20th Ward candidate for alderman: Quandra V. Speights
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The Sun-Times Editorial Board sent the 20th Ward aldermanic candidates a list of questions to find out their views on a range of important issues facing the city and their ward. Quandra V. Speights submitted the following responses (the Sun-Times does not edit candidate responses):
Who is Quandra V. Speights?
She’s running for: 20th Ward alderman
Her political/civic background: This is my first campaign for public office and I’m proud to have secured a ballot position. I have previously been involved in campaigns advocating for candidates I believed in and helped to get them elected.
Additionally, I have been part of lobbying efforts to fight for issues that I believe in personally, professionally and civically. These experiences have helped to shape my view of politics at the federal, state and local levels.
Finally, I have worked at a local and state level on the following issues via my affiliation and leadership of the following organizations:
- SheVotes Illinois – Board of Directors (women’s rights/equality)
- No Shots Fired – Board of Directors (neighborhood violence, crime, safety and youth involvement)
I also created a public service project called 25/25/25 where with my colleagues; we present voter education, civic engagement and public interest information in one-day workshops. I’ve done a number of these already in different Wards, but the first one was in the 20th Ward.
Furthermore, I also co-lead the Black Man Expo in Woodlawn where we have been highlighting our black men while bringing resources, vendors and influencers to the community
Member of the Network of Woodlawn SouthEast Quadrant where discussions of long-term planning goals for Woodlawn, Jackson Park and the Obama Center impact are held with community leaders.
Her occupation: I had an over 10-year career as a Human Resource professional and currently am a estate planning attorney.
- BA – Business Administration/Minor in pre-law from Clark University
- Dual Masters in Human Resources and Industrial Relations from University of Minnesota
- MBA from Nova Southeastern University
- Juris Doctor of Law from Valparaiso University
What are the top three priorities for your ward?
Quandra V. Speights: The top 3 priorities that I will advocate for once in office are: Economic Development; Crime, Violence and Public Safety; and Transparency in Government.
The 20th Ward needs strong retail and commercial corridors. We need a stronger Cottage Grove corridor; We need a stronger 51st Street corridor; We need a stronger 63rd Street corridor. I will work with not only the Department of Planning, but with all the stakeholders in Woodlawn, Washington Park, Englewood and other parts of the ward to bring business back. We need our people working and this is the strongest way to do it because we are going to have to protect ourselves against harmful gentrification, rising housing costs and other consequences that will further decrease our quality of life.
Crime, Violence and a Public Safety Plan: Much like in Hyde Park where they have a lot of festivals and outdoor events and activities, it’s clear that those have an impact in helping to reduce violence and crime because there is more engagement, civic activity and community involvement. We don’t have enough of those things in the Ward and so as Alderman I will work with the Park District and the Department of Special Events because we should want to have more MOVIES IN THE PARK, and want to bring MIDNIGHT CIRCUS to our Ward and have more festivals in our commercial corridors that will help bring more traffic to our businesses.
FOR EXAMPLE, the work that I do with No Shots Fired brings people together and the more exciting things we can do in the Ward that does that causes people to know their neighbors better. ALL that results in making it harder for us to hurt each other. We want to take some best practices from other neighborhoods and see if we can do better over here. NOW I WILL be very involved and work closely with our Police Districts in 2, 3, 7 and 9… BUT I also want to bring something different that brings us together as a community more.
Transparency in Government: I will establish the following committees so that residents can have a seat at the table and participate in the process. IN EACH NEIGHBORHOOD, I will have the following:
- Zoning Committee
- Economic Development Committee
- Budget Committee
- Public Safety Committee
- Education Committee
And I’m open to suggestions for other quality of life areas that make sense for us to strengthen.
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.
Quandra V. Speights: I have led or participated in the following activities in my community: Black Man Expo, GOTV for SheVotes Illinois, GOTV, Civic Engagement and Connection Committee for Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority, Inc., Legal Redress Chairman of the NAACP, No Shots Fired community rallies, and Civic Engagement Training for 25/25/25 workshops.
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.
Quandra V. Speights: Yes, I agree that the unfunded pension liabilities are extremely a grave situation for Chicago’s present and future. This poses a tremendous problem in getting our city financially solvent and jeopardizes our tax base, risks our ability to attract business and poses a threat to our ability to recruit talent to work in our city government. I do not believe that the State Constitution should be amended as these workers made a commitment to the City and we should honor our commitment to them as well. We have to determine what the best plan is to ensure that we fund the obligation as our pensioners should be made to feel that the expectations they have in earning those future payouts will be met. IF the declining population trends continue, thus reducing our tax base then reducing benefits for new and future employees is a proposal that has to be on the table for discussion as there may be a point in the future where sustainability of our workforce and short-term/long-term financial obligations will be the major issue facing us.
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.
Quandra V. Speights: I support a Financial Transaction Tax — because in my view, this is the #1 most harmless and most beneficial tax the city could levy. Given state approval, this tax could raise between $10-12 Billion annually. It is complicated, yet all we have to do is figure out how to keep the exchanges from relocating to other cities (via some mix of incentives or a negotiated taxable amount) as the trades are done electronically and can take place anywhere.
I support a real estate transfer tax increase — I am in favor of increasing this as the revenue projections are healthy and can be directed towards initiatives that improve the quality of life for Chicagoans. However, the proposed increase of 160% on properties that sells for over $1M is perhaps too high and could suppress the high end market of sales. Despite the estimates of more than an additional $150M in revenue being generated, we have to be sensitive as to not push too much on the wealthy. Also, we’ll have to see if the Mayor also supports these revenue proposals (FTT and Transfer Taxes).
I do not support video gaming expansion into Chicago as the 11th Gaming License
What other sources of new revenue do you favor or oppose?
