15th Ward candidate for alderman: Rafael ‘Rafa’ Yanez
Subscribe for unlimited digital access.
Try one month for $1!
Subscribe for unlimited digital access. Try one month for $1!
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. Rafael “Rafa” Yanez submitted the following responses (the Sun-Times does not edit candidate responses):
Who is Rafa Yanez?
He’s running for: 15th Ward alderman
His political/civic background: Ran for alderman in 2015 and have been active as a non-profit leader in the ward.
His occupation: Police Officer
His education: B.A and M.A from Calumet College of St.Joseph and PhD in Education from Argosy University
Campaign website: Rafa2019.com
What are the top three priorities for your ward?
Rafael “Rafa” Yanez: My top three priorities in the 15th ward are violence prevention, economic development and education. One of the biggest problems in the 15th ward is the prevalent gun violence. Each year we lose too many lives in our city due to gun violence, many of these lives are lost in the 15th ward. I believe we need to work with our state legislators to impose tough gun control laws but I also believe that when people need money to pay bills and to survive, if they do not have the education, job training, and access to good paying jobs; people will turn to crime. Thus, I believe that our approach to violence prevention needs to be multi-pronged and holistic. Our communities deserve to be safe and live without fear of the violence that surrounds us.
Violence does not the define the people of the 15th ward which is why in my opinion we should focus on figuring out how to revitalized our business corridors, encourage entrepreneurship among our community residents, bring investment and capital to the ward so we can create jobs and opportunities for the residents of our communities who might be shun out of opportunities to bring stable income home. Of the millions of dollars invested in opportunity areas through the Neighborhood Opportunities Program sponsored by the City of Chicago only two businesses have received funding in the past four cycles. Our ward needs a leader that will be able to leverage these kinds of opportunities and more resources to spark economic development
In addition, I believe it is essential that our schools are properly resourced to provide the best academic opportunities and job training that is needed for our families to become gainfully employed. There is a huge demand for manufacturing jobs but our communities do not have access to the job training necessary to fill those jobs. We must do better to give people the resources to find good stable jobs with a good wages and benefits.
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.
Rafael “Rafa” Yanez: In the past two years, I have worked in the ward in multifaceted ways; through my work as a police officer, as a member of the parish council at both St. Joseph and Immaculate Conception Parish (Back of the Yards and Brighton Park) and as a founder of an 11-year-old non-profit – U.N.I.O.N Impact Center. Through my work as a police officer, I have given hundreds of workshops to parents and students through the Officer Friendly program.
I have volunteered countless hours to provide youth with engaging activities to keep them safe and encourage them to pursue an education. To date, I have fund-raised $200,000 to provide stipends to parents and youth who volunteer as coaches for our U.N.I.O.N impact soccer league, Zumba classes and other after school activities. We organize activities that keep more than 1,500 youth off the streets.
I have mentor young people to pursue an education and have connected them to scholarships and educational opportunities though our youth leadership program at Richards High School. I have worked hard to bring resources to our communities because I realized that there is no alternative, that we must organize and build community power to address the needs of our communities when institutions and government has failed to address those needs.
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.
Rafael “Rafa” Yanez: I strongly oppose passing a constitutional amendment to reduce the pension benefits of current employees/retirees. While it’s true that the City owes an exuberant amount of money in our pension fund, I find it irresponsible of us to cut corners around the problem by amending the constitution to reduce the pension benefits. Thousands of employees worked hard for their pension benefits and they deserve to retire in peace knowing those benefits are there. I do however, think we need to reassess our current plan (or lack thereof) for funding future pensions of new employees given the fact we are so deep in debt with our pension liabilities. Perhaps we need to revisit the fixed percentage of cost of living increase which we currently have. It might be wise to have a more flexible structure where COLA is adjusted depending on inflation for a particular time range.
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.
Rafael “Rafa” Yanez: I support the opening of a Chicago casino and taxing video gambling like sports fantasy because if properly regulated I believe these will be stable sources of revenue for the city. These industries already exist around the city/state and I do not think they will be harmful if we establish regulations for them. In addition, I am in favor of the real estate transfer tax increase as proposed by the Bring home Chicago coalition, I think this proposal is good as it will only affect properties valued above $1 million, most home purchases will be exempt from this tax but it will still generate income for our housing needs. Lastly, I support the legalization of recreational marijuana because I think we need to decriminalize the use of such substance and I believe the revenue we obtain from its use can be of real help in helping us balance or budget and pay for the services we need and owe to our residents.
