The Sun-Times Editorial Board sent the candidates running for 20th Ward alderman a list of questions to find out their views on a range of issues facing the city and their ward. Jeanette Taylor submitted the following responses (the Sun-Times does not edit candidate responses):
Who is Jeanette Taylor?
She’s running for: Her political/civic background: Local School Council member for 21 years; Parent Organizer, Education Organizer, and Assistant Youth Development Coordinator at Kenwood Oakland Community Organization for 10 years Her occupation: Community Organizer. Currently a full-time candidate. Her education: Attended Dawson Technical Institute Campaign website: taylorfor20thward.org Twitter: taylorfor20th Facebook: facebook.com/Taylorfor20/
What are the top three priorities for your ward?
Jeanette Taylor:1) Housing: I will fight to keep Chicago a city where working-class black and brown people can afford to live. Parts of the 20th Ward that have seen decades of disinvestment are now experiencing development–but when change happens, we need it to happen with us and not to us. As a city, we should prioritize protecting long-term and low-income residents instead of pushing them out. In City Council I will continue to fight for a CBA Ordinance for the area around the Obama Presidential Center that will include real affordable housing set-asides and property tax relief for long time residents.
Rent control is another tool that will help stop the displacement of black and brown people from the city, and I support the efforts of the Lift the Ban Coalition to repeal the rent control preemption act and implement strong universal rent control. I will also work to pass tenant protections such as just cause for eviction and proactive rental inspection. Not only do we need to halt displacement, we also need to build quality, affordable public housing. I advocate for bringing democratic accountability to the Chicago Housing Authority and to the process of selling off city-owned vacant lots. I will support the Homes for All Ordinance to require 1-1 replacement of standing public housing and advance the city’s de-segregation by integrating family public housing into new wards. I will also support the Development for All Ordinance which will require real affordable housing set-asides for new development and prevent “opt-outs.”
2) Education: We need fully funded and supported schools, and an elected school board for Chicago. I will work to make sure public schools have access to all the resources and programs in the community and city.
I have been part of the sustainable community schools initiative which was one in the last Chicago Teachers Union contract. The initiative extends the hours of schools and leverages them to be hubs of community programming that support youth programs, violence reduction and restorative justice programs, economic development, cultural and other activities. I will work to make all schools in the ward sustainable community schools.
3) Economic Justice: New developments that are coming to the 20th Ward, such as ‘the Study’ the new University of Chicago Hotel and the Jewel on 61st Street, are going to bring jobs. But will they be good jobs, and will they go to local residents? I want to ensure that these jobs pay a living wage and the workers are supported in their right to organize. I will advocate for measures such as the CBA Ordinance that will require investment in workforce development and local hiring. I will also work to ensure that a locally owned small business corridor is developed along 63rd street which can leverage Obama Center tourism to generate wealth for 20th ward residents. Most of the land along 63rd between Stony Island and King Drive is owned by the City. We have a tremendous opportunity to take advantage of this to ensure that development supports local entrepreneurship and that wealth is recycled back into the community.
I also oppose the City’s current practice of burdening residents of South and West Side wards with tickets and fines, and siphoning off tax dollars from these communities into TIF funds that have no public oversight. Instead, we should direct TIF funds to public needs. Instead of funding our city with unjust fines, we should pursue progressive revenue streams and tax the rich. We live in one of the wealthiest cities in the world and no one should have to go without basic needs such as housing and education.
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.
Jeanette Taylor: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. *
I was one of the parents who led the 34 day hunger strike which led to the re-opening of Walter H. Dyett High School in 2016 with $14.6M in upgrades. This campaign demonstrated the power parents and community have to catalyze transformative improvements in our children’s education.
I also stood with young people in the campaign to get the University of Chicago to open an adult trauma center, which opened in May of this year. I was a Community Organizer with the Kenwood Oakland Community Organization which was one of the anchor organizations which led the Trauma Care Coalition and the trauma center campaign.
As a community organizer for the Kenwood Oakland Community Organization, I have also worked with neighborhood families to improve the quality of education across the
south side of Chicago. I have trained parents in being effective members of local school councils and developed their leadership to advocate for improvements in their schools.
I have also helped lead the campaign for a Community Benefits Agreement Ordinance to stop displacement from the area around the Obama Center. I have worked with residents to develop their vision for staying and thriving in their community and helped lead the planning and execution of the campaign’s advocacy efforts.
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.
