30th Ward candidate for alderman: Edgar ‘Edek’ Esparza
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The Sun-Times Editorial Board sent the candidates running for 30th Ward alderman a list of questions to find out their views on a range of issues facing the city and their ward. Edgar “Edek” Esparza submitted the following responses (the Sun-Times does not edit candidate responses):
Who is Edgar “Edek” Esparza?
He’s running for: 30th Ward alderman
His political/civic background: I attempted to run for alderman in 2015 and committeeman in 2016.
His occupation: Student
His education: Associate in Liberal Arts from Wilbur Wright College. I currently attend Columbia University in New York City, where I expect to obtain my B.A. in History in 2019.
Campaign website: ElectEdgar.com
What are the top three priorities for your ward?
Edgar “Edek” Esparza: My first priority is to fulfill all the infrastructure and city service promises that I made throughout my campaign. My second priority is to restructure the office of alderman. I’ll fight to term limit aldermen and reduce the number of aldermen in the city. However, with respect to the 30th ward aldermanic office, I’ll instruct the Chicago IG to thoroughly investigate my predecessor’s actions.
If I’m elected alderman, I want to have a fresh start with an entire picture of my ward. In particular, where and how had the past alderman used taxpayer money for fifteen years. In addition, my office will operate every day of the week with convenient hours. I’ll institute participatory budgeting in the second year of my term. Lastly, I believe TIF should be eliminated.
However, I recognize that such a task would require some time. Therefore, I’d work to get immediate and substantive reforms of TIF. Yet, TIF is only a fraction of the problem with how the city obtains and utilizes of taxpayer money. In terms of the 30th Ward, the only business district that the 30th Ward has is the Belmont-Central corridor.
However, this area used to be vibrant. Now, there are numerous closed storefronts, which have either been vacant for years or routinely go empty. A major headache for opening up a business in Chicago in general, but especially in this business center, is the tax burden. The businesses in this area are in the Belmont-Cragin TIF district as well as Chicago’s second Special Service Area (SSA). SSAs are an antiquated, useless and corrupt practice in Chicago. The businesses in the second SSA are placed under an enormous burden to fund their respective chamber of commerce with SSA and TIF money that they never see.
It’s all money that is placed under the control of the alderman, who controls the chamber of commerce. It makes no sense to tax certain businesses more than others. Why should these businesses have to pay for maintenance of this area? It’s the duty of the alderman to see that his entire ward is taken care of.
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.
Edgar “Edek” Esparza: I admit that my involvement in community organizations is minimal. Most of my life has been characterized by school and work. I’m 23 years old. To me, my life has just really begun. I attended, St. Genevieve Elementary School, the school of my local Catholic parish until I graduated in 2010. From there, I attended Notre Dame College Prep in Niles, Illinois. After completing high school, I decided to help my father in the construction business as well as in other jobs he had.
After about a year, I went to Wilbur Wright College and obtained my Associate Degree in Liberal Arts in 2016. While there I was a student senator of the college’s student government, where I organized several events such as celebrating months of different heritages and food drives. I also participated in the resurrection of the college’s literary journal, which had been defunct for nearly a decade.
Today I attend Columbia University in New York City, where I’m obtaining my B.A. in History. I attempted to run for alderman in 2015, but the current alderman successfully threw me off the ballot. I’m running now, with arguably little experience in this field, because I can’t stand to see my community ravaged by four more years of ineptitude from the current alderman or the political opportunism from a carpetbagger, whose father is a failed congressman.
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.
Edgar “Edek” Esparza: The state constitution absolutely needs to be changed. The pension clause of the state constitution is the main impediment to Chicago’s future as a prosperous city. I’m aware that many of these retirees worked extremely hard for many years to secure a living for themselves and their families. The city must attempt to keep its promises. However, Chicago is a city that has been labelled as the most corrupt city in the nation. With this in mind, it’s a strong possibility that Chicago won’t be able to fully fund the current system. Any attempt to fund pensions in the current system requires a cut-off year for certain retirees.
Next, Chicago needs a new string of taxes that replaces other tax and fee schemes. Additionally, the most important reason for changing the state constitution is to prevent and reassess the greatest abuse of the pension system from politicians. Although the practice of “double-dipping” is not unique to politicians, they’re the greatest abusers of the current system. For the pension system of the state General Assembly, the astronomical ratio between the amount contributed and the pension pay-out is outrageous. For the average Illinois public worker, these statistics are strikingly different. While it might be unpopular to demand for this change, it’s completely necessary and just.
However, I believe the pensions of the rank-and-file public workers can reach solvency if the next mayor and city council really want to keep these promises. This political scam stretches back decades. Illinois can save a lot of money if it amends its constitution to eliminate and/or diminish the benefits of political hacks. I’m running on a promise to not take a pension. Chicago aldermen shouldn’t receive pensions. In terms of pensions, these are the issues that need to be tackled.
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.
Edgar “Edek” Esparza: I support the addition of a Chicago casino and relaxing restrictions on such entertainment because the city shouldn’t be legislating morals. Indeed, the reason that the city hasn’t instituted profitable ideas like casinos, video gambling and the use of recreational marijuana is because city council member believe they have a right to force their ideas of what morality is on the city. City council routinely introduces ridiculous propositions and has passed ordinances that include really outlandish demands. The interests of this city are backwards.
