35th Ward candidate for alderman: Carlos Ramirez-Rosa
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The Sun-Times Editorial Board sent the 35th Ward aldermanic candidates a list of questions to find out their views on a range of important issues facing the city and their ward. Carlos Ramirez-Rosa submitted the following responses (the Sun-Times does not edit candidate responses):
Who is Carlos Ramirez-Rosa?
He’s running for: 35th Ward alderman
His political/civic background: Born and raised in Chicago, I have worked to improve our nation, our city, and our state from a very young age. As a student at Whitney M. Young Magnet High School, I organized my fellow classmates to participate in the 2006 “mega-marches” for immigration reform.
During my time at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, I would make frequent trips back to Chicago to assist progressive and reform-minded candidates, like Rudy Lozano, Jr. running against Dan Burke in 2010 and Miguel del Valle for Mayor in 2011.
After graduating from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, I returned to Chicago and became involved as a Local School Council member, congressional caseworker, deportation defense organizer, and community organizer working to keep schools open, win a living wage, build more affordable housing, and change Chicago for the benefit of all.
His occupation: Alderman
His education: University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, BA in Political Science, May 2011
Campaign website: carlosrosa.org
What are the top three priorities for your ward?
Carlos Ramirez-Rosa: (1) Equitable community-driven development and infrastructure improvement. I believe is critically important that the 35th Ward’s commercial corridors thrive, and that our roads and built environment are well-maintained. Efforts and plans to develop our ward’s commercial corridors, and to make improvements to our infrastructure must be made in an inclusive, democratic, and transparent manner that empowers the community and ensures these changes are made in the best interest of all community residents.
(2) Fully-funded, high-quality neighborhood schools. Public education is a right and Chicagoans should feel secure that their child will receive a world-class education at their local neighborhood school.
(3) Affordable housing. Housing is a human right. The healthiest community is one that is integrated both racially and economically, to this end we must work to ensure the 35th Ward continues to be affordable for working class families – this means lower property taxes, reasonable rent, and the construction of new affordable housing development.
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.
Carlos Ramirez-Rosa: Serving as our Thirty-Fifth Ward Alderman since May 2015, I have led legislative efforts to win property tax relief for working class homeowners, paid sick leave for Chicago workers, equality for transgender people in public facilities, and accountability and transparency on municipal financial transactions. I am also working alongside community groups to ensure Chicago is a city that welcomes and integrates immigrants, and fighting to return surplus TIF dollars to neighborhood public schools. At the ward level, I have developed initiatives that ensure local zoning and budgetary decisions are made in an inclusive, democratic, and transparent manner. I am very proud that our 35th Ward Community-Driven Zoning and Development process has become a model that other neighborhoods are adopting.
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.
Carlos Ramirez-Rosa: A pension is a promise. It is wrong to reduce the pensions of existing city employees or retirees, and attempting to amend the state Constitution to reduce pension benefits is a foolhardy, if not impossible task. The city has already taken steps to reduce pension benefits for new employees. I believe the City of Chicago must work locally and with the state to identify new revenue to meet our pension obligations – this includes a graduate income tax, a Chicago casino, recreational marijuana, a real estate transfer tax increase, a commercial lease tax for our central business district, a corporate head tax, a LaSalle Street tax, and substantial TIF reform.
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.
Carlos Ramirez-Rosa: Working class Chicagoans and small business owners have more than paid their fair share in taxes. It is a fact that Illinois has one of the most regressive tax schemes in the nation. Chicagoland generates nearly as much wealth annually as the GDP of Switzerland, yet very little of that locally generated wealth is captured and redistributed via progressive taxation. That is why I have worked to support progressive revenue at the state level – like a graduate income tax and a LaSalle Street tax – and at the city level – like a commercial lease tax for our central business district, a corporate head tax restructured to exempt small businesses, a real estate transfer tax increase targeted at large sales, and substantial TIF reform. Additionally, I believe we should explore a Chicago casino, video gambling, and recreational marijuana.
What other sources of new revenue do you favor or oppose?
Carlos Ramirez-Rosa: New York City has benefited tremendously from a commercial lease tax on the island of Manhattan. If Chicago enacted a similar tax for our central business district we could potentially see hundreds of millions of dollars in new revenue every year. I have also introduced legislation to reinstate a corporate head tax, restructured to exempt small businesses and promote hiring from Chicago’s neighborhoods facing high poverty and crime.
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?
Carlos Ramirez-Rosa: Based upon the studies I have read on TIFs and their efficacy as an economic development tool, I believe TIFs have failed as an economic development tool and, particularly in the context of Chicago, are more so used as a budgetary tool that promotes the Balkanization of our city. TIFs ensure that revenue from rising property values in affluent or developing areas cannot be redistributed to neighborhoods that are not witnessing, and will not witness, a similar rise in property values. For this reason, I believe that we should begin reforming TIF by first passing simple ordinances like the “Back to Basics” TIF ordinance that ensures proposed TIF ordinances meet the “but for” test, coupled with transparency reforms that will show which TIF projects are real, and which TIF projects have been added as a line item to keep those funds in that TIF and avoid the surplusing of those TIF funds. With these reforms in place, we can then begin substantially surplusing TIF funds on an annual basis until all the existing TIFs are abolished and/or expired.
