22nd Ward candidate for alderman: Michael D. Rodriguez
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The Sun-Times Editorial Board sent the 22nd Ward aldermanic candidates a list of questions to find out their views on a range of important issues facing the city and their ward. Michael D. Rodriguez submitted the following responses (the Sun-Times does not edit candidate responses):
Who is Michael D. Rodriguez?
He’s running for: 22nd Ward alderman
His political/civic background:
- 22nd Ward Democratic Committeeman
- Executive Vice Chair, Cook County Democratic Party
- President, 22nd Ward Independent Political Organization
- Board Chair, United Congress of Community and Religious Organizations
- Executive Board, Juvenile Justice Institute
- Board Member, Neighborhood Housing Services
- Advisory Board, Second Federal Self-Help Credit Union
His occupation: Non Profit/Government
His education: MA, University of Chicago, concentration in community organizing, planning and development; BA, DePaul University, Major- Marketing, Minor-Latin American Studies
Campaign website: www.mikerodriguez.org
What are the top three priorities for your ward?
Michael D. Rodriguez: What I hear from my community in the 22nd Ward is what I intend to respond to swiftly. People are concerned about safety and ward services, education and being able to succeed financially.
I intend to coordinate closely with community based groups and the Chicago Police Department’s 8th and 10th Districts to ensure our community has the resources and information it needs to keep our community safe. This will also mean working with state and federal officials to stop the flow of illegal guns into our neighborhoods. Most importantly, I will work to advance efforts to create true community-based policing and oversight to ensure our officers are able to build authentic relationships and reciprocal trust within the community.
Fighting for the economic advancement of my constituents will mean standing up for working families who continue to struggle with low wages and making ends meet. I will support the fight for a $15/hour minimum wage by introducing an ordinance to create that standard in the City of Chicago. I will support the Fair Workweek Ordinance to help workers struggling with the insecurity created by unpredictable, last-minute workweek schedules. I will also be a strong ally to workers fighting to organize and bargain collectively for fair wages and working conditions.
I am also committed to fighting for my community and providing them the services they need and pay for through taxes. I will advocate forcefully for more resources for our local parks, libraries and infrastructure, make sure all constituent service requests are addressed quickly and efficiently and I will be accessible to my community through weekly Ward Nights and by continuing to visit residents door-to-door on a regular basis.
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.
Michael D. Rodriguez: I serve as the elected Democratic Committeeman of the 22nd Ward, and I was elected by my peers as Executive Vice Chairman of the Cook County Democratic Party. I have the distinct honor of being the youngest person to ever serve in this leadership role, and I accepted the position with the goal of representing progressive interests at the party level.
I serve as the president of the 22nd Ward Independent Political Organization, board chair of the United Congress of Community and Religious Organizations, on the executive board of the Juvenile Justice Institute, the board of Neighborhood Housing Services and on the advisory board of Second Federal Self-Help Credit Union.
I was most recently the executive officer of the Cook County Medical Examiner’s Office.
Before serving Cook County residents, I worked as the executive director of Enlace Chicago. During my tenure, Enlace’s budget doubled to $5.2 million with a staff of more than 200. Under my leadership, Enlace received the Neighborhood Strategy of the Year award in 2012 for its comprehensive community based violence prevention efforts from the Chicago Community Trust and the Community Plan of the Year award in 2015 for their Little Village Quality of Life Plan from the Local Initiatives . I am proud to have been a community organizer at the Little Village hunger strike in 2001, which resulted in the construction of the Little Village Lawndale High School, where Enlace still operates. Before working at Enlace, I worked with the Instituto del Progreso Latino to help local residents become union members during the construction of the high school.
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.
Michael D. Rodriguez: No, I do not support a constitutional amendment to allow for pension reductions. Such allowances would fail to hold employers accountable for the terms under which they provide employment and compensation. I believe strongly that a pension is a promise that the government has made, on our behalf as taxpayers, to the workers who held up their end of the agreement. We must instead find ways to generate progressive revenue that asks the very wealthy and big corporations to pay their fair share in taxes.
Moving forward, we must ensure that all retirees are assured pensions that provide meaningful benefits and a financial benefits that will sustain retirees in the years when they need them most.
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.
Michael D. Rodriguez: Of these options, I feel strongly that legalized and taxed recreational marijuana will provide the most revenue and benefit to our City. Success in Colorado, California and Washington state show that in addition to the societal and health problems that legalization stands to address, it has the potential to bring much needed revenue towards our pensions, schools and debts.
I also think that the LaSalle Street tax and a commuter tax should be explored, both being mechanisms which could bring in revenue from big business and those who travel and work in Chicago, respectively. I am committed to exploring every avenue available to meet our debts and obligations, but will fight to ensure they are the least regressive available so that we stop going back to the pockets of working Chicagoans.
What other sources of new revenue do you favor or oppose?
