other administration in the history of the city. Number two, you’ve got to break down the barriers for employment. What we know is they face a tremendous amount of challenges, and you gotta lead by example. We’ll be making an announcement later this week that addresses that specific issue. You’ve got to work with the stakeholders out there like Safer [Foundation], like Cara [Collective], like John Howard [Association of Illinois] and other organizations, as we have done.

Roderick Sawyer:  As mayor, I will continue to work I was doing as alderman. I’ve walked the picket lines with returning citizens, making sure that they had an opportunity, particularly with the [Amalgamated Transit Union] workers when the administration was fighting back against us making sure that we can hire returning citizens on CTA jobs. I believe in this: I believe in making sure that people are held accountable, but I also believe in redemption. I want to make sure that those that have served time, that have paid their debt to society have every opportunity to lead a successful and fruitful life here in the city of Chicago. We owe them that. They paid their debt, we want to make sure that they’re not going back, we want to give them every resource, whether it’s job training, whether it’s educational resources, whether it’s assistance in housing, we want to make sure that those returning citizens get everything that they deserve, and have a real shot at the American dream, having a household, raising a family, you know, getting right again.

I’m born and raised in the same neighborhood my entire life, which is in the South Side of Chicago in the Grand Crossing neighborhood in Park Manor. I know a lot of people that have gone to jail., I’ll even go further: a lot of my friends had made that wrong decision and had to pay that debt to society, but they paid it, they earned it and they’re leading successful lives—not because they went to jail, but in spite of them going to jail. And what is interesting about a lot of my friends, they go back and reach out to younger people because they don’t want the younger people to make the same type of mistake that they made. 

So this is something I worked on as a young lawyer. I worked on violence prevention when it was not popular, when we weren’t getting millions of dollars to do it. And I worked on it with formerly incarcerated people, with people who have been involved in street organizations, and we assisted in getting that number [of murders] from 980 to about 500 in a year, working with returning citizens, working with people from the street, working with individuals that people don’t even talk to sometimes. I was in the trenches doing that every single day, and I will continue to do that as mayor.

Chuy García:  In order for returning citizens to have a shot at reintegrating into the community, they need a variety of things. They need to have support in the community where they’re going to be released to ensure that they have access to housing, that they have access to nutrition, that there are wraparound services like mental health and drug dependency counseling as well. Working with Safer Foundation, one of the leading organizations on the West Side, and other places, with the Revolution Workshop, these are organizations that have modeled the way for effective reintegration into the community. We need to invest, because when we invest in these folks, then the likelihood of success is much greater.

*Correction 2/15/23: This article previously stated that Congressman García did not explicitly state he supported eliminating cash bail. When moderator Matt McGill asked him directly if he supports ending cash bail, García said, “yes.”


is the digital news editor for The TRiiBE.