Mayoral Candidate Questionnaire Answer Highlights
Below we’ve compiled highlights of the six responding mayoral candidates’ answers to our good government questionnaire. See their full answers and city council candidates’ answers here.
Campaign finance reform
Fair Elections (public campaign financing)
Question: Running a political campaign is expensive, and candidates without deep pockets or wealthy connections often can’t afford to compete. Would you support a public campaign financing program for Chicago city elections, such as a small donor matching or voucher “Democracy Dollars” program? Would you include the new elected school board and Police District Council in a public financing program?
All six mayoral candidates who responded expressed enthusiastic support for public campaign financing, including for the new police district council and elected school board.
- Paul Vallas: “The devil is in the details but the ordinance recently introduced by Ald. Matt Martin is a terrific foundation for that discussion.” Vallas said such a program should be enacted in ordinance but also enshrined in a citizen-approved city charter to protect it from the “vicissitudes of politics.”
- Ja’Mal Green: Public financing is an “effective and necessary step to mitigate the issue [of money in politics] and allow regular people to make their voices heard. “Massive reform” also needed at the federal level.
- Roderick Sawyer: “[V]ery interested in public campaign financing for all elections – especially for things like the elected representative school board and Police District Councils, two newly created bodies created specifically to involve more citizens who are not affiliated with any special interest groups.”
- Sophia King: Supports public financing to “even the playing field for candidates for public office all across the City of Chicago.”
- Brandon Johnson and Kam Buckner also expressed support, including for the school board and police district councils.
Campaign contributions by people or entities that do business with the city
Question: Currently, entities doing (or seeking to do) business with the City are limited to contributing $1,500 to City officials’ campaigns. But the limitation does not extend to officers or other high-level employees of those entities, who can still contribute thousands to officials making decisions about contracts with their companies. Would you support eliminating this loophole, as cities like New York have?
All six candidates endorsed closing the loophole that allows high-ranking executives of city contractors to contribute more than the $1500 limit imposed on the companies themselves.
- Ja’Mal Green: “We must work to eliminate all loopholes in our campaign finance laws, as they have been used to skirt boundaries which are in place for a reason.”
- Paul Vallas: “This is one important way to align our campaign finance laws with our moral and ethical sensibilities” instead of being driven by “what is technically legal.”
- Roderick Sawyer: “This loophole undermines the intent of the law.”
- Kam Buckner, Brandon Johnson, and Sophia King all support eliminating the loophole.
Question: Would you support reducing the City’s campaign contribution limit from lobbyists and city vendors from $1500 to $750 or another number? Feel free to explain.
All candidates supported some kind of reduction in the current cap on contributions to city candidates from lobbyists and city vendors.
- Kam Buckner: “There are too many special interest groups with outsized influence in our elections, and I am in favor of measures that limit their control over our democratic process.”
- Brandon Johnson, Roderick Sawyer, Ja’Mal Green, Sophia King: Johnson is in support of a reduction, while Sawyer is “open to the idea.” Green would consider a reduction “but cannot comment on a specific number;” King would support a reduction as part of “broader campaign finance reform efforts.”
- Paul Vallas: Suggests profit-driven entities should have a lower contribution cap than small nonprofit lobbyists. Proposes the city consider going further with a “hard no” to all campaign donations from profit-driven entities lobbying or doing business with the city, permitting them to donate only to a small donor or other public financing fund to “avoid the aura and reality of implied quid pro quos.”
Question: Ranked-choice voting (RCV) has been adopted around the country as a way of eliminating low-turnout primaries and making elections more democratic. Do you support the adoption of ranked choice voting for Chicago’s mayoral and aldermanic elections?
All six respondents supported changing Chicago‘s current voting system to a ranked-choice system that would give voters more choices, reduce the pressure to vote strategically, and eliminate the need for a runoff for both mayoral and city council elections. Click here for more information about ranked-choice voting.
- Ja’Mal Greene: “The runoff system costs the city an immense amount of money in administering a second election merely a month after the first. It also subjects the people of Chicago to a month-long onslaught of campaign ads, candidate visits, and other obnoxious incursions into their lives. RCV is essential to better government.”
- Paul Vallas: RCV should be adopted through ordinance and “enshrined at a constitutional level in a voter-approved municipal charter.”
- Roderick Sawyer: RCV “would improve our system.”
- Kam Buckner, Sophia King, and Brandon Johnson all support RCV.
