On Feb. 8, Benjamin Thomas Wolf appeared before the Chicago Sun-Times Editorial Board. We asked him why he’s running for the Democratic seat in the 5th Congressional District of Illinois in the March 2018 primary:
My name is Benjamin Thomas Wolf. I was born and raised here in the Midwest, my parents were public school teachers. I was recruited by the FBI while I was at an internship in Washington, D.C., where I worked on national security investigations including terrorism, espionage and counter-intelligence investigations. I worked there for five years, I was one of the first responders to the Pentagon on 9/11. I was on the hazardous materials unit so I worked on the anthrax investigation and after five wonderful years at the FBI I transferred to the State Department as a United States diplomat working in developing nations in Africa and the Middle East. I raised my children in West Africa, places like Senegal, Mali, Mauritania and Algeria. I served in Iraq multiple times, I was on Condoleezza Rice’s personal staff and traveled with George Bush as well. I then transferred back to Washington, D.C. and worked for Interpol and part of the National Security Council under the Obama White House.
I moved to Chicago five years ago to finish my doctorate in international psychology, I’m now a professor of government and history at Roosevelt University and East-West University. I am a non-profit president for a small non-profit which helps with housing issues called Keep Chicago Livable, and I am a restaurant owner in Logan Square called Park and Field, me and my family live in Wicker Park.
Top priorities as a U.S. Congressperson is universal healthcare, I feel strongly that everyone deserves and is entitled to basic healthcare to make an overall happier and healthier society. Legalizing cannabis is one of our biggest priorities, we feel not only is it medicine, it will bring billions of dollars to the city and state and it also helps with criminal justice reform. And finally we’d like to find free education options for universities, state schools and state school so people don’t have such college debt.
The Chicago Sun-Times sent the candidates seeking nominations for Congress a list of questions to find out their views on a range of important issues facing the state of Illinois. Benjamin Thomas Wolf submitted the following answers to our questionnaire:
QUESTION: As a member of the House from Illinois, please explain what your specific cause or causes will be. Please avoid a generic topic or issue in your answer.
ANSWER: Universal Healthcare: My first priority as a United States Congressman is to provide free and basic medical insurance for every person in our country in the form of universal healthcare. As a career U.S. Diplomat, I have worked in dozens of nations with cost free and yet effective national coverage that provide both medical and mental healthcare for everyone. This allows for an overall happier and healthier society. In my job as a federal representative, I will provide leadership, protection, and new ideas to improve our national healthcare agenda. I see universal healthcare as my first national initiative.
Cannabis: I am the only candidate that has come out in favor of federally legalizing cannabis and openly discussing the fact that cannabis is a routine part of my life. More than 70 percent of Americans are in favor of legalizing cannabis regardless of political party affiliation, and in Chicago that rate is over 85 percent. We must see cannabis as medicine, first and foremost. Likewise, it could provide billions of dollars in tax revenue to our state. As a former federal agent and law enforcement officer, I know that legal cannabis would have a profound impact on the criminal justice system for young minorities in urban areas. Legal cannabis would lower incarceration rates and help to free up our courts and jails. Furthermore, during the Primary on March 20, Illinoisans have the opportunity to make our state the first in the Midwest to legalize cannabis. This will lead to billions in revenue that the 5th District and Illinois desperately needs. I am proud to be called the ‘cannabis candidate.’
Free Higher Education: As the child of two public school teachers and now a university professor myself, I understand the importance of quality public and higher education accessible to all. The first step is giving families and their children the opportunity for universal preschool for three and four-year-olds. In addition, we must find a mechanism or system to ensure free higher education for everyone. This includes: trade schools, community colleges, and four-year state universities. Yet, the effects of our education system extends beyond the time people attend school. Student loan debt is an epidemic that restrains American creativity and the overall American workforce. Funding for higher education will come about through priorities focusing on the development of American academics, tradesmen, and specializations. In higher education, we must reevaluate our priorities as a nation with a focus towards developing our most valuable resource, our people. Education must become a top priority.
Benjamin Thomas Wolf
Office running for: 5th Congressional district (Illinois)
Political/civic background: First time running for office. Career United States Diplomat; Special Agent, United States Department of State; National Security Investigator, Federal Bureau of Investigation; Adjunct Professor, Government & Politics; President, Keep Chicago Livable
Occupation: Congressional Candidate; Adjunct Professor of Government and Political Science; co-owner of Park & Field
Education: PhD Candidate, Chicago School of Professional Psychology; Masters, American Military University; Kent State University, B.A. Criminal Justice
Campaign website: wolfforcongress.org
QUESTION: Please list three district-specific needs that will be your priorities. This could be a project that is needed in your district, or a rule that needs to be changed, or some federal matter that has been ignored.
