The Sun-Times Editorial Board sent the candidates running for 33rd Ward alderman a list of questions to find out their views on a range of issues facing the city and their ward. Rossana Rodriguez-Sanchez submitted the following responses (the Sun-Times does not edit candidate responses):
Who is Rossana Rodriguez-Sanchez?
She’s running for: 33rd Ward alderman
Her political/civic background: Youth educator, community teaching artist, and lifelong activist for issues of public education, immigrants rights, labor, and housing. Co-founder of 33rd Ward Working Families, a progressive ward-based IPO; 2018 United Working Families Movement Leader Fellow; Member, Albany Park Defense Network; Co-founder, Chicago Boricua Resistance.
Her occupation: Internship and Career Advisor for Theater and Dance at Columbia College
Her education: Bachelor’s in Theater Education from the University of Puerto Rico, Master’s in Applied Theater from the University of Manchester (UK)
Campaign website: rossanafor33.org
What are the top three priorities for your ward?
Rossana Rodriguez-Sanchez: Addressing affordable housing and pushing for rent control in the ward and throughout the city; making Chicago a real sanctuary city by fighting to protect our immigrant communities; fully funding our public schools and implementing an elected school board.
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.
Rossana Rodriguez-Sanchez: I am a co-founding member of 33rd Ward Working Families, a progressive ward IPO, where I’ve been a leader in campaigns to support our ward’s immigrant families and keep our neighborhood affordable to all through the campaign to Lift the Ban on rent control.
I was named a United Working Families Movement Leader Fellow earlier this year and worked on a successful campaign to elect new, progressive leadership to the Illinois State House.
I am a member of the Albany Park Defense Network, which was established following Donald Trump’s election, and have directly supported immigrant families who have faced losing a family member due to deportation, participated in community “Know Your Rights” education and outreach, and accompanied undocumented immigrants to court hearings.
I’ve stood with longtime tenants facing eviction to advocate for their rights and encourage their landlords to negotiate to allow these tenants to keep their place in our community.
As a longtime youth educator, I’ve continued to support Chicago’s young people in their search for jobs and higher education opportunities, as well as handle challenges associated with systemic poverty and racism.
Finally, in solidarity with our city’s labor movement, I’ve been proud to walk the picket lines with striking workers, including Acero teachers, who made history with the first-ever charter teachers strike, and hotel workers downtown.
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.
Rossana Rodriguez-Sanchez: No, the state Constitution should not be amended. Pensions are a promise made to employees, and that promise must be kept. To put the burden of years of mismanagement of pension funds by city leaders on the backs of pensioners is not only unconstitutional but destructive to their quality of life.
Neither should pensions for new employees be reduced. When managed properly, pensions benefit not only employees but the city as a whole, as they attract quality, dedicated people to city jobs and create stable work environments that produce a better quality of service for residents.
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.
Rossana Rodriguez-Sanchez: I support progressive taxation initiatives including a LaSalle Street Tax and a real estate transfer tax, reinstating the corporate head tax, and I support a progressive property tax increase that places the burden on those most able to pay.
Casinos and video gambling have proven not to be the great boons for local economies that they’ve promised to be, while they carry a heavy social cost.
A commuter tax puts an undue burden on working people who happen to not live within the city limits. This is double jeopardy for families already forced to leave the Chicago because of the rising cost in rents.
Chicagoans have also been burdened by yearly incremental increases in taxes, fines, and fees. A municipal sales tax increase only furthers this trend that puts the highest burden on the cities poor and working class.
What other sources of new revenue do you favor or oppose?
Rossana Rodriguez-Sanchez: I also support legalized and taxed recreational marijuana with the caveat that taxes garnered are put into communities that have been historically targeted and decimated by the “war on drugs.”
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?
Rossana Rodriguez-Sanchez: I support abolishing Chicago’s TIF program. In the short-term, I would support a moratorium on new TIFs and support measures to discharge the surplus and return the funding to the public entities to which these funds were originally intended.
What will you do to rein in aldermanic prerogative?
Rossana Rodriguez-Sanchez: Chicago is one of the most segregated cities in the United States, and news articles, academic research, and nonprofit policy papers have illustrated the ways that aldermanic prerogative has contributed to racial inequity. Clearly, there is a need for a city-wide plan to bring affordable units into wards in which aldermanic prerogative has blocked or interfered with attempts to do so.
At the same time, I have a concern that a city-wide plan might, for some wards, allow for weaker standards than affordability-focused aldermen (or an inclusive, community-driven zoning and development process, as I support) would require.
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?
Rossana Rodriguez-Sanchez: A federally monitored consent decree is long overdue. Rahm Emanuel entered office with the Daley-era Jon Burge police torture scandal still occupying the headlines. Two terms later, he’ll leave office in the shadow of his own police misconduct scandal. The misconduct and abuse in the Chicago Police Department is systematic, and the coverup that was exposed during the revelations about Laquan McDonald’s murder by Jason Van Dyke has shone a light on the fact that the Chicago Police Department cannot police itself.
What should Chicago do to reduce the number of illegal guns?