What other sources of new revenue do you favor or oppose?
Rafael “Rafa” Yanez: I also support the reinstatement of a corporate head tax which was phased out by Mayor Emmanuel. A corporate head tax will only affect business with 50 or more employees. In addition, I think we need to continue to push for a graduated income tax but while our state legislators pass and roll that out we will continue to have serious financial problems in the city. Perhaps, we should think about establishing a tax for city residents who earn above a certain income threshold. This can be one local way to establish a progressive income tax while we wait changes in Springfield. I would propose that tax gets phased out as state income tax changes.
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?
Rafael “Rafa” Yanez: The TIF program needs to be reformed so that the dollars flow back into the neighborhood schools and services for the community. Most of the TIFs in 15th ward had been used for the development of a new high school which is great except for the fact that high school is not the neighborhood high school for the community. Control over the use of TIF funding should be given to stakeholders in the community. Big businesses benefit from TIF subsidizes and there is no way to hold these businesses accountable to remain in the community i.e. Target in Chatham.
A shopping plaza right outside of the 15th ward was built with TIF funding from the 47thSt and Ashland TIF and the shopping plaza has had a revolving door of tenants because it has not done proper vetting of the kinds of businesses that people in the community need. No one benefits in this case and the land is sitting vacant while the community has demanded for years for a community center with no avail. Therefore, I believe establishing local authority boards to approve the use of TIF funding is important. In addition, I would first impose stringent need requirements for the granting of TIFs, I would require complete transparency in contracting and fund use by Council members, and I would bar municipal office holders and their campaign committees and political PACs from receiving contributions in excess of $1,500 from parties involved in TIF projects.
What will you do to rein in aldermanic prerogative?
Rafael “Rafa” Yanez: Aldermanic prerogative is there for Alderman to use when deciding on a project or priorities for their ward. In theory, it makes sense to allow Alderman the discretion to decide and help jumpstart initiatives in their ward. However, this unchecked power assumes that most Alderman are in touch with the community and have an open door and transparent process to facilitate community dialogue as to why they have prioritized and approved the projects they do. For too many years, some alderman in City Council have abused of aldermanic prerogative to approve projects or invest in specific projects that benefits their individual and political interest, at times without allowing community input to provide a meaningful balance to those discussions.
I want to change this dynamic in the 15th ward by instituting a more transparent aldermanic office where we value community input and where people are free to disagree and voice their concerns. I will not be an alderman who seeks to control and still fear in constituents. I want to establish a culture of collaboration and collective process. Thus, I want to institute participatory budget and community driven zoning as ways to engage 15th ward residents in a collective effort to define priorities and investment in our ward.
In addition, I think it’s crucial that we create space for young people in the ward to be involved as they are the next generation of leaders in our community. To this end, I will like to explore the idea of starting a youth council for the ward where young people in the community can create dialogue on the needs our community and where the best strategies for violence prevention is shared. I believe we will be most successful at reducing violence in our ward, by taking ownership of the strategies we collectively adopt to address this issue.
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?
Rafael “Rafa” Yanez: Now more than ever it is crucial for CPD to repair relations with the community, particularly communities of color and with high rates of violence. A federally monitored consent decree will assure that CPD is properly training, recruiting and promoting officers that are respectful of the communities they serve. Contrary to some of the objections for a consent decree, true partnership between police and community folks in essential to police being successful at their jobs. As a veteran of the police force, having working in multiple departments throughout CPD, I can assure that a consent decree which will monitored the work CPD is doing to rebuild trust with the community and that will monitor that we are in fact taking the right steps to create a culture shift within the police department is crucial. The assurance that disciplinary actions will be fair and timely and the importance of community policing needs to be at the crux of this culture shift and the consent decree will assure that this is the case moving forward.
What should Chicago do to reduce the number of illegal guns?
Rafael “Rafa” Yanez: Chicago needs to advocate for tough gun control laws. We need to lobby to get federal requirements across states (specifically in states such as Indiana, Wisconsin, Mississippi, with weak restrictions) to do mandatory background and psychological checks when purchasing weapons or obtaining a conceal and carry license. We need to do mandatory mental health evaluation and background checks should include domestic court and order of protection history. We must establish a 48 hour wait period mandatory to register transfers and any sales. In addition, we need to push manufacturing companies to include GPS devices on weapons. Finally, we need to raise awareness in high school, elementary schools, CBO’s on the consequences of gun violence. This goes hand and hand with a holistic approach to bring more economic development in communities most affected by gun violence.
