45th Ward candidate for alderman: Marilyn Morales
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The Sun-Times Editorial Board sent the candidates running for 45th Ward alderman a list of questions to find out their views on a range of issues facing the city and their ward. Marilyn Morales submitted the following responses (the Sun-Times does not edit candidate responses):
Who is Marilyn Morales?
She’s running for: 45th Ward alderman
Her political/civic background: Various Chicago Park Advisory Councils; Public Servant for over 25 years
Her occupation: Operations Manager, Chicago Park District
Her education: Masters In Educational Leadership, UIC
Campaign website: marilyn45.com
What are the top three priorities for your ward?
Marilyn Morales: Public safety by adequate police staffing & stronger working relationship with the community and the police. Economic development – to address the blighted pocketed areas in the 45th ward. Sustain our small businesses and create business opportunities. Build strong alliances in the business community. Better utilization of City Services through positive partnerships and restore trust and faith in the Aldermanic Office.
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.
Marilyn Morales: I created the Chicago Park District Area Teen “RISE” Leadership Program in partnership with Second City – I enhanced our teen camps in the past two summers by incorporating a leadership curriculum that focused on making sure students received job readiness skills as well as making sure they were prepared for college admissions. During the course of the six-week camp, the teens (over 100 teens each year) had to complete a Resume, we worked with them in preparing for an Interview, and participated in field trips and events so they could Self-Evaluate and Reflect on their strengths and weaknesses. At the end of the program they each delivered an Elevator speech to their peers.
We worked on proper handshakes, maintaining eye to eye contact when speaking, and presentation skills during the camp. At Second City they were able to work on Improv skills to better help them manage presentations. We now have over two hundred teens in Chicago with enhanced self-esteem, better people skills, a strong handshake, and solid confidence that they are on the path to success. This was my idea, my push, and my expectation that all my area park staff commit into empowering our youth.
Hurricane Maria – As the manager of Humboldt Park I was able to work with several city agencies, particularly OEMC and Department of Human Services, Salvation Army, and countless other agencies to ensure the fieldhouse was prepared to be used as the official welcome center for Hurricane Maria evacuees. Under my leadership we provided resources such as clothing, coats, and food. I also ensured that we work closely with all agencies to ensure for the maximum benefits to the evacuees. My ability to work with various personalities, agendas, and day to day shifting priorities is a testament to my ability to work successfully with diverse groups and be proactive in meeting end results for the betterment of citizens.
I also introduced and advocated for LGTBQ Awareness at the Chicago Park District. I collaborated with the Gay and Straight Alliance and introduced the idea that as a park district we needed to be more aware, sensitive, and educated about LGTBQ issues. We have more LGTB parents with kids as well as Trans youth and teens and in order to be of better service and treat everyone with dignity and respect, we needed to be educated about this. Following my lead, the Chicago Park District partnered with the Safe Schools Alliance and are offering presentations on this topic for staff district-wide. Additionally, I took the lead in partnering with UIC to better assist our staff in working with at risk youth.
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.
Marilyn Morales: I do not support legislative action that would reduce the benefits of current or retired city employees. They have paid into a system where the terms and conditions of benefits were laid out. These employees planned their lives around that and I strongly believe we need to protect their benefits. It’s the right thing to do. I do support reviewing the wages and benefits for new city employees and addressing excessive salaries, benefits, and perks for executives and management in our city agencies.
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.
Marilyn Morales: Yes, on legalized marijuana because we are eventually moving in that direction. Yes, on LaSalle Street Tax and real estate transfer tax because a very modest increase is fair for entities that can afford it. I am tired of putting the tax burden on working families. We need to look at options other than property and sales taxes that are devastating the working and middle class. I have to study the casino and video tax as I am sensitive about long term adverse effects on working families and our community. The commuter tax is perhaps something I would consider. City employees must live in the city and thus are held hostage to excessive city taxes. Commuters have the luxury of working in our city, using our resources and not paying into it. However, I would need more time to review these potential sources of revenue. My immediate concern is that for too long City Council has rushed through legislation without considering long term adverse effects on its residents, particularly the working class.
I am clear about the need to be honest and open with the residents of Chicago about the financial situation. For the city to have credibility in addressing these sources of potential revenue, we need first to restructure and reorganize city hall and city agencies. We need to determine where there is duplication of services and reevaluate the salaries and benefits of executives and aldermen. Once taxpayers see that the leadership is serious about solving the budget crisis, we are better able to restore trust in our local government and move towards fiscal prudence.
What other sources of new revenue do you favor or oppose?
Marilyn Morales: Foremost, we need to review and ensure that every city agency is on a strict financial diet. We need to review the salaries of management to ensure that there is a direct correlation with public service to the tax paying residents of Chicago. We need to address the perks and review the purchasing standards of our agencies (including contracts) to be sure we are getting the most of every dollar spent. I see first-hand as a city manager in the Chicago Park District where we can cut costs and raise revenue.
As far as new revenue, I would recommend all city agencies commit to generating some form of revenue for the city. There needs to be more accountability and a higher expectation from all city agencies to contribute in solving the financial crisis.
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?
