4th Congressional District Democratic candidate: Richard Gonzalez

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Richard Gonzalez, U.S. House 4th District Democratic primary candidate. | Rich Hein/Sun-Times

On Jan. 10, Richard Gonzalez appeared before the Chicago Sun-Times Editorial Board. We asked him why he’s running for the Democratic seat in the 4th Congressional districtof Illinois in the March 2018 primary:

My name is Richard Gonzalez. I’m running for Congress in the 4th Congressional District. I’m a Chicago Police Sergeant. I also am the president and the executive director of Metropolitan Housing Development Corporation. We build affordable housing which we are currently doing right now in the Logan Square and Bucktown area. I’m a Democrat.

I think the 4th Congressional District has many causes that we need to work on. My primary is going to be crime, housing, youth mentoring, education and immigration.

We are going to continue fighting for immigration. That is very important to our district. We need to bring in jobs to the district. We need to figure out and work with our elected officials to ensure that we have a foolproof crime plan because it is just not working right now in the district. And we want to bring resources from Washington into the 4th Congressional District. The 4th Congressional District is probably one of the districts that has the least amount of federals funds coming into it and I want to change that so we can have jobs and help our youth in the district.

The Chicago Sun-Times sent the candidates seeking nominations for Congress a list of questions to find out their views on a range of important issues facing the state of Illinois. Richard Gonzalez submitted the following answers to our questionnaire:

QUESTION: As a member of the House from Illinois, please explain what your specific cause or causes will be. Please avoid a generic topic or issue in your answer.

ANSWER: As an Hispanic candidate, seeking to represent a heavily Hispanic constituency, immigration cuts especially close to the bone for me. The Hispanic population – Mexican, Puerto Rican, Central American, and South American – came here seeking a better life. And they have largely found it, but are often still relegated to second-class status. This is a gross injustice to a hardworking, enterprising – and diverse – ethnic group. I support establishing a clear, safe, non-punitive path to citizenship for all undocumented persons. I support DACA and advocate for the immediate suspension of deportations that threaten to separate families, or that force the exit of children in this country who have lived virtually their entire lives in the United States.

Richard Gonzalez

District running for: 4th Congressional district (Illinois)

Political/civic background: Law Enforcement, Business. Ran for Chicago Alderman

Occupation: Businessman and Sergeant in Chicago Police Department

Education: Master’s Degree, Public Administration (Illinois Institute of Technology)

Campaign website: RichardforCongress.com

QUESTION: Please list three district-specific needs that will be your priorities. This could be a project that is needed in your district, or a rule that needs to be changed, or some federal matter that has been ignored.

ANSWER: The Fourth District has three inter-related needs that I would address: Jobs for Youth, Educational Opportunity, and Crime Prevention. Much of the crime in the Fourth District is driven by gangs, and gang members are almost always young males with substandard education and little hope of responsible employment. I would work to create programs that aim to create local businesses and local jobs, which in turn would be available to young people who need them. And in order for these young people to be employable, they need to have sufficient education. This does not automatically mean they need to become college-educated at a four-year institution. Rather, during high school, vocational programs could be developed that count as college credit at a two-year community college, and that also train a young student in a trade. With programs such as these, the value of education will be more apparent to an at-risk youth.

Crime Prevention, which is related to the above, also means effective police work. A congressman, whose responsibility is to represent a district, not govern it per se, can still work at the federal level to promote resources to increase police presence on the street. And the Fourth District needs many more police on the street than it currently has. One idea I have generated is this: police departments can rehire retired officers part-time, who do not need benefits (thanks to their pensions) and, as part-timers, would not require large salaries. These officers would work as administrative officers, thus freeing full-time officers to go back into the streets to combat crime. Another idea I’ve had, which I would promote in Congress, would be to allow the creation of a local “RICO” act for police to tackle gangs, much as the Federal RICO Act did to successfully dismantle organized crime (i.e., the Mafia). And finally, I would promote stiffer penalties for specifically gang-related crimes. Punishment can indeed have a deterrent effect, if meted out to the right individual, for the right crime, at the right time.

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QUESTION: If you are running as a Democrat, what is your best idea for getting any initiative you may propose advanced if the House continues to be controlled by the GOP after the 2018 elections?

ANSWER: It is long-past time for Congress to stop its internecine warfare with itself. Both parties, Democrat and Republican, need to restore civility and open-mindedness to the process of government. If elected, I would specifically extend a hand across the aisle to Republican colleagues. I would cultivate their acquaintance – and their friendship, if possible. I would listen to them and learn about what really matters to them, and their constituents, and find the common ground. Someone must start an honest and respectful conversation. I can do that. If you approach someone as an enemy, you will make them an enemy. I intend to go in the opposite direction. Future initiatives that I might propose stand a much better chance of succeeding if I have cordial relations with GOP colleagues who understand where and why I am coming from, and I understand the same about them.

