40th Ward candidate for alderman: Andre Vasquez
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The Sun-Times Editorial Board sent the candidates running for 40th Ward alderman a list of questions to find out their views on a range of issues facing the city and their ward. Andre Vasquez submitted the following responses (the Sun-Times does not edit candidate responses):
Who is Andre Vasquez?
He’s running for: 40th Ward alderman
His political/civic background: I got seriously involved in organizing around the 2016 primary elections. I hosted a fundraiser for Bernie Sanders, and immediately began organizing for his campaign by traveling out of state to talk to undecided voters, and hosting door-to-door canvasses.
I became the Chair of the Reclaim Chicago North Chapter, leading canvasses, strategy, and establishing community events (popular education workshops, social nights, chapter meetings). Through my leadership, I built people-power by hosting door-to-door canvassing and phone banks out of my backyard and basement for both Daniel Biss and Ram Villivalam.
His occupation: AT&T Statewide Area Manager
His education: Kaplan University – Associates of Applied Science, Business Administration and Management University of Illinois at Chicago – English/Language Arts Teacher Education, Lane Tech High School
Campaign website: andrefor40th.com
What are the top three priorities for your ward?
- Constituent services
- Affordable housing
- Economic 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.
Andre Vasquez: I’ve been actively organizing for several years in my ward. I’ve hosted dozens of events (from voter contact to political education to block parties), talked with hundreds and hundreds of neighbors, and traveled across the city and state to work for progressive candidates like Daniel Biss, Bernie Sanders, and Ram Villivalam. I’ve built lasting relationships with my neighbors in the 40th, including people who are now taking on public leadership on my campaign kitchen cabinet, or continuing to serve on the local chapter board of Reclaim Chicago. A couple of my most active volunteers, Paul and Sarah, got involved in political life in Chicago directly through the events I was hosting in the ward.
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.
Andre Vasquez: Chicago is facing unprecedented pension debts and liabilities. But a promise is a promise, and a promise was a promise 35 years ago, and 100 years ago. The Illinois constitution should not be amended and benefits should not be reduced for new employees. I do not support reductions in pension benefits for new employees. Working people in Chicago have been picking up the tab for the state and city for too long, paying the price when our government can’t or won’t find the money it needs by taxing those who can afford to be taxed.
I believe that we cannot either break our promises to retirees or stick our heads in the sand and pretend that our problems will disappear. It will take big steps and big deviations from the status quo, including new and innovative sources of 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.
Andre Vasquez: I would support legalized and taxed recreational marijuana, a LaSalle Street tax, and a real estate transfer tax.
I support the legalization of recreational marijuana first and foremost as a racial justice issue. Too many people who look like me have been imprisoned or jailed with unreasonable bail for minor possession cases.
I support a LaSalle Street tax. By taxing financial transactions, we can raise very substantial revenue to match the very substantial fiscal challenges that face the city. I know this idea is controversial. Many of the very wealthy, who would be most impacted by this tax, claim all financial institutions would pack up and leave if Chicago adopted it. I believe we can learn from similar taxes succesfully applied in other world financial centers.
I support a real estate transfer tax as an alternative to increasing existing regressive taxes. I think we absolutely must look to bring in revenue from those who can afford to pay.
I would also be open to supporting a well-planned casino project in Chicago.
What other sources of new revenue do you favor or oppose?
Andre Vasquez: I am not categorically opposed to a property tax or municipal sales tax increase, but would first look for revenue solutions that don’t disproportionately burden working and middle class Chicagoans. I do believe we have to raise the revenue necessary to pay our pension obligations and to avoid further cuts to essential services (like schools or community mental health facilities).
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?
Andre Vasquez: I support a complete overhaul of the TIF program like the Cardenas-Garza ordinance. We cannot accept a one-time pay out of TIF surplus–it needs to be an ongoing investment of property tax funds into crucial services like the Chicago Public Schools. Overall, I believe we need to a take a much stricter look at TIF-funded projects and TIF-districts overall. We should not be funding new projects without guarantee of lasting, substantial public benefit.
What will you do to rein in aldermanic prerogative?
Andre Vasquez: I believe Chicago needs to make comprehensive development plans that apply across the city and take into account the needs of Chicagoans across ward boundaries. I would be willing and excited to develop legislation and norms that facilitate that process. At the same time, I believe that decisions about planning and development cannot be made in only a top-down way. In terms of running my own office, I would develop a democratic decision making process to involve ward residents directly in decisions about zoning changes in our ward.
