In a race where polling data and campaign cash have consistently favored one particular contender over all others, to call mayoral candidate and attorney Gery Chico an underdog is a patent understatement. But, as Chico's campaign heads into the home stretch, it is clear this veteran of city government has not lost any steam in his hopes to eclipse his main rival Rahm Emanuel. If anything, recent polling suggests Chico is picking up some momentum.
And that may have something to do with Chico's deep resume. Over the last 15 years, he's led Chicago Public Schools, the Park District and City Colleges of Chicago and also ran for a U.S. Senate seat, won by President Obama, in 2004. Before that, Chico served as Mayor Richard M. Daley's chief of staff from 1992-1995.
In his quest to succeed his former boss, it is without question that Chico, the only candidate in that Senate race to support marriage equality, deeply wishes to bring the city's LGBT community to his side. Arguably, Chico has reached out more to the community than any other candidate in the race, including the release of his platform on LGBT issues and a Center on Halsted town hall event in December.
With less than two months to go before the election, Chico sat down with Windy City Times to address his LGBT platform and why he feels his competitors cannot match his record.
Windy City Times: It's been a big end of the year for the LGBT community here in Chicago, with "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" (DADT) being repealed and the civil-unions legislation passing in Illinois. What are your thoughts on these advances?
Gery Chico: Obviously, I'm very pleased about the movement in Congress and the president signing the bill on "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" is long overdue. I mean, the day has come and gone when we should be worried about that policy. That shouldn't even be on the books. ... With the passage of civil unions in Illinois, a lot of couples will now have peace of mind about their ability to plan their affairs and have some predictability in the future as to what they can do with their partners and that's another large step in the right direction to become a much better society.
WCT: And how are you feeling at this point in your campaign?
Gery Chico: I feel very good about the race and how we're doing. I think we have done the things that our strategy has us doing. We've executed well. Things are coming together the way we anticipated and clearly after the first of the year things are going to get turned up a little bit.
WCT: You've said that your interest in issues of equality was passed down from your grandparents, through your family to you and your brothers. Do you recall when the topic of equalityor inequalityfirst struck a chord with you?
Gery Chico: From the earliest days as a child, I remember my mom and dad always telling us to treat everybody the same, treat everybody fairly with respectthe way you wanted to be treated. And that's our upbringing. For me, all of these matters have just been second nature, I've never thought about judging anybody for what they do. We're human beings, we live as human beings and we should respect one another, help each other, try to get along, try to advance our common causes. That's what life's about.
WCT: What led you first into politics? Did you ever anticipate or dream you would be here in this position?
Gery Chico: No, nope ... I started out as a city intern in 1977 and look at me, I'm running for the mayor of Chicago. You never know where your path will take you ... I had [the] good fortune of being given a number of top level assignments and I've tried to do them to the best of my ability and just about every government I've had the privilege of leading has done better, considerably better than we were predicted to.
I think now, with Mayor Daley leaving, if you're a good citizen and you have some experience and you have some skill, you offer it up to public service. You don't step back and say, "What can I do to make my own personal life cushier?" I don't think that's what this is about. I think that we're a city, we're a people, it all goes back to what I said earlier. You're part of a community and if you think you can lead and think you can do a good job which will make a whole lot of peoples' lives better, it's incumbent upon you to do so.
WCT: If elected, what will be your first priorities specifically pertaining to the city's LGBT communities?
Gery Chico: Obviously, equal employment. We want to make sure that we have a government that is representative of the communities that we serve so we can probably do a better job of including the LGBT community in our government positions. We can look to do more with economic development in the way we relate to the businesses that are from the community. As a city, we have our own direct purchasing power.
Bullying is something that I want to really concentrate on and make sure is part of our curricula in the schools and that our police department is properly trained [on] all matters involving the LGBT community. We want them to be sensitive to what all the people are experience. I've already said I want to maintain or increase the HIV/AIDS funding. Those are at least four [things] that I think we would launch pretty quickly. Some of them are just natural as we're putting together a government, you'll have to include people from all quarters so we want to make sure we're doing that there.
Along the way, you'll obviously have the opportunity as the mayor to talk about matters that are beyond the purview of the mayor's office per sematters such as [DADT], civil unions and any other issue that comes up and you'll have to speak to it. I see those things as outside the purview [of the office] but important to society to weigh in and be a voice on those matters.
WCT: When you were a Senate candidate in 2004, you were the only candidate in that race to endorse marriage equality, and you also made headlines when you spoke out against government funding of faith-based initiatives. Do you think the city's contracting with faith-based agencies that may have discriminatory policies toward LGBT peoplesuch as the Salvation Army or Lutheran Child and Family Services, which refuses to license same-sex adoptive parents, as one exampleshould be reconsidered?
Gery Chico: Well, I don't know. Honest to God, I don't know that I want to do that. What I don't think we should do is get into religious tenets. I would much rather keep a separation of church and state and I would rather speak on the moral high ground of the propriety of those matters rather than use the machinery of government to get in and try to change religious views. I think that goes beyond the scope of what government should be doing.
