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30th Ward candidate for alderman: Jessica Gutiérrez

30th Ward aldermanic candidate Jessica W. Gutierrez 2019 election Rich Hein

30th Ward aldermanic candidate Jessica W. Gutierrez meets with the Sun-Times Editorial Board Jan. 4. | Rich Hein/Sun-Times

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. Jessica Gutiérrez submitted the following responses (the Sun-Times does not edit candidate responses):

Who is Jessica Gutiérrez?

She’s running for: 30th Ward alderman

Her political/civic background: I am a lifelong progressive Democrat, a former teacher, and a community organizer running for alderman of the 30th Ward to bring progressive leadership to stand up for working families.

In 2012, I moved to southern Louisiana to begin my PhD in History at Louisiana State University in Baton Rouge. Baton Rouge’s proximity to New Orleans ushered me into community advocacy spaces in both cities.

While in Louisiana, I worked with Catholic Charities as an immigrant rights advocate where I assisted mostly Central American families settle in their new homes. Additionally, myself and other doctoral students held workshops assisting families in preparing documents and drafting declarations in English in support of applications for immigration benefits.

I also joined families to interpret during immigration interviews with US Citizenship and Immigration Services for naturalization, etc. As a relatively new Latino destination, Louisiana organizations assisting Latino migrants relied heavily on people such as myself who came from Latino political and cultural epicenters such as Chicago.

Another area I organized in while in Louisiana was the Recovery School District of New Orleans/Baton Rouge and surrounding parishes. After Hurricane Katrina, southern Louisiana saw the complete dismantling of the public school system. I, alongside other graduate students from local universities, assisted in collecting data to challenge the rule of charter schools, demanding transparency and accountability. In 2015 I moved to Israel as a part of my doctoral fellowship.

I attended the Hebrew University of Jerusalem while I worked for AMIDEAST, an American educational NGO supported by USAID, as an instructor and project organizer. I created educational models which were used while I was an instructor of high school English at Palestinian public schools.

I most recently was the North Side field director for the Jesus “Chuy” Garcia for Congress campaign. Since about the age is 2, I have marched, protested, registered voters, and filled out citizenship and DACA applications, along with many other civic and political activities with Congressman Luis Gutierrez.

Her occupation: I am currently working full time on my aldermanic campaign. I am a former high school teacher and also worked as a teaching assistant at the University of Illinois.

Her education: Education: BA, Sociology from University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, 2010 PhD, History, Louisiana State University, in progress

Campaign website: gutierrezfor30.com

Twitter: @Gutierrezfor30

Facebook: Gutierrezfor30/

Top priorities

What are the top three priorities for your ward?

Jessica W. Gutiérrez: My first priority is combatting income inequality by lifting up working families and bringing resources to our communities. To that end, I strongly support a $15 minimum wage.

I also will fight for an elected, representative school board so that power can be in the hands of the community residents, students and their teachers, not downtown unelected bureaucrats.

Additionally, everyone knows that neighborhood bungalow owners throughout Chicago are getting ripped off when it comes to paying property taxes. I will advocate for sweeping changes to the property tax assessment system and believe the City must work with newly elected Assessor Fritz Kaegi to ensure that the very wealthy and big corporations finally begin to pay their fair share of property taxes. I want to end having working men and women in neighborhoods throughout the city of Chicago subsidizing million-dollar homes and downtown skyscrapers owned by multi-national corporations.

Finally, I want to lead the fight for safer communities by ensuring more police on neighborhood patrols and better training for our police force.

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.

Jessica W. Gutiérrez: I have worked on immigrant protection initiatives including helping fill out citizenship applications; attending ICE hearings in support of Chicagoans facing deportations; and organizing and marching against Trump’s anti-immigrant presidential decrees. I’ve also worked with the Puerto Rican Agenda and Congressman Gutiérrez to establish a national model for relief efforts in response to the plight of the people of Puerto Rico after Hurricane Maria. Together, we raised more than $300,000. All of it went directly to helping the people of the island. In addition to the money, we helped climate change refugees from Puerto Rico with housing and basic services right here in Chicago. We also shipped food and medical equipment and survival tools directly to Puerto Rico.

Pensions

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.

Jessica W. Gutiérrez: No, a pension is a promise our government has made to our public servants, and I will never support any initiative seeking to deny or reduce pension benefits. We must instead focus on working with the state to create progressive revenue solutions to begin to address the pension deficit, including a progressive state income tax and the legalization and taxation of recreational marijuana. Breaking our agreement with working people when we have failed to ensure the very wealthy and big corporations are paying their fair share is unconscionable.

Revenue

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.

