Democratic candidate for Illinois House in the 5th District: Dilara Sayeed

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Dilara Sayeed, Illinois House 5th District Democratic primary candidate. | Rich Hein/Sun-Times

On Jan. 30, Dilara Sayeed appeared before the Chicago Sun-Times Editorial Board. We asked her why she’s running for the Democratic nomination in the Illinois House of Representatives 5th District:

Hi, my name is Dilara Sayeed and I am a resident of Chicago. A Head Start kid from the city and I have been a public servant my entire life. I grew up became a teacher and have been focused on education and policy and economic and development. I’ve been a community activist. First-time candidate. I am tossing my scarf into the ring.

I think a key to a lot of the success that we can have in career and life will be education and I have watched over the last 20 years as I have worked in the education sector that our state is not getting it right. So my main priority is education. I believe education is the foundation, It will lead to economic security because you will have success in careers and it will cause us to have alleviations in other areas like public safety and economic security across the district and across the city.

So what I am concerned about in education is No. 1, our schools are unfunded. We are 50th out of fifty states in education funding in Illinois and the needle has not been moving, and it has been moving very slowly when it has. We’ve got the change that.

We’re also, on the other end, losing college-age students. When we went through the budget impasse for the last two, three years, what we had was the students who went to other states because their grant funding, their map funding, ect., were more stable in other states. Once you lose a kid in their prime ages of 18 to 22, they’re going to get a job somewhere else. They’re not going to come back and become part of the Illinois infrastructure and talent. These are huge issues for Illinois. It’s education focused and I’d like to solve it.

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

TOPIC: Top priorities

QUESTION: Please explain what your specific cause or causes will be. Please avoid a generic topic or issue in your answer.

ANSWER: My top issues are explained in detail on our website page Issues I Stand For at

Reforming education funding and educator development. I know that high quality learning in schools = adults ready for great jobs. We are not preparing young adults in our district for skilled jobs. I aim to do this through:

Education funding reform. IL provides less percentage of the funding for schools than any other state in the US (about 25%). This means local and property taxes have to make up the difference. And since property taxes are based on home values, there is a huge gap in IL between schools in poor communities versus wealthy communities.

I have been an educator for over 20 years. I will be a legislator that champions equitable funding for schools. Last year, the state legislators worked to begin to remedy this injustice. But we have a long way to go. I will work with legislators to identify revenue and increase funding for adequate education funds to be applied to areas across our district (and other such areas across our state) that are receiving inequitable and inadequate finding. My priority is to focus on neighborhood schools and local colleges, which are the anchors of a thriving community.

Educator preparation and development: I will work with legislators to ensure better teacher/principal recruitment from diverse and vulnerable communities, as well as stronger preparation/development that includes on-site clinical experiences, trauma and ACES training, strong technology understanding, etc.

Developing systems towards economic security. As we work towards our first priority above, we also have to work towards ensuring every resident has economic security. For young adults who are ready for skilled jobs, there is a dearth of employment opportunities to help them build a life in the district. I will work to promote individuals and families living, working, playing, earning and spending in our district! This means:

Focusing on bringing businesses to the district.

Nurturing entrepreneurs with business and operations training.

Strengthening opportunities for African American women in employment and business.

Providing fair housing to residents.

Adding places for children to go after school, young people to eat and play, and elders to have community spaces where they can engage with dignity.

Creating structures for public safety.  The safety of our residents as our primary concern is largely dependent on the environment that exists within our communities. Communities need support from state agents, law enforcement officers and community leaders to confront the systemic roadblocks on individuals that create cycles of violence. I will focus on legislation to remove illegal guns, reduce recidivism, advance criminal justice reform, and develop stronger community engagement with law enforcement.

Dilara Sayeed

Running for: Illinois House of Representatives 5th district

Political/civic background: First-time candidate

Volunteer with campaigns and supported candidates over the last 15 years

Occupation: Educator, Tech Entrepreneur

Education: BS In Marketing and Economics – Univ of Illinois at Chicago

MS in Education and Social Policy – Northwestern University

MS in Education Leadership – Univ of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign

Doctorate in Education Leadership and Policy – Harvard University


TOPIC: Top district needs

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:Access to illegal gun access must be stopped – our district has areas that have some of the highest rates of gun violence

A dozen education issues in our district must be addressed – from school closings/consolidations, poor teacher development, inadequate funding, to rats in schools

Access to quality jobs/careers must improve – our district has a dearth of skilled jobs within its southern boundaries. To keep middle-class and working-class families in Illinois, there must be quality jobs towards economic security.

TOPIC: Pension debt

QUESTION: In 2017, Illinois’ unfunded pension liability ballooned to at least $130 billion. Do you support re-amortizing this debt? Please explain your answer. And what is your position on a constitutional amendment that would reduce the liability of the pension debt?

ANSWER: No, I do not support re-amortizing pension debt. Retirees who have paid into their pensions should not have to worry about the state finding ways to lower their payments. Retirees worked hard and paid into their pensions and shouldn’t have to worry about their payouts being reduced because of mismanagement by the legislature.

