26th Ward candidate for alderman: Roberto Maldonado
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The Sun-Times Editorial Board sent the 26th Ward aldermanic candidates a list of questions to find out their views on a range of important issues facing the city and their ward. Roberto Maldonado submitted the following responses (the Sun-Times does not edit candidate responses):
Who is Roberto Maldonado?
He’s running for: 26th Ward alderman
His political/civic background:
- Cook County Commissioner 1994 – 2009
- 26th Ward Alderman 2009 – Present
His occupation: Alderman
- Bachelor’s and Master’s Degrees – University of Puerto Rico
- Doctoral Studies in Clinical Psychology – Loyola University Chicago
Campaign website: robertomaldonado.com/
What are the top three priorities for your ward?
- Preservation of Affordable Housing (Homes and Rental Apartments)
- Make the Ward Safe and Secure by Investing in Community Crime Prevention Programs, Strategies, and Infrastructure
- Provide Quality, Affordable Education in Our Communities by Supporting an Elected School Board, Putting a Moratorium on Charter School Expansion, and Investing in Our Public School System
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.
Roberto Maldonado: During the last two years my work as Alderman of the 26th Ward has focused on preventing the forces of destabilization in our neighborhoods, primarily high priced development and increased property taxes. I have not supported any zoning change that does not have an affordable component and I have supported every legislative initiative that prevents displacement of families including the “Preservation of Affordable Housing in the 606 Residential Area” which would slow down the rise of demolition of homes along the 606. High property taxes is another factor that is driving housing costs higher, which is why I voted No on the Mayor’s property tax increase.
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.
Roberto Maldonado: I support honoring our current obligations, but restructuring benefits and initiating reforms for new hires. I favor creating new revenue streams to meet our financial obligations, but in a responsible manner that does not place an undue burden or hardship on our residents and communities. I would need to evaluate each tax increase or fee proposal on a case-by- case basis.
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.
Roberto Maldonado: I support a Chicago casino if the proposed plan is sensitive to the needs to the community where it is located. The Mayor’s proposal for the area around the Illinois International Port District on the Southeast Side could be the anchor of a bustling entertainment district sparking economic growth and creating jobs. However, there needs to be extensive neighborhood hearings as part of the planning process.
I also support video gambling as a source of new revenue from the entertainment economy and a commuter tax for people who do not live in the city, but benefit from working in the city, and should contribute to Chicago’s tax base.
I do not support a property tax increase or a municipal sales tax increase because the source of this revenue directly affects the daily budgets of working and middle class families. Finally, I do not support legalized and taxed recreational marijuana at this time because I believe that would normalize drug use and result in a lost opportunity for intervention. I voted against the Mayor’s proposal to decriminalize possessing small amounts of marijuana for the same reason.
What other sources of new revenue do you favor or oppose?
Roberto Maldonado: I support a new property tax surcharge on every commercial building in our city with an assessment of more than $500 million. I also support green taxies that will improve air quality and the health of city residents. Asthma is a serious health problem in the Latino community.
The city needs a long-term financial plan for operations and its rising pension debt. I will continue to work with tax and budget experts such as Ralph Martire of the Center on Tax and Budget Accountability who advised that “the only responsible way to pay for [the pension] obligation is through well-designed tax policy and sound debt management.”
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?
Roberto Maldonado: I support the “Back to Basics” TIF ordinance which would limit the use of tax increment finance dollars to redevelopment projects in in “blighted” areas, in which the property in question is vacant and/or obsolete, and that can prove that the project would be unable to move forward without TIF support. Currently, TIF is used in financially stable and sometimes thriving neighborhoods, and is handed out to development companies that could adequately finance their projects. Hundreds of millions of property tax dollars have been siphoned away from the Chicago Public Schools, the park district, and other City agencies in need of revenue.
When TIF is used as originally intended, it can be a critical economic development tool. And the SBIF program, funded through TIF, has been vital to attracting businesses to the 26th ward and creating jobs.
What will you do to rein in aldermanic prerogative?
Roberto Maldonado: I fully support the federal civil rights complaint filed recently by lawyers for the Shriver National Center on Poverty Law that argues aldermanic prerogative has been used for decades to block affordable housing in the city’s white neighborhoods. However, I have flipped the script on aldermanic prerogative and used that very same privilege to achieve just the opposite in the 26th ward.
It is because of this discriminatory treatment of minorities, veterans, disabled, LGBTQ and other marginalized groups that I have effectively used my aldermanic prerogative over zoning, land use, sale of city land, and public financing for projects to provide affordable housing for people who have been discriminated against. I have worked hard to eliminate social and economic marginalization in my ward using the tools at hand, however, the corrupt use of aldermanic prerogative is often found in wealthy, white wards who hide their racial animus behind the sentiment “sure, I’m for affordable housing, but not in my backyard.”
I hope I have the opportunity under a new administration to take the lead to eliminate this marginalization city-wide and develop a comprehensive plan to develop affordable housing throughout Chicago.