That all said, I think, fundamentally, this means aldermen need to stop looking at their wards like fiefdoms. Chicago’s problems have not been solved under this model. Too often the wealthier parts of our city refuse to take on their due burden in developing and maintaining affordable housing, and aldermanic prerogative is a weapon in that fight. I would be willing to step out against fellow aldermen when I feel that there is malpractice on issues of justice.
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?
Andre Vasquez: I support the consent decree. I will continue to work to expand and sustain transparency and accountability measures. I support police accountability legislation like the Civilian Police Accountability Council (CPAC). I believe strongly that we need meaningful police oversight in order to make our city safe for everyone. Too often, people who look like me have to be afraid when they run into a police officer on the street. And too many police officers have to deal with the consequences of their colleagues’ bad actions. We all share a common interest in addressing this problem.
I say this having served as a civilian facilitator for CAPS, and having seen that community supported police work can actually bring communities together. But we can’t bring that unity everywhere without serious changes in Chicago policing.
What should Chicago do to reduce the number of illegal guns?
Andre Vasquez: Illegal guns that are used to commit crimes in Chicago are often carried over the border from Indiana. I would support litigation to stem the flow of illegal weapons from our surrounding states. I will organize 40th Ward residents to press congressional elected officials to pass universal background check legislation. I also support strengthening penalties against “bad apple” gun dealers at the state and federal levels, as well as legislation and litigation that would hold gun manufacturers accountable. While intervention at the local and individual level is important, our current strategy is not working. We ought to focus our effort on the people who profit from the constant churn of guns into Chicago.
What is the appropriate role of charter schools within the Chicago Public Schools system?
Andre Vasquez: First, I support a moratorium on the expansion of charter schools. I am in support of greater oversight and regulation of currently existing charter schools. I also support the expansion of teachers’ unions in charter schools. As a parent, I know what a personal and tough decision it is to ensure that our kids receive the best education possible. I am lucky to live in a neighborhood with good neighborhood schools. But I know parents who have struggled to navigate the complexity: poorly performing neighborhood schools, limited spots in better schools distributed by anxiety-inducing lottery, and expensive private schools.
This should not be how it feels to look for a school in Chicago. All neighborhood schools should be world class. We must redirect existing revenue back into our school system, maintain schools in neighborhoods where they’re needed, and stop the flow of public funds to private entities. This is the only way to do right by Chicago’s families.
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?
Andre Vasquez: Chicago should make the switch to a fully elected school board.
Is there enough affordable housing in your ward? Please explain.
Andre Vasquez: No. I still hear from neighbors who are being priced out of this ward every day when I knock doors. I support the creation of affordable housing in my ward and across the city in a lot of different ways: rent control, greater investment of public dollars in housing stock and rent subsidy, and protection of existing affordable housing. My family was priced out of 5 neighborhoods when I was growing up. This was an incredibly difficult experience for myself and my family. I was able to succeed in spite of that, but I believe that no Chicagoan should experience that kind of housing instability. We all deserve to live in safe, stable, and pleasant neighborhoods.
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?
Andre Vasquez: I strongly support this policy, and oppose any carve outs or exceptions. My ward office will also be a safe haven for undocumented neighbors who live in the ward. These issues are personal to me. My parents immigrated from Guatemala looking to live a safe, prosperous life. The same fear that shaped their psyche and my childhood is the same fear that folks are feeling over forty years later. While I won’t have the power to change state and federal law on city council, I can and will fight to make sure that all of our choices as a city honor our immigrant neighbors as neighbors. All people deserve to live in safety and security, and I will govern based on that principle.
Should the inspector general have the power to audit and review City Council programs, operations and committees? Why or why not?
Andre Vasquez: Absolutely! It is appalling to me that this is a question. All City Council programs should be open to oversight. Until we have appropriate oversight that can catch and deal with ethics problems when they’re small, we will continue to have City Hall office windows covered with butcher paper and federal agents rooting around inside. This is a very basic transparency and accountability issue.
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.
Andre Vasquez: I have not and would not.
Is there a past or current alderman whom you model yourself after, or would model yourself after, or take inspiration from? Please explain.
Andre Vasquez: While David Orr served as alderman of the 49th Ward, he put just as much energy and attention into shoveling sidewalks and organizing street cleaning along the El tracks as he did to building transparency into the ward office DNA. David Orr’s double focus on physically working for his constituents and building a ward office on strong, progressive principles is inspiring to me.
Alderman John Arena inspired me by standing with constituents who wanted and welcomed affordable housing in his ward. I admire his resolve, his commitment to open and public disagreement and debate about ward matters, and his commitment to principle on this issue.