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POLITICS//DR. AMARA ENYIA 54 Young people across the city were titillated by the candidacy of Dr. Amara Enyia, which only ended last week. Amara, the 31-year-old daughter of Nigerian immigrants, had the qualities necessary to motivate young people to come out and vote. It remains to be seen who will take her place now, but she had some recommendations for those who might like to try. “It’s about service. Everything that we have is supposed to be used to advance the cause of humanity,” she responded when asked about why she was running. Recent polls show that Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel could be in trouble. Half of the city doesn’t approve of his performance and some early forecasts have shown him barely pulling in a third of the vote both before and after potential run-off elections. The mayor has received most of his criticism from the Left and members of his own party. He has come under criticism for his education policies and <strong>CUSP</strong> MAGAZINE WINTER ’14 ISSUE attitude toward the city budget, as well as a general perception of him being too conservative. Amara sees things a little differently. If her strengths are that she understands what life is like for most Chicagoans, Rahm’s weakness is that very lack of understanding and his lack of “curiosity” about what most Chicagoans go through on a day-today basis. “I just don’t think he gets it,” she said. Amara stood out among the other challengers to the mayor in that she is younger than most of the current candidates by more than a decade, African-American, and a woman. In an era in which the financial and political connections that often disadvantage young candidates, especially those from underrepresented communities can dictate who wins public office, Amara might seem like an underdog, but she has a lot of historical examples to look up to in this city. “I went to the funeral of Jane Byrne last week, the first and only woman to be mayor of the city. I ran into many individuals [there] who worked on Harold Washington’s campaign, the first of two African American mayors. I think that in 2015 we are ready for a different kind of leadership—I mean that in terms of policies, ideas, and experiences. There are those who are quick to discredit me because I am black, because I am young, because I live on the West Side, because I am a woman, but we’ve not had enough people like me. If we’re not talking to people like me, then who are we talking to? We should be embracing characteristics of people like me.” Amara’s vision for Chicago begins with the reestablishment of a commitment to public goods in the face of the increasing privatization of public assets. While some of this privatization has happened on Mayor Emanuel’s watch, other privatization efforts occurred in the past. During former Mayor Richard Daley’s tenure, parking was privatized in Chicago and now the city is known for its scant and ridiculously priced parking. Amara is passionate about reversing the wave of privatization. Although her ideas, such as her call for a public bank might seem radical to some, she sees such measures as vital if the city is to keep struggling neighborhoods afloat.
She believes that small-scale community driven development is necessary to renovate our economically disadvantaged city. Unlike others who take a hard line against gentrification, Amara has a more nuanced approach. “I believe that you can change the community and keep the people there,” she told us. “One of the biggest things that I talk about is community-driven development as opposed to developer-driven. Right now, a developer comes in, talks to alderman, signs a contract, cuts a deal and afterward holds a community meeting and tells them what happens.” She believes that community members need to be given more say when development is planned for a neighborhood. What to do about education, affordable housing, and even the aesthetic of an area should all be collective decision of the city, the developers, and the people who already live there. Public safety campaigns modeled on privatized police forces and increased policing have Amara worried as well, especially the expansion of red light and speeding cameras that replace officers on the ground. These may seem like petty issues, but Amara sees it all as being intrinsically linked to decreased investment in public goods. “You address violence through investments. Conditions of poverty create conditions where violence is allowed to thrive,” she remarked. To get to the root cause of violence, Amara believes that we need to focus on investing in Chicago’s neighborhoods. According to her, “The first step is to put our education system back into the hands of education professionals. We need a moratorium on charter schools, our public neighborhood schools need to be fully and adequately funded. This issue of testing, the fact that we overtest our kids is bad policy.” It’s a message that polls well, but that has been hard to implement for progressives all across the country. Coming off the tales of another catastrophic midterm loss, progressives are desperate for a win. While the Mayor of Chicago may consider himself to be in their camp, his defeat would send a strong message to corporate America that the progressive movement still has teeth. Polling shows it’s possible, but only a candidate that can galvanize a young and diverse audience to compete with the Mayor’s entrenched advantages will be able to pull it off. Perhaps Amara’s candidacy is a roadmap for doing just that. Writer’s note: When this article was originally written, it was done so under the assumption that Dr. Amara Enyia would be a candidate for Chicago Mayor in the 2015 municipal election. Upon her regrettable departure from the race, we decided to edit this interview, but keep much of the original commentary. Amara’s ideas are inspiring to youth and we can only hope that she will run for office again in the near future. <strong>CUSP</strong> MAGAZINE WINTER ’14 ISSUE 55