Chicago Mayoral Candidate Amara Enyia on Kanye West & Chance the Rapper Bringing 'Optimism' to Her Campaign

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Chance The Rapper shakes hands with Chicago mayoral candidate Amara Enyia speak during a news conference at City Hall on Oct. 16, 2018 in Chicago.

Amara Enyia, a self-described activist whose parents emigrated from Nigeria, announced her candidacy for mayor of Chicago last month, joining a crowded race that includes at least 15 other candidates, including key figures in the Chicago political spectrum.

It’s not the first time Enyia, director of Austin’s Chamber of Commerce, has run for political office. Back in 2015, she also ran for mayor but dropped out early on in the race. “We started with no name recognition because I hadn’t been in public office before and not even in public life really,” Enyia tells Billboard.

This time around, it’s quite the opposite. With the support of Chicago natives and music stars Chance the Rapper and Kanye West, who have officially endorsed the West Side resident, Enyia wants another chance at becoming the next mayor of Chicago.   

Both Chance and West have appeared at Enyia’s "pull up" rallies throughout the city of Chicago in the past weeks.

“If you’re willing to see what this city could be, you will vote for Amara,” Chance said at Enyia’s candidacy announcement on Oct. 16.

While West hasn’t been vocal about his support, he’s donated a total of $200,000 to Enyia’s campaign, even after tweeting he was “distancing himself from politics” following a meeting with President Trump at the White House and reports of his involvement in conservative commentator Candace Owens' "Blexit" campaign.

“I’m very thankful and welcoming of Chance and Kanye’s involvement,” Enyia says, while adding that the musicians bring “optimism” to her mayoral run.

But first things first: To be able to replace current mayor Rahm Emanuel, Enyia still needs to collect enough signatures for her name to actually be on the ballot for the Feb. 26 elections in Chicago. The deadline to file the signatures is Nov. 26.

In an interview with Billboard, the mayoral hopeful talks about her vision for Chicago and explains what role Chance and Kanye play in her campaign and the overall political landscape.

You ran for mayor in 2015. What motivated you to give it another shot?

It was my first time running for office in 2015 and there were a lot of hard lessons learned then. But I always said that the only way I would run again is if I had that same level of conviction about what needed to happen in Chicago, what could be done and what could be changed in that particular office. And so, that’s why I’m running again.

How are you different from the other candidates who want to be mayor of Chicago?

I’m probably the only candidate who has both the top government level experience but still deeply connected to the community and to the grassroots. That’s quite unique. What it means is that I’m able to engage in the policy space for the city but my policy is informed by being connected to what’s happening in people’s day-to-day lives. We’re in an environment where people want to see themselves in the people who represent them and not just some disconnected person who is making decisions for them but someone who they can relate to.

It’s clear that like Chance and Kanye, you love Chicago. What are other shared commonalities you have with these music stars?

The common thread between the three of us is a vision for Chicago. What was refreshing about both Chance and Kanye is that they can actually envision what we can do to make this city even better. To have celebrity endorsements is great but when they’re substantive, even better. Chance in particular has demonstrated his commitment to Chicago in some tangible ways. On many of the same issues we’ve organized in the same spaces even though we hadn't met formally. For example, he has been part of the education equity efforts and donated a million dollars to CPS. I was organizing for the mental health movement years ago when they were closing mental health clinics and he recently donated to expand mental health resources in Chicago. So, these are tangible steps that have been taken that show what he is committed to.

And with Kanye, it’s the same. He’s from Chicago, he grew up here and he sees how we can actually move the economy. What does it look like to create job? what does it look like to address this issue of homelessness? He has these big ideas and for me, when anyone demonstrates an interest in helping their hometown, we should pay attention to that.

How were those initial conversations with Kanye and Chance? What was your reaction when you heard Kanye wanted to speak with you?

