To inform voters, the Chicago Tribune politics team posed a series of questions to the candidates running for mayor of Chicago. See their answers below. See how other candidates answered here.
Name: Roderick Sawyer
Personal: Married to wife Cheryll Aikens; two children, Sydni Celeste and Roderick T. Jr.
Education: Bachelors in Finance, DePaul University, J.D. from IIT-Chicago Kent
Neighborhood: Greater Grand Crossing
Current job: 6th Ward Alderman
Government experience: Alderman, Chicago City Council (2011-current)
Political experience: Democratic committeeperson (2012-current), Chairman of City Council Black Caucus (2015-2019), LSC Chairman of McDade Classical School (2000-2010)
Do you support sending more local funding to the CTA or other public transit agencies as relief funding runs out by 2025?
YES / NO
What plans would you implement to improve the Chicago Transit Authority’s bus and train service as well as other avenues of transportation, including automobiles and bikes?
The CTA is a lifeline for Chicago – crucial to allowing our most essential workers get to their jobs and to the employers who rely on them, as well as to our citizens who enjoy nightlife and cultural events and tourists who want to come see all Chicago has to offer.
A very high priority is restoring rider confidence in the CTA so people return to using the system with confidence not only in their safety, but that the scheduled train or bus they see on their app is actually going to show up and not be a “ghost’’ vehicle.
Among my plans for the CTA:
*Get the Federal Government to replace our mostly senior officers at O’Hare and Midway Airports for other duties that better use their experience. That would free up 250 positions for other , including being part of a transit patrol within CPD. I’d also end the $100 million private security contract that has low-wage, unarmed, lightly trained security on the CTA and use the money to hire more police officers to be a presence on the CTA.
*Invest in upgraded technology for our busses and trains – both for safety and efficiency.
We need a modern security system on the the CTA that includes enhanced video monitoring and panic buttons that would immediately alert the CTA and nearby Police Units to an urgent situation. Criminals will be strongly dissuaded if they know a sworn officer could be on the very next train car, platform, or bus stop.
A complaint I hear frequently is that our CTA stations are filthy, and I see it myself. Getting the stations cleaner may seem minor, but they will be helpful in restoring rider confidence.
We also need a comprehensive system upgrade for scheduling and tracking our buses and trains. The “ghost’’ bus and train phenomenon that has become such a problem since the pandemic must stop so people can efficiently get to their jobs or to events on a predictable schedule. We need a more user-friendly public interface that allows them the kind of provable tracking of trains and buses that restores their confidence.
Chicago must be an even bigger leader in encouraging bikes and various forms of “last mile’’ transportation that enhance the CTA or provide alternatives. While we have done some good work in developing bike lanes, especially protected ones and pilot programs for scooters, but they are disproportionately lacking in Black and Brown communities. We have to make sure these programs are far more equitable, especially as a tool for economically disadvantaged workers in marginalized neighborhoods to have better transportation options for work and school.
We need to revisit our bike sharing program, which can be more costly than a similar program in New York. At the moment there is a lack of Divvy docking stations on the South and West Sides, and users in the lower income Divvy program fear the manual bikes are being phased out for the far more expensive e-bikes. As Mayor I would insist Lyft, the contractor operating Divvy, lay out a clear, transparent plan to improve equity beginning immediately. I would also require a simple, understandable, and clearly stated price policy that includes any additional charges based on whether a bike ends up at a docking station or not. I would create a program to encourage ridership in lower-use neighborhoods as Divvy adds to its bike and station stock in those areas.
Furthermore, I would accelerate the creation of protected bike lanes across the city, especially where they are under-represented. People who bike rather than drive are a huge help to our traffic congestion, parking issues, environment, and create a healthier, more vibrant city. There is no better incentive to cyclists than enabling safer trips.
Do you support a ban on closing any Chicago public schools even as school populations continue to decline?
YES / NO
CPS will be transitioning to a fully elected school board in 2027. How do you see the financial entanglements between the city and CPS going forward?
