The Sun-Times Editorial Board sent the candidates running for 29th Ward alderman a list of questions to find out their views on a range of issues facing the city and their ward. Zerlina Smith submitted the following responses (the Sun-Times does not edit candidate responses):
Who is Zerlina Smith?
She’s running for: 29th Ward alderman Her political/civic background:Independent Democrat Her occupation: Event coordinator/Fundraiser for a nonprofit Her education: Pursuing a BA degree in political science Campaign website: vote-zerlina.org Twitter: @VoteZerlina Facebook:facebook.com/CherishIsMyLife
What are the top three priorities for your ward?
Zerlina Smith:Infrastructure, development and city services to the community
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.
Zerlina Smith:I am the former community outreach coordinator for Illinois State Representative LaShawn Ford, who has created safety initiatives and safety zones around his district, which covers the 29th Ward. We develop popups around the city. I started a 501C3 to deal with ex offenders called Increase the Harvest, Inc. I also work with the Nonviolence Institute of Chicago as a case manager.
I was an organizer for J.B. Pritzker’s campaign for governor, advocating for affordable housing, working with the Good Neighborhood Campaign, which is an entity of the WestSide Health Authority to get residents more involved in taking back their communities from those who are creating the issues. I also organize around the high schools, making sure the community receives the mental health services so needed for traumatize schools.
I sit on the board of the West Garfield Community Stakeholders, which meets with the business community and every coalition of people who have a vested interest in their community. We develop strategic plans. I am also very active in education efforts. I go into schools. I have a Christmas drive where I donate toys and other supplies. I am very involved in Mothers Who Care, an organization whose members mentor young ladies 14 thru 18 to get them college ready. I also advocate for a high quality education for all students, and I am active in an association that supports Chicago teachers.
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.
Zerlina Smith:No. It is something that has already been allocated into law. State right- to- work laws and union pensions are some of the key reasons why people work hard. The pension benefits should stay the same and not change.
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.
Zerlina Smith:i support video gambling, the legalization of marijuana, and a LaSalle Street tax. I have been an advocate of a LaSalle Street tax for the past five years. In a community addressing criminal activity from illegal drug sales, I support using money from the sale of marijuana to reduce the incarceration rate of our young people. Our residents travel outside the city for basic entertainment, including gambling, so why not have this entertainment in the city.
What other sources of new revenue do you favor or oppose?
Zerlina Smith:I oppose the privatization of education with taxpayers dollars. I favor the proper allocation of TIF funds to the districts that are in the most need of them for revenue and development.
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?
Zerlina Smith:I will highly favor that TIF dollars are no longer a slush fund for the North Side of Chicago, but be used for the community that needs them to produce jobs and new infrastructure.
What will you do to rein in aldermanic prerogative?
Zerlina Smith:I will establish better relationships with the aldermen when I join the ranks of the City Council in 2020. When it comes to issues that impact the city and not just 29th ward, you have to build bridges, because it is important to support one another.
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?
Zerlina Smith:I am a community ambassador for the pilot program to address this very issue. It has been launched in the 25th ward. I strongly believe it will work with the proper community input. They need an engagement program to introduce them to the community and to build better relationships.
What should Chicago do to reduce the number of illegal guns?
Zerlina Smith:The city needs to replace guns with jobs. We need to create more positive images so people who want to pick up a gun will be encouraged to put the gun down. The city also needs stiffer laws and penalties for the sale of illegal guns and ammunition and for those walking around with a loaded gun. If we put a tax on new gun purchases, we can use that revenue for pensions as well. I also support the position if you do the crime, you do the time.
What is the appropriate role of charter schools within the Chicago Public Schools system?
Zerlina Smith:Currently, that role is unclear. I do not believe it serves a good role. Charter schools do not abide by the same rules as other Chicago Public Schools. Charter Schools are not performing any better than traditional CPS schools even though they are held to a different standard. They have less students per classroom and more aide. Money goes to charter schools and never comes back to CPS. I see it more as poverty pimping.
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?
Zerlina Smith:I have a proven track record of advocating for an elected school board. I will advocate for a system that ensures all residents, not just those in certain parts of the city, know what is going on in our schools.
Is there enough affordable housing in your ward? Please explain.
Zerlina Smith:No. There is not enough affordable housing. If affordable housing existed in the 29th ward, the population of Austin would not be declining. Affordable housing is non and void. We can advocate for more affordable housing and look for developers to come in and build affordable housing on the vacant land in the ward. The housing costs should be based on income, not the market rate for the city. The cost of purchasing a home or renting an apartment should not exceed what the residents are capable of paying.
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?
Zerlina Smith:I support the policy. Undocumented immigrants deserve as much support and services as everyone else. Equality should be extended to all in this city.
Should the inspector general have the power to audit and review City Council programs, operations and committees? Why or why not?
Zerlina Smith:Yes, because that is the role of the person selected for that job and that is why the department was created. I will strongly support the inspector general.
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.
Zerlina Smith:No. That is an ethics violation.
Is there a past or current alderman whom you model yourself after, or would model yourself after, or take inspiration from? Please explain.
Zerlina Smith:I admire those aldermen who have been successful in revitalizing their wards and bringing in the community services that addresses the needs of the residents in the ward.