Just because you’re campaigning to become the mayor of the third largest city in the nation doesn’t mean you escaped ridicule from bullies when you were young. Except if you’re Gery Chico.
As a follow-up to a student’s poignant and emotional question about LGBT issues and bullying in schools, Chicago Tonight co-host Carol Marin asked the crowd of nearly 300 people in the WTTW studio if they’ve ever been picked on in school. Candidates Carol Moseley Braun, Rahm Emanuel and Miguel del Valle all raised their hands along with a majority of those in the room. Gery Chico did not.
It was one moment during the taping of the special Chicago Tonight Mikva Challenge candidate forum where everyone in the studio had a chance to act.
The question about bullying came sandwiched between 20 other questions about issues from recycling reform, to tax increment financing, to assistance for teenage parents in school, to public safety. The kaleidoscope of topics discussed represented diverse but fragmented reality that is Chicago.
Broadly, the forum was an “unusual opportunity” for students to engage in city politics, according to Mikva Challenge Executive Director Brian Brady.
“Part of what we are trying to do is educate the adults here that they can actually gain something by talking to youth,” Brady said. “I saw those light bulbs going off for some of the candidates.”
All questions were written by the students involved with Mikva Challenge, a nonprofit group that gets underserved youth involved in the political process. Some faculty and students involved in Mikva sported red T-shirts with white lettering advertising the slogan: “Democracy is a verb.” The group is nonpartisan and focuses its efforts on civil action.
More than 250 Chicago high school students spent their Martin Luther King Jr. holiday doing just that: getting civically involved as audience and participants at the WTTW studios in Albany Park. Most sat and listened fixedly to how the four frontrunner candidates responded to the questions.
After the taping of the candidate forum, each campaign jockeyed for the volunteer time of the high school students. In the hallways of WTTW, campaign workers for del Valle and Emanuel passed out buttons, fliers and signs; aides for Braun in suits signed students up to go door-to-door and phone for their candidate; people with Chico talked up the businessman, selling his name and passing out campaign goods.
In short, the students participated in the election process at a micro-level.
The candidates congratulated students for their intelligent and relevant questions. Emanuel made a point of addressing every student by his or her first name. For the most part, the other candidates followed suit.
Emanuel was the only of the four candidates to interrupt the hosts to continue answering a question from a student. He said he wanted to ensure that he provided a sufficient answer.
Del Valle, when asked for an immediate reaction, said the forum was a great opportunity for the teenagers involved. His only concern was candidate response times.
“I think the moderators tried to ensure equal time but I think there was a lack of balance,” he said. “But I don’t blame the moderators for that.”
Sara Martinez, a student who has applied to 12 colleges so far, said the time restrictions of the show allowed candidates to skirt some issues. She also had a question in mind that wasn’t asked.
“I wanted to ask about college preparation and how would they better improve the preparation in high schools, so youth are better prepared in finding scholarships and going through the application process,” Martinez said.
Delores Kellup, of Wendell Phillips High School, was one of the students selected to ask the candidates a question. She said she picked her question content out of personal concerns for the lack of funding of arts and design programs in her school.
“We don’t have a big theater program in my school, and half of my friends want to go into graphic design and we don’t have graphic design anymore,” Kellup said.
She worries about the lack of a drama program because she herself wants to explore a career in theater.
Both Chicago Tonight hosts, Phil Ponce and Carol Marin, addressed the importance and talent of the youth in the room.
“You are driving this agenda,” Ponce told the audience before the show started.
When the cameras finished rolling, Marin gave her opinion of the young people in the room: “Mikva scholars, you are just phenomenal,” she said.
For more information on the Mikva Challenge, click here.