Catherine Brown D'Tycoon outside of the Reader offices. Credit: Sue Kwong

With 21 candidates vying to be the next mayor of Chicago, hearings on challenges to their nominating petition signatures and other paperwork began this week at the Chicago Board of Elections. The agency will issue its decisions on the challenges by Christmas. Many of the candidates will likely not be able to prove that they have the 12,500 valid signatures from registered Chicago voters necessary for making the ballot.

It is with this round of disqualifications looming that the Reader decided to take a closer look at the lower profile candidates who’ve been written off by much of the media as not “serious” or “viable.” It’s possible, even likely, that most of them won’t be on the February ballot, but that says little about the viability of their ideas or the seriousness of their commitment to the city. As we met with and interviewed the Chicagoans who dream most vividly of taking up the city’s highest office, it became clear that, if nothing else, most of them are acutely aware of the problems faced by ordinary people here. They may not have the campaign funds, party backing, or name-recognition needed to win this election, but they also don’t stink of the bullshit that tends to envelop the “viable” candidates who calculate statements to sound as inoffensive as possible while withholding most actionable opinions and commitments.

You may be surprised to learn that the candidate who submitted the most petition signatures to the Board of Elections wasn’t Toni Preckwinkle (60,000), Garry McCarthy (55,000), or Amara Enyia (62,000)—it was south-side pastor and life coach Catherine Brown D’Tycoon. Her 88,000 signatures were submitted in 17 binders. Last week, objections were filed on the grounds that hundreds of her petition pages were photocopied and that she didn’t meet the required binding standards, among other paperwork errors. But when she paid a visit to the Reader offices, she was confident her records would withstand scrutiny and that she’d make it onto the ballot.

Brown D’Tycoon, 44, was delivered for the interview in a black Cadillac Escalade by her assistant and campaign aide Davar Jones. She wore a black turban and Burberry-
patterned hoodie, walking gingerly with a hand-carved wooden cane. As we sat down to chat, she wasted no time addressing the origins of her unusual name. The “D'” stands in for “the” and a tycoon is a “wealthy and powerful business leader,” she said. It’s supposed to be aspirational but also evokes her family’s history of business ownership; she says God told her to take on this name as she was deep in prayer one day about a decade ago.

“As a young girl in eighth grade I used to get teased and called a raccoon because I had dark rings around my eyes,” she went on to say. “And I know black people have been called ‘coons’ for a long time as well. So in my prayer time God gave me that name and He said ‘Yeah you’re indeed a ‘coon but you’re a tycoon.'”

Brown D’Tycoon believes in “speaking things as though it was already so.” It’s why she already presents herself as “Mayor Tycoon” on her business cards. She says her confidence in this election bid is rooted in her faith.

This isn’t her first attempt at elected office; in 2011 she ran for 21st Ward alderman but was bounced off the ballot. She’d filed 389 signatures—107 more than was needed, but challenges held up against 172 of them, and she ultimately didn’t have enough. Knowing the importance of the signatures, this time around she says she enlisted the help of friends, family, and congregants at Kingdom Life Center, where she’s a pastor, to collect far and wide. She plans to start campaigning in earnest and speaking more to the media only after she knows for sure she’s on the ballot.

In addition to her pastoral duties, Brown D’Tycoon is active with several community organizations, including Action Now and the Chicago Alliance Against Racist and Political Repression. She’s also served on the Local School Council at Garrett Morgan Elementary School in Auburn Gresham, which was one of the 49 schools shuttered by CPS in 2013. She says she even tried to buy the building, just down the block from her childhood home, to reopen a school there, but the deal never went anywhere. She says she was active for a long time with the Chicago Police Department’s sixth district CAPS. But her attitude toward the police changed radically in May of 2013.

Driving into the alley behind her home one evening, Brown D’Tycoon encountered a CPD squad car and Officer Michelle Morsi Murphy, who she says immediately cursed her out. The incident quickly escalated into a fender bender, officers beating her, and charges of attempted murder, reckless conduct, and a slew of other crimes. Three years later, the case became a widely reported story of police misconduct, after CBS 2 uncovered dashcam video showing cops ramming their vehicle into Brown D’Tycoon’s retreating car, pepper spraying her, beating her, and tearing her clothes off. Morsi Murphy claimed Brown D’Tycoon had dragged her from her car as she backed out of the alley behind her house—an allegation that was never proved in court. Brown D’Tycoon ultimately sued the cops and recently won a $1.1 million settlement. She was convicted of misdemeanor reckless conduct, but the attempted murder charges were dropped.

“I got arrested and fought for my life almost three years,” she says, and it made her reevaluate how she saw the neighborhood youth who’d long told her of unfair treatment by CPD.

