Openly gay computer scientist/software developer Daniel Foster ( D ) is running in the primary against incumbent Larry Suffredin and challenger Bushra Amiwala. ( Chris J. Hanusiak is running unopposed as a Republican. )
Foster, 30, has lived in the district for 24 of those years.
Windy City Times: Why did you decide to run?
Daniel Foster: I am really excited for the future and I want everyone to know they can be exited for the future too. Many people are saying that things are getting worse and I do not think that is true. In my lifetime, things have gotten better including the environment, healthcare and productivity. As a computer scientist, I have a lot of familiarity with technology which is increasing productivity and productivity is synonymous with wealth. People are becoming wealthier all the time. I am optimistic and I think everyone else should be optimistic too and that is what I am trying to bring to our community on the north side.
WCT: How would you approach the job differently than what the incumbent has done in the past?
DF: I am looking to bring different ideas to government because there are a lot of things that elected officials are afraid to try, like putting forth new legislation that might be challenged in court. What we need is someone who will work full-time on these issues, not a part-time politician like the incumbent.
My challenger Bushra is more conservative and worked for Mark Kirk during the last election. I also believe she also does not align with the values of the district in terms of her policy positions.
WCT: You indicated that you would be a full-time commissioner with no other job. Why is that important to you?
DF: If Cook County was a state, it would be larger than 28 other states. The incumbent claims our county's government is too complicated to have an impact on people's lives, but in 15 years he has never represented our district full time. I agree that our government is complicated, but that is why we need someone who is dedicated to navigating it. The people of our district deserve a representative that will spend their days talking to experts, other officials, constituents, writing legislation and working with the other commissioners to see that legislation is passed. I believe our county government should lead the cooperation between all the units of local government, and that takes a full time commitment.
WCT: What do you see are most important issues facing the county and if elected how would you address them?
DF: Climate change is a big issue. One of the things I hear from the people in the district is they get water in their basements. About half of the houses experience this and it is an easy problem to fix while fighting climate change. The way this can be done is by replacing the grass that is planted in people's yards which dates back to the 1700s and was used to feed sheep but it is very hard and costly to maintain for the average homeowner. We waste a lot of water maintaining lawns and it does not absorb carbon dioxide. There are other natural plants that would absorb both rainwater and carbon dioxide. I would like us to help make those changes so homeowners can save money and the environment will get better.
I believe that the property tax assessment system needs to be reformed so assessed properties are based on land size, usage and location alone. It would also eliminate the need for one's property assessment to be constantly appealed as well as eliminating the tax penalty on home improvements. This would also incentivize increased development which in turn would reduce urban blight.
WCT: What additional measures would you advocate for to provide more transparency in how the county government is run?
DF: We can make more resources available online. I also think there should be more outreach to the community to educate them about how our complicated county government is run. It has a lot of levels and offices and I think for the most part people do not know what these offices do and/or whom to talk to if they are having a problem.
WCT: As a member of the LGBTQ community, what will you bring to the commission?
DF: Representation always matters, but to be honest I am not really running for the County Board just because I am gay. I will say that being gay, and especially growing up as an out teenager, is one of the reasons I believe we should be fighting to achieve true integration in Cook County. I know what it is like to feel separated from the people around you, and I know how difficult and harmful that can be. Too many people live every day with that kind of separation, whether it is because they are LGBT or because of something elselike their income, ethnic origin or the color of their skin. Cook County is actually one of the most segregated counties in the country, and being LGBT means I am not the kind of person that will sit by and let that continue.
I am married and have a Facebook post about coming out in 2001. Back then it was still illegal for gay men to have sex in 14 states. At that time, I never dreamed my marriage would be recognized across the country. I am already living in a better world than I thought I would be living in when I came out publicly. Also, during my entire adult life I have participated in LGBTQ events and gone to protests to advocate for more equality for our community.
WCT: What do you see are the most important issues or obstacles facing the LGBTQ community in the county and how would you address them?
DF: I think our fight has to do with access. It is still too easy, even in Cook County, to be denied a job or rejected from an apartment because the landlord does not like the fact that you are LGBTQ. There are protections for LGBTQ people in the county but who do you call or how do you prove that you are being discriminated against because of your sexual orientation and/or gender identity. We need to make sure those laws are enforced and that you have someone to call if discrimination happens to you.
WCT: Are there any changes you would make in how the county jail and health and hospital systems are run? If so, what are they?
DF: Mass incarceration is the scourge on our generation. Even 15 years ago it may have been reasonable but behavioral and sociological science, thanks to advancements in computers and data, have made leaps and bounds. We now know for a fact that incarcerating people is bad. There have been studies about highly educated, well trained, properly cared for people who have been restricted to small quarters who have suffered severe psychological damage. People with mental disabilities or have a chemical addiction make up 60 percent of our prison population and those are the last people you want to put behind bars. The result of the current prison system is 80 percent of the people go on to commit a second crime when they are released. Science says that is not what we should be doing. We could save a lot of money by diverting those people to social workers, psychologists, psychiatrists and/or mental health professionals rather than damaging them forever by putting them in prison. I think we need to end the era of mass incarceration. It is one of the main reasons why I chose this specific office when was looking to run for office.
The hospital system shares a common problem with the county jail. I think too often people are being turned down for healthcare at private hospitals, which are supposed to be charities, and that is one of the reasons why the county hospitals are having problems.
WCT: Would you have voted to repeal the soda tax?
DF: I would not have voted to repeal the soda tax. Instead, I would have offered new legislation to change the way the tax was implemented. My biggest issue with it was the sticker shock at the register. I think the prices you see on the shelf or menu should include the sales tax. Not knowing what you are going to pay erodes consumer confidence.
When the commission was looking for a way to increase revenue to deal with the budget issues they called in experts from many fields. These experts told the commission that a soda tax was the best way to go to not only raise revenue but also decrease healthcare costs. I think we need an entire tax overhaul in the county.
WCT: What do you see are the best ways to raise revenue so the budget is balanced that don't involve regressive taxation on everyone in the county?
DF: County taxes are far too regressive. We tax poor people twice as much of the percentage of their income as rich people. That needs to change because it is not necessary. The current county board is not bold about trying new things. The revenue system relies on fees and fines that are extremely regressive because they are set amounts no matter how much you make and we have to reduce our reliance on those fees and fines. One of the things I want the board to change is the definition of property to include stocks and bonds as well as property. By doing that we could reduce the sales tax and the fees and fines to make our tax system much less regressive.
WCT: If elected, how will your previous work and volunteer backgrounds inform how you do your job?
DF: I have an actuarial science background so that is one of the things that has been a real asset to me in forming policy positions and during the campaign because I can analyze data and statistics really well. We have a lot of lawyers who are in office right now but when it comes to understanding scientific facts and figures it is difficult for them because they have not studied it themselves.
For more information ( including about Morrison's latest endorsement, from U.S. Rep. Jan Schakowsky ), visit commissionerfoster.com/ .