1st Ward candidate for alderman: Daniel La Spata
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The Sun-Times Editorial Board sent the 1st Ward aldermanic candidates a list of questions to find out their views on a range of important issues facing their ward and the city. Daniel La Spata submitted the following responses (the Sun-Times does not edit candidate responses):
Who is Daniel La Spata?
He’s running for: 1st Ward alderman
His political/civic background: Housing activist with Logan Square Neighborhood Association, community organizer at Jane Addams Senior Caucus, and policy intern at The Center for Tax and Budget Accountability
His occupation: Candidate for 1st Ward Alderman, formerly Policy and Planning Associate at Friends of the Park
His education: North Park University and UIC Masters of Urban Planning and Policy
Campaign website: daniel2019.com
What are the top three priorities for your ward?
Daniel La Spata: My top two priorities for the 1st Ward are affordable housing and creating a democratic process around zoning and development. In our ward, the combination of gentrification and the lack of transparent, democratic decision-making hurts our community greatly. Our residents have faced skyrocketing rents and property tax increases, leading to the displacement of many working families who had been long-term residents. The current alderman has failed to listen to our community’s voice. My third top priority would be public safety, because we need to ensure our neighborhoods are safe for everyone. Properly funding our schools and education policy is a close 4th.
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.
Daniel La Spata: I’ve worked with Logan Square Neighborhood Association as a leader, housing committee co-chair, and board member. Together with innumerable neighbors and allies, we created new affordable housing, fought to protect homeowners and renters dealing with foreclosures, protected our undocumented neighbors, and worked to ensure full funding for our neighborhood schools and social services. I have volunteered with Grassroots Action Illinois and the Logan Square Ecumenical Alliance on local issues, as well as volunteering with United with Delia to get progressive leadership at the state level. Additionally, I worked at Friends of the Parks as a Planning Associate, where I helped lead initiatives around equitable park space.
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.
Daniel La Spata: Pensions are a promise that must be met. The state constitution should not be amended to allow a reduction in pension benefits. We cannot reduce pension payments to any retirees. I support a full funding of the city’s current and projected pension liabilities. And we must fund those obligations through progressive revenue sources.
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.
Daniel La Spata: I fundamentally believe that new revenue streams for the city must ask the wealthiest to finally pay their fair share. We’ve balanced our budgets on the backs of working families for too long. With that in mind, I support the legalization and taxation of recreational cannabis (so long as it is coupled with criminal justice reforms that expunge the records of those with drug convictions). I support a commuter tax and a a real estate transfer tax. I believe that financial transactions should be taxed, but I would like to see more evidence that a La Salle Street tax could work on a municipal or state level before supporting it. I would be hesitant to support an increase in the sales tax or property tax increases unless we’ve completely exhausted other progressive revenue measures. Likewise, a city casino and video gambling could be part of the revenue conversation, but only if coupled with progressive measures.
What other sources of new revenue do you favor or oppose?
Daniel La Spata: I support progressive revenue options that ask corporations and the wealthiest to finally pay their fair share.
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?
Daniel La Spata: My goal for the 1st ward’s TIF districts (Fullerton/Milwaukee; Humboldt Park, Diversey/Chicago River, etc.) would be to work with the community and neighboring aldermen on both greater transparency and a democratic participatory budgeting process to ensure that projects invested in through the TIF reflect the community’s priorities. Overall, I would work to ensure greater scrutiny and a heightened standard of review for new TIFs as well as the purposes they are used for to avoid continued tax dollar giveaways to corporate interests with no meaningful public benefit. Citywide, when a TIF has served its defined purposes within the area, I would push for either a surplus of unrestricted funds or the early closure of the TIF.
What will you do to rein in aldermanic prerogative?
Daniel La Spata: I will fight to reform aldermanic prerogative in order to cut down abuses of power. The incumbent in the 1st Ward has used his power to support luxury developments built by his campaign donors. This is a clear example of how aldermanic privilege invites corruption. As alderman, I will replace aldermanic prerogative with democratic, community-led processes.
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?
Daniel La Spata: Chicago’s public safety policies have too long addressed the symptoms of crime, without addressing its root causes. Likewise, in too many communities the history of abuse by the police department has decimated lives and trust in police officers, undermining public safety. I will fight to pass an ordinance to create democratic oversight of the Chicago Police Department through the Civilian Office of Police Accountability and to codify the provisions of the consent decree.
What should Chicago do to reduce the number of illegal guns?
Daniel La Spata: I believe that we need to treat gun violence as a public health crisis, and need to address it as such. That not only means ensuring we have stricter gun laws (designed to reducing trafficking without needlessly increasing the prison population), but also radically invest in the communities most plagued by gun violence through reinvesting in our schools, infrastructure, year-round youth jobs, and, most critically, social services. That also includes public healthcare services like emergency health care and trauma centers. I’d also like to see our city invest more in community groups doing the work to reduce violence and expand opportunity as a solution to the violence plaguing our neighborhoods. The disinvestment that causes gun and intra-community violence will only be solved by investment.
What is the appropriate role of charter schools within the Chicago Public Schools system?
Daniel La Spata: In 2016, I was a precinct captain on a charter school moratorium referendum, making sure that my neighbors understood the dangers presented by the further privatization of education. I will continue to use my power to oppose privately-run charter schools and vouchers and direct resources toward our neighborhood public 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?
Daniel La Spata: The Chicago Board of Education should have an elected school board to give the public a voice in the decision-making process of our education system.
Is there enough affordable housing in your ward? Please explain.
Daniel La Spata: No. Too many 1st Ward families have found themselves displaced from the community they’ve lived in for years by rising rents and property taxes. Policies that mandate a basic percentage of affordable housing have failed to stem this displacement. In addition, our ward has seen some of the highest levels of demolitions for older housing stock, reducing naturally occurring affordable housing that too often gets replaced by luxury developments unaffordable by working families. The current alderman is more concerned with pleasing his developer campaign donors than adequately addressing this crisis. As alderman, it will be my top priority.
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?
Daniel La Spata: I believe that Chicago should continue to be a welcoming city because immigrants are and always have been an important part of the City of Chicago. I support this policy and believe we must go further by not only protecting our undocumented neighbors from federal immigration authorities but also allowing them full access to city services, public amenities, and economic opportunities. No human being is illegal, and our city should provide everyone, regardless of immigration status, the opportunity to thrive.
Should the inspector general have the power to audit and review City Council programs, operations and committees? Why or why not?
Daniel La Spata: Yes, the inspector general should have the power to audit and review City Council programs, operations and committees so that City Council is held transparent and accountable to its constituents.
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.
Daniel La Spata: I do not plan to employ staff who have outside jobs or enter into contracts with entities that do business with the city. I believe that in doing so we compromise the needs of our residents by creating a conflict of interest.
Is there a past or current alderman whom you model yourself after, or would model yourself after, or take inspiration from? Please explain.
Daniel La Spata: I am inspired by the legacy of Alderman Dick Simpson, a true champion of reform and good governance in Chicago. As alderman, he demonstrated that one need not give in to the demands of the machine to be an effective alderman, and continues to lay out an inspiring reformist vision for our city today.
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