I support the legalization of recreational marijuana because the war on drugs is a failure. The illegality of drugs like marijuana is what funds gangs in Chicago. By legalizing marijuana, the city will be combat a series of issues. The city will get a new revenue source, gangs will crumble without a revenue stream to fund themselves and the tax burden on Chicagoans will be slightly alleviated. In addition, those that have committed nonviolent drug offenses are imprisoned in our jails like for the mere possession of this drug. The illegality of marijuana brings an additional cost to the state of Illinois in general. I echo the same arguments made by those that oppose a commuter tax. Also, an increase in the city’s sale tax would be the wrong way to go. The future city council must find new revenue without hurting the business environment in Chicago. I wouldn’t rule out a LaSalle Street tax, but I don’t see at the moment the need for it.
I favor a LaSalle Street tax over a property tax increase. I would never vote to increase property taxes. We need a property tax freeze because Chicago homeowners have already reached a limit. A LaSalle Street tax or a real estate transfer tax increase are certainly two options I’m open to if the city is in need of dire revenue. However, without a forensic audit of Chicago’s finances, I wouldn’t move to tax even a single penny more. Now, is the time to really assess the whole picture of Chicago.
What other sources of new revenue do you favor or oppose?
Edgar “Edek” Esparza: I’m open to discussing other sources of revenue. However, if I’m elected alderman of the 30th ward, I’ll put those talks second to a forensic audit. In addition, the next city council must revisit the past deals the city’s entered in like the notorious Parking Meter Deal. I oppose a city income tax. In terms of new revenue sources, my approach is to create new assets for the city of Chicago. Stable revenue from a new asset is a better direction than just simply increasing taxes/fees/penalties or creating new ones. Therefore, I’ll seek to reopen Meigs Field. Such a project would employ many and give the city a highly profitable asset.
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?
Edgar “Edek” Esparza: TIF needs to be eliminated. In the case of TIF, the best kind of reform is to start over. If the city is to have a program like TIF, there must be restrictions on how taxpayer money is used. Indeed, I suspect that eliminating TIF might take some work. If I’m elected alderman, my views may not overlap with those of the 49 other aldermen. The reform of TIF might be more practical than its disappearance. Therefore, I propose the following changes:
- TIF money needs to be reported in thorough, easily accessible public reports.
- TIF dollars must stay in districts they’re generated in. The “porting” aspect of TIFs is the main critique of the system.
- TIF money cannot be used to favor private businesses. The city should be barred from giving TIF money to open businesses like grocery stores. These types of practices encourage favoritism and corruption, where a business is given X amount of dollars to build a store or open a store and some of that money makes its way into the campaigns of public officials. TIF money should be restricted to infrastructure projects.
On a general note, TIF money first and foremost needs to be intended for the pension crisis that Chicago faces. Chicago can repave sidewalks and streets, but they’ll crumble if the city goes bankrupt.
What will you do to rein in aldermanic prerogative?
Edgar “Edek” Esparza: First, I will refuse a pension. Secondly, the aldermanic salary and other dollars the alderman receives to carry out his aldermanic duties needs to be diminished and utilized for the community respectively. I don’t need, and no real public servant needs, almost a quarter of a million dollars as a salary.
The so-called “allowance” money the alderman receives from the city to use for other expenses needs to be used for infrastructure projects. The current alderman uses this money to pay himself back for certain expenses. His office includes many individuals. And yet, the ward is in terrible shape. When I’m elected alderman, I’ll seek to investigate the current alderman for any real discrepancies because 15 years is a long time to be in office without any real legal scrutiny. This is necessary because trust needs to be repaired between the alderman and the constituency.
My office will hire much less workers than the current alderman, and be twice as productive. My office will be open every day of the week with convenient hours for residents. The goal of my office will always be to save money, which would then be used for infrastructure projects in the ward. Additionally, I’ll institute participatory budgeting in the second year of my term. All menu money must be accounted for. The current alderman has absolutely no intention of being transparent. Reining in aldermanic power is my second priority as alderman.
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?
Edgar “Edek” Esparza: There are numerous reforms needed in CPD. However, on this particular issue, I believe that the current discussion hasn’t really taken into account all the voices on this issue. Chicago’s an extremely divided city, particularly on this issue, and we need all parties to get to the table to discuss the future of this city.
The problem is that the current city council and mayor don’t want to look into the specifics of these misconduct claims or they’re intentionally hiding. Therefore, I support the consent decree because I know it will start a desperately needed conversation about reform in CPD. Chicago’s police department is highly political. Rank-and-file police officers can’t move up in the rank without some sort of political connection. Misconduct claims use up millions of dollars of taxpayer money. Perhaps this is due to an overworked police force.
The next city council can’t solely see reform in terms of brutality claims, it has to look at the entire department as a whole, i.e. it’s management and structure. This requires a discussion between policing experts, legal advisors and communities. The current plans for reform such as a GAPA and CPAC garner a lot of vocal support, but they are wrong for the city.
