Miguel Del Valle, Chicago Mayor Candidate: 'We Cannot Have A Polarized City'

Relative to his opponents in the Chicago mayoral race, Miguel del Valle is shy on cash, lacking in clout and clearly the underdog. But that's never stopped him before.

In 1986, he ran against incumbent State Senator Edward Nedza, who had the money and the organization and the powerful backers, including the 31st Ward organization and legendary congressman Dan Rostenkowski.

"They just didn't take my candidacy very seriously," del Valle remembers with a chuckle. "I started out with $350 out of my own pocket, but we won."

Four years later, such heavy hitters as Joe Berrios, Richard Mell and Luis Gutierrez lined up to back his primary opponent. Del Valle won again. For twenty years, he served as a voice of the working class in Springfield -- and as the first Latino state senator in Illinois history.

His transition from state to city politics happened through a move that he readily admits was fueled by ambition. When City Clerk Jim Laski was leaving office, as so many of our politicians do, in handcuffs, del Valle cast an eye on the spot. "I knew that, as the number two [citywide] elected official -- mayor, treasurer, clerk -- I would be in a position to run for mayor if the mayor retired." So he did what many might have found unthinkable: supported Mayor Daley in the 2006 election to earn Daley's nod for the clerk's job.

It worked, and for the last four years, del Valle has been responsible for the city's paperwork, modernizing parking sticker sales and placing records online. Now, he's ready for something more.

Clerk del Valle spoke with HuffPost Chicago about his City Hall ambitions, his plans for the schools, and his views on the city's racial politics, as part of our ongoing series of mayoral interviews. For our conversation with Patricia Watkins, click here.

Huffington Post Chicago: You were the first person to announce your candidacy for mayor after Mayor Daley said he was planning to retire. In fact, at the time, you told the Sun-Times, "I didn't think it was necessary to play games with people and form an 'exploratory committee.' I am definitely running." What made you so sure you wanted to run?

Miguel del Valle: It's something I had contemplated for several years. As a matter of fact, when I decided to become City Clerk, which happened by way of an appointment and then an election two months later, I took the position of City Clerk knowing that as the number two citywide elected official -- mayor, clerk treasurer -- I would be in a position to run for mayor if the mayor retired. At the time, I didn't think that the mayor was going to retire any time soon.

Just a few weeks before his announcement, I met with the mayor to announce I wouldn't be running for re-election for the clerk's office. I needed to move on to a new challenge. I didn't know what that challenge would be. Then, much to my surprise, to everyone's surprise, he made his announcement and I thought, "This is the challenge I've been looking for." Given that the opportunity presented itself, I consulted with the family, and they expressed a lot of enthusiasm for the idea. Once I consulted with the family, that's it.

What were some of your flagship accomplishments as clerk? What challenges did you face in that office?

I had to bring it into the 21st century. It's almost embarrassing to talk about where we were before. In the old days, if an alderman wanted to see an ordinance, they'd have to call, and our folks would have to search for it, and they'd make a copy of the ordinance and mail it. Now everything's online. Mind you, we're talking about a City Council that still doesn't have electronic voting. They have voice votes. Voice votes! With fifty people! You have to call everybody's name all the time. By the way, when I'm mayor, we're going to electronic voting.

People go to our website, they get the city budget, they can buy the city sticker online, our online sales are through the roof, people get their guest passes online. Before that, there were only three places in the City of Chicago where people could get their guest passes. People do dog registrations, I put those online. Having modernized all that is my biggest accomplishment.

A lot has been made of the black community choosing a "consensus candidate" in Carol Moseley Braun. Are you...

How do Dock Walls and Patricia Watkins feel about that? Patricia and Dock were excluded from the WTTW forum, they were excluded from the Trib editorial board interview of the four candidates. I'm certainly appreciative that I've been invited to participate in the process, even though I'm not one of these multimillion-dollar campaign candidates -- I'm not a millionaire the way Gery Chico and Rahm Emanuel are. But having said that, I think it's unfair that we have six candidates, and two of them are excluded because they're not considered "viable." I remember when we had the Presidential primary, when there were ten candidates on the stage, and they managed to do it -- as a matter of fact, I remember when Carol Moseley Braun was one of them.

This question of consensus goes against my grain. I'm saying "my grain" like "migraine," as if it's a headache, and in some respects it is. But I believe in the democratic process, small "d." Why should anyone conspire to deprive voters of a choice? Why should someone's skin hue be a determining factor? That is not to say that I don't appreciate the importance of political empowerment. I understand that, but I think Chicago has advanced so much. Take Barack Obama, take Toni Preckwinkle, elected with overwhelming support from the City of Chicago.

