THE CHI-TOWN LOW DOWN: Mayoral candidates lack time, plan to fix racial segregation

By Managing Editor

Chicago’s hyper-segregated neighborhoods quickly became a topic of discussion during the first mayoral debate of 2015, which took place on Feb. 4 and was broadcast on WTTW’s “Chicago Tonight.” Mayoral candidates incumbent Mayor Rahm Emanuel, Alderman Bob Fioretti (2nd Ward), Cook County Commissioner Jesús “Chuy” García and businessman Willie Wilson attended the forum hosted by Phil Ponce.

Candidates shared their views on the minimum wage and the closing of 49 Chicago Public Schools. Approximately two and a half minutes were spent discussing Chicago’s history of racial segregation. However, the debate on red light cameras lasted approximately five minutes as candidates made it a point to blame Emanuel and his motorcade for running red lights.

Red light cameras were put into place in 2003 and have since been surrounded by scandals, according to an ongoing Chicago Tribune series of red light camera stories and investigations.

While these cameras inconvenience city officials and drivers, they do not deserve more floor time than racial segregation, which can be directly tied to Chicago’s rising crime and poverty rates.

According to the Social IMPACT Research Center’s Analysis of the Census Bureau’s 2008–2012 American Community Survey and the Chicago Department of Public Health, Chicago’s South and West sides have the highest concentration of black people at 91–100 percent, while North Side neighborhood populations are at most 50 percent black. The unemployment rate in South Side neighborhoods ranges from 15 to more than 30 percent.

During the last five minutes of the debate, Ponce asked candidates why Chicago is still so segregated. Given the brief time limit, none of the candidates were able to supply new information or ways to fix the issue.

Fioretti responded by pointing to economic issues and school closings in minority neighborhoods.

García spoke about the history of segregated housing patterns and provided possible solutions to bring the city to a more balanced state by diversification, raising minimum wage and promoting economic development in the “left- behind neighborhoods.”

Emanuel pointed to the city’s long history of housing policies that sparked economic disparities among different races. However, Emanuel finished his answer saying, “Illinois and Chicago have elected more African-Americans to the U.S. Senate, statewide and to Congress than any other state.”

Racial segregation and income inequalities will continue to escalate if politicians cannot devote more time, money and planning to provide equal opportunity and fair living conditions for the entire city. Chicago and its people need more than two minutes.