What is the appropriate role of charter schools within the Chicago Public Schools system?
Rafael “Rafa” Yanez: Charter schools are not going away, they are part of our educational ecosystem. Our school district has fought hard to be a district of choice. Choice is a good thing but choice should not undercut the value of investing in public education. We do not need to offer choices to communities if our schools were adequately resources to provide the quality education our children deserve. A recent study found that all the 50 close schools in our city had at least one charter school open within a 1.5-mile radius. The education of our children is not a business, the privatization of public education is destroying our public schools and it comes at a high price for communities of color. While these entities see the benefits of short term solutions, the long-term effects are disastrous.
Our city is losing population, there is no reason to open new schools except in very targeted areas of our city and when those schools open they should not be charter schools as charters do not have the same measures of accountability than public schools. I believe we need to work with the current charter schools to make sure they have the same accountability models that public schools have to comply with. We need to make sure charters are doing right by our children and that parents have a voice in those 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?
Rafael “Rafa” Yanez: I fully support an Elected School Board because currently there is no way to hold CPS accountable for their actions when board members are appointed and not elected. When almost half of the school district is Latino, we must find a way to allow the large number of undocumented parents have a voice in the school district and that is something which I will like to work on when elected. Although I fully support an elected school board I also believe we need to have campaign finance reform in these elections otherwise, the school board will be a proxy war for charters to retain influence on the school system. I would like to cap the amount of corporate and PAC donations for elections but especially for the elected school board.
Is there enough affordable housing in your ward? Please explain.
Rafael “Rafa” Yanez: I believe there needs to be better quality affordable housing in the 15th ward. The rising costs of housing throughout the city is affecting all communities and the 15th ward is no exception. However, the biggest problem in the ward is the fact that most of the communities in the ward have higher percentage of renters than homeowners. There are tons of vacant lots and foreclosed homes and the conditions of the homes throughout the ward are in very bad shape at times. There are a lot of slum landlords in the ward and thus, the problem with affordable housing is unique in the sense that we need to create more and raise the quality and standards of living for the housing stock that exists already. In West Englewood, we need to help people remain in their homes by giving them access to loans that allow them to rehab their homes or make it accessible for them to acquire property.
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?
Rafael “Rafa” Yanez: The current administration has refused to make Chicago a true Sanctuary city. If elected, I will advocate to remove the carve outs that exist currently in the Welcoming Cities ordinance, I will push to make sure there is no collaboration between Chicago police and immigration authorities. I will urge the city to assess the need to ask for people’s citizenship status or social security number when seeking help in any public institution including CPS. I will demand that CPS have a clear policy to safe keep student and parents’ private data and prevent data sharing with federal authorities. I will propose to increase funding to the Chicago Legal Protections fund and expand its services to CPS, urging schools to identify families/students who might need assistance adjusting their status and leveraging resources to help them.
Should the inspector general have the power to audit and review City Council programs, operations and committees? Why or why not?
Rafael “Rafa” Yanez: I am very impressed with the work that IG Joseph Ferguson is doing, he is making government a lot more transparent and accessible for the residents of our city. I think he should be able to audit and review City Council programs, operations and committees. The public has the right to know how these programs and committees work and whether they are effective. Alderman who lead these programs need to be held accountable for them and we should not how funds are being distributed and where they are being invested.
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.
Rafael “Rafa” Yanez: My hiring process will be reviewed on a case by case basis. I will prefer not to hire people who might have contracts and generate income through doing business with the city because I think this causes the public doubt and a belief that there is a conflict of interest. I would particularly be opposed to hiring staff that have some way to influence people or have direct contact with entities which review their outside contracts.
Is there a past or current alderman whom you model yourself after, or would model yourself after, or take inspiration from? Please explain.
Rafael “Rafa” Yanez: One alderman I am inspired by is Alderman Sue Garza. I am drawn to her strength, wisdom and her relentless fight for public education. She never fails to lift the voice of the most vulnerable, our families, our children and the people in her ward. She is truly connected to the residents of her ward and her office is constantly organizing events and leveraging resources to address the needs of her constituents. She has established a participatory budget process in her ward.