She’s officially in. One week after winning re-election as comptroller, and after weeks of speculation and leaks, Illinois Comptroller Susana Mendoza will run for mayor of Chicago. Mendoza launched her bid Wednesday with an online video, promising to focus on the city’s future.
“The job of mayor isn’t for a caretaker or someone who protects the status quo,” she says in the video. “Every Chicagoan deserves a mayor who every waking moment, every day, asks herself, ‘Did I do enough?’”
The video touts Mendoza’s strong personal ties to the city. She was born in Little Village, she says, before being forced to move to Bolingbrook at age 7 because of a shooting in her neighborhood. She currently lives in the Portage Park neighborhood on the city’s Northwest Side with her husband and young son, who she says attends Chicago Public Schools.
In an interview with “Chicago Tonight,” Mendoza sought to differentiate herself from the other candidates in the field by saying she is focused on the next “generation” of Chicago, not the next four years – a not-so-subtle dig at some contenders like Bill Daley and Toni Preckwinkle, who are both in their 70s.
Mendoza, 46, attended Truman State University in Missouri and spent 12 years in the Illinois General Assembly as a state representative in the 1st District. She served two terms as Chicago city clerk and was a strong supporter of Mayor Rahm Emanuel, acting as a campaign surrogate in his 2015 bid for re-election, though she tries to distance herself from Emanuel in her biography by saying she “fought his efforts to dramatically raise city sticker prices.” In 2016, Mendoza won a special election to become Illinois comptroller after the death of then-Comptroller Judy Baar Topinka. In that office, she was a vocal critic of Gov. Bruce Rauner and helped author the Debt Transparency Act, which provided taxpayers more information about the state’s dismal finances.
On Wednesday, Mendoza sought to downplay any connection with Mayor Rahm Emanuel, but ended up throwing another mayor under the bus.
“There’s no doubt Mayor Emanuel inherited a mess from Mayor Daley,” she said. “Mayor Daley did a lot of great things, especially for the downtown of Chicago. But for the last four years of his term, he was essentially a caretaker mayor. His investments in neighborhoods were pretty much non-existent those last four years.”
Video: Watch our full interview with Illinois Comptroller Susana Mendoza.
Critics of Mendoza, most prominent among them outgoing 22nd Ward Ald. Ricardo Munoz, say she’s always been a cog in the Chicago political machine. Mendoza came up the political ranks through the now-defunct Hispanic Democratic Organization, a political group with strong ties to Mayor Daley that saw multiple officials convicted for corruption.
“A person can be judged by the company she keeps,” Munoz said.
But Mendoza says she was never a big part of HDO to begin with. “HDO, even back in the day, wasn’t that effective even when they were around, but they’re long gone. I’ve taken on the powers that be to get where I’ve been.”
Other Hispanic alderman say they are bullish on her candidacy.
“I think she brings a lot of energy, a Generation X candidate, some youth, some energy, the ability to cross over and attract all different voters, Susana’s got it,” said Ald. Proco “Joe” Moreno (1st Ward).
Mendoza also sought to downplay rumors that she is House Speaker Michael Madigan’s favored candidate.
“I can’t anticipate what the speaker will do, I’m just interested in what I can do to put Chicago on a better path. People forget that I ran twice against Speaker Madigan’s candidates (in the state House) and won.”
Mendoza enters the race with $2 million in her campaign fund, which so far dwarfs the spending of her nearest rivals, Toni Preckwinkle and BIll Daley. While she has been coy about her intentions to run for mayor, volunteers have spent the past several weeks circulating petitions for her to run for mayor even as she was actively running for state comptroller.
Follow Paris Schutz on Twitter: @paschutz