Ballot access and petition reform
Question: The petition gathering and challenge process can make it hard for some good candidates to make it onto the ballot. Would you support state-level efforts to reform the system and, if so, what would you propose?
All six respondents support reforming the petition gathering and challenge process.
- Roderick Sawyer: Current petition system is “archaic and it’s designed specifically for a Machine-style government to get the candidates it wants and prevent the ones it doesn’t. We need some sort of barrier to make people earn a spot on the ballot, but the current system is onerous and rife with abuse. Someone with time and means can tie up a candidate for weeks defending petition signatures and sabotage their campaign.”
- Brandon Johnson: The petition challenge process “could use more scrutiny.”
- Sophia King: “We should reduce the high level requirements for the petitioning processes, and thus reduce the ability of better financed candidates to accrue an unfair advantage.”
- Ja’Mal Green: Unsuccessful challengers should have to pay legal defense costs to discourage frivolous challengers; signature thresholds should be reduced and equalized between major parties and independents; digital petition signatures should be allowed.
- Paul Vallas: Current system “has high and expensive barriers to entry for good grassroots-level candidates.”
- Kam Buckner: “We need a lower threshold for signatures (to run for Statewide office, candidates only need 5,000 signatures compared to 12,500 for the Mayoral race).
Reducing the size of the city council
Question: Would you support an effort to reduce the size of the Chicago City Council? If so, what is your ideal number of wards/alderpeople? If not, please explain.
Only Brandon Johnson and Paul Vallas supported considering a reduction in council size, with others not answering or proposing different reforms instead.
- Kam Buckner: “Shrinking the size of city council would do more harm than good.” We need “true city council” reform and a “true city charter” to “make it easier for citizen-led ordinances to become law and  establish real rules of order in City Council.” A charter “would also protect the city from unilateral decision making from the Mayor.”
- Sophia King: Does not support reducing the council’s size.
- Brandon Johnson: Reducing the council’s size could save up to $1 million, “one reason to consider” it.
- Roderick Sawyer and Ja’Mal Green did not answer this question.
- Paul Vallas: “Ultimately I feel the current council is too large.” But feels the size issue has “diverted attention from the more important question of the powers and structural integrity and efficacy of the council” and the size, among other things, should be determined in a citizen-approved city charter.
“Zombie” city council committees
Question: Recent news reports assert that some Chicago City Council committees rarely meet and may function more as remnants of a patronage system than as effective governing bodies. In your opinion, should the number of committees be reduced from nineteen? Are there any other reforms to the committee system you would propose?
The only candidate who explicitly supported the idea of reducing non-meeting committees was Paul Vallas. Others proposed other changes or did not answer.
- Sophia King: “I believe that the practical non-existence of many of the committees in the Chicago City Council is both an embarrassment and an active impediment to the proper governance of the city and functioning of the city council. That is why I as Acting Chair of the Education Committee ensured that that committee had its first meeting in over a year…As mayor, I will respect the Council’s prerogative, and work to ensure frequent and involved meetings of each committee.”
- Kam Buckner: The “number of committees is not the problem – the problem is mayoral control. My city council reform effort will allow the City Council to pick their own leadership, who will pick their own committee chairs, which will lead to more effective management of the programs that are most important to our city.”
- Brandon Johnson: “I don’t think the specific number is the problem. We need vacancies filled in a timely manner, and committee members who take their responsibilities seriously, and who understand the critical role that these committees play in making sure City Council functions efficiently.”
- Roderick Sawyer and Ja’Mal Green did not answer this question.
- Paul Vallas: “Any Committee not meeting should be sunsetted…”core” committees should be resourced and staffed appropriately…” The “law should be amended to provide for the immediate removal from committee chair positions any alderman who diverts committee personnel for individual aldermanic ward and constituent work.” “In addition, the core standing committees of the Council should align with city operations and should include a requirement that they hold a regular percentage and cycle of committee meetings and hearings in the community to facilitate public participation.”
Question: Do you believe that Chicago’s mayor and city council must do more to limit “aldermanic prerogative”? Why or why not? If so, what steps do you think should be taken to limit it?
Brandon Johnson, Roderick Sawyer, and Sophia King appeared to believe the current tradition of aldermanic prerogative is not a problem and the focus should be on other reforms. The other candidates all expressed support for different types of reforms related to aldermanic control. Because of the complexity and variation in their answers, we’ve left them intact below.
