Mayoral candidate Toni Preckwinkle vowed Tuesday to bring equity to an overly punitive ticketing policy that has unfairly targeted minority motorists and forced thousands of them into bankruptcy.
In vowing to go easier on motorists, Preckwinkle is pointing the finger of blame directly at her No. 1 challenger: newly elected state Comptroller Susana Mendoza, the former city clerk.
Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s first city budget increased city sticker fees, created a new and higher-price category for sport utility vehicles and dramatically raised the fine for failing to display a city sticker to $200, up from $120.
Mendoza, who was city clerk at the time, fought Emanuel to modify the city sticker increase but was instrumental in the plan to jack up the fines.
On Tuesday, Preckwinkle vowed to undue a punitive policy that, according to a Woodstock Institute study, has targeted motorists in “low- and moderate- income communities of color” at a rate 40 percent higher than motorists in more affluent neighborhoods.
If elected mayor, Preckwinkle vowed to:
• Devise a “graduated cost schedule” for city stickers to “make them affordable for low-income motorists.”
• Roll back city sticker fines from $200 to $120, which is where they were before the Mendoza-inspired hike.
• Stop suspending licenses for outstanding ticket debt associated with non-moving violations.
• Reduce the downpayment required to participate in payment plans that allow motorists to satisfy their outstanding ticket debt over time by eliminating the penalty for booted and towed vehicles.
• Abolish what she called “anti-scofflaw” rules prohibiting Chicagoans with outstanding city debts from being hired by the city or other agencies of local government.
• Create a task force within her proposed Office of Criminal Justice to do a deep dive into the disparities between aggressive ticketing in black and brown communities and less-aggressive ticketing in white neighborhoods.
The task force might even recommend ways to “cap enforcement to eliminate racial disparities,” Preckwinkle said, without explaining how that might work.
“Common-sense reforms to the city’s fee and fine policies could lead to greater compliance with the city sticker program, greater participation in the city’s debt payment plans and, most importantly, a policy that doesn’t prey on the city’s most vulnerable residents,” Preckwinkle said in a news release.
“Our commitment to social justice demands reform that recognizes the dignity of all of our residents.”
Mendoza’s campaign called the plan “yet another desperate attack” by a county board president “who has hiked one regressive tax after another and gave Joe Berrios a Lifetime Achievement Award even after his rigged and corrupt property tax system that locked thousands of Chicagoans, especially people of color, into a cycle of poverty, was exposed.”
The statement noted that Mendoza has “criticized the Chicago Department of Revenue’s enforcement of city sticker penalties, which unduly burdens those with limited financial resources.”
If Mendoza is elected mayor, she intends to “implement payment amnesties and debt forgiveness for working-class Chicagoans and advocate for payment plan options and means testing fees which are made possible by her technology transformation as City Clerk,” the statement said.
Preckwinkle’s plans mirror those made last summer by the Woodstock Institute after a report showed the city’s get-tough enforcement policies were having a disproportionate impact on low-income and minorities communities.
At the time, the Woodstock Institute urged the city to end the practice of suspending driver’s licenses for non-moving violations such as parking tickets and expired city stickers and offer motorists the option of paying off their debts with community service, instead of fines.