“For years I really thought it was the young men that were out here being disrespectful or reckless,” she says. “There was a time I had a sincere, deep compassion for the police because they have such a tough job to do. But when I went into this situation it opened my eyes.” She says reforming CPD and ending police brutality would be at the top of her agenda as mayor.

“I know that the Chicago police have been crooked for years, it’s going to take a lot to make a change,” Brown D’Tycoon says. “But the first thing they need to know is that you have to have total respect for the people paying you. We can no longer allow the police to neglect and disrespect when the car clearly says we’re here to serve and protect.
. . . We no longer need beat officers, we need peace officers.”

She was particularly disappointed that officers who were present and saw what had happened between her and Morsi Murphy didn’t speak up to tell the truth. “It’s hard to say that all cops are bad because I know that’s not true, but the majority are, in my opinion,” she says. “I was looking at 30-plus years in jail, and that’s not right. To lose my children for a made-up lie? Are you kidding me?”

In addition to police reform, Brown D’Tycoon wants to open up the Section 8 housing voucher waiting list to expand affordable housing options; start a city-sponsored mentorship and life coaching program for young black men; provide more funding to nonprofits and churches already working to alleviate poverty in the city; improve the quality of CPS school lunches so they’re more nutritious, delicious, and promote an appreciation for home-cooked meals; restart the CeaseFire program for gang violence prevention; and bring a Moses-themed amusement park to Chicago she’d call the “Promised Land.” She also supports creating an elected school board.

Brown D’Tycoon adds that she’d push to reform the onerous rules governing who can get on the ballot to run for local office, so it wouldn’t just be rich people who have a chance to compete. She thinks the mayor should be a person familiar to regular people, who spends time in the neighborhoods and takes everyone into consideration, even criminals and drug addicts, “to learn what it is that people need.”

More than a year ago, her childhood home on Kerfoot Avenue burned and Brown D’Tycoon was forced to relocate. Still, she thinks of the house as home and lists the address on her official paperwork. “The plan is to get the house redone eventually,” she says. “If God allows me to become mayor I would make that an office for me as mayor.” If she doesn’t win, Brown D’Tycoon says, she’ll continue her community work.

Brown D’Tycoon isn’t the only hopeful who attributes her campaign to divine inspiration. Eighty-seven-year-old Roseland resident Conrien Hykes Clark has attracted some attention with her attempt to get on the ballot. Clark also says she received word from God that she should run for mayor.

“I believe in speaking things as though it was already so.”—Catherine Brown D’Tycoon

Clark turned in just 53 petition signatures. The whole process was very new for her, she explained when reached by phone last week after she had finished volunteering at Haines Elementary School in Chinatown. “I’ve never ran for mayor or alderman or nothing like that, I never had a public job like that,” she said. “I would have to learn just like you learn anything else.”

Getting off the bus at 35th and Halsted one day, she was asked to sign a petition by another candidate running for mayor—a white man whose name she says she doesn’t remember, though given the location perhaps it was John Kozlar, another under-the-radar candidate and Bridgeport native. Clark says she asked him how someone can run, and “he said all you gotta do is get a paper and get people to sign it.”

Clark says her priority in office would be to deal with the drug problem in the city. “It’s a hurting thing in my neighborhood,” she says. “You watch the news, you know about the killing and stuff that’s going on.” She doesn’t begrudge Rahm Emanuel or other current city or police leaders for not doing enough about the problem, though. “I think they’re doing all they can, all they know to do,” she says.

“Grandma Clark,” as the third graders at Haines call her, moved to Chicago from Mississippi in 1952. She’s seen a lot of mayors come and go. For her money, “Old Man Daley” was the best mayor this city ever saw. “He didn’t talk a lot, he said a few words and that was it. I liked that part about him,” she says. “I think he did good.” So far, she added, she hasn’t heard anything from her competitors that would prompt her to vote for any of them.

Even if she doesn’t get on the ballot or win, Clark has no plans to sit around doing nothing. She says she’d keep volunteering at the school four days a week, which requires her to spend three hours commuting to and from home. Maybe she’ll find other work to keep herself occupied too.

This commitment to keep serving fellow citizens regardless of the election outcome was also expressed by CPD officer Roger L. Washington. He filed 13,000 signatures and is frustrated by the challenges to his candidacy, which have reportedly come from businessman and perennial mayoral hopeful Willie Wilson’s campaign. Washington says Wilson targeted him, activist Ja’mal Green, and state representative La Shawn Ford with challenges because “he wants to be the only black man in the race.”

Washington, 46, says the absurdly high number of signatures required to get on the ballot and the petition challenge process undermines democracy. (Los Angeles, for example, requires just 500 signatures to run for mayor; New York asks for 3,750). “If you take the time out and get through the process and get people to sign and make your best effort, I believe you should be let on the ballot,” he says. “All 21 candidates had a vision they’re trying to do, and I believe no one should be able to stop that dream by challenging—that’s selfish and disrespectful.”

