Candidates Ja’Mal Green and Sophia King take aim at Mayor Lightfoot’s leadership style

Two of the candidates trying to unseat Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot decried her combative style and said they would lift the city out of crisis by being collaborative, listening to those they disagree with and redirecting public resources to improve public safety and neighborhood investment.

”You can’t be at odds with everybody and move the city forward,” Ald. Sophia King said during an interview with the Tribune Editorial Board Thursday.

”She’s a petty person,” said activist Ja’Mal Green, in reference to Lightfoot, whom neither candidate named. “Whenever you disagree with her, you’re cut off.”

Hours before they were due to participate in the first televised debate of the election, Green and King met with the editorial board, which operates separately from the newsroom, and offered several ideas to take the city in what they said would be a better direction. Their plans ranged from King’s idea to use drones as a crime-fighting tool to Green’s suggestion to create a public bank to help invest in city neighborhoods.

The board previously met with Ald. Roderick Sawyer, businessman Willie Wilson, state Rep. Kambium “Kam” Buckner and former Chicago Public Schools CEO Paul Vallas and has scheduled a session next week with the remaining candidates: Lightfoot, Cook County Commissioner Brandon Johnson and U.S. Rep. Jesús “Chuy” García.

Throughout the roughly hourlong endorsement session, King emphasized that she would be collaborative and not combative in addressing the city’s problems.

“We often deal with policy on the fringe: ‘Defund the police,’ ‘law and order.’ Most people sit in the middle,” said King who, despite being chair of the council’s Progressive Caucus, stressed she doesn’t always agree with her progressive colleagues and has sought middle ground on issues such as public safety, saying the city can “uplift police and hold them accountable.”

King highlighted her public safety plan to reinvigorate the Police Department by enticing retired officers to return, expanding surveillance technology and overhauling work schedules to allow for more time off. In addition, King called for using technology such as drones to decrease police reliance on high-speed car chases, which have cost the city millions in lawsuits over pursuits gone awry.

These drones, she argued, would track fleeing vehicles, allow police units to know when to converge on a suspect and help prevent drivers from escaping. She clarified that the drones would not be equipped with weapons to shoot suspects.

In response to a question about people who are concerned about ultraprogressive candidates, King noted she believes a tax hike on $1 million homes would be “too aggressive” and noted her support for a West Side Chicago police academy that was opposed by activists.

Regarding Lightfoot’s leadership style, the mayor has blamed pushback on racism and sexism, saying in 2021 that “about 99%” of the criticism she receives over her temperament is due to the fact she’s a Black woman. King — who is the only other woman in the race and who is also Black — said Thursday that argument is “really not fair.”

Lightfoot has also embraced the perception that she’s a fighter. In a video announcing her bid for reelection, for instance, Lightfoot sought to transform the criticism that she’s too combative into a strength by vowing to keep fighting for Chicago residents as she seeks a second term. But she has also made efforts to soften her image in recent months.

For his part, Green too noted he is a progressive but also a real estate agent and businessman, to underscore his ability to moderate.

In his opening remarks Thursday, Green said he has long had a disdain for Chicago politicians due to the bloodshed and disinvestment he has seen on the streets.

”I saw a lot of hopelessness in a community of folks who feel like they can’t do nothing more, be anything better or go any further than their neighborhood,” Green said.

He also cited his work as a surrogate for U.S. Sen. and former presidential candidate Bernie Sanders, protests against Chicago police misconduct and activism around neighborhood investment.

Green noted his 2020 campaign to get Chase Bank to increase lending to Black communities, which first got him banned from the bank’s locations, but Chase later promised to increase mortgage lending to Black and Latino families by $600 million over five years. A Chase official credited Green with bringing the issue to their attention.

Green also talked about a public bank, an idea he previously unrolled by saying the “Bank of Chicago” would be governed by a nine-member voting board to determine where the funds will go. Three would hail from banking backgrounds, three would be community members and three would be elected. The bank would start with $250 million from the city’s reserves, $250 million from the state and more would come from federal relief dollars, he previously said.

One of the city’s bigger problems, Green said, is the lack of a pipeline for good jobs. He proposed a program where Chicago youths could be trained to upgrade lead pipes, which would teach them a trade and give them work, while also addressing a major problem.

King also talked about the need to bring trades into Chicago Public Schools. One of the schools in her ward, Dunbar Vocational Career Academy, works with the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers to give students skills. She also wants more after-school and Park District programs.

Many calls to police are for nonviolent and mental health issues, she said, and the city needs to expand its alternative crisis response model.

At the end of the session, Green and King hugged, a far cry from the acrimony that has sometimes characterized bigger forums with more candidates.

gpratt@chicagotribune.com