Rossana Rodriguez-Sanchez: Chicago’s abundance of illegal firearms is a product of much deeper issues plaguing our city.
I worked last year as a teacher at an alternative high school and taught students who had been affected in various ways by violence. Many of my students were in gangs because they could not find jobs. I do not believe that there’s a way to make safe communities that does not include deliberate and substantial investments in those communities—with fully funded public schools, living-wage jobs, vocational training, community-building projects, after-school and youth engagement programs, arts and sports offerings, access to mental health services, access to housing, and support services specifically aimed at helping families.
What is the appropriate role of charter schools within the Chicago Public Schools system?
Rossana Rodriguez-Sanchez: Charter schools were pushed by past administrations as a semi-privatization scheme aimed at lowering wages, undermining educators’ collective bargaining strength, and turning one of the nation’s largest school systems over to a collection of business-backed interests.
I support a moratorium on new charter schools. So does a majority of my ward. In 2016, my home organization, 33rd Ward Working Families, placed a referendum on a charter school moratorium on the ballot, and the measure won decisively, and across every single precinct.
Separately, I support the efforts of charter school educators to unionize and advocate for the interests of their teachers, paraprofessionals, and students. I was proud to join Acero teachers on the picket lines every morning as they led the nation’s first-ever charter school strike.
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?
Rossana Rodriguez-Sanchez: I support an elected representative school board. I have joined local, parent-led actions to call on Sen. Pres. Cullerton to advance state legislation addressing this.
Is there enough affordable housing in your ward? Please explain.
Rossana Rodriguez-Sanchez: No. Like some its neighboring wards, the 33rd is threatened with a shortage of affordable housing and is coming under the pressure of gentrification. In the 33rd Ward, half of renters are “rent-cost burdened,” meaning that more than 30% of their income goes to paying rent. In most of the ward, rents have risen at a faster pace than wages.
As we’ve seen in nearby neighborhoods, with Logan Square to the south as one example, these circumstances have led to mass displacement of Latinx residents, immigrants, and working-class families. Our incumbent alderman has facilitated this process by ushering in luxury development (and re-development of previously lower-cost housing), adhering to the bare minimum required by the ARO, and siding with developer campaign donors against longtime residents facing eviction; the alderman is personally credited by developer-donors with helping to expel residents.
I believe that bold action is needed to maintain the diverse composition and character of our ward’s neighborhoods, keep people in their homes, and prevent local rent costs from spiraling out of reach for working-class people. I support implementing rent control measures and was a community leader in the Lift the Ban coalition, which won a referendum in the ward supporting the repeal of a state law banning rent control. I support putting forward strong affordability standards, implementing just-cause eviction laws, and adhering to the aims of the Keeping the Promise ordinance. And I would implement a community-driven zoning process and measures to demystify the process to make proposals for change accountable to the needs and wishes of the affected communities; in this, I support targeted efforts to engage renters, non-English speakers, and lower-income residents—groups that are typically under-represented in conversations about development.
I am running on a “No Developer Dollars” pledge and will not accept campaign donations from developers seeking to come into the ward.
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?
Rossana Rodriguez-Sanchez: Chicago should be more than a sanctuary city in name only. The city’s current sanctuary protections include large loopholes that leave immigrant residents vulnerable to ICE. One example of this is the city’s deeply problematic gang database, which I believe should be abolished. I support removing all carve-outs in the Welcoming City ordinance.
For immigrant communities in particular, economic issues (including wages and the cost of housing) are linked to the notion of “sanctuary”–those who can’t afford to stay in Chicago often are put at greater risk as they are forced to leave for suburbs and other locations with even weaker sanctuary protections. For these reasons, I believe that the fight for immigrant rights necessarily has to be connected to the movements for economic and social justice more broadly.
Our ward’s large immigrant population is one of the things I love most about our ward, and one of the things I’ve worked hardest to help protect. As a member of the Albany Park Defense Network, I’ve worked to assist families under threat of deportation, and supported community education programs including “Know Your Rights” trainings, which assumed a heightened importance following Donald Trump’s election last year.
Should the inspector general have the power to audit and review City Council programs, operations and committees? Why or why not?
Rossana Rodriguez-Sanchez: Yes, I would allow the inspector general greater power to monitor the City Council. I grew up in Puerto Rico, where I was familiar with concerns about government corruption. I had thought Puerto Rico was unique in this way, but when I arrived in Chicago, I was surprised to see corruption that was in many ways even more intense and pervasive. In our own ward, our alderman has been hit with scandals involving thousands of dollars in illegal campaign donations. The belief that “politics” and “corruption” are synonymous terms in Chicago erodes public trust in government, and strikes against basic notions of fairness and democracy. At its worst, corruption serves connected, big-money interests at the expense of working people.
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.
Rossana Rodriguez-Sanchez: I would not employ staff with jobs or contracts with entities doing 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.
Rossana Rodriguez-Sanchez: I take inspiration from independent-minded aldermen who have stood up—sometimes by themselves—to represent the interests of civil rights, housing, and populations on the margins. Leon Despres and Helen Shiller in her early years come to mind as a few of the people who displayed that sort of independent streak. If elected, I would join the Progressive Reform Caucus.