Editorial: Our choice for City Council: Ward 26
By The Editorial Board
Chicago Tribune - Feb 10, 2023 at 5:00 am
To inform voters and to help the Chicago Tribune Editorial Board make endorsements, the board posed a series of questions to the candidates running for alderman.
The 606 recreational trail wends its way through this ward, which includes parts of Logan Square, Humboldt Park, Belmont Cragin and Hermosa. Opened in 2015, The 606 has spurred gentrification that is pricing out longtime Hispanic families, and creating a glaring need for more affordable housing. Rents have been going up, and property taxes have also been skyrocketing.
“We’re losing a lot of residents because of the taxes,” says Julian Perez, a well-known DJ and small business owner. He says a good place to start would be to rescind Mayor Lori Lightfoot’s yearly inflation-tied, automatic property tax increases. He supports using TIF money to ramp up affordable housing, and believes an emphasis on community policing and youth mentoring services are two strategies needed to combat rising violent crime.
The rise in violent crime remains a top priority for City Hall. Homicides, shootings and carjackings are all unacceptably high. Tell us how city government can be innovative in combating crime, and explain what measures you would propose if elected.
First and foremost, we need to reform and rejuvenate a police department with historically low morale. We need to recruit younger police officers, more female officers and more people of color into police work. We should also be working to recruit individuals with specialized backgrounds in mental health education. Good police officers need our support and bad officers need to be held accountable. Our current city leadership has done neither and the results are a hobbled department that is falling short against this current crime wave. Through my community foundation I’ve taken a leadership role in youth programming and plan to continue that as Alderman. Our kids need safe spaces staffed by people of quality character who can serve as role models and guides to young people, especially kids who are not getting that guidance at home. I would like to see the City, CPS, City Colleges and other partners take a more aggressive role in providing vocational training for young adults who are starting down a path of crime or drug use. Lastly, we need a stronger effort at every level of law enforcement to identify and stop the seemingly endless stream of illegal guns, extended clips and other weapons of war that are getting into our City from Indiana and other neighboring states. Someone is making millions arming teenagers in Chicago. They should be held accountable.
The CTA, one of the nation’s largest transit systems, remains a troubled agency grappling with issues ranging from violent crime and ghost buses and trains, to flagging ridership. Give us your thoughts on what specific measures CTA should take to make train and bus service safer, more reliable and more equitable for Chicagoans.
Working families in the 26th Ward rely heavily on bus service in their daily lives so this is a very important issue for my Ward. Public transportation has been slow to rebound in reliability coming out of the pandemic and we need to make more progress in recruiting and hiring as well as to seek more infrastructure investment. Ventra bus and train trackers are failing and leaving riders stranded. Those systems need to be audited and if necessary overhauled to improve necessary communication for riders. CTA also needs to be more aggressive in recruiting employees to choose a career in transportation and public service.
Ten years ago, enrollment at Chicago Public Schools was 403,000 students. In September, enrollment stood at 322,000 students. Enrollment at CPS has dropped for 11 consecutive years. What specific measures should CPS undertake to reverse the trend of ever-dwindling enrollment?
While some of the decline can be attributed to birth rates and the fact that most public schools outside of the population boom in Florida are experiencing some decline, there are still very troubling trends especially in the numbers for junior high aged students. I think CPS needs to do some very comprehensive work including focus groups with parents who have pulled their kids out of CPS to a private school or suburb and learn more about what drove them to that decision and what CPS schools can do to better cater to parents and students. Good principals and good teachers go a long way in turning around a public school. I believe CPS needs to focus on strong recruitment of both as well as on a more focused program of home-visits and parental education to better diagnose and combat the enrollment decline.
Disinvestment on the South and West sides is a decades-long problem with myriad causes. Give us at least one innovative idea that you believe could play a role in reversing South and West side disinvestment, and explain why the idea is realistic and feasible.
The City’s public/private investments in recent years have shown some positive steps, especially in emerging technologies like the biodigester in Auburn Gresham. Another innovative idea I have seen in the south side that is worthy of more public and private investment is the work being done by the Sweetwater Foundation on the south side with urban sustainable farming and aquaponics, both of which are industries that have a strong future. I also believe the emerging cannabis industry also holds potential to reverse disinvestment trends.
Do you support giving Chicagoans property tax relief? If yes, please explain how you would accomplish it. If no, please explain why not.
Tax relief, especially for working families, seniors and veterans, should always be something the government is considering and seeking to achieve. Mayor Lightfoot’s decision to tie property taxes to inflation backfired in spectacular fashion and that move should be reversed immediately.
Give us your take on the city’s use of tax increment financing districts. Do you feel they have been useful, or do you feel that the problems associated with them outweigh their usefulness? What if any reforms would you want to apply to the city’s usage of TIFs?
I believe when properly utilized, TIFs can be a very effective tool in economic development. I do believe there should be stronger oversight and more transparency in how and where TIFs are being used. There should also be better avenues for the public to weigh in on usage of TIF funds and have some voice in how those tax dollars are being spent. In my ward, I would like to see TIF funds that support projects that address affordable housing.
Lead in drinking water is a major health concern for the city. It is estimated that in Chicago there are roughly 400,000 homes and small apartment buildings with lead service lines. So far, the city has replaced less than 300 lead service lines. Do you feel the pace of lead service line replacement should be expedited, and if yes, what is the best, most feasible way to accomplish that?
The pace of lead service replacement is nowhere near fast enough. There is a looming water crisis coming in American cities. Flint, MI and Jackson, MS are two early warning signs and there will be more. Chicago has more lead piping than any other major city, so the sheer size and cost of a full replacement could likely only be achieved through federal assistance. I do believe the City should explore all possibilities, including pipe-lining as a more affordable and achievable alternative to full replacement.
If you are an incumbent, please explain what is it about your service on the City Council that makes you most qualified for the job. If you have never served on the council, please explain what is it about your background that makes you most qualified.
In my life I have been an entertainer, an entrepreneur, a small business owner, the head of a community foundation and a community volunteer. I’ve never been a politician. I believe my ward needs an active alderman who is engaged in the community and who is transparent. I made a name in the entertainment industry by learning how to connect with people through music. Through my foundation I’ve learned how to connect the community together. I believe these skills, and a lot of hard work will make me effective.
What is the most pressing issue facing the people of your ward, and how would you address it?
Community safety is the most pressing issue in the 26th ward. As Alderman, I will work closely and collaborate with, as well as support, the commanders of the police districts that cover the ward. I will also be a strong advocate of community policing initiatives in the ward, and I will work to build trust between the Chicago Police Department and the residents of the ward. Additionally, I will advocate for additional programs that will provide area youth guidance and opportunities to succeed. I will support after-school programs in the arts and music, mentorship programs as well as vocational and job training opportunities for our youth.
Sum up why should voters elect you and not your opponent(s)? (Please limit this to policy and approach, not a biography recitation.
I am the only candidate in this race who can truly claim independence. I am not affiliated with any of the political power brokers in Chicago and I won’t take any marching orders from them. I have the energy and the passion to deliver for my constituents. I will be a full time alderman who is present in the community and is fully transparent. Residents who vote for me will never be ashamed for doing so, and those that don’t will still get my full effort as their alderman.