TOPIC: President Donald Trump

QUESTION: What do you make of President Trump?

ANSWER: Above all else, I believe President Trump is unprepared to hold the office of the presidency. His understanding of the basic mechanics of governance seems almost completely absent. I suspect he has little idea how the executive branch, the legislative branch, and the judiciary operate, singly and in tandem, and create the “checks-and-balances” that are the hallmark of American representative democracy. His behavior in office strikes me as pandering to his base, petty, and mean-spirited. In my view, his presidential demeanor lacks gravitas and suggests, at best, a showman and, at worst, a huckster.

Nevertheless, Donald Trump is our president, and I respect the office and acknowledge his investiture by the American people through our country’s democratic process. I would support any policy or initiative on the part of the President that benefitted my community in the 4th District, especially in terms of improved opportunities in education, jobs, and immigration reform. In addition, any action by the President that would genuinely lessen violence in the street would certainly have my support. President Trump’s ideas do not match mine, but I will work wherever I can for the good of my Illinois community, regardless of the source of the initiative, including that of the President.

QUESTION: Which three actions by the Trump administration do you support the most? Which three do you oppose the most?

ANSWER: Frankly, it is difficult to find actions by the Trump administration that I do support, apart, perhaps, from the sidelining of Steve Bannon. But with effort, I’ve thought of three that show the imprint of the President, which I can praise: 1.) an increase in manufacturing jobs; 2.) trade deals with China, Vietnam, and South Korea that will benefit American companies and their employees; and 3.) the destruction, effectively, of the “caliphate” in Iraq and Syria (i.e., ISIS) primarily because the president lifted rules of military engagement that allowed wider latitude for U.S. armed forces to go after terrorists and their networks.

I am most opposed to his stance on immigration (especially his imagined wall against Mexico, an idea that shows his bias against all immigrants – Mexicans, Muslims, and conceivably any other group he would seek to bar, either physically or by policy. I do not support Trump’s executive order cutting regulations for small businesses that result in environmental harm, as does the repeal of the Clean Power Plan, or the moves to expand oil drilling in the Arctic and Gulf of Mexico, or the permission granted to the Keystone KL pipeline to move forward (a project decisively rejected by the Obama administration). And finally, I do not support the President’s withdrawal from the Paris climate accords, which virtually every other developed nation endorses, which rests on established science, and which the Obama administration worked so hard to promote.

QUESTION: What is your view of special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation of Russian tampering in the 2016 election, including possible collusion by the Trump campaign? Does Mueller have your support?

ANSWER: Yes, I support Robert Mueller’s investigation of Russian tampering in the 2016 election. If evidence of high-level, or presidential, collusion with a foreign power does emerge, I would support impeachment. However, I also think this investigation (like the Ken Starr investigation of President Clinton) can easily become a distraction, almost an entertainment, that pulls attention and energy away from essential legislative work – work that has an immediate and direct bearing on the lives of American people, such as healthcare and jobs. We must be careful not to let that happen. While I certainly do not advocate a rush to judgment, the investigation needs to proceed with an end-point in mind, not with a license to go on and on for years. The investigation should be driven by facts and evidence, not political pressure from either side of the aisle, and then concluded in a timely manner with either indictment or dismissal.

TOPIC: Terrorism

QUESTION: What should Congress do to reduce the threat of terrorism at home, either from ISIS or from others?

ANSWER: The short answer is deeper investigative work and expanding greatly the cyber-skills of intelligence gathering. We are doing this already, but we need to do even more of it. It’s clear that the internet fuels radicalization more than any other accelerant. We need to track what’s out there with every cyber-skill our intelligence community can develop.

We also need to understand the culture and economies of the Middle East much better that we generally do. The so-called “Muslim Travel Ban” not only is unfair and discriminatory, it is counter-productive. It further alienates an alienated radical and makes terrorist plots ever more urgent. We need to find a better way to screen who comes into the country. This is why immigration reform is so important. People who are undocumented cannot be vetted. If immigrants could be legally registered, without fear of automatic deportation for no cause other than lack of documentation, we could find out who these people are and accurately assess if someone presents a strong potential risk to American security.

TOPIC: Guns and violence

QUESTION: What is the single most important action Congress can take to curb gun violence in the United States?

ANSWER: Win over the support of gun owners for sensible gun control measures. It can be done. Provide assurances that gun ownership itself is not in jeopardy. Treat gun owners with respect and do not characterize them as a suspect fringe group. Then make the case for credible background checks, mental health screenings, restrictions on gun ownership for those with convictions for violent crimes and domestic abuse. It may be an uphill effort, but I believe reasonable gun owners can be persuaded that gun safety can be greatly increased without depriving them of their firearms, which many see as a constitutional right.