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?
Roberto Maldonado: I was one of a handful of Aldermen who voted “No” on the Mayor’s police oversight watchdog group, the Civilian Office of Police Accountability (COPA). COPA is still under the thumb of Mayor Emanuel and future Mayors. COPA would not have a guaranteed, sustainable budget, ensuring future budgets to be at the whim of politics. Also, COPA as proposed would not have subpoena power, and would have to rely on the Mayor’s City Law Department for those investigatory powers, a clear and unarguable conflict of interest. COPA and the new independent monitor must collaborate to establish reforms, especially the needless violence against minorities.
The only way to restore trust between our citizens and our police is to create an elected body of community members from each of Chicago’s
police districts empowered to hold police accountable. I am for a police watchdog that is truly independent of City Hall influence and that’s why I co-sponsored legislation that would have civilians oversee police.
What should Chicago do to reduce the number of illegal guns?
Roberto Maldonado: Earlier this year, I joined 49 other Alderman and Mayor Emanuel by signing a letter which urged Gov. Bruce Rauner to sign legislation requiring gun dealers in Illinois to obtain state licenses. Governor Rauner vetoed the Gun Dealer Licensing Act (SB1657). Injuries from gun violence are the leading cause of death for children in Illinois. This legislation could have reduced a major source of illegally trafficked guns from entering our communities, our cities and our state.
Furthermore, as a recent Sun-Times Editorial pointed out, “It’s important that career gun criminals are hit with longer sentences, as a matter of making our neighborhoods safer and deterring others from carrying guns.” I could not agree more that the federal crackdown on gun crimes must continue and we must hit repeat offenders with stiffer federal sentences.
What is the appropriate role of charter schools within the Chicago Public Schools system?
Roberto Maldonado: It has been my long-standing position that unless charter schools have a proven track record of producing higher quality results, I do not support replacing our public schools or expanding charter schools in the city. This is why there are no charter schools in the 26th Ward. And this is why I am a co-sponsor of a City Council resolution that demands a halt to charter expansions.
I have worked hard to improve the public education system in the ward. When I first took office in 2009, there was only one high-achieving grade school (Level 1 rating) in the ward. Now, 6 out of 11 grade schools in our ward have achieved a Level 1 rating. I also worked to bring 2 top rated high schools to the ward.
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?
Roberto Maldonado: I support the IL House of Representatives version of a fully elected school board of 21 members, including a president elected at large. This is the best way to improve community trust and have the community’s active voice in the school decision making process. Chicago remains the only school board in Illinois appointed by law. And, more importantly, several non-binding referenda over the last few years prove that Chicagoans want to elect their school board.
Is there enough affordable housing in your ward? Please explain.
Roberto Maldonado: I have always and will continue to support more affordable housing in my ward. In the last two years, almost 200 new apartments have been added to the housing stock in the ward. Six new, affordable homes are also on the way. Affordable housing is key for sustainable and prosperous communities.
The 26th ward is a model for investment in housing affordability by utilizing existing City programs like City Lots for City Living and TIF funding, and other tools like requiring affordable components for any new housing development. I hope this model can be replicated throughout the city so we can preserve the middle class identity of our neighborhoods.
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?
Roberto Maldonado: As a Cook County Commissioner, I passed the first Sanctuary County legislation in the nation in 2007. Known as the “Fair and Equal County for Immigrants” the resolution echoed the Chicago City Council resolution at the time and stated that Cook County bureaus, offices, departments and employees are prohibited from inquiring about or disclosing information about immigration status. I think this measure, along with Chicago’s “welcoming city” sends a moral message through our government to the undocumented that we are in support of their struggle to achieve social justice. And, as we await comprehensive immigration reform at the national level, we stand with them.
Should the inspector general have the power to audit and review City Council programs, operations and committees? Why or why not?
Roberto Maldonado: Yes, the inspector general should have the power to audit and review City Council programs, operations and committees for waste, inefficiency, and mismanagement.
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.
Roberto Maldonado: I have not employed, and will not employ, staff in my office who have outside jobs or contracts with entities that do business with the city. This creates a conflict of interest in their duties as city employees.
As the Chicago Board of Ethics states, “City personnel may not make, participate in, or try to use their City position to influence any City governmental decision or action on any matter from which they have derived any income or compensation in the previous year, or expect to derive any income or compensation in the next year, or have an ownership interest that is worth $1,000 or more, or in which have a financial interest distinguishable from that of the general public. The Board has interpreted this to mean that City personnel may not make or try to influence any City actions or decisions that directly benefit or involve their outside employer.
Is there a past or current alderman whom you model yourself after, or would model yourself after, or take inspiration from? Please explain.
Roberto Maldonado: Former Alderman and Congressman Luis Gutierrez has always been my political mentor and inspiration and fueled my passion for politics. I served as his campaign manager when he ran for Alderman and strongly supported his work on comprehensive immigration reform as a Congressman.