12th Ward candidate for alderman: Jose Rico
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The Sun-Times Editorial Board sent the 12th Ward aldermanic candidates a list of questions to find out their views on a range of important issues facing the city and their ward. Jose Rico submitted the following responses (the Sun-Times does not edit candidate responses):
Who is Jose Rico?
He’s running for: 12th Ward alderman
His political/civic background: For over 25 years, I’ve worked with schools, community-based organizations, and civic groups in defending our families, and providing services to improve their lives. As an undocumented student leader, I led the take-over at the University of Illinois in 1991 to protest racist policies and established the first Latina/o Studies program in Illinois.
When I returned to Little Village, I became a teacher at Latino Youth Alternative High School. There I taught young people labeled dropouts, gang bangers, and unteachables, and was able to demonstrate to them that they are loved and have value. My students transformed me!
In 1997, I was compelled to organize against racist policies in the suburbs as a result of IIRaIRA (The Illegal Immigration Reform and Immigrant Responsibility Act of 1996). Students were not being allowed to enroll in Cicero due to their immigration status and motorists were being extorted by police officers in Arlington Heights for the same reason. I was the suburban organizer for ICIRR and collected enough testimonies from people to file and eventually get a consent decrees between the Department of Justice and the townships.
But, my most life-changing experience was when my oldest son, Tizoc, was born with Cerebral Palsy. This required him to attend a wheelchair accessible school. After attempting to work with CPS for years around the building of a new school, Tizoc’s mom lead a Hunger Strike with 18 other community residents. After a long campaign, the hunger strikers won a $70M school.
I supported the campaign by engaging hundreds of residents in the planning process for the school. I was then selected to be the founding principal of the Multicultural Arts school, and implemented a culturally integrated curriculum; We were successful in exceeding graduation rates for students in neighborhood schools and have a teacher-led school.
I was then appointed by President Obama to serve in the Department of Education to increase the high school graduation rate for Latino students nationally. After I helped allocate an unprecedented amount of resources to students, schools and education organizations, the high school graduation rate and college enrollment rate for Latino students increased significantly.
Since my return home, I’ve worked in my community as a non profit leader creating collaborative partnerships and funding that have increased mental health services, jobs, after school programs, parent leaderships programs and violence prevention resources to thousands of families in Little Village, Brighton Park, McKinley Park.
His occupation: SVP Community Impact at United Way
His education: Masters
Campaign website: joserico2019.com
What are the top three priorities for your ward?
Jose Rico: The main priorities of my campaign are centered on eliminating the inequities of opportunity and resources, in order to address street violence in the 12th ward, and the city. I have witnessed the implementation of many programs and initiatives billed as solutions, but do not address the fundamental root causes of gun violence. Creating living wage jobs and fully funding schools are the other two priorities that are critical to raise a family in our neighborhoods. The loss of good jobs and closing of schools and elimination of social services that provide the basic human needs for community members has created a high number of young people that have to fight to make it. The lack of stable families and institutions along with an influx of guns, drugs and despair has resulted in countless deaths and misery. I want to be part of the solutions, along with union members, business leaders, clergy and my neighbors to change this and build a stronger Chicago.
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.
Jose Rico: For over 25 years, I’ve been doing community work as a teacher, immigrant rights organizer, high school principal and Obama staffer. Most recently, I led a statewide campaign to end the Rauner budget shutdown that cut funding to social service organizations in my ward and throughout the state. I brought together the Chicago Federation of Labor President and the Chicagoland Chamber of Commerce President to call for an end to the shutdown. I believe we my work contributed to the many voices that forced Gov Rauner to pass a budget funding social services. http://pressroom.uw-mc.org/united-way-business-labor-demand-end-to-state-budget-stalemate/
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.
Jose Rico: As a former public sector employee for almost two decades, vested in the teachers’ pension fund, and who’s family depends on their union pension, I regard pensions as a promise to working families. It is one of the critical promises that we make to ensure our working families live in dignity for completing vital public services to our community. I would not support amending the Constitution to reduce pension benefits. I would support raising revenue from those that can pay their fair share, including a graduated income tax and a corporate tax, if necessary. I will not support more fees, selling any more public assets or making reductions to pension.
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.
- I favor a Chicago casino with strong oversight and unionized workforce.
- I favor legalized and taxed recreational marijuana with revenue used for work force and small business incubation in neighborhoods that have the highest number of drug arrests.
- I favor a LaSalle Street tax because they financial services also need to contribute to our city services.
- I don’t favor a commuter tax, municipal tax or property tax or increase because they are a burden on working families.
- I support a real estate transfer tax and property tax only for transaction above $750,000.
- I don’t support video gambling because they are a burden on working families.
What other sources of new revenue do you favor or oppose?
Jose Rico: The root of this violence can be traced directly to widening historic and racialized gaps in opportunity, healthcare, education, and safety. Yet, a long-term, systemic answer requires funding. My vision is to allocate some of the current enforcement costs to economic justice programs that will bring good paying jobs into the 12th ward. This will reduce the current cost of violence, which is close to $5.3B annually.
