Mayor Frank Jackson isn’t waiting around. As his campaign staff packed phones into cardboard boxes at its headquarters the day after clinching the November election, he sat for interviews about his historic fourth term. Jackson talked about how he was itching to get back to work. “It’s really a continuation of the things that we’re doing now,” he says, citing job creation, public safety improvements and the school reform initiative as priorities. “It’s been affirmed that we’re moving in the right direction.” Yet, the campaign, Jackson says, also delivered a fresh jolt of energy to take on those issues.
Q. When you're sworn in to start your new term, what are you first priorities?
A. It's really a continuation of the things that we're doing. Now it's been affirmed that we're moving in the right direction, but we haven't finalized those [things]. I'll give you an example. The opportunity for better education. You know, we've gone a long way, but we still of a ways to go. We're going to ratchet that up, so to speak, try to create a new sense of urgency around that. That was really part of the whole initiative of reform, why we did reform.
The same thing goes with career and wealth creation, because wealth creation is around ownership of something. We are capitalists, so it is around the ownership of something, and the delivery of goods and services, and having the ability to give a job as opposed to looking for a job. We've been able to do a lot of that through community benefits, so we have an opportunity to ratchet that up. That's very important as part of our neighborhood initiative, to rebuild the most distressed areas of the city, where you just don't have entrepreneurship that delivers goods and services to that community, from that community.
On the law enforcement side, we have a class graduating, a cadet class graduating in January and June. We'll put on four or five new additional cadet classes. We'll probably finish up with a minimum of 250 or so police officers graduating. With attrition of 80, that would leave us with about a net of 170 that would allow the chief to deploy them in a way that he needs to deploy them to address pockets of concentrated crime activity, whether it's gun violence, homicides, drugs, whatever it may be.
Q. In your victory speech you said, “This campaign actually helped me be reconnected in a way that I had not been connected in a long time.” What were those conversations like, and what did you learn from them?
A. First of all, I never got too far from people. But as a councilman, I was right there all the time. As mayor, there are layers. This system creates layers. I’ll give you an example. Your house got broken into. It doesn’t matter if you’re the only house that’s been broken into in that neighborhood in the last decade. That’s a very personal thing to you. … They want the system, bureaucracy, whether public or private, to respond with the same sense of urgency they feel in that moment. So what I’ve learned is that the reconnection has allowed me to reenergize at the same level of urgency that they have.
Q. What was it about this job that caused those layers to get in the way between you and those people?
A. Well, as I said, I never get too far, because I still stay on 38th and Central. Pretty much the negative sides of stuff is where I live, so I've never gotten too far. I've never lost that understanding of it.
Q: Did those layers impact how you govern, especially in cases like the dirt bike track or Public Square closing? As you’re looking forward, what are you doing to break through those layers?
A: I didn’t have a layer there [with the dirt bike track]. I’m still a proponent of, and we will do, a dirt bike track, because I believe that it is one tool that we could use to help deal with the issues that exist between young men and women and the police. Because they’re in confrontation mode.
Q: And Public Square?
A: That was a complete politicization of a process that was to determine whether or not the square should be open or closed. I never said the square should be closed. What I said is, we should engage in a process to determine two things, whether or not it was feasible to close it and did not provide a financial hardship to RTA. And if operationally it worked and if the financial hardship was not that severe, then how do you compensate for that? If it in any way was a financial hardship or feasibly you just couldn't do it, then that was just supposed to be the determination. It was a misrepresentation.
We are still concerned about [Department of] Homeland Security issues. I don't care what anybody says. If it was not feasible to close it, for economic or for expense reasons and operational reasons, then you have to demonstrate to me that it would have Homeland Security concerns addressed. That was where we were. I will tell you, as you've seen all over this country and other parts of the world, people are still doing it, and they're not going to stop doing it. In fact, people are claiming credit for using vehicles as a terrorist weapon.
Q. Like the [October 2017] New York attack.
A. That's the most recent one.
Q. Regardless of your rationale for all those actions, there was a disconnect between the community and how they perceived it, even in your saying that, "I never wanted to close the Square," but people out there think that you do. I'm wondering, moving into the future, what you're doing to break through that barrier.
A. Well, accurate reporting would help. Then if the mayor didn't say it, then he didn't say it. If you don't hear me say it, I didn't say it. Go back and listen to everything I've said. Accurate reporting would help. ...
People would call me or people, when I went out to the community and I would talk to individuals or at a community meeting and they would ask me, I would explain it to them. They said, "Well, that makes sense, but that's not what we were told." I said, "I know, but if you did not hear me say it, I didn't say it. This is what I'm telling you."
Q: Loyalty is one of your strengths, and it is also something for which you are sometimes criticized. It will likely continue to be a big thing for you in the next four years. What does loyalty mean to you?
A: I’m going to ask you the question: Should I be 90 percent loyal? Should I be 85? Or maybe I would be considered to be more stand-up if I was 95 percent loyal. How do you "degree" loyalty? I don't understand that. I don't. Because even at 99 percent, it gives me 1 percent to cover my ass with you. It gives me 1 percent to throw you under the bus if it's to my political advantage to do it. That's what it gives me. I don't understand that.
Now, what I will say, I fired a lot of people. Some of those people were close to me in terms of me knowing them, but I fired them. But I didn't fire them because of loyalty or lack of loyalty, I fired them because of some competency or some thing that they had done that justified them being fired. And so if someone is doing something and they make mistakes, I don't think it's overly loyal. "Overly loyal," I can't understand the phrase, but overly loyal if in fact they make a mistake. The only person who doesn't make mistakes are people who don't do anything.
I'm not "overly loyal" to a fault because I did not fire that person. They made a mistake. And if they make a mistake, then the question is, "Are you going to be persistent in making those kind of mistakes?" If you are, then you've got a problem. But that's on them, not me. If you are not competent in what you are supposed to be doing, well, maybe I've created a failure scenario for you that is not your fault, so maybe I'll move you over here, or demote you, or put you in another area where you have a better competency level.
People bring up [executive assistant to the mayor for special projects Martin] Flask and [director of public safety Michael] McGrath a lot. Well, they say I’m overly loyal to them because I didn’t fire them [after the police shooting of Timothy Russell and Malissa Williams]. What they’re saying is, why didn’t I throw them under the bus to save my political ass? Well, is that 99 percent loyal, but I got that 1 percent that allows me to throw you under the bus to save my political behind? Well, I don’t understand that.
I had a pastor, of all things, come to my office one day. … He says, “This is the way you do it, Mayor. You do the same thing the mayor of Chicago did. You create a task force, and you ask the man to resign, and you give responsibility to the task force to look into this situation. And then you praise the man as he resigns and you give him a key to the city or something, give him an award.” He said, “And nobody will know, Mayor, that you did what you did. They’ll say that you did the right thing.” … You know what my response to the pastor was? “I will. I will know that, to cover my political butt, I threw that man under the bus when he did nothing wrong.” So tell me about this loyalty thing.
Q: Was this your last campaign?
A: I can’t [answer]. Then I might as well retire. I have work to do. I’m looking forward to this. I’m actually looking forward to getting these things done.
Editor's note: This is an extended version of the interview with Mayor Frank Jackson that appeared in our January 2018 edition.