37th Ward candidate for alderman: Tara Stamps
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The Sun-Times Editorial Board sent the candidates running for 37th Ward alderman a list of questions to find out their views on a range of issues facing the city and their ward. Tara Stamps submitted the following responses (the Sun-Times does not edit candidate responses):
Who is Tara Stamps?
She’s running for: 37th Ward alderman
Her political/civic background: I’m a 20+ year teacher in Chicago Public Schools and lifelong Chicagoan. When I ran for alderman in 2015 I forced a run-off with incumbent Emma Mitts. Since then I’ve continued to be an active member of the Chicago Teacher’s Union, including the CTU Executive Board.
I co-founded the Greater Austin Independent Political Organization, was elected delegate for Bernie Sanders at 2016 DNC Convention, and have spoken at numerous marches and rallies around the city, including the historic women’s march attended by over 300,000 people.
I am a dedicated community leader and lifelong Chicagoan who has spent the past twenty years working for strong neighborhood schools, good jobs, and civil rights on the West Side of Chicago.
Her occupation: STEM Curriculum and Instruction Coach at Laura Ward STEM School.
Her education: BA Central State University; Masters in Curriculum and Instruction from Concordia University; Masters in Educational Leadership from American College of Education
Campaign website: tarastamps.com/
What are the top three priorities for your ward?
Tara Stamps: My highest priorities for improving the quality of life in the 37th Ward are the same priorities I have for improving Chicago: finding comprehensive solutions to public safety, spurring job creation and equitable economic development without displacing working families and long-term residents, and promoting strong neighborhood public schools that provide a full range of wrap around services.
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.
Tara Stamps: I am a dedicated community leader and lifelong Chicagoan who has spent the past twenty years working for strong neighborhood schools, good jobs, and civil rights on the West Side of Chicago.
I am the proud mother of an adult daughter, Naajidaah, and two boys, Nazareth and Naahylee, as well as grandmother to 3-year-old Nikosi. I am an alumna of Chicago Public Schools and the founding director of In the Company of Sisters, a theater company dedicated to lifting up the voices of African-American women. I hold a B.A. from Central State University and two master’s degrees in education.
With the Greater Austin Independent Political Organization, which I helped found in 2015, we’ve held monthly civic engagement classes to meet with and educate neighbors on civic issues including TIF’s, CBA’s, Midterm Elections, Ballot Breakdowns and more. I’m always most interested in making sure people understand how these things work, and how they impact our neighborhood, so that people can make informed political decisions.
I serve on the Executive Board of the Chicago Teacher’s Union, where I represent the interests of elementary school teachers and help negotiate contracts. I’m also a member of the AFT Black Caucus and the Caucus of Rank and File Educators. I’ve
In addition to my role as a public school teacher and volunteer civic educator, I serve my neighborhood in a number of ways. I’m a member of my Block club, and participate in block club activities, including book and supply giveaways at our annual Back to School Drive. In the fall I organized block clean-up with incentives for young people, this winter I organized a winter supply drive for New Moms.
I’m running for alderman to fight for the resources westside residents deserve, and to bring an independent progressive voice to City Council.
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.
Tara Stamps: My position is that the City of Chicago has both a moral and legal responsibility to meet its pension obligations. The city’s firefighters, police officers, and teachers accept lower pay relative to the private sector for years in exchange for the security of a defined benefit pension, and these retirees make up a critical dimension of the City’s economic base. Their pension income, which comes in lieu of social security, creates jobs and supports businesses in many neighborhoods that are already economically depressed. Reducing their modest pension income would cause some retirees to lose their homes or to relocate voluntarily, further depressing these neighborhoods and their local economies.
In December, outgoing Mayor Emanuel proposed amending the Illinois Constitution to allow the City to cut Cost of Living Adjustment (COLA) raises in order to fill the pension gap, which is a move that I strongly oppose. The answer to meeting these challenges cannot be more cuts. Chicago’s working families cannot afford any more reductions to vital social services that they depend on for survival and opportunity. The City has no choice but to find additional revenues to satisfy its pension obligations and fund the critical and quality services Chicago’s citizens deserve. As Alderman, my first priority would be to build the political will in Chicago and the rest of Illinois to make these far more desirable revenue schemes a reality.
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.
