Arne Duncan cracks the door open to 2023 race for mayor against Lightfoot

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Former CPS chief and U.S. education secretary Arne Duncan now has a nonprofit that works with at-risk youth.
Former CPS chief and U.S. education secretary Arne Duncan now has a nonprofit that works with at-risk youth. But he said some community leaders are urging him to run for mayor. | Sun-Times file

Late last year, the former Chicago Public Schools CEO told reporters he loved his violence prevention work and was “not interested” in challenging incumbent Mayor Lori Lightfoot. On Thursday, Duncan started to change his tune.

Former U.S. Education Secretary Arne Duncan said Thursday he’s being urged to run for mayor by business leaders concerned about Chicago’s future — and he cracked the door open to answering the call.

Three months ago, the former Chicago Public Schools CEO told reporters he loved the violence prevention work he was doing and was “not interested” in challenging incumbent Mayor Lori Lightfoot.

On Thursday, Duncan changed his tune as part of what appears to be a slow-but-steady political coming-out party.

Two days after a column he wrote appeared in the Chicago Tribune, outlining his plan to stop the pandemic of violence plaguing the city, Duncan told the Sun-Times he is being urged to get off the sidelines.

“I will absolutely look at this as we go forward long-term. If I think I can make a bigger difference in another seat, I’ll absolutely look at that,” said Duncan, founder of Chicago CRED (“Creating Real Economic Destiny”).

“I’m not running for anything right now. But I am deeply concerned about where we are as a city. … Our city’s in a really tough spot. I’ve lived here all my life. I love this city. As I talk to folks, they’re probably more concerned now than at any time that I can remember.”

Neither Duncan nor his top advisers would identify those encouraging him to challenge Lightfoot, saying only the pressure comes from “numerous” people in the “business community” and other interest groups.

Duncan, a former academic all-American, was co-captain of Harvard University’s basketball team, then played four years of professional basketball in Australia.

In a thinly-veiled attempt to contrast his collaborative approach to Lightfoot’s combative management style, Duncan said he has spent his life “working on teams — whether it’s in sports or education or as part of the Obama administration.”

“You just want to build a really strong team to work on these really hard problems together. Have everybody on the same page, being honest and working through these tough issues together. That’s what I’d love to see happen here in the city,” he said.

“We have to get to a better place. We have to do it together. We have to build the kind of teamwork and camaraderie to tackle these hard problems together.”

Lightfoot obviously views Duncan as a potential political threat.

Earlier this week, she branded Duncan’s approach to stopping a crime wave that left Chicago with 836 homicides in 2021 as nothing short of “insanity.”

“When you say allowing the [Chicago] Police Department to shrink — when you mean we’re gonna stop hiring personnel and we’re gonna shrink the department through attrition — that’s defunding. He may be trying to dress it up in some other name but that’s defunding,” the mayor said.

“I categorically reject defunding the police. And I don’t know any person who actually knows anything about policing or crime in our city who would support defunding the police. So if that’s where he’s at, I’m on the other side of it.”

Lightfoot said in each city budget, she has “exponentially increased” the amount of money for the kind of street outreach that Duncan’s non-profit is doing.

Accusing Duncan’s group of “sitting on” federal funds, she said: “Put your money where your mouth is. You put more money into street outreach. We’re doing our part. He needs to do his part. But defunding police, disgracing men and women of this department by letting it shrink by attrition in the middle of a violent crime surge — that’s what I would call insanity. It’s a stupid idea.”

Twice in the last 18 months, Duncan has appeared before the City Club of Chicago to propose a $150 million-to-$200 million-a-year expansion of his violence prevention efforts, bankrolled by shrinking the CPD through attrition and eliminating vacancies.

He argued then that CPD could be reduced to 10,000 sworn officers and still have enough officers to safely patrol the city.

On Thursday, he said that’s only one way to scale up violence prevention efforts. Another is way is using federal relief funds to free up demoralized and overworked CPD officers to concentrate on violent crime.

“We ask police to do way too much. I want them focused just on literally solving shootings. Solving homicides,” Duncan said.

“So many things around parking tickets, mental health issues, homeless issues and other things — give that to … other professionals to do that. Let police focus on … this pandemic, this public health crisis of violence that’s having such a devastating impact on our kids, our families, our communities and our city.”

If “less important” tasks are taken off its plate, Duncan said CPD could boost an arrest rate for homicides and shootings that’s lower than some other major cities.

“The biggest driver of violence in our city is retaliation. On the streets, they call it `getting my lick back,’” Duncan said.

“Almost no one gets arrested for shooting someone or killing them. When you don’t have justice in the criminal justice system, you get street justice.”

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January 6, 2022 at 05:45PM

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