Jeanette Taylor:Retirees have invested in our neighborhoods, contributed to the city’s economy and tax base and have won meaningful change by struggling for racial and economic justice. They deserve to retire with dignity and respect. City employees are stakeholders in our neighborhoods and contribute significantly to our city’s economy.
I would not support an amendment to allow a reduction in pension benefits for current city employees or retirees, nor would I seek to reduce the benefits for new employees. I would pursue progressive revenue strategies to reduce unfunded pension liabilities, and oppose pension payment holidays.
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.
Jeanette Taylor:I believe that low income and working families are already overburdened with taxes and expenses. I support sustainable, progressive revenue solutions that can produce greater equity.
I support the LaSalle Street Tax. I also support legalizing and taxing recreational marijuana (especially if we can ensure that the communities which have been hit hardest by over policing and marijuana crimes benefit the most from tax revenues and economic benefits of legalized and taxed recreational marijuana).
What other sources of new revenue do you favor or oppose?
Jeanette Taylor:In Chicago, I support a corporate head tax and a downtown commercial rent tax. I will also advocate with state legislators to pass a progressive income tax.
I will fight to end the abuse of TIFs and TIF surplus dollars.
I will also work to end privatization schemes that give public dollars and resources to corporate interests (often lowering professional standards/services, and eliminating the rights of workers to organize at work).
I also support closing corporate loopholes that prevent corporations from paying their fair share of taxes.
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?
Jeanette Taylor: While the original intent of TIFs was to create funding for ‘blighted’ communities, the use of TIF dollars to fund projects in the wealthiest part of the city is widespread. So in effect the program siphons off money from the schools, parks, and services in low-income communities and often uses those dollars in affluent areas. Therefore, I would support a moratorium on the creation of new TIFs, work to allocate surplus funds to schools and end the use of TIF dollars for projects in the Loop and Gold Coast. I would also work with state legislators to close loopholes in state laws that allow TIF dollars to be directed to projects in affluent neighborhoods and into the pockets of wealthy corporations such as Hyatt.
What will you do to rein in aldermanic prerogative?
Jeanette Taylor: Aldermanic prerogative encourages the quid-pro-quo practices we have seen over and over again in the 20th Ward, where three of the last four alderman have been indicted while in office. Under this system, working-class black and brown residents of wards like the 20th are excluded from decisions about what happens in their communities. Instead, this prerogative is used to maintain and deepen racial segregation, and to block affordable housing developments. It serves monied interests over those of ward residents and Chicagoans as a whole.
Land-use policies should be determined democratically and at the citywide level, and they should be based on a comprehensive equitable development plan. These policies affect the entire city desegregating Chicago and addressing the affordable housing crisis won’t happen without a comprehensive equitable development plan. Zoning decisions shouldn’t be delegated to alderman, but should be made centrally and based on criteria that are in line with this equitable development plan. I will support establishing a transparent policy for the sale of city-owned lots, and removing the requirement that affordable housing developments must obtain aldermanic support in order to receive public financing.
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?
Jeanette Taylor: There is a serious need to overhaul the training and practices of the CPD, and this is why I support the consent decree. For example, rather than disciplining officers who use excessive force, the current practice of the CPD is to maintain a “code of silence.” According to the Justice Department’s report, officers themselves feel they are not adequately trained.
However, the consent decree alone will not be enough to solve the problem, if communities do not have a say in how they are policed. That’s why I support the Civilian Police Accountability Council (CPAC) Ordinance, which will create an elected civilian council to rewrite the police “rulebook” and fully investigate all complaints against the CPD, among other powers. Putting control of policing in the hands of communities is an essential part of making those communities safer for residents.
What should Chicago do to reduce the number of illegal guns?
Jeanette Taylor: We should hold regular gun turn-in days where guns are melted down on-site, to encourage people to give up guns without fear that they will be traced back to a former possessor. However, we will never get rid of all the guns in our communities unless people stop feeling like they need a gun to be safe and protect themselves. We need to start with a focus on community safety rather than a focus on the number of guns.
In addition to the CPAC Ordinance, I will support investment in restorative justice and violence prevention programs. Programs such as Precious Blood in New City successfully engage and retain street involved young people through employment, arts, and restorative justice programming. Programs like this must be expanded and invested in. I will also use my relationships with leaders and community groups on the University of Chicago Hospital’s community advisory council to bring more violence prevention and recovery programming to the ward.
What is the appropriate role of charter schools within the Chicago Public Schools system?