Jessica W. Gutiérrez: I am most supportive of legalized and taxed marijuana, the LaSalle Street tax, and a real estate transfer tax (on homes selling for a substantial amount) because they are the least regressive taxes, they provide the least opportunity to disproportionately impact working Chicagoans and low-income Chicagoans. While I am open to the discussion of all forms of revenue that may help solve our many financial needs, we must avoid any tax that will disproportionately impact disenfranchised Chicagoans.

What other sources of new revenue do you favor or oppose?

Jessica W. Gutiérrez: I am committed to working with elected officials in Springfield to pass a progressive income tax. It will be a long process, but it is the only way to right the course of Chicago’s finances and ensure that big money and the super rich are paying their fair share.

TIFs

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?

Jessica W. Gutiérrez: Chicago needs meaningful TIF reform to end TIFs role as an opaque slush fund, and instead focuses resources on the communities that need it most. I would support the TIF “Back to Basics” ordinance that would heighten the standard of scrutiny used to determine if a given project qualifies for TIF. The ordinance would use the “but-for” test to determine blight, while leaving in place exceptions for disuse, environmental remediation and conservation. I was disappointed that Ald. Reboyras failed to sign on to that ordinance as a cosponsor, and was expected to vote against it in the Finance Committee.

Aldermanic power

What will you do to rein in aldermanic prerogative?

Jessica W. Gutiérrez: Aldermanic prerogative has historically been used to control zoning and prevent or allow certain development, which provides ample opportunity for questionable relationships between developers and aldermen, as well as to block or dislocate affordable housing. I support recent measures introduced to prevent such interference and would support the Housing for All initiative, which would expand the number of affordable units having two or more bedrooms to better accommodate families. I also support the Development for All Ordinance, which aims to prevent city government from holding up the development of affordable housing.

Police reform

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?

Jessica W. Gutiérrez: The City of Chicago and the Chicago Police Department have had years to develop and implement changes to training, practice and protocol to address its long history of discriminatory practices and abuse of power. Consent decrees are devices of last resort, and entirely necessary to rebuild trust with the communities it is legally bound to serve and protect.

Guns

What should Chicago do to reduce the number of illegal guns?

Jessica W. Gutiérrez: Chicago’s “buyback” program is seemingly the last resource we have and it is clearly not enough. Chicago needs to reinstate the gun owner registry and work with state and federal officials to develop comprehensive and effective gun control measures.

Schools

What is the appropriate role of charter schools within the Chicago Public Schools system?

Jessica W. Gutiérrez: I do not support the presence of promulgation of charter schools. We must stop diverting funds away from CPS and into privately-run charter school networks, particularly those that have been scandal-ridden and have engaged in union busting practices.

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?

Jessica W. Gutiérrez: I am firmly committed to a fully elected, representative school board. It is the most effective way to represent the voices of students, teachers and families alike while also ensuring that the board is held accountable for its actions.

Affordable housing

Is there enough affordable housing in your ward? Please explain.

Jessica W. Gutiérrez: There is not enough affordable housing in a given ward until all those residents in need of affordable housing have access to it. Like many areas of Chicago, the 30th Ward is seeing rents rise and gentrification on the increase. I am committed to protecting my community members from being pushed out of the neighborhoods they call home and to ensuring that there is a supply of accessible and affordable homes for all.

Immigration

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?

Jessica W. Gutiérrez: While I support the current Welcoming City Ordinance, it does not do enough to protect undocumented Chicagoans, or immigrant communities generally, regardless of immigrations status. If elected, I would support an amended Welcoming City Ordinance that would remove carve outs in the present ordinance that provide exceptions allowing communication between ICE and local law enforcement. If Chicago wants to call itself a “Welcoming City” for the undocumented, it must do more to protect them, especially in a time when the federal government is undertaking illegal and immoral actions against immigrants and the undocumented.

Ethics

Should the inspector general have the power to audit and review City Council programs, operations and committees? Why or why not?

Jessica W. Gutiérrez: Yes. Checks and balances are an essential part of good government, and the oversight provided by the Office of the Inspector General is crucial to a transparent and accountable City Hall. Committees are given additional money, resources and control over the legislative process, as such it is especially important that they be fully open to audit, review and investigation by 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.

Jessica W. Gutiérrez: No. This would be a conflict of interest.

Role model

Is there a past or current alderman whom you model yourself after, or would model yourself after, or take inspiration from? Please explain.

Jessica W. Gutiérrez: I would model myself after 32nd Ward Alderman and Progressive Caucus Chair Scott Waguespack, and former aldermen David Orr and Jesus “Chuy” Garcia. They are all fiercely independent. Their actions demonstrate the importance of transparency and good, old fashioned, honest services. Like them, I will not be a rubber stamp for any mayor. They have taught me that the City Council must be a equal and independent co-partner in governance of our city.