A constitutional amendment to reduce the pension debt would be ill advised. Someone with standing would ultimately challenge the state and the case would wind up in the Supreme Court. The Illinois legislature has to find a way to pay its bills. The constitutional amendment would not solve the underlying issue of our state not passing laws that actually deal with our pension mess.

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TOPIC: Minimum wage

QUESTION: Cook County and Chicago are on their way to paying a $13 hourly minimum wage. Many suburbs in the county, however, have opted out of the wage increase. Should Illinois raise its minimum wage from $8.25 an hour? Please explain. And if you favor an increase in the state minimum wage, what should it be?

ANSWER: Yes. When my parents said “No” to something I wanted them to buy, it wasn’t because they didn’t want me to have it- it was because they couldn’t afford it. When a low-income resident is able to access a higher wage, they reinvest in the economy by purchasing items their family needs but could not buy earlier. When my parents had even a little more money, they bought us new coats, or a washer/dryer, or a car that worked.

According to the 2017 National Movers Study by United Van Lines, more residents moved out of Illinois than into Illinois, with 63 percent of moves being outbound. The budget stalemate, stagnant wages, rent hikes, and crime all contributed to this decline in population. We must give people a minimum wage that allows them to build a life. We can’t continue to ignore conditions on the south side that have become so unlivable due to gun violence and a lack of income. A livable wage needs to keep up with the rate of inflation. I suggest we look at how city of Seattle raised their minimum wage to $15 dollars in 2015. A gradual increase is very doable.

TOPIC: Marijuana

QUESTION: Should recreational marijuana be legalized in Illinois? Please explain.

ANSWER: Yes, I support the legalization of marijuana.

Reduces opioid abuse. Recent data shows opioid related deaths in Colorado have decreased after legalization of marijuana. We should be looking at the data being produced, and the rules and regulations that are being enforced in Colorado. We know marijuana is safer than opioids- you cannot die from an overdose of marijuana, but you can with opioids.

Reduces criminal activity. Legalization of marijuana is similar to reversal of Prohibition of alcohol. It reduces criminal activity and allows for tax revenue of something that people may use illicitly anyway.

Increases tax revenue. I believe the recent decision by President Trump’s Justice Department to rescind a trioof memos from the Obama administration that had adopted a policy of non-interference with marijuana-friendly state laws, is a step in the wrong direction. In 2013, the state of Colorado legalized marijuana. In 2016, 1.1 Billion dollars in revenue was generated by the marijuana industry. Colorado found a way to make marijuana legal and taxable.


TOPIC: Casinos

QUESTION: Would you support more casinos in Illinois, including in Chicago. What about casinos? Please explain.

ANSWER: I would not support any form of gaming or casinos that do nothing to raise revenues for taxpayers. The gaming industry would also have to commit to having positive impacts in low-income communities.

TOPIC: Property tax freeze

QUESTION: A property tax freeze in Illinois has been proposed frequently since Gov. Bruce Rauner took office. What’s your position? If you favor a freeze, how many years should it last? Should the freeze exclude property tax increases to service the debt, make pension payments or cover the cost of public safety? Again, please explain.

ANSWER: I do not support a permanent property tax freeze legislated by the state. This is why:

Property taxes pay for local governments. They support everything we need to be able to live comfortably in our communities – our schools, our parks, our libraries, our police and fire departments, etc. The state does not receive any property tax revenue so it should not dictate property tax levels. If the state wants to limit the property taxes collected at the local level, it should provide adequate support so that local property taxes do not have to take care of all of the services listed above. For example, IL state government provides less percentage of the funding for schools than any other state in the US. This means local and property taxes have no choice but to make up the difference. Education funding is the majority of property taxes. As other states do, Illinois can provide more state funding to schools, thereby decreasing the need for higher property taxes.

TOPIC: School funding

QUESTION: A revised school funding formula was approved this year by the Legislature and the governor, but a bipartisan commission has concluded that billions more dollars are needed to achieve sufficient and equitable funding. Should Illinois spend more on schools, and where would the money come from?

ANSWER: Yes. We should be spending more money to educate our youth and prepare them for skilled jobs. Currently, Illinois still ranks 50th out of 50 states in terms of state school funding- last place! We should be looking to find new revenue streams to increase school funding. I will advocate for the analysis of the use of property taxes, application of special subsidies, as well as a study of how other states have confronted the issue of inequity and proper use of state funds that actually result in improvement of our public school classrooms.

TOPIC: Opioids

QUESTION: How can the Legislature best address the problem of opioid abuse and addiction? Please cite specific laws you have supported or would support.

ANSWER: A recent Illinois law requiring all physicians who prescribe opioids to register for the Illinois Prescription Monitoring Program is a step in the right direction. This helps physicians share prescription information to prevent erroneous duplicate prescriptions as well as fraudulent doctor-shopping. I would support other such laws that reduce the opportunity for opioid users to have access such as the Illinois Public Act 096-0361. Laws such as these and those that provide education programs are essential. Increasing the number of health clinics and education centers in areas where we know the crisis is most devastating is also key. The problem is that these viable solutions are erratically and poorly funded.


