The Sun-Times Editorial Board sent the candidates running for 25th Ward alderman a list of questions to find out their views on a range of issues facing the city and their ward. Byron Sigcho-Lopez submitted the following responses (the Sun-Times does not edit candidate responses):
Who is Byron Sigcho-Lopez?
He’s running for:25th Ward alderman His political/civic background: I have been a community organizer for 10 years during which I have been involved in countless struggles for affordable housing, fair taxation of local businesses, democratic community driven zoning, rent control good neighborhood public schools, and immigrant rights. In 2015, I ran for the 25th Ward Alderman’s seat and was approximately 70 votes from forcing incumbent Alderman Solis into a run-off. His occupation: Instructor and researcher at the University of Illinois Chicago His education:
- BA in Business Administration and Mathematics from Cumberland University in Tennessee
- MA in Economics from the University of Illinois Chicago
- PhD Candidate in Policy Studies in Urban Education at the University of Illinois at Chicago
Campaign website: sigchofor25.com Twitter handle: @sigchofor25 Facebook page: facebook.com/sigchofor25
What are the top three priorities for your ward?
ByronSigcho-Lopez:1) Development: Taking measures to address displacement of working people in Chicago’s 25th Ward and ensure there is ethical and equitable development.
2) Education: Ensure public schools and students have the resources they need and establishing an elected representative school board so our children and communities will always be put first.
3) Public safety: preventing crime by taking a restorative and wholistic approach to criminal justice and passing legislation to mandate independent civilian oversight of the police (CPAC) to hold Chicago Police Department accountable.
Recent civic work
Please tell us what you have done in the last two years to serve the city, your neighborhood or a civic organization. Please be specific.
ByronSigcho-Lopez:In this time, I have served as Executive Director of Pilsen Alliance during which I have been involved in countless struggles for affordable housing, fair taxation of local businesses, democratic community driven zoning, property tax assessment reform, good neighborhood public schools, and immigrant rights.
I co-founded the Lift the Ban coalition to lift the statewide ban on rent control in Illinois, in place since 1997, which has prevented local communities from implementing rent control and rent stabilization measures in order to keep housing affordable. To date, our coalition has worked with 13 wards (the 25th Ward being among the first) across the city to pass referenda to lift the statewide ban on rent control.
Finally, I serve on the Local School Council at Whittier Elementary where I advocate for mental health workshops for parents and families, parent leadership workshops, and LSC trainings. We are also working alongside a local non-profit to complete long-overdue general maintenance in the school building.
Chicago is on the hook for $42 billion in unfunded pension liabilities, which works out to $35,000 for every household. Those pensions, in the language of the Illinois Constitution, “shall not be diminished or impaired.” Should the state Constitution be amended to allow a reduction in pension benefits for current city employees or retirees? How about reducing pension benefits for new employees? Please explain.
ByronSigcho-Lopez:No, pensions are a promise and a commitment that workers have been paying into, upholding their commitment to the pension system. The failure of previous administrations to uphold their part of the promise must be addressed through better management of the budget as well as progressive revenue-generation. The pension crisis requires we explore all opportunities to raise revenue. In particular, it is critical that we generate revenue in a way that does not hurt working class Chicagoans, which is why I support initiatives such as the LaSalle Street tax, marijuana legalization, declaring a TIF surplus, and advocating in Springfield for a progressive income tax.
Of the following often proposed sources of new revenue for Chicago, which of the following do you favor, and why? A Chicago casino, legalized and taxed recreational marijuana, a LaSalle Street tax, a commuter tax, a property tax increase, a municipal sales tax increase, a real estate transfer tax increase, video gambling.
ByronSigcho-Lopez:It is critical that we generate revenue in a way that does not hurt working class Chicagoans who are already feeling the squeeze. I favor legalized and taxed recreational marijuana, a LaSalle Street tax, and a real estate transfer tax increase. These are the least regressive ways to raise revenue without hurting working families.
What other sources of new revenue do you favor or oppose?
ByronSigcho-Lopez:I oppose regressive taxes that disproportionately fall on working people. The most impactful and least regressive way to generate revenue statewide is a progressive income tax. I will continue my work to advocate for and put pressure on state legislators to pass a constitutional amendment to provide for a fair, progressive state income tax.
Tax-increment financing districts are a primary economic development tool for Chicago. In a TIF district, taxes from the growth of property values are set aside for 23 years to be used to support public projects and private development. What changes do you favor, if any, in Chicago’s TIF program?
ByronSigcho-Lopez:The Back to Basic’s TIF ordinance reforms the TIF program in way that restores the program to its original purpose: to spur economic development in blighted communities. The current use of TIFs violate the spirit of the program and unethically allows for the allocation public resources to wealthy private developments in communities that are economically thriving. Additionally, I support the Garza-Cardenas TIF surplus reform ordinance which re-allocates surplus TIF funds to public schools and other public infrastructure projects.
