31st Ward candidate for alderman: Colin Bird-Martinez
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The Sun-Times Editorial Board sent the candidates running for 31st Ward alderman a list of questions to find out their views on a range of issues facing the city and their ward. Colin Bird-Martinez submitted the following responses (the Sun-Times does not edit candidate responses):
Who is Colin Bird-Martinez?
He’s running for: 31st Ward alderman
His political/civic background: I co-founded Hermosa Neighborhood Association to bring about positive change in the community, serving as the president and a board member from 2014 to 2018. During this time, the nonprofit held countless public events to help inform area residents, advocated for affordable housing in new developments, secured upgrades to vital local infrastructure, as well as cosponsoring the blocking of the expansion of ITW David Speer Academy.
I have also served as an active member of the Local School Council (LSC) for William P. Nixon Elementary School in Hermosa since 2015. I have helped raise hundreds of thousands of dollars for school improvements and have seen first-hand how schools with large vulnerable populations are routinely targeted for divestment. Through this role, I have advocated for Nixon directly to CPS officials and city leaders.
I have also been a member of The People’s Lobby since 2015. Through TPL, I have been heavily involved in electoral reform, fighting for the Chicago Fair Elections Ordinance, which would match small donations to increase the viability of progressive candidates and increase voter participation. I am also very passionate about criminal-justice reform and have participated in TPL actions regarding ending pay bond.
I am also a member of Reclaim Chicago, and have helped get progressive candidates such as Kim Foxx, Carlos Rosa, and Will Guzzardi elected.
I also founded the 31st Ward Independent Political Organization which actively campaigned for Judges Charlie Beach and Stephanie Miller.
His occupation: Automotive Analyst
His education: Bachelor’s Degree in Sociology and Pre-Law from University of Illinois at Champaign-Urbana
Campaign website: colinforchicago.com
What are the top three priorities for your ward?
Colin Bird-Martinez: My top three priorities are fully funding and supporting our public schools, supporting and advancing affordable housing projects, and increasing public safety within our 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.
Colin Bird-Martinez: In the past two years, I have put in thousands of hours of community organizing and volunteer work in my neighborhood. I co-founded the Hermosa Neighborhood Association in 2014, and have continued my work with this organization over the past two years. Some of my work with the Hermosa Neighborhood Association includes advocating for affordable housing, working with CTU to block the expansion of ITW David Speer Academy charter schools, and planting hundreds of trees. I have also sat on Local School Council for William P. Nixon School since 2015, and over the past two years have helped raise hundreds of thousands of dollars for improvements and have been an advocate for students, parents, and teachers alike.
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.
Colin Bird-Martinez: No, I do not believe that we should reduce pension benefits for current employees or retirees, or new employees. Public sector workers earned these benefits and we have a duty to fulfill our obligations to the people that make this city run.
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.
Colin Bird-Martinez: I am in favor of a Chicago casino, legalized and taxed recreational marijuana, a LaSalle Street tax, and video gambling. I am also in favor of a graduated real estate transfer tax. I would be open to an increase in the restaurant tax, so long as we create more exemptions for the tax, including for sole-proprietor restaurants. I oppose a commuter tax, a property tax increase, and a municipal sales tax increase.
What other sources of new revenue do you favor or oppose?
Colin Bird-Martinez: I also favor some environmental programs to bring in additional revenue, including ideas such as conservation pricing for bulk utility users and a stormwater runoff tax. I also am in favor of a fee for converting multi-unit homes into fewer or single-family homes.
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?
Colin Bird-Martinez: TIFs do not reduce revenue that the government receives since property tax is a levy. However, TIFs reduce the tax base, which increases the effective property tax rate for the residents of Chicago. Eliminating TIFs would not increase revenue the government receives, but it would reduce property taxes. In order to recapture the revenue, City Council would have to increase the property tax levy equal to the amount of TIF revenue collected in prior years. Because it may be politically difficult for City Council to increase property taxes, I believe we should keep the TIFs as a revenue generator by declaring annual TIF-surpluses for the near majority of these funds. We can do this by analyzing and determining where new or rehab construction would occur even if the TIF were not created. City Council should also evaluate earmarked projects and cancel ones that are not deemed essential and refund 100% of existing TIF reserves, currently estimated at nearly $1 billion, to the pensions.
What will you do to rein in aldermanic prerogative?
Colin Bird-Martinez: We need to reduce aldermanic prerogative by centralizing more of that power to the department of planning and development. We must create an evidence-based strategy to define high and low opportunity areas for affordable housing. We must also create community boards for zones spanning hundreds of blocks to create a holistic multi-year plan that makes sure that zoning changes include the impact to city services such as parks, schools, and public transportation.
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?
Colin Bird-Martinez: I am in favor of the Consent Decree and do believe that it is long overdue. While the Consent Decree will not solve all of our problems, I do believe that it is a necessary next step in increasing both safety and morale for both Chicago Police officers and the public.
What should Chicago do to reduce the number of illegal guns?
Gun violence is a large safety issue within my ward, and the root of much of this violence is poverty. We must solve the root causes of underfunded social services that lead to illegal guns and gun violence. I see the largest solutions as increased affordable housing, supportive public education, and access to mental health services. I am also in favor of exploring an interstate compact with Indiana and Wisconsin to create buy-back gun programs and uniformity around gun permits.
What is the appropriate role of charter schools within the Chicago Public Schools system?
Colin Bird-Martinez: When Harold Washington permitted the existence of charter schools, the intent was to only have a small amount of charter schools to provide an alternative for educators, families, and communities to enroll their children in schools with novel curriculum and focuses, as well as create incubators for new ideas for network schools. Today, though, many charter schools are run as for-profit institutions and I am against the expansion of charter schools, and any new school until we are fully funding our existing public schools. I am in support of the recent Acero Charter School teacher’s strike, as it is an opportunity to both raise up workers rights and improve the conditions for both teachers and students.
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?
Colin Bird-Martinez: The Chicago Board of Education should switch to a fully elected school board, as this keeps the board accountable to the community.
Is there enough affordable housing in your ward? Please explain.
Colin Bird-Martinez: No, there is not currently enough affordable housing in my ward. Expanding affordable housing is one of my top priorities, and I would require any large developments to include a minimum of 20% affordable housing for anything with 10 units or more. I also want to bring a 100% limited equity cooperative into the ward.
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?
Colin Bird-Martinez: We must make Chicago a real sanctuary city by strengthening its current “Welcoming City” ordinance. I am also in favor of abolishing the Chicago Police Department gang database, and increasing the sustainability and funding of the Legal Defense Fund.
Should the inspector general have the power to audit and review City Council programs, operations and committees? Why or why not?
Colin Bird-Martinez: Yes, I believe that the Inspector General should be authorized to conduct independent and objective audits, inspections, and reviews of City Council programs, operations, and committees. Many aldermen use city time to do political work and have relationships with privatized contractors, influencing city council programs and operations, and I believe that they must be held accountable.
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.
Colin Bird-Martinez: No, I have not and will not employ staff in my office who have 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.
Colin Bird-Martinez: The three aldermen that I most take inspiration from are Ameya Pawar, Carlos Ramirez-Rosa, and Scott Waguespack. All three of these aldermen deliver excellent constituent services, are champions of progressive reform, and show a deep commitment to improve the lives of Chicagoan.