Tara Stamps: Additional revenues should come through a combination of a financial transactions tax, often called the LaSalle street tax, a commuter’s tax, a progressive city income tax and finally returning a percentage of TIF surpluses to taxing bodies. Chicago’s elected leadership must be bold and visionary, and be willing to work with legislators in Springfield to alter Illinois’ income tax structure as well to help generate more revenue (it currently is a regressive income tax). Chicago has a GDP greater than $500 billion and is one of the wealthiest cities in the world. If Chicago’s leadership can find a way to raise just an additional half percent of that GDP in revenues annually, we could solve the pension crisis, fill other budget holes and improve services across the city. We can’t realize our potential as a world class city until we truly commit to serving the needs of residents city-wide.
To do that, Chicago leadership has to recognize that we have things to offer businesses and affluent citizens besides subsidies and tax breaks. Rather than offering billions in subsidies and tax breaks, as the Mayor was ready to do for Amazon, we should feel emboldened to ask those individuals and corporations that benefit the most to contribute just a little more to the public good. That way we can be sure our seniors retire with dignity, our streets are safe, our children get a quality education, and our neighborhoods vibrant. The revenue schemes I support are progressive and viable options to fill the pension gap without threatening Chicago’s attractiveness.
Sales taxes are typically regressive, and casinos and taxation on gambling also equate to regressive taxation of the poor. Further, I strongly believe that any legalization of Marijuana must come about in a way that acknowledges the harms of criminalization of Black communities in Chicago, and involves retroactive sentencing reform. Any taxation from weed legalization should be utilized to support decarceration and rehabilitation efforts for the individuals and families harmed by marijuana. I would only support expanding sales taxes to the extent all other possibilities were exhausted, as there are far more progressive taxation schemes available.
What other sources of new revenue do you favor or oppose?
Tara Stamps: See above answer, regarding returning TIF Surplus funds and working towards a more progressive income tax structure in Illinois.
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?
Tara Stamps: My position is that Chicago’s TIF program needs serious reform in order to truly function as an economic development tool for the South and West sides of the city. First, I’d work to pass the Cardenas-Garza TIF Surplus Ordinance which requires that all dollars that remain uncommitted in TIF funds will be returned to our schools, parks and libraries, in years when CPS is financially distressed. Over $500 million per year have been funneled into TIF districts instead of taxing bodies like parks and schools. This has been occuring at the same time that park and library hours have been cut and schools continue to be closed.
We continue to see a trend of TIF funds supporting downtown and northside development projects, including the controversial Lincoln Yards TIF expansion project which would ultimately mean $1.5 billion of taxpayer dollars towards the development of a commercial/residential area along the Chicago River. I would support calls to redistribute (at least) $1 billion from downtown (and nearby) TIF funds to the South and West sides. Further, I believe that we need to change TIF regulations, to allow TIF funds to be used for supportive services in our schools – like counselors, social workers, nurses and librarians. There are important projects that still need to be funded to improve communities and stimulate employment, both during and post construction. We just need to make sure that TIF dollars marked for development go to where we need them most.
What will you do to rein in aldermanic prerogative?
Tara Stamps: Aldermanic prerogative is the informal but strict code by which aldermen tend to defer their votes on development projects to the alderman whose ward that project is in. This practice, however, has meant that important discussions around developments and projects that affect the city as a whole are rarely debated or discussed as such, and dissent is seen as personal injury rather than a healthy aspect of a democratic governing body. Further, aldermanic prerogative has been a factor in producing a ‘rubber-stamp’ effect in City Council for the Mayor’s proposals, again by discouraging dissent and even punishing aldermen who violate the code, as we saw when freshman alderman Carlos Ramirez Rosa was kicked out of the Latino Caucus last May, after using a defer and publish to delay the vote on a funding proposal for the proposed police and fire academy.
It’s so embedded in machine politics, and cronyism. Even though it will be unpopular, it’s time for aldermen to really step out and have an independent voice. You shouldn’t need to lean on other aldermen making bad decisions in order for you to be able to get good policies in yours. As an independent progressive voice, I’m going to lift up the best interest of communities, particularly blighted communities of color. And it is my hope that in this particular elected cycle other visionary progressive voices are also lifted up so that we have even more room to stop leaning on these old bad practices. There’s a better way to govern that doesn’t rely on cronyism.