Let me be clear about the ban mentioned above. I support the moratorium that extends until 2025. The way schools were closed under Mayor Emanuel was reckless and had no long-term plan. We needed to pause and assess all of our schools. But after 2025 we have to be realistic – it makes no sense to keep a school open when it has 5% enrollment. It’s a terrible policy for the students in these schools, where it’s no coincidence the academic scores are among the worst in the city. They have no sports programs, no debate club, no access to counselors, librarians, and nurses. My commitment to educate our children – instilled in me by my mother, who worked 35 years as a special education teacher for Chicago Public Schools – is to the children, not a commitment to nearly empty buildings.
The city needs to be helpful with CPS as it becomes independent and ensure it is set up for success. Eventually, though, CPS needs to be self-sufficient and run its own financial house. The whole idea is for the school board to be in the hands of officials chosen by the people and be accountable to all of its stakeholders.
Do you support reopening all of the closed city mental health centers to help with a citywide crisis response program?
YES / NO
If you answered yes, how would you pay for reopening the health centers? If you answered no, why do you think reopening the health centers is unnecessary?
There are many ways to pay for any or all of these health centers; the cost savings gained from the closures was paltry. In fact, we have money allocated to social services that goes unused every year.
We also must look at mental health care as an investment, not a cost. Money invested in mental health care gives the city a return of saving money on police and ambulance calls, a reduction in crime and suicides, and a healthier, happier, more productive population.
But while I opposed the unilateral way in which Mayor Emanuel closed them with no community engagement or alternative plan, I don’t agree with the attachment to these specific clinics or the number six.
Do you think Chicagoans feel safer today than they felt four years ago?
YES / NO
Why do you think Chicagoans feel either less or more safe and what is the single-biggest policy change you would make as mayor dealing with crime?
The reason people feel less safe today than they did four years ago is because they ARE less safe than they were four years ago.
The biggest policy change I would make is transforming the very makeup of our police department, and that has a few parts to it, but they all revolve around making CPD a destination department the best talent wants to be a part of.
- We have to make our police department stronger and healthier. In addition to much more support from mental health professionals and drug counselors in the field, our officers need dramatically increased mental health care for themselves. As the architect of police reform in this city, I know our police need to be healthy themselves in order to develop healthy relationships with our communities. The rash of police suicides in Chicago is the saddest testament to the way our department has been mismanaged.
- I’d have our police officers vested in 20 years, rather than 25 or 30, dependent on age. I’ve talked to police from all over the city, of every age and demographic, as well as several of our former police superintendents. This is the item I heard the most. It will keep our department younger and more dynamic, ensuring we are bringing in officers open to the most modern police reforms and trained in the newest techniques for de-escalation, community policing, and non-violent engagement. It also makes a career in policing more flexible and fits the way people work today. While serving in CPD officers will be able to get training, qualify for free education and develop skills to go into related fields after their police service – law, social services, etc. And it would pretty much pay for itself as we phase out the highest salaries while raising the starting salary and offering incentives to recruit officers immediately. There would always be room for experienced officers who want to stay beyond their 20 years and move into leadership roles, but years worth of conversations with officers has informed me that most of our officers would like to transition out of police work and into other ways to serve the community as they pass middle age.
- The next superintendent will be hired from within the ranks of CPD and be empowered to restructure the department based on their expertise. Unlike so many of my opponents, I’m not going to announce a plan about exactly how police shifts are structured or how days off are scheduled. I’m going to hire a leader who has the respect of the department and let them tell me how it should be run to keep our city safe.
Do you think the level of compliance for the Chicago Police Department consent decree is progressing at an appropriate pace?
YES / NO
What will you do specifically to ensure that the consent decree for the Chicago Police Department is fully implemented in a timely manner? Do you support any amendments to the consent decree?
I would hire a superintendent who is completely behind both the letter and spirit of the consent decree – something I fully believe in as the architect of police reform.
The implementation really comes down to being a leadership issue.
Do you support amending city tax subsidies for corporations?
YES / NO
What plans do you propose for helping Chicago’s economy recover?
The first step is to provide a safer city. Our biggest problem right now is the reluctance of people to go our and patronize our businesses.
So making Chicago safer is priority one for almost every other improvement we want to make.
Beyond that, what our city has always lacked is a diversity of prosperity – ensuring the development that makes life in River North so pleasant reaches Englewood, Austin and Roseland.
