26th Ward candidate for alderman: Theresa Siaw
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The Sun-Times Editorial Board sent the candidates running for 26th Ward alderman a list of questions to find out their views on a range of issues facing the city and their ward. Theresa Siaw submitted the following responses (the Sun-Times does not edit candidate responses):
Who is Theresa Siaw?
She’s running for: 26th Ward alderman
Her political/civic background: I am a social entrepreneur who currently directs OMNI Healthcare, a multi-location health clinic for the underserved. I also founded and serve as director of OMNI Medical Student Training which helps students who have trained at foreign medical schools prepare for residencies in the United States. I have also worked in community health care at the Humboldt Park location of San Pablo Medical Center. I have served on the advisory board of Centro Romero, which helps immigrants and refugees achieve self-sufficiency. Students from OMNI Medical Student Training work at innovative Centro Romero health fairs.
I have been very active in the ward, sponsoring a number of community initiatives including youth soccer, back-to-school programs, the food pantry at New Life Covenant Church Southeast. I also worked with other community partners at the OMNI Health Care Division Street location to launch a program to reintegrate ex-offenders back into the Humboldt Park community in a positive and productive way. I have never held office or run before but have begun the learning all there is to know about it.
Her occupation: Director of Business Development at OMNI Healthcare
Her education: BA of Marketing at DePaul University
Campaign website: theresasiaw.com
What are the top three priorities for your ward?
Theresa Siaw : As a successful businesswoman who has created jobs in Humboldt Park, I see the vast potential in this community, and want to be a leader who works with all stakeholders to attract more businesses to the 26th ward. We need to make it a priority that the citizens of my ward have the opportunity to spend their money at thriving businesses within our community.
Humboldt Park currently ranks 37th among Chicago neighborhoods in affordable housing options. This lack of leadership on this critical issue needs to be corrected. I will be a tireless proponent for affordable options throughout the ward. We owe it to the people of the ward, and to the cultural diversity that makes our community unique and worth maintaining.
We need a leader in the 26th ward who is experienced in bringing diverse constituencies together for the common good. We have a crime problem that is exacerbated by a lack of trust between the police and the community they are sworn to serve. I want to work to find common ground, to bring the community and law enforcement together–along with community stakeholders and social service organizations–to help band together to make our community a safer place to live and work.
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.
Theresa Siaw : In the past two years I have continued to work to support members of the community in need as well as the children, which in turn helps alleviate the burden of working parents. I created an after school program at Roberto Clement High School in the summer of 2018 and have donated money to support the theater program at Noble School. At the beginning of the school year I donate over 500 backpacks filled with school supplies to students in the community, donate 1,000 turkeys to members of the community and collects coats, hat scarves and warm items to distribute across the community.
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.
Theresa Siaw : I would never support the efforts of a state elected official to change the Illinois Constitution to reduce pension benefits to current employees and retirees. We are dependant on current employees to pay into the system that provides the funds to honor the commitment to our current retirees. As a state, we need to move to a model where everyone pays into FICA as most employees already do. In the meantime, we need to work with state officials to to slow down these payments; failure to do so will likely lead to further property tax increases.
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.
Theresa Siaw : A large amount of the profits generated by casinos in Indiana and Rosemont are coming from Chicago residents, therefore, if people are inclined to visit casinos it is shortsighted for the city to not benefit.
I also favor the legalization of the sale of marijuana and would want to heavily tax it with the profits earmarked for addressing our pension crisis and funding education .
I would be open to considering legislation regarding the so-called “LaSalle Street Tax”. If an ordinance were to be written in a way similar to legislation which passed in New York, I would would be inclined to support it.
As above, a real estate transfer tax that is properly designed and includes a graduated formula is something I would strongly consider supporting.
What other sources of new revenue do you favor or oppose?
Theresa Siaw : I support the effort as advanced by Governor Elect Pritzker during the campaign to begin the process of amending the Illinois Constitution to create a progressive tax plan.
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?
Theresa Siaw : I believe that TIFs have a place, they have worked in several neighborhoods as part of an overall revitalization plan. However, I also think we have developed an over reliance on them especially in areas where we must first address systemic issues of poverty and a lack of economic development–in communities like mine it is imperative that we address the economic gap that exists between communities in Chicago before TIF’s can be relied upon as the cure all some have treated them as.
What will you do to rein in aldermanic prerogative?
Theresa Siaw : I do not believe in aldermanic prerogative. I think it is critical that members of what is supposed to be a deliberative body to seriously consider the input and concerns of their colleagues. As an example, given my commitment to affordable housing, it concerns me that it is not more difficult for members of the city council to reject projects which will add more affordable units within the 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?
Theresa Siaw : I live in a community where we are paying the price for a community and a police department that do not work together to combat crime. The consent decree, I believe, is a positive step towards ensuring that police receive the training necessary and institute policies, as result, which foster better understanding and more constructive communications between the citizens of the 26th–and throughout the city–and the police department.
What should Chicago do to reduce the number of illegal guns?
Theresa Siaw : Every day, Chicago pays the price for the lax gun laws in Indiana. I have seen too much of the damage done by the illegal flow of guns into my community, and will work to lobby my partners in state government to enact legislation that will increase penalties for people bringing guns back to Illinois and try to stem the tide of violence they bring with them.
What is the appropriate role of charter schools within the Chicago Public Schools system?
Theresa Siaw : I would oppose any new charter schools until we fix the funding inequities that exist in the CPS system. We are sacrificing the future of some children in order to boost a system that, by its very nature, contributes to and exacerbates the disparity in learning opportunities.
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?
Theresa Siaw : I support a hybrid school board which would consist of an even numbered amount of members, ⅓ elected by the public, ⅓ appointed by the mayor and approved by the city council, and ⅓ selected by the CTU. disputes which result in a tie would be decided by a vote in the city council.
Is there enough affordable housing in your ward? Please explain.
Theresa Siaw : I am committed to ensuring that we preserve the diversity and character that makes the 26th ward a great place to live, work, and raise a family; the ward has experienced a massive amount of new development in recent years and it is imperative that we elect and alderman who will work to make sure that we balance the need for economic development with the need to ensure that we provide affordable options for all members of our community..
Currently Humboldt Park ranks 37th among neighborhoods in the city in terms of the affordable units, that demonstrates a lack of leadership and commitment to the people of the ward. It will be a priority of mine to correct this.
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?
Theresa Siaw : I support Chicago remaining a “welcoming city,” I believe it is the right thing and also helps to ensure that the most vulnerable in our community are not as easily preyed upon when they know they can report crimes without being subject to detention. I would like to see more opportunities for these individuals to be able to get on the path to citizenship and be able to come out of the shadows to participate more fully in our communities..
Should the inspector general have the power to audit and review City Council programs, operations and committees? Why or why not?
Theresa Siaw : I fully support the ability of the inspector general to review city programs, operations, and committees for waste, fraud, and abuse. I have been fortunate enough to have the means to be able to contribute to after school programs at my communities local schools, and recognize that the reason those programs are so woefully underfunded in many cases is because resources have been drained and a result of unethical and wasteful practices across government that need to be investigated.
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.
Theresa Siaw : No, I would not employ anyone in my office who has outside jobs or contracts with entities that do business with the city.
Is there a past or current alderman whom you model yourself after, or would model yourself after, or take inspiration from? Please explain.
Theresa Siaw : I have drawn inspiration from reading about leaders like Martin Oberman who always stood on principle in the city council, and had the guts to always do what they believed was right whether or not it was politically expedient and whether or not they paid a price for doing the right thing.