- Kam Buckner: “Aldermanic prerogative needs to be reassessed. Alderpeople can and should advocate for the best interests of their ward, but it’s important that the Mayor takes the lead on establishing an overall plan for the city of Chicago, particularly as it relates to housing and zoning requirements. Part of the reason that aldermanic prerogative can lead to corruption is the lack of structure in the Council itself. In the first 100 days of my administration, I intend to introduce an ordinance on City Council reform. City Council should be operated like a true legislative body so they can effectively represent the communities that elected them. They should have a designated parliamentarian and choose their own leadership and committee chairs. My administration will also lead the charge to create a true city charter for Chicago. We are the only large city without one. Instituting a charter can make it easier for citizen-led ordinances to become law and will establish real rules of order in City Council. It would also protect the city from unilateral decision making from the Mayor.”
- Sophia King: “There is no one size fits all neighborhood. Aldermen are elected to be the voice of their community. Decisions should be made in context and should be led by the local alderman in collaboration with the community and the landowner. These decisions should be made expeditiously, however, so as not to deter development and progress. As Mayor, I will use a collaborative approach to gain consensus and develop opportunities that increase our housing stock.”
- Brandon Johnson: “A better consideration would be for Council members to commit to a more open, transparent, and non-transactional government, and then provide leadership focused on working cooperatively and serving the common good of their constituents.”
- Roderick Sawyer: “Aldermanic prerogative is not what many people think it is, or what it once was. In 1955 the city centralized zoning variation and driveway permit procedures, denying aldermen veto power and concentrating decision-making in the hands of expert city officials. A reform ordinance in 1997 made the privilege far more transparent and limited. When someone in my ward requests a zoning variance, the first thing I do is hold a public hearing, and that’s what my colleagues do as well. When a constituent comes to my office to ask for services, they assume I have some special way I get workers out to trim trees or repair a pothole. The fact is I call the individual city department or 311 just like any other citizen. There is a need for some leadership in individual wards from alders who know their community. And if an alder is acting unfairly or unethically we have ways to override that decision.”
- Paul Vallas: “Aldermanic input should absolutely be allowed. Aldermanic control should not. The power of the Council is the Council’s as a collective body, not as individual fiefdoms. That said, steps should be taken to assure localized community voice is projected and amplified through their representative – the alderman. For that balance to be struck, we must have mechanisms of full documentation and public disclosure of all aldermanic inputs into the regulatory and legislative decision-making processes. Any attempt to influence a regulatory or operational decision or outcome in the operation of the executive branch should be documented and made part of the file in that matter, with the relevant agency compiling them in a log that is available for public inspection if not periodic publication. The worst form of aldermanic prerogative is old school individual fiat. The best form of it, which tends more to be practiced by younger and more junior alders is to proactively solicit in public session the input of community on legislative actions that affect the community and to then be the voice and amplifier of the resulting community consensus.”
- Ja’Mal Green: “I do believe there must be some limitation of aldermanic prerogative. We have a system in which members of Council have effectively held vacant lots hostage, blocking crucial redevelopment efforts. I support communities having control of their own destinies, and while Alderman represent a community, they cannot be the sole arbiter of communal desires.”
Candidate tax returns
Question: Should candidates for mayor have to disclose their tax returns for the past two years?
All responding candidates agreed mayoral candidates should have to disclose two years of tax returns. Paul Vallas specified that candidate spouses should also have to disclose their returns if they don’t file jointly.
City council independence from mayor
Question: Do you believe the Chicago City Council should become more independent of the mayor? If so, please explain the specific changes you’d like to see.
Other than Ja’Mal Green, who said the decision should be left to the city council and the mayor “working through collaboration,” all candidates expressed support for the idea that the city council should become more independent, especially when it comes to the appointment of its own committees and leaders.
- Kam Buckner: “Yes…City Council should operate like any other legislative body that picks its own committee chairs.”
- Brandon Johnson: “Yes, such as Council committee chairs selecting committee members.”
- Sophia King: “Yes..a strong and independently functioning City Council is essential to the good governance of our city.”
- Roderick Sawyer: “Absolutely…You don’t need more than a 7th grade civics class to know that the Mayor (executive branch) shouldn’t preside over the City Council (legislative branch). Nor should the mayor pick committee chairs.”
- Ja’Mal Green: “[D]iscussions about adjustments to Council structure and procedure are best left to Council and the Mayor working through collaboration.”
- Paul Vallas: Emphasized how some of the reforms he mentioned above and a municipal charter could “reset the powers of the council to co-equal alignment with the mayor” with “express investigative powers,” appropriate council staffing and resources; “its own leader or Speaker” and administrative office, an independent budget office, and more.