What will you do to rein in aldermanic prerogative?
Carlos Ramirez-Rosa: It is often said that “absolute power corrupts absolutely,” and therein lies the problem with aldermanic prerogative. In Chicago, we have seen the corruption that occurs when one individual is given unilateral say over decisions impacting their entire community. As 35th Ward Alderman, I have instituted local initiatives that ensure local budgetary and zoning decisions are made in an inclusive, democratic, and transparent manner.
Our 35th Ward Community-Driven Zoning and Development process ensures that through a robust public input process, ward residents have a real say on development decisions impacting our community. Participatory Budgeting in the 35th Ward ensures that ward residents of all backgrounds are empowered to allocate $1 million in ward infrastructure improvements per year.
In my next term, I would like to work with the Mayor, my colleagues, and community groups to ensure some of the accountability and transparency measures I have pioneered locally are instituted city-wide, this includes changes to our zoning process so that it is easier for local residents to understand the proposed zoning change, and requirements for robust public input.
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?
Carlos Ramirez-Rosa: We have entered in to the consent decree and now is the time to move forward with reforming our broken policing system, that has cost Chicagoans hundreds of millions of dollars in misconduct settlements and harmed countless Chicagoans. I support the Civilian Police
Accountability Council (CPAC) to create a fully-elected civilian police
accountability council consisting of community members from each of Chicago’s police districts. The elected council would be empowered to hold police accountable, and determine how our communities are policed. Over 50,000 Chicago residents have signed petitions in support of CPAC. CPAC is supported by dozens of community organizations, including the Chicago Teachers Union, SEIU HCII, and Black Lives Matter. In the coming weeks and months the coalition in support of CPAC will announce the dozens or Aldermanic challengers, and future Alderman, that support CPAC and will work to see it enacted in the new term.
What should Chicago do to reduce the number of illegal guns?
Carlos Ramirez-Rosa: Supreme Court rulings have made it increasingly difficult to reduce the number of illegal guns in our city. That is why we need to take steps and coordinate efforts between law enforcement agencies to ensure illegal guns are not crossing Illinois’ borders. The city must work with the state and federal government to ensure Illinois and the U.S. federal government are banning high-capacity magazines, assault weapons, and bump stocks. Lastly, we need to pass legislation that regulates gun dealers and ensures universal background checks.
What is the appropriate role of charter schools within the Chicago Public Schools system?
Carlos Ramirez-Rosa: Charter schools were initially created to serves as experimental schools that brought about innovation. However, charter schools have been co-opted by profiteers, and are now used as a way to weaken our public education system by shifting funds away from neighborhood schools, privatizing our public school system, and weakening our teachers’ unions. Children deserve fully-funded, high-quality public schools, and that is why I support a moratorium on charter schools, and would eventually like to see the reintegration of charter schools into our public school system.
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?
Carlos Ramirez-Rosa: I support a fully-elected representative school board, as do the vast majority of Chicagoans. It’s time to get it done.
Is there enough affordable housing in your ward? Please explain.
Carlos Ramirez-Rosa: Chicago, and neighborhoods targeted for gentrification by realtors and developers – like neighborhoods in the 35th Ward – are increasingly becoming unaffordable for working class and longtime residents. The market will never meet the demand for affordable housing. That is why the city must aggressively build new affordable units throughout the 35th Ward. I have pushed Mayor Rahm Emanuel and the CHA to work with me to this end, with some limited success. I look forward to a new Mayor and new Council so we can do even more on this front, like working with the state to enact sensible rent control. preserving existing affordable housing, and enacting just cause for eviction.
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?
Carlos Ramirez-Rosa: In collaboration with immigrant rights organizations, I introduced an ordinance which seeks to strengthen the City’s Welcoming City ordinance by removing “carve-out” provisions that allow for local law enforcement to collaborate with federal immigration officials. Currently, Chicago Police officers are permitted to cooperate with Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) if individuals are in the city’s gang database; have pending felony prosecutions or prior felony convictions; or if they are the subject of an outstanding criminal warrant. These carve-outs mean Chicago is not a true sanctuary city. The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) has argued that Chicago Police Department’s gang database is notoriously inaccurate, and supports my ordinance, which has 26 co-sponsors, but has been stalled by Mayor Rahm Emanuel.
Should the inspector general have the power to audit and review City Council programs, operations and committees? Why or why not?
Carlos Ramirez-Rosa: Yes, the Inspector General should be empowered to fully investigate the City Council, just like any other organ of city government.
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.
Carlos Ramirez-Rosa: I have not and I would not, to avoid any real or perceive conflict of interest.
Is there a past or current alderman whom you model yourself after, or would model yourself after, or take inspiration from? Please explain.
Carlos Ramirez-Rosa: Alderman Dick Simpson and Alderman Leon Depres. Simpson for his commitment to independent and progressive politics that empowered community voice. Depres for speaking truth to power and always sticking to his convictions and what was in the best interest of the community he represented.