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?
Tara Stamps: First and foremost, I maintain my position that we must invest in comprehensive solutions to violence that deal with the root causes of criminal activity. Any effective conversation around police reform must also acknowledge that the neighborhoods that experience the most violence and policing, are also those hit hardest by divestment. I support public investment in good jobs and increasing year-round access to wrap-around services for at-risk youth, particularly in the neighborhoods hardest hit by blight and unemployment.
Regarding the Chicago Police Department, several of the reforms outlined in the consent decree will bring about important changes that Black and Latino communities most impacted by policing have been asking for for years. Changes to the Use of Force policy, better supervision, anti-bias training and more accountability and transparency when responding to officer-involved shootings and complaints are critical. At the same time, I worry about the overall cost of the consent decree over time, and the ways that it will be used to expand the reach of the CPD, in place of investing in alternative community resources. For example, while many applaud the expansion of Crisis Intervention Teams within CPD to respond to mental health emergencies (a core aspect of the consent decree), the long-term solution to support individuals experiencing crises must include a re-opening and expansion of mental health services across the city, and non-police crisis response teams.
I would hope that Chicago Police Officers seeking to protect and serve all communities across the City would welcome oversight that is founded on fairness and justice, and includes many recommendations around officer wellness. This year saw an increase in officer suicides, and the consent decree will bring important and overdue changes to the mental health resources that officers themselves can access.
Finally, I believe that comprehensive police reform in Chicago must be driven by Black and Latino communities that have born the brunt of biased policing in Chicago for decades. The 2017 Department of Justice report of the CPD found an overwhelming reliance on force and violence, and a pattern and practice of racism. While outside monitoring, like the consent decree, can help transform the department, I would use my power as alderman to ensure that solutions coming from residents who experience the everyday realities of both violent crime and biased policing are heard as we implement reform over the long-haul. I support a Civilian Police Accountability Council, and a freeze on the construction of the $95 million police academy until other less costly options have been considered and shared with the public.
What should Chicago do to reduce the number of illegal guns?
Tara Stamps: America as a country is violent. America as a country is going to have to shift its thinking about violence, and until we start shifting the way we treat the NRA we are going to continue to spin in circles in conversations about ending gun violence. To truly stem the flow of guns, we have to ask who is benefitting from the proliferation of guns as things are today, and bring change to bear at the site of production and decrease the influence of the gun lobby. America profits from our love affair with firearms, even as the maundy blood of innocents paint our streets, communities and schools.
Further, ending gun violence in Chicago, like ending police violence, will require a massive redistribution of resources and investment into public services and expansion of living wage jobs on the South and West sides. We must acknowledge the root causes of gun crime and the ways that many in the City are pushed and locked out of the formal economy, and see the streets as their best option for economic survival. To reduce the number of illegal guns in Chicago, we have to look at where the demand for them is coming from, not just the supply. Investments in a massive jobs program, freezing of school closures (which force students to cross gang lines in order to travel to school), and expanding affordable, stable housing are all important solutions to consider in reducing participation in the underground and informal economies that drive gun use.
On the way towards that, reducing the number of illegal guns remains an important, but difficult, way to curb shootings in the City. I’m not convinced that CPD and City buy-back programs that offer economic incentives for people to trade in guns for money (without risk of arrest) actually stop people from using guns. I do not support adding mandatory minimums to gun crimes, as that only leads to increased mass incarceration but has clearly not worked to deter the proliferation of guns in Chicago.
What is the appropriate role of charter schools within the Chicago Public Schools system?
Tara Stamps: As a veteran public school teacher, who understands first-hand the ways that public schools serve as the bedrock of strong communities, I would like to see an immediate moratorium on any new charter schools in Chicago. In the 37th ward, incumbent alderman Emma Mitts has celebrated the new schools she has opened in the ward, but fails to recognize the ways that charters are less accountable to families and have a track-record of harsher discipline and discriminatory treatment towards students with disabilities. I was proud of the teachers at Noble charter schools who decided to unionize and recently won their strike for smaller class sizes, and to make their schools sanctuaries for undocumented students. At a minimum, charters currently operating should be held accountable so that the quality of their students’ education remains the priority – not their bottom-line. I am opposed to any charter expansion in Chicago.