Past experience with good governance and reform efforts
Question: Have you had any past experience with good governance and reform efforts? If so, we’re eager to hear about it.
Because of the variation in answers to this question, we’ve quoted them in their entirety below.
- Kam Buckner: “In Springfield, I have sponsored several pieces of legislation that have driven better government practices. Most recently, I am a sponsor on HB 989 which would allow anyone convicted of a felony or otherwise under sentence in a correctional institution or jail to have his or her right to vote restored and HB 1244 to establish a State-level Voting Rights Act.”
- Brandon Johnson: “I have current experience, as a clout-heavy political action committee created by close allies of Lori Lightfoot — and flush with cash from firms doing business with the City — has begun attacking our people-powered campaign for mayor. Read more.”
- Roderick Sawyer: No answer
- Ja’Mal Green: “I have seen small steps around reform, but the lack of forward progress is what propelled me to seek the office of Mayor.”
- Paul Vallas: “Yes, much of it from the vantage point of accountability, transparency and citizen involvement in the governance and administration of large complex school systems and budgeting. I have always supported a strong inspector general system, have long believed our budgeting systems are too opaque and compressed for true citizen input and participation, have advocated for a NYC-type model of budgeting set forth in that city’s exemplary municipal charter that is a two-stage legislative review process supported by an Independent Budget Office akin to the Congressional Budget Office, with the executive branch obligated by charter and law to provide all information sought by the City Council and the IBO.”
- Sophia King: “As chair of the Progressive Caucus in the City Council, I have been extremely invested and active in making our city government responsive and transparent to Chicagoans. I have personally led the fight to ensure that the Education Committee of the City Council met, was a proud co-sponsor of the Anjanette Young Ordinance, and led the fight for a $15 Dollar minimum wage.”
Serving the public interest
Question: How will you work to ensure city leaders elevate the needs of the public over personal or special interests?
- Kam Buckner: “I will make sure that people – community members, organizers, and community leaders – are involved in the decision-making process for our city and especially their neighborhoods. It’s imperative that the Mayor and other city leadership do not have unilateral control over decisions that impact the people that live in our city. Establishing a city charter will help with this, and ensuring that our communities have a seat at the table when their interests and their community is being impacted is crucial.”
- Brandon Johnson: “The campaign finance and other transparency reforms discussed throughout this questionnaire will help to achieve this end, and if it’s good for the people of the city of Chicago, I will support.”
- Sophia King: “During my time as Alderman of the Fourth Ward I have striven to put serving the interests of my constituents at the heart of my work, everyday. One primary example of that is I lead one of the 4 striking developments in the City – Bronzeville Lakefront, the former Michael Reese Site. There are three others: the 78, Lincoln Yards and the Obama Library. Each of the others have experienced some protest and acrimony. But not at the Bronzeville Lakefront because I brought all of the interests to the table and ensured that the community and not just the developer won. Now we have a development with 20% affordable housing on site, $25 million in funding for education, and is being heralded as one of the most equitable in the country by The New York Times.”
- Roderick Sawyer: “I will. It’s my personal belief that a career in politics is a career in service. For example, I have worked only as a City Council member during my 12 years in office. I have a law degree, I was a licensed realtor, and I held a stockbroker license. I stopped doing all of that when I was elected because I believe outside work has the potential to compromise an elected official, and because I work my current job 24/7.”
- Paul Vallas: “A number of the things discussed above, right-sizing the City Council, independent districting to prevent gerrymandering, small donor public financing of elections, a rigorous and resourced Council committee structure and operation with public periodic hearings in community, routine Council hearings on Inspector General audits and evaluations will all work towards that outcome. But two other things are needed as a matter of mechanism and philosophy. Pro-active transparency in all operations of government where possible. (I have spoken elsewhere about making permanent public and published materials provided by FOIA requests to a single requester so that what is made public not just to one, but to all). Expansion of user-friendly, interactive data portals like those of the Office of Inspector General will enable an informed citizenry to inform engagement and will bring sunlight to the bases of government decisions and actions that will over time trend toward service of the general public in equitable fashion rather than personal or private interests.”
- Ja’Mal Green: “This question really encapsulates my motivation in this race. At 27 years old I can hardly think of a time a politician claiming to represent me elevated our needs as a community over special interest groups. We must institute term limits, so that public service is an honor and a privilege, not a long term career. We must enforce ethics ordinances, and prosecute wrongdoing when it occurs, and we must hold ourselves accountable at every turn.”