Marilyn Morales: We need more transparency and accountability on how TIF dollars are used throughout the city (who gets it, where does it go and who makes those decisions); redirecting TIF to areas with greater needs; private entities who receive TIF dollars must be accountable for a larger give-back to communities.
What will you do to rein in aldermanic prerogative?
Marilyn Morales: As for myself I will create community advisory councils on zoning and citywide issues, so that I do not speak or act unilaterally as a sole de facto authoritarian. We need to address the “code of political privilege” embedded in the incumbency of public officials that has created a privileged, arrogant, and elite political culture. It is as obscure as the “aldermanic badge” used to get a parking space — insisting on using a police parking lot to park a personal vehicle to go to a Cubs game and whining about expensive Cub tickets when Aldermen receive over $100,000 for part-time work.
Aldermanic prerogative is really about aldermanic privilege that serves to sustain systemic self-entitlement. My experience running for office has given me firsthand knowledge of how this political system is set up to protect the incumbents and allow for the continuation of their political dynasty. As for myself, I would hold community forums and let our working families decide how to reign it in. I would establish an open and transparent zoning committee and create advisory councils comprised of ward residents. I would self-impose term limits. We need to restore trust and faith in our government officials. We are facing difficult times and in order to have the full trust of our residents we must be inclusive in the decision-making process in order to get our city back on track.
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?
Marilyn Morales: Unfortunately, the Police leadership and City Council leadership have failed to address a systemic problem within the police department for years. I think everyone realizes this. It’s time to admit it, accept it, and work within the consent decree utilizing community groups to help address the problems. This includes looking at reforms that both police and civilians can accept as fair. It should not impede the work of the police and also respect and protect the rights of civilians.
It should not be tough to treat everyone with dignity and respect. We need to invest in police training that includes positively interacting with individuals with mental health issues, de-escalation techniques, building trusting and sustainable community relationships, and understanding that racial profiling weakens us as a city.
We also need to address and review “red flag” situations, such as repeat abusers: repeated complaints and lawsuits against police officers. I have had personal experiences dealing with police misconduct (a cousin falsely accused of murder, served prison and was released and my mother a victim of domestic violence, who was never taken seriously by the police) and yet still believe that the majority of police officer are good men and women devoted to serving and protecting us.
What should Chicago do to reduce the number of illegal guns?
Marilyn Morales: The proliferation of guns has resulted in rampant gun violence and is a constant threat to our citizens’ quality of life. Shootings, homicides, and carjackings are tied to gun violence and we need to make this top priority in the city. This is one issue that is not ward based or left to any one particular area of the city. As a city, we need to declare gun violence a public health and public safety crisis and we need to invest in every way to reduce this senseless violence. We need the entire city to commit and work together to reduce gun violence. I would work with community groups and the CPD, where we would invest in all forms of violence reduction including a national gun registry and harsher prison terms for repeat violent offenders who commit crimes with guns. More importantly, we need to invest heavily in the improvement of neighborhoods that are afflicted by gun violence by creating job and business opportunities, financially investing in community outreach efforts, and look to expand park field house hours on the weekends until 10 PM.
What is the appropriate role of charter schools within the Chicago Public Schools system?
Marilyn Morales: As an enhancement to CPS offerings but not as a detriment to public education, siphoning its dollars or resources.
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?
Marilyn Morales: I support an elected school board.
Is there enough affordable housing in your ward? Please explain.
Marilyn Morales: I believe that there is and always will be a need for additional affordable housing in our ward. I am a supporter of affordable housing and I will work with housing organizations, developers, and residents of the ward to look at all affordable housing opportunities and make it available in the 45th 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?
Marilyn Morales: The Chicago Police should not be in the business of randomly seeking out undocumented immigrants. Their responsibility is to protect and enforce local laws, etc. We should have no issue with individuals who are law abiding, work, attend school, and involved themselves in bettering their communities regardless of their citizenship status.
I would work with NFP and faith-based organizations in ensuring immigrants understand their rights including DACA rights. I would look at offering more English-Speaking (ESL) classes at parks, CCC, and other agencies. Additionally, as we provide a “welcoming city” to undocumented immigrants who have lived and contributed to our city, we also must provide the same depth of commitment and resources to those communities that suffer violence and poverty daily.
Should the inspector general have the power to audit and review City Council programs, operations and committees? Why or why not?
Marilyn Morales: I believe that the IG should scrutinize all levels of government. No public official or government entity should go unchecked. I support the IG having this power, but let me add that their power and authority needs to be checked as well. There needs to be a check and balance within that system.
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.
Marilyn Morales: I would not employ staff who have outside jobs or interest in contracts 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.
Marilyn Morales: Former Alderman Luis Gutierrez, for aligning, working and supporting then Mayor Harold Washington. It was a source of personal pride that he stood firmly with the first African American mayor of Chicago. It made for strong relationship and a unified coalition with the Puerto Rican and Black community. That had a profound impact on me and to this day I am committed to advancing and advocating for the coalition of Black and Latinos in Chicago. I also appreciate and I am proud of his early support for LGBT rights in the early 80’s.
Also running for 45th Ward alderman: