15th Ward candidate for alderman: Joseph Williams
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The Sun-Times Editorial Board sent the 15th Ward aldermanic candidates a list of questions to find out their views on a range of important issues facing the city and their ward. Joseph Williams submitted the following responses (the Sun-Times does not edit candidate responses):
Who is Joseph Williams?
He’s running for: 15th Ward alderman
His political/civic background: This is my first time running for office, but prior to this campaign, I worked for CeaseFire as a Violence Interrupter in the Englewood community. My civic involvement started at the age of ten, when I would volunteer with my mom on local political campaigns.
Since then, I have volunteered for the Obama campaign in 2008 and re-election campaign in 2012, as well as Kim Foxx’s campaign for Cook County State’s Attorney in 2016. I currently serve on the Beasley Academic Center School Council and chairs the Parent Advisory Council, and belong to an array of political and civic organizations, included Democracy for America, Independent Voters of Illinois – Independent Precinct Organization, and the ManKind Project.
His occupation: Non-Profit Director
His education: Political Science – Chicago State University
What are the top three priorities for your ward?
Joseph Williams: A holistic approach to violence reduction, affordable housing, and access to mental health services.
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.
Joseph Williams: In the past two years, I have worked as a violence interrupter for CeaseFire in Englewood. It was my job to recognize potentially violent situations, and de-escalate those situations in a sustainable way to prevent the perpetuation of violence. I got to see first hand the value in such a program, and have committed to having violence interrupters on my staff as alderman.
I also founded my non-profit organization – Mr Dad’s Father’s Club, which focuses on getting men more involved in their children’s education. We participate in a wide variety of activities such as one-on-one mentorships and book clubs focused on social/emotional skills in CPS classrooms.
I am also on the Parent’s Advisory Council at my children’s school – Beasley Academy.
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.
Joseph Williams: I understand that pensions are a promise that we made employees, and understand how it would be unfair to rescind that promise. I do not think it would be unfair to ask current employees to contribute more to their retirement. The average income in the 15th Ward hovers around $20-$30,000 per year, it is difficult for me to wrap my head around what one would even do with some of these pension payouts. One of the highest pension payouts in the state could pay the salary of one resident of the ward for 25 years. So, my focus is the vast income inequality that faces our residents.
I am open to suggestions from the unions, legislators, and citizens on suggestions of how we can work together to help reduce the burden for taxpayers. I will support any transparent, reasonable, and fair suggestions that will get these liabilities under control.
I do think there needs to be an adjustment made to the retirement plan for new hires, whether it be more of a defined contribution plan, or implementing an agreement of more contributions to the existing plan. To balance this out, I would love to create an incentive program for new employees to assist them at the start of their careers, giving them a leg-up from the beginning. For instance, scholarship programs offered with the contingency that graduates return to Chicago for a certain amount of time, and offering housing assistance to get them on their feet from the start.
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.
Joseph Williams: I support both the legalization and taxation of marijuana sales, as well as a real estate transfer tax increase to generate revenue for the city.
At this point, there have been enough examples nationwide of the success of legalizing and taxing marijuana sales, both economically and socially. Not only will we receive the revenue from the sales, we will no longer have to waste significant resources on the criminal justice system to lock up non-violent offenders.
On the flip-side, significant research has shown that casinos historically significantly decrease the quality of life for communities that use them as a ‘quick-fix’ for budget deficits. As it the low-income communities that suffer most when casinos are brought in, the 15th Ward will be negatively impacted by such a measure. Until the inequality is addressed in this city, I could not support such a measure AND say that I have the best interest of my community in mind.
Part of this balance could start with the real estate transfer tax, similar to the one approved in Evanston recently. If you have the means to be buying and selling $1,000,000 + properties, then a bump in taxes is going to hurt a lot less than our middle and low-income residents.
What other sources of new revenue do you favor or oppose?
Joseph Williams: A source of revenue generation that isn’t mention, and would benefit not only economic growth, but social change, is getting our residents back in the workforce, owning homes, and paying taxes. Furthermore, between 2005-2009 $197 Million was spent in West Englewood alone on incarcerating our people. In that same amount of time, there were 851 blocks in Chicago
with over $1 million committed to prison sentences. (source: https://chicagosmilliondollarblocks.com/)
By reducing this spending, and returning our citizens to the workforce by removing barriers associated with a criminal record, which will lead to ongoing improvements to the quality of life for all residents of Chicago.
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?