Actually, he called me directly. It was sort of out of the blue with Kanye in particular. He called and said, “this is Kanye West,” and I was like “oh.” He wanted to FaceTime me because he wanted me to know that it was actually him and not a prank. But, I took his word for it and told him that we could talk over the phone. This was when he was talking about moving back to the Chicago area and he said that my name kept coming up in different conversations because of my work and what I was doing. So, he wanted to meet and talk about Chicago and how we could move the city forward. It was a good conversation and that’s how it all began. When we actually met, it was very refreshing being able to talk with someone who doesn’t have these limitations about what we can do in the city. It was incredibly refreshing being able to talk to someone who is a creator and there are no limitations about what he can envision and create.

Chance, on the other hand, said he had been a fan of mine for a long time and that he rocks with me and wants to talk about the vision for Chicago. I had been a fan of his from afar as well and after we met, we just clicked.

What role do these musicians have in your campaign?

Our campaign is really about expanding the electorate. It’s our responsibility to make sure that not only the likely voters come out to vote but the people who have never had faith in the process. Chance and Kanye reach an audience that traditionally has not been as engaged. There’s an optimism that they bring. Both of them have come out of the arts community and so we’ve talked about ways to expand access to art programs. We’ve talked about what it looks like for everyone in the Chicago Public Schools district to have access to programs that enrich the quality of the educational experience. I know in Kanye’s case, he’s talked about bringing his factories here to actually manufacture his products in Chicago, that’s huge from an economic development perspective but also it shows what investing locally can do to bolster employment and to bolster the economic environment in the city.

Has having celebrity endorsements brought any sort of criticism to your campaign or pushback from opponents or supporters? Particularly your relationship with Kanye because of his recent controversial visits to the White House to meet with President Donald Trump.

I definitely had a conversation about it with Kanye. We talked about my platform and his views as it relates to the president. He made it very clear to me in our conversation that he doesn’t support the president's views or policies, what he supports is the idea that we should be willing to engage everyone in dialogue. That we should always keep lines of communication open and opportunities for understanding people who might have different beliefs and different perspectives from us. And I can get with that. The other thing is that he has been very supportive of our platform. We talked about all of the big platform issues as it relates to the economy, education, housing in Chicago and he said that he believes our platform is the only platform that is right for Chicago, for who we are and who we can be as a city.

Do you think musicians should be involved in politics or raise their voice when it comes to politics?

I think that artists are the lifeblood of any movement and so I think even in the political space there is a role for artists to play. For them to bring more people into the process or an event to get people to pay attention is absolutely crucial. If Chance is the reason why you’re paying attention to these elections, great! If Kanye is the reason why you’re paying attention to what’s happening in Chicago, fantastic! Whatever it takes to get them there. Many people didn’t get involved in politics until we had our current president. And that’s what it took for them to be shaken and become active. Chance and Kanye’s presence in the campaign has opened up the mayoral elections to a whole new genre of people who had not been engaged before.

What are some issues you want to tackle as mayor of Chicago?

The reality of Chicago is that wealthy and more affluent communities have benefited and, unfortunately, it’s happened at the expense of more challenged communities who have largely been ignored, overlooked or simply pushed aside when it comes to decisions about how resources are allocated and how our approach to education is. Without having a lens of equity, you can’t make policy that is actually beneficial or at least that doesn’t harm those very people. We’re bringing an equity lens to decision-making and we’re also bringing the community’s voice into decision-making -- which is a lot different than just including voices of those who are politically-connected or those who have the money to buy political clout.

What do people outside of Chicago still don’t understand about the city?

It’s a very complex city. The way things are so entrenched that it stifles a lot of innovation, which is unfortunate because it’s such a wonderful city. That’s why these elections are so important because we’re breaking away from that. We had 22 years of incumbent Richard M. Daley, then we’ve had six years under the current mayor who came out of the White House so he had the glitz and glamour of the Obama administration. The dynamics are completely different now. This is the first time that we have an open field and if you see how things are playing out, you’ll see that it’s almost like a verdict of the city’s past and the city’s future.