QUESTION: Do you favor a law banning the sale and use of “bump stocks” that increase the firing speed of semi-automatic weapons? Why? Do you favor any further legal limits on guns of any kind? Or, conversely, what gun restrictions should be done away with?

ANSWER: Yes, I do. Bump stocks should be banned. These are weapons of war. They are not recreational; they are not suited for individual protection. Their purpose is to kill, and to kill many at a single sweep. There is no legitimate reason for a private citizen to be armed in this super-lethal way.

As I said above, I favor limiting gun ownership to responsible, law-abiding people. Persons who have been convicted of violent crimes, or domestic abuse, or those with a history of mental illness, should not be allowed to purchase or own firearms. There are no current gun restrictions that I would do away with.

TOPIC: America’s growing wealth gap

QUESTION: As an editorial board, our core criticism of the tax overhaul legislation supported by the Republican majorities in the House and Senate is that it lowers taxes on corporations and the wealthiest Americans at a time of historic inequalities of wealth and income in the United States. We believe in free markets, but it does not look to us like the “silent hand” of the market is functioning properly, rewarding merit fairly. We are troubled that the top 1 percent of Americans own 38.6 percent of the nation’s wealth and the bottom 90 percent own just 22.8 percent of the wealth.Tell us how we are right or wrong about this. Does the growing income and wealth gap trouble you?

ANSWER: Yes, I am deeply troubled the growing wealth gap. The position of the Sun Times editorial board, as outlined in the questionnaire, is certainly one that I agree with. I do believe in free markets, I do believe in private enterprise, and I do believe in economic reward for hard work and ingenuity. Inevitably – and acceptably – there will be differences in income. Some will have more, some will have less. This is really a question of scale and consequence. I know enough history to say that there is great danger when a few have almost everything, and the majority has next to nothing. Consider the bloody consequences of the French Revolution, the Russian Revolution, and the Maoist Chinese Revolution. We are not at that point. I certainly hope that we are not. But we may well be headed in that direction if some curbs are not put into place.

TOPIC: International affairs

QUESTION: Do you support the Trump administration’s decision to move the United States embassy in Israel to Jerusalem? How will this help or hinder efforts to secure a lasting peace between Israel and its Middle East neighbors?

ANSWER: I am a strong supporter of Israel. Israel is an American ally and a bastion of democracy in a dangerous region. I certainly support Israel’s right to defend itself against the nuclear threat posed by Iran, which has sworn to wipe Israel off the map. In that region, the threat of another Holocaust is all too real.

That said, this is a divisive move that is not supported by any of our other allies. Many in Israel do not support it either. Jerusalem is an ancient city sacred to Jews, Muslims, and Christians. I certainly understand the emotional pull of Jerusalem as a capital. But whose capital? Who has the greatest right to claim it? That should be a question reserved for some future time, once the decades-long hostility between Israel and the Palestinians has been resolved, as I hope it eventually will be. But right now, moving the U.S. embassy to Jerusalem can only re-ignite tension and derail any reasonable and rational effort, on either side, to seek peace.

The embassy move is a declaration by the United States that we support an Israeli claim that Jerusalem is the true capital of Israel. The fate of Jerusalem as the capital of one nation or another is not something the United States can rightfully decide. I believe that Israelis, Palestinians, and Americans will now be less safe. It was misguided of President Trump to pledge, at this moment, moving the embassy out of Tel Aviv and into Jerusalem.

QUESTION: Is military action by the United States a plausible response to the nuclear weapons threat posed by North Korea? How might a U.S. military response play out for South Korea, Japan and China? What alternative do you support?

ANSWER: No, it is not plausible. The leader of North Korea shows many signs of being maniacal, and that in itself is certainly dangerous and should give the President pause in the way he deals with North Korea’s nuclear threat. If the United States did take military action against this regime, “limited” though that first strike might be, North Korea would almost certainly respond with a nuclear assault, claiming many lives and completely destabilizing Asia. If ever there was a trigger for World War III, it is North Korea. That is, unless it is President Trump.

Still, I doubt that nuclear annihilation is something North Korea and Kim Jong-un really want to invite. The U.S. should recognize this basic instinct for survival and take a step back. We may not be safe with North Korea, but we are probably safer than we think. I believe that sanctions and diplomacy must come to the forefront. We must show prudence in our words and actions and do more to relax tensions, not worsen them. We need to refrain from foolishly baiting an extremely dangerous dictator. And however disagreeable it might seem from where we stand today, we need to mount a diplomatic mission to North Korea that may one day defuse this volatile regime.

TOPIC: Immigration

QUESTION: The Supreme Court has ruled that the third version of the Trump administration’s travel ban on eight countries with predominantly Muslim populations can go into effect while legal challenges against the ban continue. What is your position on this travel ban?