Quandra V. Speights: Despite raising the e-cigarette tax this past year, I support an increase on other sin and vice taxes such as: Tobacco Products, Liquor and Cigarettes. I am even open to considering gentlemen clubs and the adult industry.
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?
Quandra V. Speights: I like the way the program works currently and would only suggest minor changes if any. For starters, TIF to a large extent is a demand-driven tool and as such, I would:
- Recommend sun-setting TIFs (and declaring a surplus, returning monies back to the taxing bodies) if there are no TIF requests for 5 consecutive years.
- I would officially introduce an Ordinance that the Department of Planning and Development that administers the TIF (Housing and Transportation which are also primary utilizers of TIF funding) that places a cap on the maximum amounts of funding provided to projects at no more than 25% of total project costs. This is because in more affluent areas where TIFs are performing well, there have been occasions where those TIFs are drained rapidly or over subsidizing projects due to their cash-rich status. This reduces the ability to port significant monies to adjacent TIFs in the event that subsidies, grants or capital funding is needed elsewhere.
What will you do to rein in aldermanic prerogative?
Quandra V. Speights: I am mixed on this issue because I understand the practice and tradition of the prerogative which becomes an issue only during election time. I favor the rule because nobody knows their Wards better than the Aldermen, who know what their constituents need in their communities. I also see the opposing view as the City has developed into mini-cities that do not always represent equality within the 50 Wards, further cementing the real life perception that we are a tale of multiple cities.
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?
Quandra V. Speights: I am 100% in favor of the reforms cited by the recommendations in the Consent Decree. As a tremendous supporter of CPAC, I have been working to advance the reforms at the community level and am hopeful that the recommendations are fully adopted. I feel that whatever makes the job of policing better should not necessarily translate into making it tougher. We must be careful to remember that the public must have the respect of the police, who in turn have to work diligently to earn the trust back from the people.
What should Chicago do to reduce the number of illegal guns?
Quandra V. Speights: This is a tremendous problem that cannot be answered in a two sentence statement. The proliferation of guns in our society is a large part of the problem, but specifically in Chicago, we are in a gun culture. There should certainly be a coordinated strategy by Law Enforcement, policymakers and the courts that remove guns from those who illegally possess them. However, we have to be extra careful not to infringe on legal gun owners and their constitutional rights to own and carry them. I support buy back and gun collection activities where we witness the collection of thousands of firearms.
What is the appropriate role of charter schools within the Chicago Public Schools system?
Quandra V. Speights: I am in favor of excellence in our school system. I also believe that Charter Schools should be on the menu of educational choices for 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?
Quandra V. Speights: I support HB1774 which calls for Chicago (District 299) to establish an elected school board by election in 2023. However, this Bill is currently stuck in the House Rules Committee and has been there for over 450 days. I am in favor of this because this Bill calls for 20 elected seats via 20 electoral districts. This gives the citizens a wonderful opportunity to have their voices heard on the education, curriculum and school system they want to have in our City. I am neither for nor against the Senate version which called for 15 members, as long as the final version includes an elected component. However, I believe that there could be a minor change added to the Bill that would allow the Mayor some appointment. I would favor the Mayor, via approval by City Council (Education Committee) a total of no more than 3 members. So to be clear, I support HB1774 and the subsequent floor amendments by the House and Senate with a caveat of 3 additional members appointed by the Mayor. If there is no public support for the Mayoral component, I would not oppose that and rescind my support of the Mayoral component and move forward with the State Legislative Bill.
Is there enough affordable housing in your ward? Please explain.
Quandra V. Speights: In my Ward, we are currently going through gentrification in the Woodlawn and Washington Park communities which challenges the future long-term affordability of residents currently living in those neighborhoods. We are fighting against that and the rising costs of housing in the Ward overall. Therefore, I do support more affordable housing but as Alderman, I would use a creative program such as the one being piloted by the Department of Planning and Development’s City Lots for Working Families (CL4WF) program which creates a large mix of affordable housing combined with some market rate on lots that cost $1 to encourage development AND provides a subsidy to the homebuyer so that affordability can be maximized on the backend (final product). This is an example of a creative program (which isn’t being championed now by the incumbent nor my opponents) that I would promote once in office. We have an overabundance supply of vacant city-owned lots zoned for residential development and I would work with Housing officials to market a “Parade of Homes” concept to determine the market interest of developers seeking to deliver an affordable home product for residents.
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?
Quandra V. Speights: I support Chicago being a “welcoming city” and one that offers a safe haven to residents; however I would also like to see Chicago become a sanctuary city for all of its residents, taxpayers and citizens. I would champion that as Alderman once elected as a city-wide initiative, while simultaneously seeing where that applied in the 20th Ward so that my office can provide affected individuals and families with the protections they seek.
Should the inspector general have the power to audit and review City Council programs, operations and committees? Why or why not?
Quandra V. Speights: Yes, the IG should have the power to audit and review City Council and our programs/operations/committees. As an Alderman, I would ensure that my office is transparent and as a body of members, we should lead by example and provide that level of oversight to the Inspector General. The taxpayers need to know that City government is operating at the highest ethical levels and that our best decisions are made in mind with efficiency, best practices and protection of our tax dollars.
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.
Quandra V. Speights: No, I would not employ family members in my office.
Is there a past or current alderman whom you model yourself after, or would model yourself after, or take inspiration from? Please explain.
Quandra V. Speights: Having had an opportunity to work alongside Alderman David Moore of the 17th Ward, I admire greatly his accessibility to his constituents and how he works hard to be visible, informative and available. He also cares deeply for his residents and provides the work ethic necessary to ensure the trust of the community he serves.
That’s the type of Alderman I believe I would be and look forward to serving the 20th Ward residents, taxpayers, business owners and stakeholders.