40th Ward candidate for alderman: Ugo Okere
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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. Ugo Okere submitted the following responses (the Sun-Times does not edit candidate responses):
Who is Ugo Okere?
He’s running for: 40th Ward alderman
His political/civic background: I have worked as an organizer of Anakbyan Chicago, served as chairman of Fuerza del Sol, and volunteered on the campaigns of Daniel Biss for Governor, Ameya Pawar for Governor, Bernie Sanders for President, and Chuy Garcia for Mayor. I have also interned at Congressman Mike Quigley’s Office and the Chicago City Clerk’s Office. I was a fellow for the Chicago Federal Executive Board and am currently Community Engagement Coordinator with the Evanston City Clerk’s Office.
His occupation: Community Engagement Coordinator with the Evanston City Clerk’s Office
His education: I have a Bachelor of Arts in Political Science and a Bachelor of Social Work from Loyola University Chicago.
Campaign website: ugo2019.com
What are the top three priorities for your ward?
Ugo Okere: First is ward office responsiveness. Since the start of this campaign, we have knocked thousands of doors in the 40th ward, and a consistent message we hearing across the ward is that there is considerable favoritism and unresponsiveness from the incumbent’s aldermanic office. In areas which have strongly turned out the vote for him, ward services are speedy, reliable and consistent. In areas that have not, or with newer residents and families, there are gaps in service, slow response and inconsistent follow-up. Our office pledges to bring equity to ward services, and attentive, responsive and reliable communication.
Second is affordable housing. In neighborhoods like Lincoln Square and Andersonville, rents are skyrocketing and our housing supply is shrinking. Rather than building affordable housing in the ward, million dollar homes are being built, 2 flats are being converted into single family housing, and in turn long time residents are being pushed out. We need to greatly expand affordable housing in our ward and work from the city level to lift the ban on rent control and pass it city wide.
Third is resident input. In the 40th Ward, for far too long, we have had machine style government where once someone is elected- they make decisions on their own without seeking resident counsel. We plan to change that by instituting weekly ward nights, monthly town halls, building a community driven zoning process similar to the 35th ward, and instituting participatory budgeting
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.
Ugo Okere: In 2017, I became chair of youth community organization Fuerza del Sol, an organization of young leaders that fights for justice in areas of violence prevention, gentrification, immigration, and advocates for racial justice. Through Fuerza del Sol and in partnership with the Justice Republic Coalition, I have worked towards the development of a 15-Point Violence Prevention plan for the City of Chicago. The plan has received endorsements from members of Congress and members of the Illinois State Legislature. I have also taught “What to Do If ICE Comes To Your Door” workshops to students at local high schools in the 40th ward. And in 2018, I canvassed and worked with Chicago Democratic Socialists of America to support the Lift The Ban campaign. Finally, my campaign has held Days of Action where we have helped beautify neighborhood gardens.
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.
Ugo Okere: No. Absolutely not to both questions. A pension is a promise we have made to workers across the city that if you do the work of giving your labor to this city, we will ensure that in sickness and in health, you live a financially sound life. To make changes to the constitution to diminish or impair pensions is a slap in the face to working people who have given their bodies to ensure that this city remains a world-class city. The solution to the unfunded pension liability is raising progressive revenue. Full stop.
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.
Ugo Okere: I support legalized and taxed recreational marijuana and a LaSalle Street Tax. I support these measures for funding because they can bring billions of dollars combined into the revenue stream of the city, while also serving an issue of social justice and a progressive source of revenue. The legalization of marijuana helps undo an ill-informed public policy that has exacerbated the war on drugs (a war on black and brown people). A LaSalle Street Tax is a progressive form of revenue that does not get placed on the backs of working people. I would support a Real Estate Transfer Tax increase on homes over a $750,000 threshold in line with a measure supported by Ald. Waugespack.
What other sources of new revenue do you favor or oppose?
Ugo Okere: I support a tax on vacant luxury housing, progressive ticket fines (ticket fines proportional to income), and a penalty tax (Bad Business Fee) on businesses who commit wage theft.
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?
Ugo Okere: I support the abolition and draining of TIF funds. For far too long, TIF funds have been used to enrich and support the top 1% and wealthy developers. We have given $55 million to Navy Pier for renovations and millions of dollars to the development of luxury housing. The intention of TIF was to support blighted neighborhoods. It is not doing that. This money should be going back to our infrastructure, our schools, and our communities.
What will you do to rein in aldermanic prerogative?
