15th Ward candidate for alderman: Berto Aguayo
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The Sun-Times Editorial Board sent the candidates running for 15th Ward alderman a list of questions to find out their views on a range of important issues facing the city and their ward. Berto Aguayo submitted the following responses (the Sun-Times does not edit candidate responses):
Who is Berto Aguayo?
He’s running for: 15th Ward alderman
His political/civic background: Berto Aguayo is a Community Organizer, Local School Council Member, a Youth Director at St. Michael’s The Archangel Church, and was a national Leadership Trainer with the Obama Foundation.
He is the first in his family to attend college, graduating with high honors from Dominican University with dual bachelor’s degrees in Political Science and Economics.
As a lifelong Back of the Yards resident and a product of an immigrant family, Berto has been a fierce voice against gun violence and a champion for immigrant rights.
His work in the Back of the Yards, Brighton Park, Gage Park and West Englewood has been recognized nationally as a solution to prevent violence in Chicago.
His occupation: Community Organizer
His education: Dual bachelor’s degrees in Political Science and Economics from Dominican University
What are the top three priorities for your ward?
Berto Aguayo: Our campaign’s top priorities are public safety, education, and economic development. All three of those priorities go hand in hand with strengthening the communities within our ward and empowering our residents to address some of the challenges they are facing.
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.
Berto Aguayo: In the last two years, I co-founded the #IncreaseThePeace initiative that engaged and empowered young people from various communities. We trained young people and parents in community leadership and organized peace actions, events, and campouts to bring awareness and to positively address issues of violence present in our under-resourced, underserved communities. The momentum of that initiative led to opening a community center in the Back of the Yards neighborhood that provides a safe space that offers free programs and services to families and opportunities for youth.
Moreover, I am also a Local School Council Community Representative at Back of the Yards College Prep. I am a graduate of the Latino Policy Forum’s Multicultural Leadership Academy and Civic Seminary Fellow at Citizen University.
Lastly, I worked as a leadership trainer for the Obama Foundation. Using a youth leadership curriculum I helped design, we worked and trained over 120 youth voices in three different cities.
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.
Berto Aguayo: The constitution should not be amended to reduce benefits for public employees. We made a commitment to those workers and cannot go back on our commitment. Moreover, we can address the pension crisis through ensuring corporations are paying their fair share, advocating for a progressive income tax at the state level, and passing the LaSalle Street tax at the city level.
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.
Berto Aguayo: We are in favor of legalizing and taxing recreational marijuana while ensuring individuals and communities most impacted by our current drug laws have prioritized access to any related entrepreneurial opportunities. We also are in favor of a LaSalle Street Tax, a high-end real estate transfer tax, and video gambling. We oppose a commuter tax and a property tax increase.
What other sources of new revenue do you favor or oppose?
Berto Aguayo: We are undecided on whether we should have a casino in Chicago because we are awaiting more details on the proposal.
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?
Berto Aguayo: Our campaign favors reforming the TIF program, as does Alderman Arena’s Back to Basics,ordinance, and bringing it back to its fundamental purpose: to encourage and aid in the development of blighted areas in the City of Chicago.
What will you do to rein in aldermanic prerogative?
Berto Aguayo: We will introduce and/or support an ordinance that ends Aldermanic prerogative for affordable housing decisions. Furthermore, we plan to launch a practice (that has already been applied in other wards) of creating a Community Driven Zoning Board consisting of community leaders, organizations, and residents to make zoning decisions in the each ward.
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?
Berto Aguayo: As an organizer, we defended community members against ICE as they worked in cooperation with local Chicago Police Department. We organized residents to stand up and protest ATF agents as they threw flashbangs into people’s homes.
Furthermore, we organized roughly 300 residents in the 15th Ward to give the Attorney General’s Office community input on the Consent Decree. To that end, we believe this overhaul is long overdue and we need to take more steps to ensure police accountability in black and brown communities. Our campaign is also a supporter of a Civilian Police Accountability Council (CPAC).
What should Chicago do to reduce the number of illegal guns?
Berto Aguayo: We support the reduction of illegal guns; however, most solutions that would limit the number of illegal guns in Chicago do not fall under an Alderman’s power. For instance, we are supporters of federal background checks, yet that wouldn’t fall under our power. What does fall under our power, is tackling the root causes that would make someone pick up a gun in the first place. We can expand programs like One Summer Chicago to give more young people jobs in our communities, so they can pick up a job instead of some bullets. We can increase the amount of funding for mental health services to have more social workers in schools and more mental health clinics in our neighborhoods. Last but not least, we can increase the amount of funding schools receive to ensure all youth have a quality education and are not forced into desperate situations. We are open to exploring other measures.
What is the appropriate role of charter schools within the Chicago Public Schools system?
Berto Aguayo: As a product of both Chicago Public Schools and a charter school, we believe the presence of charter schools in low-income communities hurt neighborhood schools by decreasing enrollment and deviating funding that might otherwise strengthen our neighborhood schools.
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?
Berto Aguayo: We believe that Chicago should move to an elected school board.
Is there enough affordable housing in your ward? Please explain.
Berto Aguayo: There is not enough affordable housing in our ward. However, we cannot “affordable house” our way out of our current housing situation. We must also explore other strategies that include lifting the ban on rent control, expanding and modifying the Micro Market Recovery Program so homeowners in a given neighborhood receive free grant money to buy a home where they live, and increasing access to financial literacy programs that not only help people buy a home but sustain a home.
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?
Berto Aguayo: The Welcoming City Ordinance does not go far enough in protecting immigrants in our communities. We are strong supporters of erasing the carve-outs in the Welcoming City Ordinance, specifically the use of the gang database to target people for deportation. We are proud supporters of the #erasethedatabase campaign.
Should the inspector general have the power to audit and review City Council programs, operations and committees? Why or why not?
Berto Aguayo: Yes, we believe an inspector general should have the power to audit and review city council activities.
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.
Berto Aguayo: Our campaign has not employed staff that have outside jobs or contracts with entities that do business with city.
Is there a past or current alderman whom you model yourself after, or would model yourself after, or take inspiration from? Please explain.
Berto Aguayo: We take inspiration from independent Alderman like Dick Simpson and David Orr. These were Alderman that stood up to the “machine politics” and did what was right, even when it wasn’t the popular thing to do.