Amara Enyia looks ahead after mayor’s race

Amara Enyia makes her selections in the voting booth. Enyia told reporters after making her selections that she did vote for herself. (Reporter Dwight A. Weingarten/MEDILL)

By Dwight A. Weingarten
Medill Reports

Midway through her run for mayor, Amara Enyia relayed a question that a young girl asked her on the far South Side when she learned Enyia was running for mayor of Chicago. “Wow, how do you do that?” the girl said.

“I looked at her and I sort of laughed,” Enyia told the crowd at one of the many mayoral forums. “And I said, ‘You can too, why not?’”

Enyia, the director of the Austin Chamber of Commerce, sought to become Chicago’s first African American female mayor and the city’s youngest mayor in recent history. Her candidacy alone was a work of education, a work she finished Tuesday as she cast her ballot. She received 8 percent of the vote, finishing sixth in a field of 14. Top vote-getter Lori Lightfoot and Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle now face off in an April 2 runoff.

Amara Enyia casts her ballot at the Ike Sims Village in the East Garfield Park neighborhood. Enyia was accompanied at the polls by her parents, Irene and Sam Enyia. (Video by Dwight A. Weingarten)

“We started this race with a vision for what Chicago could be and a determination to fight for that vision,” said Enyia Tuesday night after the election’s outcome.

“This is not about me, it’s about we,” Enyia told supporters, “so my charge is for us to continue in that spirit because it’s a spirit that supersedes any individual. The future of our city is depending on our commitment to the values we hold dear.”

“She’s changing the equation,” said Zachary Ferguson, a South Side native and Enyia supporter, after the election results came in Tuesday night. “She’s going to change the country.”

“The people who have written the Constitution, their design was for “We the People,” said Ferguson, a baby-boomer, who looked into Enyia’s campaign after Chance the Rapper’s endorsement. “[Enyia] says “All people, all voices, one city. It’s basically saying the same thing.”

Zachary Ferguson holds a sign for Amara Enyia towards the end of Enyia’s election night watch party. Ferguson said Enyia’s platform for the people, instead of for a wealthy few, changes the equation. (Photo by Dwight A. Weingarten)

Porchia Logan, a student at Kennedy-King College from the city’s West Side, said she never had an interest in politics before this election.

“From what I understand, [classmates] tell me that they like what she’s saying and she’s very grounded,” said Logan, who attended Enyia’s election watch party to see Enyia for herself.

Enyia, 35, announced her candidacy in late August about a week before Mayor Rahm Emanuel announced he would not to seek re-election on Sept. 4.

At the Oct. 13 March to the Polls hosted by the Women’s March Chicago organization, Aretha Hughes, a South Side native, worked to get signatures to get Enyia on the ballot.

“She’s fresh, she’s young, she’s new,” said Hughes in October, when contrasting her with other city politicians, “It’s like a breath of fresh air that could be brought to Chicago.”

At the October march, first-time organizer and Enyia campaign volunteer Amelia Mroczkowski, a recent college grad and Rogers Park native, pinpointed the biggest obstacles for Enyia in her pursuit to become Chicago’s next mayor—publicity and media presence.
Three days later, Enyia was endorsed by Chance the Rapper in a news conference at City Hall covered by The Washington Post.

The additional recognition could not overcome all the obstacles.The campaign still had an outstanding $73,540 debt to the Illinois State Board of Elections from Enyia’s unsuccessful 2015 mayoral run, a fine that would preclude Enyia’s name from being on the ballot.

Those fees coupled with the over 20 candidates competing for the requisite 12,500 signatures needed to get on the ballot before the Nov. 19 filing deadline were the next hurdles Enyia’s campaign had to overcome.

A sign for Amara Enyia decorates the space at her election night watch party. There were 14 candidates on the ballot Tuesday. (Photo by Dwight A. Weingarten)

The financial support of rapper Kanye West, who’s initial contribution of $73,540 matched the Enyia campaign’s outstanding debt, allowed the work of the signature-gathering volunteers to pay off with a spot on the ballot for Enyia.

As challenges to other candidate’s signatures ensued and the race progressed, the field narrowed to 14 candidates, but for Enyia the campaign was about more than simply electoral victory.

“The work started before this campaign, the work will continue after the campaign, regardless of the outcome,” said Enyia at a Jan. 19 campaign event. “The goal is to win that’s what we’re in this to do…but the bigger picture is that this [work for justice] is necessary regardless of who’s on the fifth floor.”

While questions about Enyia’s personal finances regarding unreported income and unpaid student loans arose late in the campaign, Enyia sought to influence other candidates towards her ideas in public finance.

“There is an interesting shifting that I’ve been privy to as time has gone on and that is a success in some senses,” said Enyia at the January event, citing another candidate who adopted the idea of a public bank.

As Enyia stepped to the stage, surrounded by family, to deliver her last speech of the 2019 campaign, she told supporters: “When there is no peril in the fight, there is no glory in the triumph,” stating that justice is not an event, but a process.

“Today represents the culmination of a movement that will extend far beyond this election.”

Photo at top: Amara Enyia makes her selections in the voting booth. Enyia told reporters after making her selections that she did vote for herself. (Reporter Dwight A. Weingarten/MEDILL)