Like Brown D’Tycoon, Washington is also a pastor and has run for alderman before. He made the ballot in the 24th Ward in the 2015 election but lost to Michael Scott Jr. He’s also concerned with crime in Chicago, though as a police officer he views CPD as integral to combating the gun violence in the city. “I promise you 90 percent of crime would stop,” he boldly asserts without getting into specifics when asked what he’d accomplish as mayor. He says that, because he knows the streets well and understands police-community relations, he’d be able to rebuild confidence in law enforcement and unity throughout the city.

When asked whether his 16 misconduct allegations since joining the force in 1999 would be a barrier to building trust with the community, Washington says he didn’t think anyone would hold those against him. “You’d do me a favor if you showed me a police officer that hasn’t been complained against,” he says. “It’s all about the outcome of the complaint.” Four of the complaints filed against him have been sustained over the years, leading to suspensions as long as 180 days. Washington says complaints go hand in hand with disrupting people’s criminal activity. “When your crime has been stopped, you want to make it seem like the police officer was wrong,” he says. CPD records show Washington has also received 15 honorable mentions for his service.

Washington says he’s inspired by the unifying spirit Mayor Harold Washington brought to City Hall. “That’s what Chicago is reaching for right now—they want transparency, someone they can trust without the machine being involved,” he says. “That’s why I see Chicago leaning towards me once all the smoke clears.”

In addition to tackling crime, Washington says economic development, improving public schools, and increasing affordable housing are his top priorities. He wants to do something to curb the predatory contract-for-deed home sales he sees in his North Lawndale neighborhood and says he supports the movement to repeal the state ban on rent control and establish local rent regulation. “The rent control idea is awesome,” he says. “I want to be a part of that to make sure that when these landlords open up these leases to these renters they don’t give them a crappy contract. If the economy hasn’t changed—if the salary hasn’t changed—then the rent shouldn’t change.”

Washington also wants to reform city ticketing practices that are disproportionately punitive toward African-Americans and have been shown by ProPublica Illinois to be driving record numbers of bankruptcy filings in Chicago. Washington himself has filed for bankruptcy several times in the past, largely due to onerous city ticket debt racked up by family members who drove cars registered to his name, he says.

The Reader tried to interview candidate Sandra L. Mallory, 57, a West Englewood resident who filed 15,000 signatures and hasn’t been challenged. Her daughter answered the phone and said Mallory “is not interested in all this publicity or you all scrutinizing her, she only cares about the citizens.” She did, however, share her mother’s campaign website——which makes it clear that the candidate’s main concern is Chicago’s homelessness problem. Mallory, an army veteran and social worker, writes on the site that to be a successful mayor “it will take the good honest counsel of many Chicagoans to help mend, repair, heal, and sustain our city for the long haul.”

“If you take the time out and get through the process and get people to sign and make your best effort, I believe you should be let on the ballot.”—Roger L. Washington

Our last call for this story was to Richard Mayers, 47, a west side native who filed simultaneously to run for mayor, treasurer, clerk, and alderman of the 23rd Ward. He didn’t file any signatures and is being challenged. Mayers summarized his platform. He wants to see toll booths on North Lake Shore Drive and the Kennedy Expressway to discourage traffic and to lower the costs of the Chicago Skyway tolls. He also wants to see the cost of city parking stickers reduced in lower income wards. It wasn’t clear whether this was motivated by an interest in social justice or progressive taxation, as he added that he wants to see a return of restrictive covenants to prevent black people from buying homes, thereby creating “white island” neighborhoods in predominantly black south- and west-side communities.

Whatever one might think of these candidates’ ideas, the fact is that it’s not their ideas that risk keeping them out of the mayoral election. Rather, it’s the city’s onerous qualification requirements that prevent regular people from joining the ranks of mayoral hopefuls and competing with the candidates everyone assumes to be the only options. The front-runners are unlikely to advocate for anything as blatantly offensive as restrictive covenants or take a stand on something as controversial as rent control, but neither are they people who can claim to have intimate first-hand experience with displacement and homelessness, the closure of public schools in their neighborhoods, the physical and psychological wounds of getting beat up by cops, hunger, predatory lending, the tediously long commutes wrought by infrastructural inequality, and the burden of insurmountable debt. What they have instead are the credentials and connections most of us associate with credibility, and the money to make their dreams come true. Could it be that the unprecedented number of candidates attempting to enter the race this year is a sign of the city rejecting these as the essential ingredients of leadership? Catherine Brown D’Tycoon certainly thinks so.

“I believe the ping-pong game of politics has come to an end in Chicago and power will no longer be the ball,” she says. “God is not pleased with how the city’s been run.”  v