What will you do to rein in aldermanic prerogative?
ByronSigcho-Lopez:In some wards aldermanic prerogative has put the interest of extremely wealthy corporations and developers over the needs of local residents. These developments have caused massive displacement and hurt middle and low income Chicagoans in my ward and city wide. I have supported both the Homes for All and the Development for All ordinances. Each of these ordinances work to provide more comprehensive affordable housing while also prohibiting aldermanic interference with the development of housing that is affordable.
I have always been a proponent of including the residents in local decision making. Implementing a transparent, democratic zoning process is an effective way to ensure healthy and community-driven development.
The City of Chicago has entered into a federally monitored consent decree to overhaul the training and practices of the Chicago Police Department. Civil libertarians say it is long overdue, but others say it is unnecessary and could make it tougher for the police to do their job. What’s your view?
ByronSigcho-Lopez:The consent decree is a response to the unethical issues that have plagued the Chicago Police Department: abuses of power, discrimination, and police cover ups. Many of our citizens, particularly in communities most impacted, have lost trust in law enforcement. The consent decree is essential to address the very necessary changes to training, culture, and internal protocols at the Chicago Police Department. I will fight for additional reforms and oversight to restore public trust and prioritize public safety, including establishing the Civilian Police Accountability Council (CPAC).
What should Chicago do to reduce the number of illegal guns?
ByronSigcho-Lopez:There must be a comprehensive approach to tackling the issue of gun violence that includes actions at all levels of government be it local, state and federal. There should be universal background checks and the closure of the loophole in federal gun laws that allow unlicensed sellers to sell firearms without performing background checks. We should also prevent bulk gun purchases and straw purchases. Domestic violence abusers should be prohibited from owning or possessing firearms and individuals under final domestic violence restraining orders should have to surrender all firearms.
What is the appropriate role of charter schools within the Chicago Public Schools system?
ByronSigcho-Lopez:Charter schools should meet the same requirements as traditional public schools, particularly as they relate to issues of accountability, accessibility and transparency. In the meantime, I will continue to support a moratorium on charter school expansion.
Should the Chicago Board of Education be solely appointed by the mayor, as is now the case? Or should Chicago switch to an elected school board or some hybrid?
ByronSigcho-Lopez:The Chicago Board of Education should be democratically elected like 99% of school boards across America.
Is there enough affordable housing in your ward? Please explain.
ByronSigcho-Lopez:No. In fact, the scarcity of affordable housing is one of the main problems that our ward faces and has resulted in the large-scale displacement of thousands of principally minority communities over just the last two decades. This displacement has been aided and abetted by ward leadership who have systematically failed to hold developers accountable to uphold the Quality of Life Plan, a community agreement that mandated that 21% of new development in Pilsen should constitute affordable housing.
As a result, it will be a legislative priority of mine to advocate for the Development for All ordinance, proposed by the Chicago Housing Initiative, which calls for 30% on-site affordable housing with no opt-out loopholes for developers. The systematic and longstanding failure to recognize housing as a human right has necessitated bolder action.
Chicago, by ordinance, is an official “welcoming city.” This means the Chicago police are generally prohibited from detaining undocumented immigrants on behalf of federal immigration authorities. What’s your position on this policy? What more — or less — should be done with respect to undocumented immigrants who live in Chicago?
ByronSigcho-Lopez:The “Welcoming City Ordinance” was designed to welcome undocumented people’s capital and labor but not provide them with the adequate sanctuary from punitive measures from the federal government. Deportations have continued to happen in Chicago despite the ordinance, and immigrants suffer from discrimination and labor exploitation. Chicago has always been a port of entry for immigrants across the world and immigrants contribute significantly to our economy, thus the “welcoming city” ordinance should go further to protect the rights of every resident of the city of Chicago as a worker, parent, tenant, home owner, etc. Chicago will not truly be a welcoming city until we do so.
Should the inspector general have the power to audit and review City Council programs, operations and committees? Why or why not?
ByronSigcho-Lopez:Yes. All alderman and staff of the City Council should be subject to oversight, and scrutinized for any ethics violations – this is crucial to establish a culture of accountability and transparency in City Council. I will relentlessly fight to expand the duties and authority of the IG.
Would you employ, or have you employed, staff in your office who have outside jobs or contracts with entities that do business with the city? If so, please explain.
Is there a past or current alderman whom you model yourself after, or would model yourself after, or take inspiration from? Please explain.
ByronSigcho-Lopez:I take a lot of inspiration from Sue Garza for her steadfast advocacy for community empowerment and the rights of workers. I also admire John Arena and the work he has done to push for affordable housing and his leadership in the Progressive Caucus. If elected, I looking forward to joining them in the Progressive Caucus, and fighting for ethical, equitable and fair government that every Chicagoan deserves.