In an unprecedented event organized by a coalition representing more than 30 Chicago LGBT groups, three of the six remaining candidates vying to succeed Mayor Richard M. Daley appeared Feb. 9 at a community forum held at the Adler School of Professional Psychology.
The three mayoral candidates missing from the forum all attended a rescheduled Chicago Defender candidate debate instead. Patricia Van Pelt Watkins and William "Dock" Walls were no-shows at the forum, while Gery Chico had asked forum organizers if his scheduled speaking time could be moved earlier in order for him to attend both forums. Organizers argued such a concession would have been unfair to the other candidates. Chico, instead, greeted attendees as they arrived at the forum.
Rahm Emanuel, Carol Moseley Braun and Miguel del Valle each spoke before an audience of roughly 200, with hundreds more watching online live, and answered a series of questions that addressed five core concerns the coalition had identified: Education, HIV/AIDS, youth homelessness, transgender issues and public safety. The questions were posed by forum moderator and Windy City Times Publisher Tracy Baim.
Speaking first, Emanuel said he would prioritize hiring new superintendents to both the city's police department and public schools who share his concern for LGBT issues, including bullying in schools and accusations of police harassment of LGBT Chicagoans. He also described his support for HIV/AIDS funding -- out of its public health concern -- throughout the city, not just on its North side.
Regarding public safety, President Obama's former chief of staff emphasized the role he played in helping Democratic leadership in Washington pass the Matthew Shepard Act federal hate-crimes legislation. The next step, he argued, is ensuring "enforcement to the full force of the law, carried out at every level."
And in response to a question regarding LGBT youth homelessness, Emanuel offered general comments that veered unexpectedly toward a discussion of the overrepresentation of war veterans in the city's homeless population.
"The mayor laid out a good plan but how we're going to make sure we have the resources to see that plan through to completion," he said. "I have no problem with gay and lesbian individuals, you should know veterans are overrepresented in the homeless community ... . If I said something here that wasn't also cognizant of the fact that our Vietnam veterans and veterans overall are represented over sample in the homeless population, I'd be taking care of one population at the expense of a population that has given a great deal to this country."
Emanuel concluded his comments with one last appeal to the audience centered on what he sees as all Chicagoans' common challenges.
"The only question -- whether it's on crime, education or our economy -- is whether we will face those issues with common purpose," Emanuel said. "One thing I want to do as mayor is bring the city together as one ... . Obviously [ these issues ] affect different people differently but there are common challenges that have to be met with common purpose."
Former U.S. Senator Carol Moseley Braun spoke next, stating that she is "very proud of my record on these issues."
On education, Braun plans to introduce an LGBT liaison team with Chicago Public Schools as part of a "zero tolerance" policy on bullying. She spoke of pursuing more housing options -- both temporary and long-term -- for struggling LGBT youth and elders and also emphasized her hope to set a tone of inclusiveness across the city to help combat hate and bias crimes.
In response to a question on HIV/AIDS funding, Braun emphasized that the city will need to strengthen its private/public partnerships in order to combat new HIV/AIDS infections, particularly in traditionally underserved African-American and Latino communities on the city's South and West sides.
"We can build on what we have but also make sure there is divisional distribution and access throughout the city of Chicago," Braun said. " [ We need to ] break down the silos that are keeping our funding from going around to the organizations that are presently providing important services."
Closing her comments, Braun encouraged voters to look to her record on LGBT issues -- including her opposition to both the Defense of Marriage Act and Don't Ask Don't Tell while a U.S. Senator -- as proof of the sort of advocacy they could expect from a Mayor Braun.
"Maybe when you come out of the perspective of looking like me, you become doubly sensitive -- I hope -- to the travails and concerns of others and this is something I've been concerned about, worked on and devoted my life to promoting in my career in public service," Moseley Braun added.
Finally, City Clerk of Chicago Miguel del Valle addressed concerns about public safety and harassment in schools and from police with an emphasis not only on the implementation of new, more protective policies, but also on continued professional development and close monitoring to ensure policies translate into real change.
Addressing HIV/AIDS prevention and education, del Valle spoke of his experience protecting proposed cuts to minority outreach HIV funding both as a State Senator and during his stint on the AIDS Foundation of Chicago's board -- a post Dr. Ron Sable asked him to take.
Throughout his comments, del Valle characterized himself as the "people first" candidate and emphasized that the strength of Chicago is derived from its neighborhoods and community organizing.
"I look forward to the day when we have real equality because, even within the gay community, there is some classism, you know that. It exists and I see it right now even in this mayoral election, where some individuals are thinking of business and economics before they think of anything else," del Valle said.
"I'm a mayoral candidate who's going to put people first in our neighborhoods, in our communities throughout the city of Chicago and I will promote and fight for equality because if we're going to really stand up and fight on these issues, the kind of issues you're concerned about ... it must be a matter of ensuring the city is representative and reflective of all segments of the population."
Following the candidates' turn at the mic, representatives from the coalition sponsoring the event addressed the crowd. They spoke of the three community forums held throughout the city late last year that contributed to the development of many of the questions asked both at Wednesday's forum and in a questionnaire that all the campaigns completed. Responses to that questionnaire can be found on Equality Illinois' website. The coalition is thought to be the first time such a broad range of LGBT groups came together to organize such an event.
Julio Rodriguez, president of the Association of Latino Men for Action ( ALMA ) , one of the participating organizations, described the forum as a first step toward further empowering the city's many LGBT communities in the electoral process.
"We need to make the queer, the LGBT community become present in all of our elections," Rodriguez said. "I think our next step is getting past this election and holding whoever wins accountable. I think a year from now, whoever is in that building not too far away, they need to be here again and we need to be broadcasting their response to a new set of questions: What have you done for me lately?"
Bernard Cherkasov, CEO of Equality Illinois, added that, as part of their goal of fostering accountability, the coalition has launched the Chicago Appointments Project, an effort intended to strongly encourage the city's next mayor to appoint well-qualified openly LGBT candidates for positions in their administration. The project is modeled after the Presidential Appointments Project, which has, to date, resulted in over 150 LGBT presidential appointees under the Obama administration.
If you missed the forum's live stream on Windy City Times and Radio Arte, the program is available for on-demand viewing below. The stream is also available at www.ustream.tv/recorded/12578822. The election is Feb. 22.