ANSWER: As I have mentioned above, I believe the travel ban is misguided and counter-productive. I support the legal challenges to the ban. Whatever revisions the Trump administration may make, such as curtailing travelers from North Korea, it remains a Muslim ban in fact and intention.

QUESTION: Has the United States in the last decade been accepting too many immigrants, and does this pose a threat to the American way of life?

ANSWER: I am sure that many Syrian refugees would not feel that the U.S. has been accepting too many immigrants. In a global world, we need to accept the fact that policies of the United States will play out in other countries affected by those policies. And sometimes those policies will, perhaps unintentionally, destabilize those countries. People from those countries will seek the U.S. as a haven and a new home. We need to do our part in this global arena. Do we have a right to vet who comes to our country? We do. Will this change life in America? It will. But largely in ways that enhance life for all citizens: by diversity within our borders. And yes, I also believe we should do all that we can to make American life understandable to immigrants newly arrived and to help them adjust and assimilate to American values.

Today, the United States is home to the largest immigrant population in the world. We should be proud of this, not afraid of it. While some politicians have blamed immigration for slowing U.S. wage growth, most academic research finds little long term effect on American wages as a result of immigration. In fact, the available evidence suggests that immigration leads to more innovation, a better educated workforce, greater occupational specialization, better matching of skills with jobs, and higher overall economic productivity. Immigration also results in a net positive effect on combined federal, state, and local budgets. This is cause for celebration, not worry.

QUESTION: Should the “wall” between the United States and Mexico be built? What might it accomplish?

ANSWER: It should not. And it will not be built. It is a delusion. If it were to be built (not possible, but if it were to be), it would simply alienate a friendly ally, Mexico, and prevent no one from Mexico immigrating to this country. In any event, most immigrants get here by airplane. Not on foot or by swimming the Rio Grande.

What America should build is bridges, not walls. We have long enjoyed a robust relation with Mexico, and I support continuing it. The majority of my constituency in the Fourth District are Mexican, or of Mexican heritage. I support their right to be here, and would support that right just as much if I lived in some other District in some other part of the country. If elected, I would urge the President to re-evaluate his immigration proposals – and certainly re-evaluate his wall.

TOPIC: Affordable Care Act

QUESTION: The tax reform plan created by Republican majorities in the House and Senate would eliminate the Obamacare “individual mandate” that most Americans must have health insurance or pay a fine. Does this threaten the viability of the Affordable Care Act? What more on this, if anything, should be done?

ANSWER: The Affordable Care Act, while aiming at something that is deeply needed by much of the American public, does present problems that concern me. The “individual mandate” is one of them. To begin with, I question whether Obamacare is truly affordable to the many low- and moderate-income people whom it was supposed to help. For a lot of people, the premiums were still quite expensive. Understandably, people who could not afford Obamacare did not sign up for it. Now, they face a penalty – money out of their pockets – because they did not purchase something that they could not afford in the first place. That does not seem right to me, or fair. At this point, I am inclined to favor a Federal government-sponsored single-payer system, supported through tax dollars. This, too, is not an easy fix and would require much planning and negotiation. But once in place, it would be vastly easier to access, and the result would be a healthier America.

TOPIC: The opponent(s)

QUESTION: What is your biggest difference with your opponent(s)?

ANSWER: I think the biggest difference between my opponents and me is that I am not a career politician. I have spent the bulk of my adult life in law enforcement, business, and not-for-profit organizations. When I entered the congressional race in the Fourth District I was the only candidate competing against the well-known and long-standing incumbent, Rep. Luis Gutierrez. I decided to take this challenge because I believe that the full scope of issues facing the District – jobs, local economy, adequate housing, crime reduction, small business advocacy – was being ignored. These vital issues were falling by the wayside in favor of immigration reform exclusively. As I believe I have made clear in my previous responses to this questionnaire, immigration reform is high on my list of priorities. But it is not the only item on the list – nor should it be. I chose to become a candidate because I intended to grapple with all the District’s problems. Not just one of them.

When Rep. Gutierrez decided not to seek re-election, the roster of candidates quickly increased. Now there are many hopefuls, including three career-politicians, looking to fill the void, some of whom were recently elected to other offices and who are now willing to vacate those positions – and the constituencies they serve – for an office they seem to view as a better prospect.

I am different because I have no political ties and am beholden to no elected official. I decided to run for congress under my own steam, knowing it would be an uphill battle against a powerful incumbent. I chose to do this not because I suddenly saw an opening, an opportunity, once the incumbent had bowed out. I did this because I believed – and still strongly believe – that I had a message to get out to the citizens of the Fourth District that was not identical to the incumbent’s. I was willing to be a lone voice while others remained silent. With all due respect to my fellow competitors, I think that shows a resolve and mettle that they have not displayed. I do think that separates me from other candidates in this race.

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