I entered this race as a candidate for all the people of the City of Chicago. I could be the only Latino, and I could get 100 percent of the Latino vote with 100 percent Latino turnout, and it wouldn't be enough to win. Anyone who wants to be mayor of the city of Chicago needs to be elected by a cross-section of every racial group. We cannot have a polarized city. We're beyond that, and we need to get beyond that.

You're considered the most progressive of the front-running candidates. Can you point to some specific policies where you're more progressive than your rivals?

We can start on the issue of ethics. I feel that we should not be allowing campaign contributions to any alderman or any of the citywide elected officials from businesses contracting with the city. Right now there are limits of $1,500 per election. I feel we should ban all campaign contributions, and I feel that campaign contributions should be banned from city employees to elected officials.

I also want to see the office of the Inspector General strengthened by adding personnel to do program audits. Right now there are only six individuals in the Inspector General's office to do program audits, that's not enough to handle a $6 billion budget and to conduct audits of contractors when that's needed. And I also believe that instead of two Inspector Generals -- one for alderman and one for the rest of the city -- we should only have one.

There's a debate brewing about the city's education policies. Some want to see a reform model based on adding charter schools, raising the bar of teacher accountability, and a sort of laser-like focus on improving test scores. Others want to see more investment in existing public schools, and bolster union protections so good teachers don't get thrown out of work after a round of middling numbers. Where do you come down on this debate?

I think we need to do all the things. We need to continue to create academic options for families. We need to have a strong teacher evaluation system in place, one that allows us to weed out incompetent teachers, but one that also allows for good strong induction and mentoring programs as well as professional development for teachers. We need to ensure our neighborhood schools have the necessary resources to continue to improve.

We can't continue with this parallel track that is draining our neighborhood schools, including the fact that there are 160 schools without libraries. When it comes to staffing, equipment, the need to have adequate supplies, all these things are important. I'm not saying we should do this at the expense of magnet or charter or selective enrollment. I want to make sure that parents feel good about considering their neighborhood schools as a viable alternative. We're not going to charter school our way out of this.

And by the way, I want increased accountability in our charters as well. Not all charters are operating well. According to state law, a charter is given five years, and if it's not adequately performing, it should be closed. That has not happened.

Should City Hall stay in charge of the Chicago Public Schools?

I have said that it's important to continue to hold the mayor accountable for the conditions of public schools. I have also said that I think, down the road, we could be ready to transition to an elected school board, but under certain conditions. I don't want an elected school board that is going to be selected by politicians in the neighborhoods, who will pour tons of money into the races. You give me public financing of school board elections, and give me a structure that ensures geography race diversity, then I'm for the elected school board.

You've said that if elected mayor, you would fire Chicago's police superintendent Jody Weis. Weis is unpopular with rank-and-file cops, largely because of his outsider status and his willingness to confront the police union. But homicides are at a 40-year low, and Weis has worked to fight the department's reputation made by cases like Jon Burge, Anthony Abbatte, William Cozzi and others, all of whom the union stands behind. Plus, he's implemented a progressive new anti-gang strategy that's showing some results. Why should Weis go?

I think morale is important in the Police Department, and there's a lot of work that needs to be done there. That's the most important reason. I think Weis has made some mistakes. He never should have put on a uniform. He's an FBI guy. To me, that shows poor judgment on his part. There are other things he has done that I'm not satisfied with: the condition of the CAPS program, the blue light cameras. Has the rate gone down? Yes, it's good, but I think new leadership is in order.

What do you make of the decision to let Jon Burge keep his pension?

I thought it was a terrible decision, a terrible decision. Awful, awful, awful. I think it sends the wrong message. There are a lot of people who lost their pension -- you've got a governor in jail who lost his pension, a governor of the state of Illinois. For this man to keep his pension after what he did... I think the individuals who voted for that made a big mistake.

Do you think a superintendent chosen from within the Department ranks could have the sort of distance to oppose a ruling like that? A lot of the rank and file still support Burge.

Yes, I think he could, if you got the right one. But you'd have to choose wisely.

Last question, on the City Council: Mayor Daley has had a very cozy relationship with the aldermen, and they essentially rubber-stamped many of his major agenda items. Will you have as much sway over the council as he did? What will your relationship with them be?

No, I've said I want a strong mayor, strong Council structure. I want a Council that deliberates, that sponsors legislation and conducts hearings and leads on issues. I want them to share in the responsibility of making the tough decision that have to be made regarding revenue and spending. So yes, I have said that they're going to be a lot more active, a lot more involved, than they have been under the prior administration.