What should Chicago do to reduce the number of illegal guns?
Edgar “Edek” Esparza: In order to reduce the number of illegal firearms, the city needs up the ante on the consequences of possessing an illegal firearm. Additionally, like many things in Chicago, the priorities of the city are in the wrong places. Marijuana needs to become legalized so that there’s less of a focus on things that shouldn’t be criminalized and more of a focus on things that really contribute to crime in Chicago.
What is the appropriate role of charter schools within the Chicago Public Schools system?
Edgar “Edek” Esparza: Parents should have the sole choice and authority over their children’s education. Politicians shouldn’t push their own agendas on families, whether it’s pro or anti Charter. However, in the 30th ward, we have the scandalous Aspira charter school operator. Over the years, this particular charter school operator has been criticized because many suspect that they are connected to certain political figures, which profit from the operator. The suspicions include forging test scores and other academically fraudulent activities. In terms of scandals, one school strip-searched two female students. The campuses don’t have a space dedicated to recess. Also, the schools don’t offer many electives or basic subjects.
However, CPS is a failure. Like city council, CPS hasn’t been spared from federal scrutiny. Indeed, traditional public schools are far below where certain people would like them to be. They don’t give children in the ward a strong start. Their reading and math scores are very bad. In summary, parents must have a choice, whether it’s public or private. However, the same politicians and political families that have been in power for decades never moved a finger to improve the situation of public education in Chicago. If the same people remain in power, Chicagoans will continue to suffer.
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?
Edgar “Edek” Esparza: I support having an elected school board. I prefer a hybrid school board, where the Mayor gets to appoint at the most two members and the rest are elected. I believe that if Chicago elects a Mayor, then he/she should be given the opportunity to set their agenda. Additionally, elections in Chicago normally don’t end in dramatic change. The same elected officials stay in power for decades. However, I truly believe that an elected school board is absolutely the way to go. I must note that the main consensus appears to favor a fully elected school board. I would support a fully elected school board over a hybrid if city council was more inclined to push that plan because things need to change at CPS.
Is there enough affordable housing in your ward? Please explain.
Edgar “Edek” Esparza: The need for affordable housing exists because wealthy politicians have made and are continuing to make Chicago unaffordable. With my eagerness to restructure this city’s finances and root out corrupt individuals, Chicago can reverse this situation. Instead of looking at affordable housing, the focus must be on making Chicago affordable for everyone. The next city council must remove the bag tax, red-light and speed cameras and the “boot” for unpaid tickets—just to name a few examples. However, Chicago is undergoing a massive transformation. Gentrification has hit a lot of neighborhoods. Where families once dominated, single individuals are beginning to outnumber families. The 30th Ward is approaching such a change. The 30th Ward needs to undergo a massive transformation, but with the right councilman at the helm, it can also retain its family-friendly and close-knit neighborhoods.
The problem is that the current alderman cares more about his campaign war chest than the residents of his ward. He routinely approves the construction of large housing complexes without public input. Because developers contribute to the alderman, high-volume apartment complexes are built and create more traffic and congestion in these neighborhoods. Residents also have their parking limited and their permit parking consistently violated. Any kind of affordable housing should be prioritized for the elderly of our communities. However, many still live in their bungalows despite the threat of major tax increases. This is a multi-faceted issue that needs to be addressed from multiple angles.
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?
Edgar “Edek” Esparza: Immigration is an important topic in the 30th ward. The city made a terrible decision when it named itself a so-called “sanctuary” because it removes the issue entirely from the minds of the city’s politicians. The ordinance does nothing to improve a group of people they seek to supposedly help. In the same respect, the city’s ID key, i.e. City Key, is aimed to take money from a group of people who have very little income to spend. Chicago politicians are playing with the emotions of the Hispanic community. If they really wanted to help undocumented immigrants, the City ID card would be free. The ordinance needs to be repealed. The ordinance is nothing more than a shield for the mayor and aldermen.
Should the inspector general have the power to audit and review City Council programs, operations and committees? Why or why not?
Edgar “Edek” Esparza: Yes. The Chicago IG needs this authority. The city council should have voted for this back in the beginning of 2016. If I’m elected alderman, this will get this done. Oversight of Chicago government must finally be done.
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.
Edgar “Edek” Esparza: I would never hire anyone from my family, who has business connections with the city or that contributed to my campaign. I would only hire people that have the best interests of my ward at heart. Additionally, they would need a high work ethic because I plan to make my four years as alderman the most productive of any alderman in this city’s history. That’s a big statement, but I mean every word of it because Chicago doesn’t have a lot of time left to turn around.
Is there a past or current alderman whom you model yourself after, or would model yourself after, or take inspiration from? Please explain.
Edgar “Edek” Esparza: I distrust all of the current aldermen because Chicago is going in the wrong direction. However, there are a few admirable things from a few members of the current city council. I could name several aldermen that promised substantive change and haven’t acted on those promises. I would say that the only person in the election that I truly admire is Dr. Willie Wilson because he’s the only person running for public office in this entire state who is running on actual change for the city.