ANSWER: Crime: The crime in Chicago has become a national tragedy. As a former law enforcement official, I understand the needs and sacrifices of our police officers and feel they are restrained by lack of resources and leadership. The Chicago Police Department must remove all the current leadership and begin forced retirements. To find new officers and leadership we need a nationwide hiring program to locate the best new recruits and experienced administrators. The citizens and residents of Chicago merit a professionalized police force in which they can have pride and confidence. The citizens must also continue to support the police department and be involved in community meetings and action plans.
Unions: Labor unions are the backbone of our city and yet do not have the power nor respect they deserve. Unions provide job security, collective bargaining rights and training programs that fill our city with professional skilled labor. In 1960, organized labor made up more than 30 percent of all labor in the U.S. whereas today it is 9 percent. Unions are being destroyed by big businesses and lobbyists as they continue to undermine the power once wielded by organized labor. During my campaign, we have made two promises: first, to have a union representative in our office and secondly to draft legislation that crushes union-busting ‘right to work’ laws nationally. My opponent, the incumbent, voted for the TPP and other legislation that harms unions. He has not earned union support. I have served in four unions throughout my professional career and, as a United States Congressman, I will return the power and respect that unions deserve.
Student Loan Debt: We must find ways to fund free higher education in trade schools, community colleges, and state universities. Student loan debt is crippling young people and preventing them from purchasing homes and working in their fields of study. Student loans have become a modern form of indentured servitude for college graduates from which there is almost no reprieve. Student loan rates are twice that of mortgage rates and are given to teenagers, which is tantamount to loansharking. I will create programs that use tax income from legal cannabis which can then be put into a fund that purchases the loans of people that move to Illinois or for those that work for five years in public service.
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QUESTION: If you are running as a Democrat, what is your best idea for getting any initiative you may propose advanced if the House continues to be controlled by the GOP after the 2018 elections?
ANSWER: I have served three Presidents and four Secretaries of State, both Democrat and Republican. Throughout my career, I have made it a priority to maintain positive relationships with those that have different political views or perspectives. My main priority will always be the people of the 5th District, but I recognize that compromise is an inherent part of politics. Finding a balance and establishing positive working relationships in Washington D.C. will be my priority as a freshman Congressman. Even with a Republican majority, I will aggressively draft and sponsor progressive legislation that aligns with the 5th District’s Democratic and progressive ideals.
TOPIC: President Donald Trump
QUESTION: What do you make of President Trump?
ANSWER: American leaders have always entered the office of the President with humility, service, and goodness. We expect a president to endorse peace, equality, and education. We hope that they lead with a worldview and appreciate the planet and our place in the universe. For the first time in recent American history, we have an outwardly hostile and malicious president. President Trump entered the office by stoking the fires of fear, loss, and nationalism. His actions and words will take decades from which to recover.
QUESTION: Which three actions by the Trump administration do you support the most? Which three do you oppose the most?
ANSWER: I can honestly say that I have yet to witness an action by the Trump Administration that I support.
Americans elected a United States President that clearly lacks experience and leadership skills. He undermines the American judicial system and our national elections. Having worked for the Department of Justice, the FBI, and the U.S. Foreign Service, I am concerned that he and this administration are purposefully tearing down the very institutions that I helped build. The president questions the ability of our national government and sews doubt about our federal institutions. Politicians come and go, policies change, but the institutions of this nation are the bedrock of democracy and the foundation of everything we hold dear.
The administration has advocated policies that will lead to clear destruction of our environment. As an avid hiker, climber, and outdoorsmen, I was always taught to treat the planet with the utmost respect. With this president’s dismantling of the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), continuing various oil pipelines, and leaving the Paris Climate Agreement, it is clear that he has no respect for the future of our planet. He denies scientific and global warming theories while cutting the budgets of research and science facilities. Again, his actions will take decades from which to recover, if recovery is possible.
The most destructive aspect of our current president’s actions is his erosion of the truth. He constantly lies to the American people and spreads propaganda about those that do not agree with his ideology. His administration undermines the media and favors some news outlets while restricting access to others. The current White House is eroding confidence in the idea of the truth, which may be his most damaging and lasting legacy.
QUESTION: What is your view of special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation of Russian tampering in the 2016 election, including possible collusion by the Trump campaign. Does Mueller have your support?
