9th Ward candidate for alderman: Cleopatra Watson
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The Sun-Times Editorial Board sent the candidates running for 9th Ward alderman a list of questions to find out their views on a range of issues facing the city and their ward. Cleopatra Watson submitted the following responses (the Sun-Times does not edit candidate responses):
Who is Cleopatra Watson?
She’s running for: 9th Ward alderman
Her political/civic background:
- Community Representative, Local School Council, Corliss High School
- Founder, United Pullman Civic community organization
Her occupation: Social Worker
Her education: Bachelors Communication, Minor: African-American Studies, Eastern Illinois University; Masters Social Work, Minor: Community Health and Urban Development Jane Addams College of Social Work, University of Illinois at Chicago
Campaign website: electcleopatra.com
Twitter handle: @electcleopatra
Facebook page: Facebook.com/electcleopatra
What are the top three priorities for your ward?
Cleopatra Watson: My top three priorities are as follows:
- Increase in affordable housing and housing stabilization services;
- Advocate for equitable school funding and the tailoring of public education curricula to promote career-focused training;
- Combat food insecurity and eliminate food deserts.
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.
Cleopatra Watson: I am the founder of United Pullman, a civic community organization nestled in the northern end of the Pullman National Monument. We actively engage in the community with our annual back-to-school drive, annual community cleanup, and monthly meetings to organize block-by-block.
Additionally, I serve on the local school council as the Community Representative for Corliss High School. I am also the Beat Captain liaison in my community, which allows me to represent our residents and actively participate in our monthly Beat meetings with 5th District Chicago Police Chicago Alternative Policing Strategy (CAPS) program.
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.
Cleopatra Watson: No, I oppose a pension reduction. The current pension beneficiaries were under an agreement for a full pension amount, and it is our responsibility—no matter what—to deliver that to them. Pension cuts will weaken future municipal employment and our retirement population. Potential city employees will find municipal job prospects less attractive without full retirement benefits. At the same time, retirees with reduced pensions will not be able to actually retire and stay in Chicago. These two factors also will negatively impact Chicago’s economic viability, compared to other metro areas.
Illinois spends the most in the nation on pension benefits at the state and local levels, as a share of all government spending. While I strongly believe that it is our responsibility to fulfill our promise to current pension beneficiaries fully, I am willing to consider the support of a constitutional amendment to allow changes to future, unearned pension benefits. Studies have shown that this may the only way to stop rising property taxes and income taxes, as well as prevent annual pension contributions from crowding out government spending on education and social services at the state and local levels.
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.
Cleopatra Watson: Taxed recreational marijuana would be a good start in the right direction to find multiple streams of income to generate new revenue for Chicago. Cities like Denver have proven that marijuana can be sold responsibly, and the profit generated therein could be beneficial to the city. Chicago could also be a beneficiary to this initiative if we collect and spend the revenue responsibly.
What other sources of new revenue do you favor or oppose?
Cleopatra Watson: I oppose bringing a casino to Chicago. Although casino revenue could potentially increase city revenue, there are many negative effects of more easy accessibility to a casino that would be potentially detrimental to working-class and middle-class people.
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?
Cleopatra Watson: In light of way TIFs have been misappropriated, I would first vote for a full audit of the way the funds have been used for the past five years, followed by a projection of the financial obligations of the city, and then a recalculation of TIF dispersal. As it stands, TIFs are not equitably dispersed throughout Chicago, thereby not meeting all of the City’s financial needs. Accordingly, TIF uses must be reassessed and allocated accordingly.
What will you do to rein in aldermanic prerogative?
Cleopatra Watson: In effort to work in support of the constituents in the 9th Ward, I am excited to reinstate precinct captains, participatory budgeting, listening tours, and town halls. Precinct captains will allow me, as alderman, to be visible, engaged in the community, and have boots on the ground able to help residents foster a closer working relationship with their alderman. Participatory budgeting will better enable community residents have a say in how monies are being spent in their community, as well as ensure transparency in budgetary decisions.
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?
Cleopatra Watson: Yes, I support measures to hold Chicago Police Department (CPD) accountable. The consent decree was created in direct response to our United States Department of Justice devastating report on the use of force and misconduct by CPD. Throughout the process, residents raised their voices and shared experiences of policing in their communities. It is imperative we continue to uplift their voices and recognize the value it brings to our community’s culture of safety. No, I do not believe if enforced will make toughen the role, but it will enhance CPD’s performance and interaction particularly among people of color.
What should Chicago do to reduce the number of illegal guns?
Cleopatra Watson: In Chicago, our illegal gun usage and murder rate is an epidemic. It is imperative that we support efforts of our municipal, state and federal law enforcement to minimize gun trafficking from border states, as well as encourage our federal law makers to tighten laws centered on universal background checks. Additionally, we must fight to increase funding for social service agencies that have successfully championed for common sense gun reform and anti-violence efforts.
What is the appropriate role of charter schools within the Chicago Public Schools system?
Cleopatra Watson: Right now, there should be a moratorium on charter school expansions; investment should be reconfigured for public schools; unused school properties should be appropriated for various neighborhood needs. Chicago Public Schools and the Mayor’s office need to address charter network oversight and compliance to ensure evaluation is fair and equitable for youth, parents, and communities. I support an elected school board with the vision of equity applied across CPS.
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?
Cleopatra Watson: No, the Chicago Board of Education should not be appointed by the mayor. The vast majority of metropolitan areas have elected school boards. It is long overdue, and so I support the adoption of a new model. My expectation is that our public school system brings us to the plateau of equity across our city.
Is there enough affordable housing in your ward? Please explain.
Cleopatra Watson: No, there is not enough affordable housing in the 9th Ward. As a social worker, I recognize a number of shelters on the South Side are closing, while rent and property taxes are constantly on the rise. We should work toward lifting the ban on rent control to ensure working class families are not subjected to being pushed out of Chicago among other affordable housing opportunities.
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?
Cleopatra Watson: Chicago is one of the most culturally diverse cities in the country, and, as such, truly embodies the definition of a “welcoming city.” I not only support its characterization as a sanctuary city, but its expansion. Moving forward, we need to reduce the criminalizing of immigrant communities to ensure fair and equal treatment of all racial and ethnic groups.
Should the inspector general have the power to audit and review City Council programs, operations and committees? Why or why not?
Cleopatra Watson: Yes, the Inspector General should have the power to audit and review City Council programs, operations and committees. This will create a necessary check and balance for governmental accountability. As we continue to find new revenue streams for pensions and operations, we must ensure we are eliminating waste, fraud and operating with maximum efficiency.
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.
Cleopatra Watson: No, I will not hire staff with outside jobs or contract with entities that do business with the City in a conscious effort to avoid partisan dealing.
Is there a past or current alderman whom you model yourself after, or would model yourself after, or take inspiration from? Please explain.
Cleopatra Watson: Alderman Sophia King is a champion, leader, and fighter for her constituents in the 4th Ward. She caught my attention when she decided to press the issue and raise questions in her support for the renaming of Balbo Drive to Ida B. Wells Drive. Alderman King defied the Mayor and some of her colleagues to support the vision of a key historical figure to be recognized here in Chicago. Although the first battle died in chambers, Alderman King did not quit. Due to her persistence and ability to uplift the renaming project, Congress Drive will be renamed. Overall, her accessibility and responsiveness to her residents is admirable. She is a dynamic leader in her ward and champion in our city council.
Also running for 9th Ward alderman: