The Sun-Times Editorial Board sent the candidates running for 31st Ward alderman a list of questions to find out their views on a range of issues facing the city and their ward. Milagros “Milly” Santiago submitted the following responses (the Sun-Times does not edit candidate responses):
Who is Milagros “Milly” Santiago?
She’s running for: 31st Ward alderman Her political/civic background: For the past three and a half years, I have been Alderman of the 31st Ward and I am a member of the Latino, Women’s, and Veterans Caucuses. I have been a member of several instrumental community organizations such as the Puerto Rican Parade Committee of Chicago, the Segundo Ruiz Belvis Cultural Center, the National Conference of Puerto Rican Women Chicago Chapter, the Northeastern Spanish Dance Ensemble, the Hispanic Association of State Employees, Break the Silence domestic violence awareness campaign, among others. Her occupation: 31st Ward Alderman Her education: Liberal Arts Degree with a focus on journalism from Northeastern University. Campaign website: MillySantiago.info Facebook: FriendsOfMilly
What are the top three priorities for your ward?
Milagros “Milly” Santiago: Public safety, education, small business development, and housing.
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.
Milagros “Milly” Santiago: For the past three and a half years, I have served as 31st Ward Alderman full-time to best-serve the constituents of my Ward. I work with Police Districts on a daily basis to ensure the utmost protection and consideration for my constituents and their concerns.I advocate and support business development that in turn creates new jobs and economic stability. I work with various city departments to ensure city services are addressed in a timely and satisfactory manner.I work with the three grammar and two high schools in my ward to motivate and encourage civic participation. At City Council, I am part of the Latino, Women’s, and Veterans Caucuses to ensure equal representation is given to these groups in the form of my vote or support for ordinances and/or resolutions.
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.
Milagros “Milly” Santiago: I am not convinced that reducing benefits for current employees or retirees is the answer to the continuous challenge that unfunded pensions have faced. I oppose any attempt to change the Illinois Constitution to reduce current or new workers’ pension as an attempt to solve this issue.
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.
Milagros “Milly” Santiago: Chicago-owned casino – Yes. Legalized recreational marijuana – Yes. It has become a national trend that has normalized legal marijuana. Michigan just passed it, and Illinois should soon follow. Why should we let our tax dollars drive across state lines when we could use those funds right here? Commuter tax – Yes. Property tax increase – No. Municipal sales tax increase – No. Real estate transfer tax increase – No. Video gambling – Yes. LaSalle Street tax – Presently, I do not have enough knowledge on this subject to make a decision.
What other sources of new revenue do you favor or oppose?
Milagros “Milly” Santiago: I oppose property tax increases, period. I would propose a bicycle registration fee to help fund the increased push for bike infrastructure and maintenance costs across the city such as bike racks and bike lanes.
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?
Milagros “Milly” Santiago: I believe there could be greater transparency with how TIFs function, and how decisions about allocations are made. During my three and half years in office, I have been working with city officials to secure an investment of $4.2 million dollars out of three separate TIFs, for capital improvements into schools, parks, and libraries. If I am elected for a second term, I will continue to work with the new mayor on new TIF allocations that prioritize public amenities that improve quality of life and invest in the communities where the TIFs are formed. I will also work harder to improve community engagement in the TIF allocation process.
What will you do to rein in aldermanic prerogative?
Milagros “Milly” Santiago: Aldermen should largely maintain their traditional role. We are elected to represent the voice and interests of our constituents. Every ward is different, made up of different people with different needs, which is why you need to live in the ward before you can run for office. Aldermen know their community. That is why their opinion on land use and other matters should continue to be respected.
There is, however, room for improvement. The main problem with aldermanic prerogative is that it has been used to maintain our city segregated. It keeps affordable housing isolated in certain neighborhoods. I believe there is more to it than that. For example, funding for affordable housing is difficult to come by. Affordable housing developers often depend on low-cost land or city-owned lots, and some wards, like mine, are in short supply of these. Nevertheless, it is hard to argue that aldermanic prerogative doesn’t contribute to the problem, of course it does.
I have signed on as a co-sponsor of a couple of proposed ordinances that will work in concert to require affordable housing development in all wards, thereby removing the pressure on aldermen to exercise their prerogative to keep it out, and increasing the resources available for 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?
Milagros “Milly” Santiago: I am a firm believer that police reform is necessary to hold those officers accountable when rules are broken. When we assign power and authority to officers, we believe those powers will be used to uphold the law and protect citizens. Unfortunately, we have seen too many examples where officers act in blatant disregard and disrespect of the law. I support calls for police reform and I voted in favor of the created of a civilian police oversight board.
What should Chicago do to reduce the number of illegal guns?
Milagros “Milly” Santiago: The main thing that can be done to reduce guns is to seriously criminalize the illegal possession or use of a gun. It should not be that someone who is caught in possession of an illegal gun stands a chance of getting a slap on the wrist, as is currently the case in Illinois. Of course, I believe this is a national issue, not a municipal one, so we need to put pressure on our lawmakers and this new governor to step up with some strong legislation.
What is the appropriate role of charter schools within the Chicago Public Schools system?
Milagros “Milly” Santiago: Charter schools exist as an alternative to the Chicago Public Schools system. I believe charter schools can be a second option for students that have not initially succeeded in CPS enrollment.
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?
Milagros “Milly” Santiago: I believe the Chicago Board of Education should switch to an elected school board. I am a strong supporter of democratic and inclusive policies when it comes to the consideration of public interests. Therefore, I believe a School Board should be electoral so that members of the community may voice their opinions and provide feedback in the form of a vote.
Is there enough affordable housing in your ward? Please explain.
Milagros “Milly” Santiago: No, there is not enough affordable housing in the 31st Ward. For this reason, I have made the issue of housing one of my priorities to address as Alderman. It is no secret that the 31st Ward has emerged as a target for gentrification. I work tirelessly with interested developers to abide by ARO standards and I require on-site affordable units on any qualifying project that comes to my Ward. Presently, I am working on an affordable housing project for seniors and working families to directly address this issue and I continue to look for ways to partner with community organizations that have good ideas for how to combat this issue.
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?
Milagros “Milly” Santiago: I am in full support of Chicago being a sanctuary city. I have been working with organizations throughout the city whose main purpose is to protect the rights of immigrants to due process.
I believe one of the key elements is to continue providing education for undocumented immigrants to empower their abilities to reach residency and citizenship status.
Should the inspector general have the power to audit and review City Council programs, operations and committees? Why or why not?
Milagros “Milly” Santiago: I believe the office of the Inspector General should be independent with the authority to conduct investigations based on reasonable allegations.
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.
Milagros “Milly” Santiago: I do not and have not employed staff with outside jobs/contracts that do business with the city.
Is there a past or current alderman whom you model yourself after, or would model yourself after, or take inspiration from? Please explain.
Milagros “Milly” Santiago: No.