Michael D. Rodriguez: What is most essential to revenue in Chicago is a progressive income tax. It is essential that progressive elected officials continue to pressure leadership in Springfield to begin the process of amending the state constitution in order to allow a progressive income tax structure. Without such an amendment, regressive taxes will continue to hurt the financial bottom line of working class Chicagoans. We must make changes to our tax system so that we can hold big corporations and the super-wealthy accountable to paying 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?
Michael D. Rodriguez: TIF can be an effective tool for the development and growth of a city, but only when strict scrutiny and oversight is placed on the process and programming. Here in Chicago, however, we too often see TIF dollars being spent in wealthy, thriving areas of the city, while development in underserved areas remains stagnant. I support the Progressive Caucus’ “Back to Basics” TIF reform ordinance.
The ordinance would remove the hodgepodge of exceptions that eroded the requirements for companies to receive TIF by applying the original “but-for test” that was developed at the state level. The higher standard of scrutiny would still allow exceptions for those projects that would address environmental remediation and disuse to ensure that such projects still receive much needed government funds for redevelopment. Measures to bring transparency, accountability and further City Council review must be passed to ensure that TIF dollars are helping those parts of Chicago that truly need it. I also support the Garza-Cardenas TIF ordinance, which would guarantee that surplus TIF funds be directed to CPS when the system is considered to be in economic distress.
What will you do to rein in aldermanic prerogative?
Michael D. Rodriguez: Aldermanic prerogative becomes problematic when it becomes a tool for aldermen to prevent construction of affordable housing or other development that would serve low-income or otherwise underserved Chicagoans. To address this concern, I support the Affordable Housing Equity Ordinance, which would add new restrictions on aldermanic prerogative to ensure that aldermen are not unjustly blocking affordable housing in their own wards.
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?
Michael D. Rodriguez: The need for meaningful oversight and change to the training and practices of the Chicago Police Department cannot be understated. Chicago has lengthy and sad history of discrimination and abuse of power at the hands of law enforcement and has failed to make the systemic and institutional changes to rebuild trust between communities and police.
A federally monitored consent decree is not ideal, as consent decrees are costly both financially and in terms of work spent on compliance, but Chicago failed to institute the changes to improve curriculum, training, continued education, procedure and protocol in a timely and effective manner. As such, a consent decree has proved entirely necessary to effect the fundamental changes needed to rebuild the trust between law enforcement and our communities, and to provide better training and resources to our law enforcement officers.
What should Chicago do to reduce the number of illegal guns?
Michael D. Rodriguez: While “buyback” programs and other local initiatives should remain in place as a way to stem illegal gun sales in Chicago, we must go further and work with state and federal officials to pass common sense gun control legislation that will meaningfully address the crisis of gun violence in Chicago and across the nation.
What is the appropriate role of charter schools within the Chicago Public Schools system?
Michael D. Rodriguez: I oppose charter schools expanding their reach in Chicago for a number of reasons. The lack of regulation, transparency and accountability is unacceptable in a public education system. Further, public money has no place in privately managed education that profits investors over the education of our youth.
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?
Michael D. Rodriguez: No. I am a strong supporter of a fully elected, representative school board. An ESRB is the best way to ensure that the best interests of students, teachers and families are represented.
Is there enough affordable housing in your ward? Please explain.
Michael D. Rodriguez: I am committed to ensuring that there is an adequate supply of accessible, quality affordable housing. We are seeing rents begin to rise, and I will not stand by and see community members pushed out. I support the recent pilot that was passed to promote affordability and the character of the area. The pilot will double the affordable housing requirement for large residential projects in some areas of the 22nd, if the program is successful I would like to examine how to bring it to the rest of the 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?
Michael D. Rodriguez: I support the Welcoming City Ordinance but it does not do enough to protect undocumented Chicagoans. An amended version of the Welcoming City Ordinance has been languishing in committee for several years. The amended version would provide additional protections for undocumented immigrants that are essential in a time when the federal government is giving unprecedented and illegal powers to ICE agents.
Should the inspector general have the power to audit and review City Council programs, operations and committees? Why or why not?
Michael D. Rodriguez: Absolutely. The effort to expand the purview and jurisdiction of the Office of the Inspector General must continue and I am committed to leading that charge. There is no reason to prevent full audit and review powers of that office as a means of checks and balances. Further, committees are responsible for additional funds and duties that currently operate in a silo. Transparency, oversight and accountability can only strengthen the efficacy and functionality of our city’s government.
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.
Michael D. Rodriguez: No.
Is there a past or current alderman whom you model yourself after, or would model yourself after, or take inspiration from? Please explain.
Michael D. Rodriguez: While, I have the honor of being close to several aldermen and have learned much from others, including Leon Despres, Jesus ‘Chuy’ Garcia and Dick Simpson; Sue Garza Sadlowski, is the alderwoman I most take inspiration from and would model myself after.
She is an example of leadership in the both the progressive movement and the Latino community. She is an unapologetic and tireless voice for the rights of the working Chicagoans. Alderwoman Sadlowski-Garza is entrenched in the fight, but also knows precisely when success can be met through compromise. She took on the machine in her ward and won and will continue to win, because she works hard to deliver on city services locally and at the city level around policy change that benefits working class people.