Ugo Okere: Aldermanic prerogative is not written into municipal code. My job as alderman means focusing on healthy and just development for my ward, but also for the entire City of Chicago. We vote as a council, and in turn, when there are projects that need to be built, whether it is public housing, affordable housing, mixed income housing, and more, I will vote in support of it. If there is a project that I believe should not exist in the City of Chicago, I will fight against it vigorously─ for example, the $95-million police academy.
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?
Ugo Okere: I support the federally monitored consent decree, and it does not go far enough. Black and brown residents of the City of Chicago are fearful of the Chicago Police Department for good reason. Police shootings and intimidation of black and brown youth are out of control. Across this city, there are far too many grieving mothers who have lost their children to police violence. The city needs a Civilian Police Accountability Council (CPAC) with the ability to hire and fire police officers who gun down black and brown youth in the streets. No iteration of police accountability mechanisms, whether COPA or IPRA, have proven to have the teeth necessary to reign in police misconduct. There are thousands of supporters across the city and hundreds in my ward who are calling for this ordinance to pass.
What should Chicago do to reduce the number of illegal guns?
Ugo Okere: We need to work with state partners to stop the influx of illegal guns from neighboring states like Indiana that have much more lax gun laws that Chicago. We then need to push for stronger federal gun control measures.
What is the appropriate role of charter schools within the Chicago Public Schools system?
Ugo Okere: There needs to be a moratorium on charter school expansion. In our ward, the opening of a charter school would mean the diminishing of our existing public schools. The answer to college-preparedness, better graduation rates, and higher reading and math scores is investment into Chicago Public Schools. Equitable and exceptional education across the city, means full funding for our public schools.
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?
Ugo Okere: Chicago needs an elected representative school board now. Chicago is the only municipality in Illinois without an elected school board. An appointed school board leaves those in charge of our schools at the behest of the mayor and subject to the short timeline of electoral politics, rather than city residents. Since 2012, an appointed school board has closed 50 schools in majority black and brown neighborhoods, allowed dirty classrooms to flourish, and allowed for rampant corruption.
Is there enough affordable housing in your ward? Please explain.
Ugo Okere: Not in the least. Both Lincoln Square and Andersonville, with the conversion of 2 flat homes into single family housing, rents are skyrocketing and the housing supply is shrinking. Rather than building affordable housing in the ward, million dollar homes are being erected all over our ward, and are in turn pushing out long time residents. Affordable housing needs to be expanded, specifically with the Affordable Requirements Ordinance to call for 30% affordable units per development alongside a disallowment of off-site housing. We need to work from the city level to lift the ban on rent control and pass it city wide. There is a responsibility and a desire on the north side for affordable housing. Just because poverty is not concentrated here, does not mean we do not share in that duty. The rich have the freedom of housing stability and mobility, while the poor do not.
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?
Ugo Okere: I am an immigrant and this issue is close and personal to my heart. We need to strengthen our welcoming city ordinance by removing the carve-outs which allow ICE to come into our communities to round up undocumented immigrants for frivolous issues or non-issues. We also need to create a commission that monitors this ordinance to ensure no collaborations with ICE are happening. In my time as an organizer, I have heard accounts of CPD working with ICE regardless of this ordinance. If elected, I would push for this oversight commission that could possibly serve under the CPAC ordinance.
Should the inspector general have the power to audit and review City Council programs, operations and committees? Why or why not?
Ugo Okere: Yes. Whatever independent review is possible for City Council programs, operations and committees, should exist. Often, the operations and objectives of city government are unclear due to bureaucratic obfuscation. When there are scandals about Chicago not knowing how many fees it has on the books, that is incredibly concerning. We need oversight and review of our city functions.
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.
Ugo Okere: No I have not, nor will I ever. That is an inherent 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.
Ugo Okere: I would model myself after three alderman in particular. First is Alderman Carlos Ramirez-Rosa. Alderman Ramirez-Rosa is a fierce advocate for the the interests of working people. He has no qualms about being the lone vote on issues such as the Cop Academy, and I admire that and will follow suit on the council in regards to taking tough stances in fighting for working class people.
Second is Alderman Scott Waguespack. I admire Ald. Waguespack and his painstaking care in evaluating our city budget. Ald. Waguespack leaves no stone unturned when it comes to Chicago’s finances, and if the data leads him to financial scandal, he is willing to reveal it. I would like to achieve that level of oversight. Third is Alderman John Arena. Alderman Arena has a deep well of knowledge regarding housing and development. I hope to continue to build my understanding of housing and development, so I can also bring more affordable housing and help with the development of formerly dilapidated business districts.