Joseph Williams: There needs to be more oversight in the usage of TIF funds, and they need to be used in the way they were intended – to bring economic development to the blighted areas of the city – NOT to improve an already thriving downtown. Again, we need to make this city work for ALL of its residents.
What will you do to rein in aldermanic prerogative?
Joseph Williams: Again, this is an issue that affects different parts of the city differently. While many alderman are using this benefit to keep affordable housing out of their communities, many of us on the south and west sides of the city are fighting to get affordable housing into our communities.
Aldermanic prerogative is an amazing tool if your alderperson has the best interests of all community members in mind, but becomes a problem when it leads to favoring the desires of the few over the needs of the many. I see no issue with an alderperson being allowed to make the best decisions for their neighborhoods, but it needs to be with oversight to ensure that those with the means to do so are not allowed to buy their way out of ordinances that are designed to protect our most vulnerable citizens.
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?
Joseph Williams: I would love to see that money being spent on programs that help build trust and understanding between the police and black and brown communities who have been subjected to over-policing for far too long. Doing so will not take a $95 Million academy, but instead cultural sensitivity, and mental health training for Chicago’s police officers. We need to find a way for the police to stop seeing our people as simply criminals, and start seeing how the needs of the community contribute to the peace within the community. I would also push for an all-elected civilian police accountability council to give some much needed oversight to the implementation of programs.
In the 15th Ward, I would insist that the officers assigned are either from the area, or if not, require them to perform community service in the community before they are put on patrol.
What should Chicago do to reduce the number of illegal guns?
Joseph Williams: The recent bill signed into law in Illinois – one that requires gun dealer to be licensed in the state is a huge step in the right direction to keeping illegal guns off the street. Since most of the guns that make their way to Chicago come from out of state, efforts should be made to collaborate with neighboring states to ensure that the flow over state lines is drastically reduced. Furthermore, it’s important the we ensure that these illegal guns, and all those submitted to gun buyback programs are destroyed in accordance to ATF guidelines, so they do not end up back on the streets.
What is the appropriate role of charter schools within the Chicago Public Schools system?
Joseph Williams: I love the idea of charter schools offering non-traditional or experimental curriculums for students who fall outside the parameters of the standard public school system. However, we need to take care of the schools we do have, so I support the idea of a moratorium on any new schools until there is an fair oversight plan in place to ensure that charter schools are operating in the best interest of our children.
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?
I support a fully elected school board. Our student body is diverse, and many of their parents do not have the connection to City Hall that means they aren’t being represented by those who understand the specific needs of each of Chicago’s distinct neighborhoods. When it comes to education, everyone needs a seat at the table.
Is there enough affordable housing in your ward? Please explain.
Joseph Williams: There is not enough quality affordable housing in the 15th Ward. We have landlords who do not live in the community and allow their buildings to fall to disrepair. My holistic plan for economic development will create opportunities for our renters to become homeowners, and even landlords themselves – ones that care for their tenants because they are their neighbors. When I look at the vacant and abandoned houses in our ward, I see so much potential for affordable housing. I intend to implement a program that streamlines the conversion of these properties into homes for the residents of the 15th 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?
Joseph Williams: I fully support Chicago’s stance as a welcoming city. Our distinct neighborhoods only exist because of the diversity of our immigrant community. I put my full weight behind any measure that protects our undocumented population, and facilitates their realization of the American Dream.
Should the inspector general have the power to audit and review City Council programs, operations and committees? Why or why not?
Joseph Williams: I believe that the inspector general should absolutely be able to audit our programs, operations and committees. For far too long, Chicago has operated under a veil of secrecy when it comes to the decisions we are making as a council have a direct impact on the day-to-day lives of the citizens of Chicago. It is our duty to be transparent in how we develop programs that affect their livelihoods, their children, and their quality of life.
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.
Joseph Williams: I would have no issue employing staff that have contracts with the city. If they were to be on my staff, it would be because they share the same vision for the 15th Ward that I do – one of transparency and accountability. In this instance, that means that they would understand that they will be given no priority or special considerations when it comes to how we choose to allocate resources.
Is there a past or current alderman whom you model yourself after, or would model yourself after, or take inspiration from? Please explain.
Joseph Williams: My first foray into civic engagement was when my mom took me with her while she volunteered for Toni Preckwinkle’s campaign, when Toni was the alderman of the 4th Ward. I recall how she showed up to our project building by herself to make sure the needs of all residents were being met. She did so much to build up the 4th Ward – from building parks, to newer housing, to decreasing the violence. She has been my inspiration for making sure that I never lose sight of who we represent, and that is the members of our community.