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?
Tara Stamps: As a CTU member I am a staunch advocate for an Elected Representative School Board, and collected signatures to place it on the ballot as a referendum in 2015. Having lived and worked through nearly twenty years of unaccountable, out-of-touch leadership at the Board of Education, which included the closure of 50 schools against public outcry in 2013, and the closure of the Englewood schools this past year, I remain convinced that democratic representation is needed if we are to have the type of schools our children deserve. The fact that CPS remains the only school district in the state of Illinois without at ERSB speaks to the glaring urgency of this policy change.
Is there enough affordable housing in your ward? Please explain.
Tara Stamps: Working people and poor people who want to work literally cannot afford to live in this city, even in some of the most blighted communities. People are struggling to meet their bills on the westside. The disparities between income and the cost of living continue to rise, and that is forcing people out of the city. The people who are leaving aren’t affluent citizens and businesses, it’s working families and Black people – a reality which has been well documented.
There is absolutely not enough affordable housing in the 37th ward. The availability of affordable housing units in the neighborhood remain at just half of what’s needed to ensure residents can live and stay here. As alderman I will work to prioritize housing affordable for Chicago’s working families, single mothers, the elderly, and the formerly incarcerated. First, I support the current efforts to lift the ban on rent control, to assure that seniors and long-term residents are not pushed out of their homes. I will work with other elected officials to launch an aggressive and immediate effort to stop the loss of affordable housing, and reverse the loss with a massive investment in the creation of new family-sized affordable housing units; stabilize and expand the number of public housing units, and implement a development plan that prioritizes housing affordability for Chicago’s working families. For large scale development projects that require city funds or zoning changes, I support the implementation of Community Benefits Agreements that help ensure that long-term residents can stay in their homes and benefit from new development. CBA’s that include affordable housing minimums, establish land trusts and co-ops on city-owned land being used, and prioritize high local hire requirements.
In addition to these measures to ensure that affordable housing in Chicago is protected and expanded, I’d like to see the City spend more on homeless services and to prevent homelessness than it currently does – by raising the tax on luxury and commercial real estate deals. No one should be sleeping on the streets, in train cars, or under overpasses while luxury houses sit empty – we have the resources to ensure that no one has to die from exposure to cold in a world-class city.
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?
Tara Stamps: I support the Welcoming City ordinance and would like to see it strengthened by eliminating the carve-outs that still allow ICE to collaborate with CPD and other local law enforcement agencies to detain undocumented immigrants. These exceptions involve individuals listed in the city’s highly controversial and racially biased gang database. I support the amendment of the welcoming city ordinance that would remove these limits and align Chicago’s sanctuary status with that of the Illinois Trust Act. People facing criminal charges still have to go through the criminal legal system and should not face double punishment from agencies that exist for separate purposes. At a time when Chicago has become a site of resistance to President Trump’s immigration policies, including a federal lawsuit, it’s essential that we uphold our commitment to protect undocumented residents of the city – not just in headlines but in realtime.
Should the inspector general have the power to audit and review City Council programs, operations and committees? Why or why not?
Tara Stamps: The Inspector General should absolutely have the power to audit and review City Council programs, operations and committees. Someone needs to. Council members should be held to the same standards of ethics as any other city employee, and if anything should face tougher scrutiny as elected officials.
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.
Tara Stamps: I would not employ staff in my office who have outside jobs or contracts with entities that do business with the city, as that invites clear conflicts of interest into the office. The public loses when those writing and legislating policy around city developments are motivated by their own ability to make a profit rather than its overall benefit (or harm) to our neighborhoods.
Is there a past or current alderman whom you model yourself after, or would model yourself after, or take inspiration from? Please explain.
Tara Stamps: The Alderwoman whom I consider a role model is Helen Shiller. Helen stood shoulder -to -shoulder with my mother, the late Marion Stamps and fought ferociously against gentrification and discrimination. She worked with Chuy, Rudy, and Marion to form a Black and Brown Alliance that was instrumental in getting Harold Washington elected. She unified the people of Uptown, a proud ethnically diverse community. She inspired and developed leaders, teachers and activist who continue to fight for the soul of this great city. For nearly a quarter century she represented the 46th ward and remained committed to the community.