And we have to remember, too, we don't want to harm the many people that these agencies serve, whether it's Lutheran Services or any other [agency], the people they're serving need that help, whether it's meals or shelter. For the principle that maybe you and I agree on, I don't think we should hurt the homeless or the hungry by trying to leverage this municipal help. It would hurt those people. I can't hurt another guy to help another guy. I don't believe in that.
WCT: You identify as a Catholic and that's important to you. Are you concerned that your progressive views on LGBT and other issues may alienate some socially conservative voters?
Gery Chico: I hope that's not the case ... I think the attitudes are changing much more so even over the last six years. Since I ran for the Senate, I know that pollingI've never done this [Licks finger, points toward the ceiling] anyway, so I don't pay much attention to that. I try to do the right thing and the chips fall where they fall. But I imagine, where you're really at with this right so I couldn't adopt a socially conservative position anyway.
There are many Catholics who believe like I do, who believe in equal rights for people. There are many, many political leadersMayor Daley, Gov. Quinnwho believe similarly and, you know what, this is what eventually causes attitudes to change over time ... I just act it and don't think that much about it, but I'm sure there's some backlash. I know in some of my own fundraising calls, people have refused to donate to me because of my positions, but you know what? That's the way it is. We don't pander.
WCT: Speaking of bullying and harassment, I know this is a big issue for you in terms of LGBT and all students essentially, and some leaders have suggested LGBT history being discussed in CPS classrooms. What are some specific ideas you have to address this issue?
Gery Chico: I was involved with the adoption of certain training and subject matter in the curricula before, now I would do it again with the understanding and knowledge that we've picked up over the nine or 10 years since I've been gone, to make sure that that's incorporated in the curriculum.
Look, I think you teach subject matter that is a fact and reality and you don't color it by including only what you like or what you think is the case. You include facts, that's history and social studies. To not take account of historical facts of a movement to provide people equal rights or dignity is just wrong. You must incorporate those kinds of stories in a fact-based curriculum.
WCT: Speaking of other issues, the DREAM Act is a piece of federal legislation that failed to pass a Senate vote recently. Tell me about what your thoughts are on that bill and immigration reform.
Gery Chico: I'm glad we got Senator Kirk's vote on "Don't Ask, Don't Tell;" we're sad we didn't get Kirk's vote on the DREAM Act. Look, I think the DREAM Act is a simple humanitarian measure. The guy who had the last big word on this subject was a guy by the name of Ronald Reagan in 1986. Why can't we get this done? Why do certain individuals, many in the Republican Party, not adopt the philosophy of Reagan? Compassion. Reality and compassion. And I think we're missing that. I think a little bit of history there would go a long way. I don't know how we've backslid so much from '86 to now. How did we go backwards on these and yet on matters we've just talked about, we've gone forward. It's a bit of an inconsistency there, don't you think?
WCT: Another inconsistency at the federal level is that [DADT] repeal was able to pass through the Senate but the Employment Non-Discrimination Act was not. One big piece of that legislation is protecting the transgender community. What would you like to see done to protect transgender Chicagoans?
Gery Chico: I think everybody's entitled to equal protections under the law. This isagain, I mean, look, as long as you're not hurting anyone else, I don't care how you express yourself. This is America; this is the beauty of the country that you have freedom of expression through the Constitution and you should be able to conduct yourself as you see fit, provided you're not hurting another human beingthat's where we draw the line. And I think that this falls under the same genre of persons who should be protected by the laws we've been talking about. For me, I don't see the distinction there.
WCT: Tell me about bringing Todd Connor on board as your campaign co-chair.
Gery Chico: I'm acting on my words. Most of my colleagues in this race will come down, give you a couple of lines and walk right through. We're not doing that. We've been there for years and staked out clear positions on the toughest issues so that people know where we stand. Todd Connor is an exemplary American with his service to the country and service locally. He is a very decent human being who happens to be gay.
As I said at the town hall meeting [at the Center on Halsted], I think the Todd Connors of the worldand a whole lot of other people I've met along this campaignare the face of the new Chicago. I really believe that, and so I think it's a very powerful action taken on top of a principled set of statements that have endured over the years for me and demonstrate who I am.
WCT: There's a perception of Democratic lobbying to the LGBT community that isn't always the most sincerely felt. What do you specifically bring to the table for this community that the other candidates do not?
Gery Chico: In '04, when it was unpopular to take such positions, many people came to the LGBT community then and asked for support, but when it came time to support legislation that would protect their rights, there was a little waltzing going on. I haven't wavered in six years from my positions. I articulate them. I go to the community. I have town halls and discussion. I think I have the strongest record of any candidate in the field for mayor or perhaps any race so, absolutely, I would ask for the support from the community that I have shown my own support to over the years. In office, not in office, running for officeit's been the same.
By the way, [holds up a printed copy of his LGBT platform] these are the positions of a person who happens to be the most qualified person to be mayor of the city, anyway, based on what just about everyone has to say. So it's not like I had to do some huge stretch to make people want to see that I'm qualified for the position anyway. I see it as a person who's from the city, grew up in the city, raised his family in the city and sent them to public schools, who happens to be the most qualified person for mayor in the city and is strong on the issues that are important to the LGBT community. That's my story, and my hope would be that the community would support me.