Dismantling the Chicago Police Department’s gang database is also a way to help reduce the criminalization of black and brown communities in Chicago. The excessively violent “tough on crime” police tactics and behaviors that violence reduction encourages among Chicago’s police have alienated too many Chicagoans from the police who are sworn to serve and protect them. Today some 128,000 adults are listed in the gang database, with the total rising to an astounding 196,000 if juveniles are included. If that was true it would mean, that given Chicago’s population of 2.7 million, one of every 14 Chicagoan’s could be a member of one of Chicago’s heavily armed, drug dealing street gangs.
Effectively preventing and controlling violence requires a multi-faceted, collaborative, trauma-informed public health approach. It must addresses the complex factors underlying violence and build on the assets of youth, families, and communities.
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?
Jose Rico: TIFs can be a vital economic development program that can boost economic investment in our least invested neighborhoods. This program needs reform for a variety of reasons, I will reform the TIF program in these ways:
- Create a city-wide capital improvement plan that prioritises the least invested neighborhoods with a focus on improving neighborhood infrastructure, economic development and public institutions, like schools.
- Limit the number of TIF districts.
- CPS can opt out of using its share of their revenue for TIF projects.
- Use participatory budgeting and an equity formula to decide on TIF projects in the wards.
What will you do to rein in aldermanic prerogative?
Jose Rico: Aldermanic prerogative can be a powerful way to engage community resident, neighborhood groups and other alderman to plan together. I would reform aldermanic prerogative by ensuring that civic groups, like LSC’s, neighborhood CDC’s, Chambers of Commerce are consulted before any major zoning or investment is made and that the transactions to those changes are transparent, before a decision goes to City Council.
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?
Jose Rico: We need an elected civilian police accountability council. Given the history of abuse within the Chicago Police Department, the existing code of silence, an overhaul of training and practices is warranted. There are several examples of changing the culture and increasing trust with community in police departments in other cities. They implemented a civilian accountability council that had the power to appoint the Superintendent, investigate all complaints, set rules for investigations, discipline police officers, and refer cases to US Grand Jury and US Attorney.
What should Chicago do to reduce the number of illegal guns?
Jose Rico: We have experienced the limitations with restrictive gun legislation, incarcerating offenders and buy backs for a series of reasons.
What is the appropriate role of charter schools within the Chicago Public Schools system?
Jose Rico: Charter schools had a promise of providing specialist programs, curriculum, schedules, etc to students where district schools did not. Unfortunately, many charter schools privatize public tax dollars, compete for education grants, do not provide critical special education and language services and undermine the teachers union. Today, many district schools are implementing innovative programs because principals, teachers and Local School Councils agree on what’s best for students. Unless there is a neighborhood or a student population that a district school cannot reach, then a charter school makes sense.
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?
Jose Rico: I believe schools should be the center of democracy in our communities. In addition to providing resources for civic education for students, I support more power and resources to Local School Councils and an elected school board. Placing the responsibility of educating our children in the hands of parents, students and civic leaders will ensure resources are placed where they are needed most- in the classrooms and neighborhoods. An elected school board will also ensure informed and active participation of working class families.
Is there enough affordable housing in your ward? Please explain.
Jose Rico: My ward suffered some of the biggest losses of wealth during the 2009 Recession and did not fully recover. Today, affordable housing is one of the top priorities for families in my 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?
Jose Rico: I strongly support the welcoming city ordinance because it help protect some of the most vulnerable members of our community. As an immigrant rights organizer, I conducted hundreds of know your rights workshops to working people on wage theft, harassment and legal protections. Many of my workshops were held at workplaces, to union members and at Home Depot parking lots. I connected countless cases of discrimination, theft and abuse to labor lawyers and prepared class action suits against companies.
As a school principal, I regularly worked with teachers to ensure that immigrants were at the decision making table on issues of budgets, curriculum, facilities, time and evaluations. I am proud to have created a teacher and parent-led school, where the conditions were co-created with teachers and parents. This is why I am a strong supporter any efforts to make our communities more inclusive to the immigrant community.
Should the inspector general have the power to audit and review City Council programs, operations and committees? Why or why not?
Jose Rico: Though I am in favor of keeping a strong system of checks and balances for all branches of government, I do feel that the city council should be subject to oversight and challenges from other authorities. I understand the complex legal arguments for why the inspector general could use this power to overreach, but ultimately the goal of my campaign is to pierce the veil hiding the interests of the Chicago political machine, in favor of an open and transparent democracy.
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.
Jose Rico: I have not and would not hire staff that have outstanding jobs with the city. Trust in elected officials is at an all time low, so in order to be as transparent as possible and keep staff accountable, it is in my best interest not to hire folk who may be beholden to other political players.
Is there a past or current alderman whom you model yourself after, or would model yourself after, or take inspiration from? Please explain.
Jose Rico: I have not seen the level of leadership and engagement that my community deserved to date. Someone who I looked up to, but did not become Alderman, was Rudy Lozano Sr. He was a fighter for working families, a coalition builder and a tireless advocate for social justice.
Also running for 12th Ward alderman: