Susana Mendoza won a statewide reputation as an attack dog during the budget standoff with Gov. Bruce Rauner — and Mendoza has no regrets.
“My attacks were never partisan,” she said on The Daily Line’s Aldercast, adding that she felt a “moral obligation” to describe how the budget impasse was “crushing” Illinoisans.
As she runs for mayor, Mendoza said she’s focused on presenting her vision for Chicago to voters. However, her campaign has been one of the most aggressive, and rarely missed an opportunity to slam her opponents, including a Politifact-rated “false” Jeopardy parody to criticize Bill Daley or sending rapid response press releases mid-debate to criticize Toni Preckwinkle’s ties to former Assessor Joe Berrios.
“I’ve just been running my campaign like I know, which is one speed and that’s full speed ahead… I’m really not running against any of those other candidates, I’m running for Chicago,” Mendoza said. “My goal is to leave a legacy of getting things done.”
The current state comptroller, former Chicago City Clerk and state representative has had to fend off attacks of her own — for her past support on the death penalty, donations from the politically connected former owner of a the General Iron scrap yard, and most of all, for ties to Ald. Ed Burke (14) and Ald. Danny Solis (25) in the unraveling corruption scandal at City Hall.
“I got my political start as a state representative representing the Southwest Side of the city of Chicago which incorporates those specific aldermen, so you could imagine that it’s impossible to not have associations to elected officials who’ve been in office for years,” she said. “The job is to work with whoever the aldermen are in your area, some of whom you like, some of whom you don’t. When they commit illegal acts or stupid things, that’s on them. It’s not a reflection on me. As much as my opponents would like to do that. I sleep very well at night, I worry about my mom’s opinion the most.”
Five takeaways from our interview Feb. 14:
- On working for Ray Frias during the Silver Shovel crackdown — Mendoza met former Ald. Ray Frias (12) after proofreading a Spanish-language mailer from his opponent. He eventually offered her a job. She served as his press secretary throughout the Silver Shovel scandal. “It was a very difficult environment. It was the first big huge scandal and I think I had been employed for six days at the time. I had just gotten started, but I had had an opportunity to get to know him as a person and I felt like he was a really good man,” Mendoza said. Frias was ultimately acquitted – the only alderman of the Silver Shovel bunch – of bribery and extortion charges, though he was caught on tape saying “That’s what life is about, makin’ money.” The scandal taught her “very early on to not do things or say things that are even remotely going to be taken out of context. It’s difficult, because in the political world you say or take a picture with someone and it makes you essentially corrupt. I mean look what’s happening in this election, right? You have relationships with people you have to work with in the course of your day-to-day job, and if you know them or have ever been friendly with them, even in a professional way, you get painted by the same brush. That’s not fair, but it’s politics, and politics, as they say, is not beanbag. It’s a blood sport here in Chicago.”
- On her relationship with Brian Hynes and VAP — Mendoza was among several mayoral candidates whose contributions came under scrutiny after it was revealed that Ald. Danny Solis’ (25) wore a wire to record conversations with his colleagues on the City Council. Mendoza donated $141,550 in campaign contributions connected to Solis and the Vendor Assistance Program, VAP, once owned by Solis’ sister, Patti Solis Doyle, to charity after the Solis news broke. A lawsuit first reported by WBEZ claimed three of five VAP-linked firms that donated to Mendoza “are accused of being part of the ‘sham’ to divert profits from former partners in Pennsylvania.” Mendoza said, ”You probably have as much to do with that lawsuit as I do, which means you have nothing to do with it.” Her relationship with Hynes, who co-founded VAP and is a lobbyist in Springfield is “very very limited in scope” and that she met him on “three or four occasions” since becoming comptroller. Mendoza said she did not know those businesses connected with VAP were profiting off the state’s budget crisis and “it’s unfortunate that this got turned into something political because it has absolutely nothing to do with the office of the comptroller or with me… it’s silly season, it’s political season, there’s going to be inferences that are made that should not be made… I passed legislation that actually created a whole new degree of transparency which is why everyone can tell who is now behind these payment programs.”
- On her priorities for the new contract with the Fraternal Order of Police — Mendoza was not specific on her demands of a new police contract, saying she did not want to telegraph her negotiating position. “The consent decree is going to guide the tenure as mayor with the next police department… what gets negotiated into the contract, what the give and what the take is is still going to be negotiated.” One “must-have” is training, and “violence is the key issue, what that contract’s going to look like, I don’t know yet but I can tell you it’s going to be the focus of my administration.” Another is police hiring. The department must focus on “beat integrity,” ensuring that residents are familiar with the police in their neighborhoods, and that police are properly resourced with tasers and redundant training, Mendoza said, describing the city’s low clearance rate as “pathetic” and “a black eye on our city.”
- On why CTU shouldn’t be on ‘the warpath’ – Mendoza, the only candidate with a child in Chicago Public Schools, said teachers deserve “quality compensation” and sizes should be reduced. Her son’s class has 31 students, she said. “If you’re a parent of a kid who has 30 or 40 kids in your classroom, you’re concerned about school sizes being too high.” Every decision on the contract will be about helping to close the “immorally large” achievement gap in the city, Mendoza said. The union has attacked Mendoza for her support of charters, vouchers and described her as “Rahm 2.0.” But Mendoza did not directly respond to the Chicago Teachers Union’s demands for wraparound services at every school. “I don’t expect to be on a warpath, and I think it’s a mistake for the CTU to be on a warpath with anyone who is not their endorsed candidate,” she said, referring to the union’s support of Preckwinkle, a former history teacher.
- On false pension promises and the pension obligation bond — Mendoza said she was opposed to a property tax increase to meet the city’s ballooning pension obligations. Mendoza warned voters to be wary of candidates offering “false expectations” on solutions. “Look, I support a [downtown] casino, but that’s not going to help me make a payment on the pension plan, at least not now,” she said. Revenues from a statewide progressive income tax and recreational marijuana would likewise not be available soon enough, she added. The responsible course of action is to “at least look at” Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s proposed pension obligation bond, a deal other candidates like Paul Vallas have blasted for being too risky given the current market and economy. “Maybe not in the way Mayor Emanuel pitched… I think that might be overly aggressive for what we need,” Mendoza said, perhaps preferring “a low to medium risk on a bond deal that would get us the cash we need to make a payment, but not over-extend ourselves too much, and then focus on a long term casino.”