Amara Enyia –the 35-year-old daughter of Nigerian immigrants, competitive runner, speaker of five languages and holder of six degrees – stood out her second bid for mayor of Chicago thanks to an early celebrity endorsement from Chance the Rapper.
Enyia made headlines again thanks to an endorsement some critics saw as disqualifying – from Cook County Circuit Court Clerk Dorothy Brown, who has been under investigation by the FBI for several years in connection with corruption allegations.
Enyia offered a pragmatic response.
“[Brown] represents a significant bloc of voters in this city who are looking for a place to plug in in the mayoral election. We are trying to consolidate intergenerationally,” she said on The Daily Line’s Aldercast. “We have a strong base of young voters, but she also has a strong base of older voters who understand even the investigation, but also know, believe that she has done a good job of representing them in her current role.”
That federal investigation — into whether Brown has traded jobs for money — was “certainly discussed,” ahead of the endorsement, Enyia said.
Former employees allege Brown “collected payments of $10,000 per job through campaign contributions, business loans and even a free trip to India,” according to a review of federal affidavits filed, per the Sun-Times.
“It was one of the first things that we discussed, and it was a very frank conversation that the current investigation that she’s under has to continue, it has to play out,” Enyia said. “We don’t shy away from the fact that it’s an issue for her.”
Enyia has campaigned on equity and righting systemic injustices, including the city’s booting and ticketing policies. Brown’s office has long been criticized for inefficiencies, including more than 600 cases that can’t proceed to appeal due to delays in processing at Brown’s office, detailed recently by the Chicago Reader and earlier in the Better Government Association.
Asked if those issues gave her pause, Enyia said she and Brown “talked a lot about her background” and said criticism of her time as clerk is justified.
“Everyone has a right to an opinion on how she has performed she has a constituency that she serves that may be aware of these concerns and these critiques but still support her strongly,” Enyia said. “If we are talking about moving the city in the right direction and building a strong coalition, we have to think about how we can build that coalition.”
She faced criticism this week for claiming she’d twice competed in the Ironman. She has competed in triathlons, but not Ironman-branded events or Ironman-length events — 140.6 miles split between swimming, running and bicycling. Her longest competition was that Wisconsin race – a total of 70.3 miles. Amara has edited her website to reflect the change – it now reads “triathlete competitor,” and she has criticized the media for nitpicking:
If 2 weeks from election folks are focused on calling out my economic hardship, nitpicking the dates of ALL the degrees I earned, & focusing on marathons & triathlons, then we hv much bigger issues. No wonder this city needs so much change. #StillHere #AllPeopleAllVoicesOneCity
— Amara Enyia (@AmaraEnyia) February 12, 2019
That website descriptor also changed between Monday and Tuesday to omit a description of Enyia as a lawyer. She received her law degree from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign in 2009, but has never taken the bar exam and does not have a license to practice law.
James Grogan, the deputy administrator for the Attorney Registration and Disciplinary Commission of the Supreme Court of Illinois, told The Daily Line he is not permitted by Supreme Court rules to discuss “anything to deal with this candidate,” but “as a general rule, if an individual says I’m a lawyer — I know there are some internet sources that say contrary — as a general rule if you say you are a lawyer you should be licensed somewhere.”
Enyia also holds degrees in journalism and a masters and doctorate in education. She is the executive director of the Austin Chamber of Commerce.
Other takeaways from Enyia’s interview on The Aldercast:
On why her personal financial troubles aren’t illustrative of how she’d govern — The Chicago Tribune reported Enyia “has been sued over rent and student loans, faced a lien for unpaid federal taxes and been fined tens of thousands of dollars for failing to file quarterly campaign finance reports.” She said that the issues make her relatable to Chicagoans struggling financially and should not be reflective of how she’d manage city finances. “We’ve had many mayors who have had stellar personal finances and still have brought the city to the brink of financial ruin. We are facing a structural deficit, we do not have, as yet, a revenue generating strategy. We have unpaid debts for which we’re kicking the can down the road, and that’s been under mayors who have been very well-off financially. It’s a false equivalency that your personal finances are the same as managing a city.” Enyia said her values of equity and caring about those who have been marginalized matter more. “These are lived experiences that inform the policy platform that’s resonating with so many across the city.” She favors banning city practice of booting cars and allowing those who owe the city money to volunteer in lieu of paying fines and fees. She also backs progressive payment plans and ticket amnesty.
On police reform — Enyia has proposed institutionalizing block clubs that would work in partnership with police “instead of having an external presence flooding the streets.” She said police staffing levels do not need to be reduced. She did not commit to specific reforms she’d like to see in the renegotiated contract with the Fraternal Order of Police, but suggested the 24-hour period that allows officers “to get their story together” following a police involved shooting is too long. She said she participated in both police oversight proposal processes from the Grassroots Alliance for Police Accountability and the Civilian Police Accountability Council. Both offer vastly different outcomes for Chicago’s oversight bodies. CPAC would abolish many of the city’s current structures in favor of a fully elected body, while GAPA’s proposal would give an elected oversight board power to choose new leadership at oversight bodies and demand audits. “I think the election gives an opportunity to reset the clock on both so they can be put forth into consideration with a new council and a new mayor,” she said.
On Chicago’s population loss — Enyia said several of her friends have left or are contemplating leaving the city. “They tell me it’s because they don’t see a future here… They say it’s because of the lack of affordable housing… because the job market is not conducive to being able to find work… for many it’s an issue of safety, they’re tired of feeling insecure in their neighborhoods… it’s also living in a food desert. I live in a food desert. People don’t want to have to go out of their neighborhood to get access to food or quality food, and that’s a problem, that’s a reality for many. It’s the school issue. Again, many of my peers, especially in my age range who have young children, they don’t want the headache of trying to finegle their way into a selective enrollment school and it’s very stressful, so instead they’re moving out to the suburbs,” she said. “Whether things will change is a significant part of the decision-making,” she added, including a perception that corruption will continue and leadership offers no new ideas.
On turnout and celebrity endorsements — Alongside Brown, Enyia said Chance the Rapper and Kanye West’s endorsements will help maintain the young voter turnout Chicago saw in the midterm elections, despite endless mudslinging and headlines about corruption. Her campaign explicitly targeted the more than 60 percent of voters who have not turned out in past municipal elections. “The beauty of the celebrity endorsements is that it puts it on the radar of people who otherwise weren’t paying attention to the mayoral election, but the substance of our campaign is what keeps people there and allows them to, and compels them to attract other people to our campaign and to our movement. I think people will still come out. I think every new voter that registers in this election is coming out for us and that is because they’re actually excited about what the future holds and the message that we’ve been putting out.”