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James Meeks On Education, Passion & Controversy

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James Meeks

James Meeks talks to CBS 2 Chief Correspondent Jay Levine in a one-on-one interview. (CBS)

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CHICAGO (CBS) – In the race for Chicago mayor, a pastor-turned-politician is trying to extend his reach from the South Side to citywide. State Sen. James Meeks, the founder of Salem Baptist, the Roseland community megachurch, is well-known, well-liked and well-respected for advocating equal funding for public education in the city and suburbs alike.

CBS 2 Chief Correspondent Jay Levine sat down with Meeks to talk about more than just education.

“The role of the mayor is to be the face of the city and to bring people together,” said Meeks. “Our city is so divided. Our city needs uniting from the classroom to the board room. And it’s the face of the mayor when you are given all possible scenarios, to pick the right one.”

But uniting the city may be tougher than picking prominent black and white campaign chairmen, or being endorsed by a teacher from the North Shore school Meeks marched on last year.

Both undermined by YouTube videos of his fiery sermons, where the “n” word is used, and slavery and racism are linked to City Hall.

When asked what should people think about that, Meek said, “They are to think that here is a guy who was passionate about an issue, who was so fed up with the way Springfield and City Hall was handling education, until he boiled over.”

“Somebody has to boil over, somebody has to be passionate about it, so yes. I’ll embrace it. I’ll own it. I’m not proud of the fact that I used the “n” word, but I am proud of the fact that I have never lost the fire, because our children have to be educated,” Meeks continued.

He calls education and jobs the key to fighting crime. And favors, reaching out to the Republican party as he did with Bill Brady to push for a Wal-Mart in Roseland.

As for balancing the budget, Meeks said, “We don’t want to raise taxes, we don’t want to. There are no promises, but we don’t want to. People don’t want to hear you say that you’re gonna raise taxes before they hear you say that you’re gonna look at efficiencies.”

So it that a pledge not to raise taxes?

“No, this is not a pledge not to, because we don’t know what we’re facing,” said Meeks. “We don’t know how bad things are.”

Another tough issue for Meeks could be his religious opposition to homesexuality.

“If civil unions is the law of the land the day that I am mayor of the city of Chicago, I will not oppose it,” said Meeks.

When asked how he will have voted on it in Springfield, he said, “That’s a question when you interview me as a legislator.”

Levine countered: “You can’t divorce the legislator side from the mayor side from the minister side.”

“I have not seen a civil unions bill. There is not a civil unions bill in front of me to make a decision on,” Meeks responded.

If Meeks is elected, he says there will be no conflict between church and state. See why in the video below.

Unlike other candidates we’ve spoken with, Meeks wouldn’t say what areas he’ll target for budget cuts, saying he’d wait until after he’s elected. But when pressed further, asking how people could make an informed decision without knowing, he promised to reveal more before election day.

To see Jay Levine’s complete one-on-one interview with James Meeks, check out the video below.

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