I will develop aggressive programs to get empty lots and abandoned properties into the hands of Chicagoans who will turn them into homes and business and make them contribute to tax coffers.
Do you support reforming or abolishing some city fines or fees?
YES / NO
If yes, name three fees or fines issued by the city of Chicago you would alter or abolish, including red light or speed cameras? If no, why do you feel that the current status of taxes and fees issued by the city of Chicago is fair?
- Red light and speed cameras top the list of every conversation I have with Chicagoans about things they hate. I submitted in 2014 an ordinance that would have replaced the city revenue and phased out both red light and speed cameras by now. (There would be exceptions for the very few places where they do increase safety.) As Mayor I would immediately phase in a plan to replace the revenue and phase them out because they are an extremely regressive form of taxation.
- I would increase building permit fees for developers constructing large buildings over a certain price – say $50 million. These developers have told me they wouldn’t have a problem paying higher fees if we ran our department more efficiently and could speed up their projects.
- I would change the doubling of parking ticket fines because it’s far too big an increase. If a person can’t pay $100 they damn sure can’t pay $200. Tickets already are a regressive form of taxation and the doubling of the fines if a deadline is missed hurts the people least able to afford it. A missed deadline should increase the fee only a small amount, maybe 10% each year it goes unpaid.
Do you think the city has kept its promises to residents as it has redeveloped public housing over the past 22 years?
YES / NO
How will you address housing issues and people without homes in Chicago and what is your vision for the Chicago Housing Authority?
Far too much public housing was sold off. I want the CHA to use the land it owns to build and maintain multi-family housing, especially larger, two- and three-bedroom units for families, but in configurations that integrate them into the local communities. I don’t want high rises again.
Do you support reinstating a city Department of Environment?
YES / NO
If not, why not? If so, how will you make sure it functions better than the previous DOE that former Mayor Rahm Emanuel disbanded?
In an urban setting like Chicago the environment is very much an issue of equity. I would create a cabinet-level position and ensure a new DOE has a strong focus on environmental issues for the entire city, but especially our marginalized populations. We would be entitled to federal money for such a department.
Do you support banning mayors and aldermen from receiving campaign contributions from city contractors or their executives?
YES / NO
How would you improve the city’s ethics laws, including whether you would tighten restrictions on individuals tied to city contractors not being allowed to contribute to the campaigns of mayors or aldermen?
There should be no money given to elected officials by city contractors. Period.
Do you think enough has been done about aldermanic privilege in which aldermen have final say over projects in their wards?
YES / NO
If not, what specific changes would you make to ensure aldermen and alderwomen don’t abuse their zoning authority as many have in the past?
Many of my constituents believe we are still living in the 1970s in terms of aldermanic privilege. We don’t have the kind of authority to do what previous generations of alders did. We have made strides in improving the transparency on zoning matters, though I still believe the local alder has a place in the process.
Do you think city government is appropriately transparent?
YES / NO
How would you improve transparency in city government, including responses to Freedom of Information Act requests and responding to decisions made by the Illinois Attorney General’s Office.
With the exception of ongoing litigation or investigations, everything about the city government should be open. Government transparency is a cornerstone of my #ResetChicago plan.
Do you support additional city building code enforcement policies, including toughening the building scofflaw list?
YES / NO
The Tribune and Better Government Association won this year’s Pulitzer Prize in local reporting by showing that more than 60 Chicagoans, many of them Black, died in fires where the city knew of fire safety issues in the building but failed to act in time. We found tenants cannot rely on the city to effectively enforce safety codes designed to protect them from fire. How will you address these issues?
Enforcing building codes would be a priority in a Sawyer administration, and your investigation showed a very troubling problem with the way code enforcement is managed. I would have firm deadlines to repair dangerous building conditions and discipline or fire any employee that didn’t follow up on violations.
Do you support ending the city’s policy of providing security detail for former Chicago mayors?
YES / NO
More than a decade since he left office, former Mayor Richard M. Daley still has a police detail. Chicago is the only city that still does that for former mayors. How long should former Chicago mayors receive police security and a driver from the city?
We had security for Sis Daley until she died. I think it’s an appropriate courtesy to have security for a former mayor as long as he lives.