Running Without Fear, an Insurgent Challenges Chicago’s Mayor

Amara Enyia has made it clear that Mayor Rahm Emanuel may have name recognition and money, but that she has the support of everyday Chicagoans.

Posted: 04/16/2014 04:02 PM EDT

(Photo: Courtesy of Amara Enyia for Chicago)

Amara Enyia makes it abundantly clear that she believes there is nothing she can’t accomplish, so long as she puts her mind and energy to the task — including defeating Chicago mayor Rahm Emanuel.

Enyia is a 30-year-old community organizer, lawyer and former worker in the administration of former Mayor Richard M. Daley. She is taking on Emanuel, saying that the mayor has little to no concept of the challenges of everyday Chicagoans and that there is a need for new ideas in the mayor’s office.

“We are living in a historic moment in Chicago,” Enyia said, in an interview with BET.com. “We have an opportunity to determine the direction of the city for the next few decades. There is a sense of urgency around the issues we’re facing.”

Specifically, she said that Mayor Emanuel and officials at the police department are less interested in solving the core issues affecting Chicago’s chronically high level of gun violence than they are in manipulating statistics to give the impression that crime levels are diminishing.

“When you look at the violence in the city, and there have been articles that indicated that this is the case, the mayor and police commissioner are more interested in manipulating statistics,” she said. “They care more about political expediency than in getting to the root cause of the problem.”

Furthermore, she added, her days working in city government taught her that there was a disconnect between the people who make policy and those who are most affected by it. “Too many groups of people are excluded from decision making,” she added. “We have too many leaders who don’t understand what it’s like to be an average person living in Chicago.”

If nothing else, Enyia is not the typical mayoral candidate. She is the daughter of immigrants from Nigeria who played roles in that country’s civil conflicts in the 1960s. Her parents were active in fighting in opposition to brutality that took place at the hands of the rulers in that era. “At the time, genocide was taking place and my father was deeply opposed to any oppression,” she said. “My parents were very active against the dictators.”

Even after her parents moved to the United States, they continued to support forces against those dictators, she said. “They could have easily forgotten about home. But they persisted because of the principles of equality, justice and standing up for the poor and against corruption,” she explained. “I witnessed that firsthand growing up and it had an effect on me.”

She attended the University of Illinois where she became the first Black editor of the school’s daily newspaper. She received a master’s degree and a law degree as well as a doctorate in educational policy, all from the University of Illinois.

After moving to Chicago, she helped a program aimed at advocating on behalf of justice for young people. The program aims to reduce violence and keep young people from ever entering the justice system.

In challenging Emanuel, she is taking on one of the best-known and well-financed politicians in all of the United States, a man who served as chief of staff to President Obama. Yet, she says she finds that prospect utterly undaunting.

“I’m just not intimidated,” she said. “I believe that, because the conditions under which we are living, that I cannot in good conscience step outside of what I believe is my responsibility just because of some perceived mythology about the mayor.”

She added: “At the end of the day, we have to demonstrate that the power of organized people is greater than the power of organized money. We need to raise enough money to run a competent, well-run campaign. But we can’t stay out of the process because he has raised a certain amount of money. I’ve never been that kind of person to fear anyone.”

Follow Jonathan Hicks on Twitter: @HicksJonathan

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