Amara Enyia argued Monday that her personal financial struggles should not be disqualifying and, to the contrary, would make her a more sensitive mayor of Chicago.
Enyia’s strategy in confronting financial stumbles outlined by the Chicago Tribune was simple: the best defense is a good offense.
She called a City Hall news conference, ostensibly to complain about being left out of a Thursday night debate by WFLD-TV Fox-32.
But, Enyia had another, more important goal: to confront head-on the controversy about her personal finances.
“I did fall behind on student loan payments and had to get on a payment plan. That was in addition to actually having to pay off a few of those loans in a lump sum last year,” she said.
“Over the years, I’ve had to correct tax filings and make arrangements to pay what I owe. These are personal challenges and I’ve set about to resolve and overcome them. It hasn’t been easy and it certainly has not been fun. But, these are challenges that are prevalent across the city. Many working-class people cannot afford their student loans. Many people with families have had to re-file and adjust their tax returns. … That’s what I did.”
The Tribune reported Enyia did not report to the IRS the $21,000 she was paid while serving as a consultant to the failed campaign of Democratic gubernatorial nominee Chris Kennedy. That’s even though the $21,000 constituted one-third of her income that year.
The newspaper also reported Enyia has been sued and faced a lien after falling behind on federal taxes, rent, and student loan payments. That’s in addition to the previously disclosed $72,000 in fines she incurred — and settled, thanks to a contribution from Kanye West — for failing to file quarterly campaign finance reports.
At a time when the next mayor of Chicago will face a $1 billion spike in pension payments, those personal financial troubles might seem disqualifying.
But Enyia argued otherwise. She wears those struggles as a badge of honor — not because getting through it was easy, but because her “lived experience informs the values” of equity and justice she brings to a campaign that aims to change the direction of a City Hall she claims is “disconnected from the lived reality” of everyday Chicagoans.
“I’m standing here as a candidate for mayor — not because I’m well off or have lived a perfect life. I’m standing here as a real person who understands financial hardship because I have lived through it myself. I’ve gone to bed having to make decisions about paying a bill or getting a vehicle or paying a ticket or putting food on the table,” she said, surrounded by cheering and finger-snapping supporters.
“When I talk about policies that create generational wealth, it’s because I don’t want generations of Chicagoans to have to experience what I experienced trying to make their way in this city. When I talk about punitive fines and fees and banning the boot, it’s because I know how an unjust government punishes people because they are poor.”
Until an unflattering spotlight was shined on her personal finances, Enyia was riding high.
Her campaign was instantly elevated by the celebrity endorsement of Chance the Rapper and West, Chance’s friend and collaborator.
When Chance recently made a $400,000 campaign contribution, it allowed Enyia to hit the television airwaves with her first commercial, one tailor-made to boost turnout among young voters notoriously indifferent about mayoral elections.
Last week, Circuit Court Clerk Dorothy Brown threw her formidable support behind Enyia and vowed to “go to the mat” to help her forge a multi-generational coalition between Brown’s older, church-based following and Enyia’s appeal to younger, disenchanted voters with help from Chance.
On Monday, Enyia said she’s not at all embarrassed by her financial struggles, and pushed back hard against the notion that “only wealthy people can run a city.”
“Having leadership in this city with immense wealth and stellar personal finances has not prevented our city from being on the brink of financial ruin with a structural deficit, with pensions that have not been paid and with poor practices where the only solution has been to borrow money,” she said.
“That is under the leadership of individuals who’ve had personal wealth … but they’ve lacked values. I am not hiding from my lived experiences. My lived experience informs the values I bring to this campaign.”