ANSWER: Having served under Director Mueller at the F.B.I. as a National Security Investigator, I can confirm his objectivity, neutrality, and desire to find the truth in a large profile federal investigation. Having worked on large high profile Russian intelligence investigations, I understand the need for time, proper resources, and the overall support of the Executive Branch. I fully support Director Mueller’s investigation as special counsel and any subsequent Department of Justice investigations. Intelligence investigations such as this one are complicated and opaque. These investigations bring the truth to light, and if any wrongdoing occurred, Director Mueller and his team will find it.
QUESTION: What should Congress do to reduce the threat of terrorism at home, either from ISIS or from others?
ANSWER: Domestically, Congress must continue to ensure the intelligence communities and federal law enforcement have the proper resources at their disposal, including proper budget and personnel. Aside from resource allocation, Congress needs to pass an updated Authorization for the Use of Military Force or AUMF. The current AUMF has not been updated since it was first enacted days after 9/11. Congress must have the opportunity to reevaluate what is in the current AUMF so that congressional oversight and its constitutionally protected powers cannot be bypassed by the Executive Branch. Congress can do this while also assuring the military and our allies a smooth transition along with a renewed commitment to fighting terrorism at home and abroad.
Internationally, we must recognize that in our attempt to counter terrorist activities, we have only created more conflict. In our attempt to create peace, we have only created more war and suffering. I was a first responder to the Pentagon attack on September 11, 2001 and saw firsthand the effects of violence and terrorism. We must find ways to immediately remove Americans from Iraq, Afghanistan, Syria and all other current conflict zones. Violence will always beget violence. The United States must lead with a worldview and endorse peace.
TOPIC: Guns and violence
QUESTION: What is the single most important action Congress can take to curb gun violence in the United States?
ANSWER: As a federal agent, I carried a gun for over two decades and as a current gun owner, I know the importance of protecting the Second Amendment right to owning a firearm. I strongly believe in the right to protect homes, families, and property. My father grew up hunting for his family’s food, so rifles and shotguns are basic tools in rural areas. As a society, we must ban assault weapons for civilian use. Assault weapons are neither tools nor collectibles but rather mass killing machines. The gun violence in our nation is completely preventable with proper criminal background checks and the strict banning of any and all assault weapons.
QUESTION: Do you favor a law banning the sale and use of “bump stocks” that increase the firing speed of semi-automatic weapons? Why? Do you favor any further legal limits on guns of any kind? Or, conversely, what gun restrictions should be done away with?
ANSWER: Yes, bump stocks should be banned. There are a number of ways to ‘convert’ weapons to make them more dangerous. Any mechanism that changes a legal semi-automatic weapon into an illegal fully automatic weapon should be banned indefinitely. Bump stocks are merely a way to circumvent the law.
TOPIC: America’s growing wealth gap
QUESTION: As an editorial board, our core criticism of the tax overhaul legislation supported by the Republican majorities in the House and Senate is that it lowers taxes on corporations and the wealthiest Americans at a time of historic inequalities of wealth and income in the United States. We believe in free markets, but it does not look to us like the “silent hand” of the market is functioning properly, rewarding merit fairly. We are troubled that the top 1 percent of Americans own 38.6 percent of the nation’s wealth and the bottom 90 percent own just 22.8 percent of the wealth.Tell us how we are right or wrong about this. Does the growing income and wealth gap trouble you?
ANSWER: The current state of wealth inequality is disturbing. As the gap grows, it becomes clearer that the rich can continue to save and invest money. In fact, ten percent of U.S. families own eighty percent of all publicly traded stock. Conversely, more than half of Americans cannot afford to put one dollar into a 401(k).
America’s greatness stems from its successful middle class. Just as other developing nations exhibit, we are beginning to see the widening of a gap in wealth pushing fewer to be extremely rich while large numbers of Americans slowly sink into poverty. Student loans, medical bills, and low wages continue to erode the middle class, not allowing them to have proper savings or have the ability to buy their own home.
TOPIC: International affairs
QUESTION: Do you support the Trump administration’s decision to move the United States embassy in Israel to Jerusalem? How will this help or hinder efforts to secure a lasting peace between Israel and its Middle East neighbors?
ANSWER: No, I do not support this move. Although I recognize Israel is one of our strongest and most important allies, this move sends a markedly confusing message to our allies around the world, but more importantly, to the Middle East region. Moving the American embassy to Jerusalem recognizes Jerusalem as the capital of Israel rather than an International City as recognized by the United Nations. This is a move that goes against seventy years of established international norms and effectively adds another major roadblock to a viable two-state solution. Having worked in the Middle East, I understand the concern about this unilateral and spontaneous move with zero support from the international community. This move can only hinder a lasting peace between Israel and its Middle East neighbors.