Jeanette Taylor: Charters do not address historic inequities within district 299. Many of Chicago’s black and brown neighborhoods have been challenged by decades of disinvestment; particularly in our neighborhood schools. Over the past decade CPS slashed the budgets for neighborhood public schools, and substantially increased funding for charters.
The original intent of charter schools was to provide spaces for innovative educational practices that were supposed to be brought back to the district to be implemented in the traditional public school system. After years of funding increases and proliferation,
data clearly shows that only 1 out of 5 charters outperform traditional neighborhood public schools. Charters have a high attrition (‘push-out’) rate of students that struggle academically, and have endured a significant decline in enrollment. Charters are also challenged by high teacher turnover rates. The historic recent teachers’ strike waged by teachers in the Acero network highlighted many of the issues that teachers face in the charter system. The proliferation of charters has also enriched politically connected people, such as the founder of the UNO network (which is now the Acero network).
Charters are also not offered to children that reside in affluent white neighborhoods. Many of these communities have state of the art, well resourced neighborhood schools within walking distance of their homes.
I believe that there should be a moratorium on charter expansion, and that the district should shift its focus to implement evidence-based practices such as: smaller class sizes, support for experienced teachers and programs to address the decline in teachers of color, rigorous culturally relevant curricula and wrap-a-round supports for students. I am a champion for sustainable community schools which address the needs of the whole student and provide supports for neighborhood families.
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?
Jeanette Taylor: Parents and families in school district 299 should have access to the same democracy as parents throughout Illinois. I have worked with coalitions of community groups, advocates and labor unions seeking to win legislation for a fully elected, representative school board. Parents and families of students in affluent communities are not offered hybrid models; they have access to a fully democratic process. They have the right to elect all members of their school boards. Voters in school districts in which the students are black and brown should not be disenfranchised based on their race and income.
Chicago’s appointed school board has allowed numerous cases of corruption (no bid contract schemes, etc.), and has voted to implement school reforms that have harmed students (mass school closures and charter proliferation) that have resulted spikes in violence in communities throughout the city.
Is there enough affordable housing in your ward? Please explain.
Jeanette Taylor: In no neighborhood in the 20th Ward is there enough safe, healthy, and affordable housing. In Back of the Yards and New City, there is a problem with vacant buildings and housing that’s fallen into disrepair. At the other end of the ward, in Woodlawn, residents are already seeing rents and property taxes shoot up due to speculation around the planned Obama Presidential Center, as well as the construction of several University of Chicago developments. In Woodlawn, according to the Chicago Rehab Network 62% of residents are rent cost burdened, meaning they pay more than 30% of their income in rent. Washington Park and Englewood are also being targeted for gentrification.
Chicago has lost more than 250,000 black residents since 1980. If this is going to continue to be a city where working-class black and brown people can live, we have to address the crisis of affordable housing. As I mentioned in a previous answer, this will require both stopping displacement with measures such as rent control and building more public and affordable housing–in the 20th Ward and across the city.
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?
Jeanette Taylor: I support this policy, and I believe it should be strengthened. Federal immigration authorities shouldn’t be allowed to go into schools or any public places, and I will fight to close all the loopholes in Chicago’s Welcoming City Ordinance that allow them to do this. I will also work to eliminate the Chicago Police Department’s inaccurate and racist gang database. It is wrong that undocumented people are criminalized in our country. I believe ICE should be abolished.
Should the inspector general have the power to audit and review City Council programs, operations and committees? Why or why not?
Jeanette Taylor: Yes, because giving the inspector general this power will help make City Council operations more transparent. The public should be able to have a full accounting of what our elected officials are doing and how they are spending our taxpayer dollars. Ideally this information would be easily accessible on the front end, but allowing an audit after the fact is a step in the right direction.
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.
Jeanette Taylor: No, because that would represent a conflict of interest. Decisions about city contracts and city hiring should be made only with regard for what the people of Chicago want and what is in their interest, not based on personal, insider connections. That’s why I will always keep a clear separation between my staff and anyone who benefits from city contracts or other city employment.
Is there a past or current alderman whom you model yourself after, or would model yourself after, or take inspiration from? Please explain.
Jeanette Taylor:Alderman Sue Sadlowski Garza is a role model for me. She is deeply rooted in her community and has fought back against the closing of schools and mental health clinics. Former 6th Ward Alderman John Steele is also an inspiration. He gave me some good advice when I first talked to him about running: he told me to take care of myself and my family during the campaign, to always remember that I was beholden to my constituents first and not to other politicians, and to go in with an exit plan.