QUESTION: Do you support a state ban on gun silencers? Please explain.

ANSWER: Yes. I believe that gun silencers will only make our gun violence issue worse. Chicago is having a gun epidemic and we not do anything that can enable criminals to get with crimes even easier. This would be a huge hindrance to law enforcement.

QUESTION: Should all gun dealers in Illinois be licensed by the state? Please explain.

ANSWER: Yes. Illinois has a crime and gun issue. Guns are winding up in our most impoverished neighborhoods and in the hands of our kids. The state has to do a better job of keeping track of who has registered firearms. We need to know if guns are registered in other states but winding up in our neighborhoods. Congress has been slow to act and doesn’t appear like they will take on this important issue. Illinois needs courageous legislators who will address these issues before more of our young men and women die due to gun violence.

QUESTION: Should family members be empowered to petition courts for the temporary removal of guns from emotionally or mentally disturbed people who may be a danger to themselves or others? Please explain.

ANSWER:Yes. We have experienced too many gun-related crimes being committed by people that lacked access to good mental health. We need family members and friends to be able to help law enforcement be preventative. There should be certain tests presented by mental health professionals that can test whether or not someone should have a gun if they are mentally distraught.

TOPIC: Medicaid

QUESTION: What would you do to ensure the long-term viability of the state’s Medicaid program? Do you support continued Medicaid expansion under the Affordable Care Act? Should the state continue on a path toward managed care for Medicaid beneficiaries? Should everyone be permitted to buy into Medicaid?

ANSWER: Yes. The health of a nation is only as strong as the health of its residents. When each resident contributes to it, we are better as a whole society. Even though it is not a constitutional right, as education is not, it is in our public interest to ensure every resident in our nation has healthcare. Opting out of healthcare is not an option. In order to provide adequate healthcare for every resident, we have to spread the risk – all have to buy into this system, regardless of our income, age, and health status.

I will work to support the Affordable Care Act as the law of the land. At the state level,

Medicaid should, as it is, provide healthcare for low-income residents

Medicaid should be expanded to include options for those who want to buy in at cost, regardless of their income level

Some residents will get health care insurance from their employers and this is their form of healthcare

Private options should always be available to those who choose it

TOPIC: College student exodus

QUESTION: Illinois is one of the largest exporters of college students in the country. What would you do to encourage the best and brightest young people in Illinois to attend college here at home? Does Illinois have too many state universities, as some have argued?

ANSWER: Illinois must increase education funding, and it must also stabilize its support for higher education. Erratic and unstable systems lead to a lack of confidence and trust in our state legislators and in our state. This has been one key to why Illinois has lost college students and young people who are trying to build a life- they realize other states are stable and more reliable.

In the budget impasse that lasted for two years, Illinois had thousands of students ready and willing to go to college. They were even accepted into programs across the state. And then, many students found out that their grants, scholarships, and funding were in jeopardy – that the college or university was struggling and state funding for scholarship programming may not come through. As the Chief Education Officer at Golden Apple, we struggled through those two years, unable to financially support hundreds of future teachers who needed our partnership with the state to support them through college.

On a secondary note, Illinois needs our state colleges and universities, but we must ensure the product is competitive and delivering what future residents need to build a life. Illinois higher education programming duplicates without offering distinctive and high-quality alternatives to each other. Our universities can be more streamlined, relevant and technologically advanced.

TOPIC: Gov. Rauner

QUESTION: Please list three of Gov. Bruce Rauner’s principles, or decisions he has made, with which you agree. Also please list three of the governor’s principles, or decisions he has made, with which you disagree.


After a two-year budget impasse that held our state children and youth hostage, the Governor finally signed a law that will begin to move the needle on equitable state funding for education. We have a long way to go and, if elected, I will be a state legislators that will relentlessly keep us moving in the right direction with education funding.

Governor Rauner signed a law requiring all physicians who prescribe opioids to register for the Illinois Prescription Monitoring Program. This helps physicians share prescription information to prevent erroneous duplicate prescriptions as well as fraudulent doctor-shopping.

After much effort from Illinois Democrat leaders, Governor Rauner signed a series of laws that supported criminal justice reform. There is a long way to go, but we are getting started.


For two years, Governor Rauner held our state social services systems hostage. No budget meant many smaller non-profits serving key local and community needs were unfunded- and some closed.

Governor Rauner left Illinois students and young people to fend for themselves as students – and some left our state to go to a neighboring stable state. As the Chief Education Officer at Golden Apple, we struggled through two years of a budget impasse, unable to financially support hundreds of future teachers recruited from communities-of-color who needed our partnership with the state to support them through college. This happened at education programs across the state and it is unconscionable.

Rauner believes in his way or the highway. Again and again, key stakeholders were left outside the room as decisions about residents and constituents were being made. An inability to collaborate is a key aspect of flawed leadership. Governor Rauner is unable to think innovatively and outside the box to solve our problems- and his team won’t bring new voices and frontline experienced stakeholders to the table to help them do it.

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