QUESTION: Is military action by the United States a plausible response to the nuclear weapons threat posed by North Korea? How might a U.S. military response play out for South Korea, Japan and China? What alternative do you support?
ANSWER: Yes. Any outward threat to the United States or its allies must be seen as credible. As a former diplomat, I value peace and diplomacy. However, should there be constant threats or provocations, there will be a time for military action. Our intelligence and armed forces likely have already prepared various diplomatic, intelligence, and military options that range from preemptive to retaliatory.
Any military action against North Korea seriously puts some of our strongest military and economic allies at great risk, not to mention millions of innocent people in the region. This means that the United States, South Korea, Japan, and China must do everything it can to maintain the status quo while using diplomatic and economic channels to halt North Korea from further developing nuclear weapons. Military action would only create chaos in a region that desires peace and prosperity.
An alternative solution is to pressure China to become more directly involved. For far too long, the United States has allowed China the luxury of circumventing direct involvement in negotiations with North Korea. China has repeatedly undercut U.S. sanctions by allowing Chinese banks and enterprises to continue doing business in North Korea. In the end, we must pressure China to recognize this is an international problem.
QUESTION: The Supreme Court has ruled that the third version of the Trump administration’s travel ban on eight countries with predominantly Muslim populations can go into effect while legal challenges against the ban continue. What is your position on this travel ban?
ANSWER: I am completely against the travel ban. The travel ban is shrouded in prejudicial anti-Muslim sentiment. It is a cheap play to appeal and strengthen Trump’s base. This ban unfortunately affects thousands of innocent men, women, and children simply because of where they were born, the color of their skin, and the god they pray to. It is absolutely terrible.
QUESTION: Has the United States in the last decade been accepting too many immigrants, and does this pose a threat to the American way of life?
ANSWER: Immigrants do not pose a threat to the American way of life. They enhance it. The vast majority of immigrants coming to the United States are coming here for better lives and to find opportunity. The differing cultures and viewpoints only make us a better nation.
QUESTION: Should the “wall” between the United States and Mexico be built? What might it accomplish?
ANSWER: As a former federal agent, I understand the notion and legal need for borders. While borders must be visible and clear, history has shown us that walls simply do not work. The wall should not be built, and if it were to be built, it would accomplish nothing. This is yet another absurd idea in a long line of them by the president. Much like the Muslim ban, this idea is shrouded in prejudice and fear that simply speaks to Trump’s base, further emboldening them and their nationalist agenda. Building a wall along our border with Mexico would cost taxpayers millions of dollars and accomplish nothing because it still would not solve the problems facing our immigration system. Our immigration system must be clear, reasonable, and simple.
TOPIC: Affordable Care Act
QUESTION: The tax reform plan created by Republican majorities in the House and Senate would eliminate the Obamacare “individual mandate” that most Americans must have health insurance or pay a fine. Does this threaten the viability of the Affordable Care Act? What more on this, if anything, should be done?
ANSWER: I support universal healthcare. Basic healthcare is a fundamental human right as stated by the United Nations. The Affordable Care Act has made health insurance more complicated and at times more expensive for many Americans. Only with a universal healthcare program can we assure everyone proper medical treatments and coverage.
TOPIC: The opponent(s)
QUESTION: What is your biggest difference with your opponent(s)?
ANSWER: I have spent my entire adult life in public service.
During my final year of college, I was recruited to work for the FBI. After the training academy in Quantico, I was assigned to the National Security squad where I worked on the highest-level intelligence and terrorisms cases. I was also one of the first responders to the Pentagon on September 11.
I later became a United States Diplomat where I spent years living and working in developing nations throughout Africa and the Middle East while promoting security, democracy and human rights.
I have served three presidents and four secretaries of state. I have served in conflict zones and was deployed multiple times to Iraq. My experiences and sacrifices make me a better father, teacher, and citizen.
It has always been my calling and my duty to protect and defend others.
I’m running for the United States congress so that I may continue to serve my country and my community. I speak as a part of the working class and for all those that are concerned about the direction in which this country is moving.
The 5th District is one of the most progressive and educated in the country, with the average resident age is thirty-three and with fifty percent of residents being college educated. I will fight for universal healthcare, free college education, and the legalization of marijuana. I support public schools and strong unions.
I am a Chicago homeowner, small business owner, and the president of a nonprofit.
I have a modern and multicultural family. At home, we use words like honor, peace, and equality. We raised our children in Africa and continue to teach them to think collectively and maintain a worldview.
As your congressman, I will proudly represent the people of Chicago and Cook and Dupage counties. I will fight this president every day and ensure he is held accountable for his words and his actions.
I am the next generation of American leadership.