Annisa Wanat has spent twenty years in public service both in the United States and in multiple countries across the world from Bulgaria to Afghanistan assisting civic and political leaders in emerging democracies on issues such as healthcare, infrastructure and education.
She now hopes to leverage her experience both at home and abroad as Alderman for the 33rd wardone of the most culturally diverse in the city of Chicago.
Wanat spoke to Windy City Times by telephone on her plans for the community should she manage to prevail over fellow challenger Tim Meegan and unseat incumbent Deb Mell. Answers have been edited for clarity and length.
Windy City Times: Talk about some of the advantages that your work in non-profits along with national and international communities can bring to the 33rd ward.
Annisa Wanat: 45 percent of this ward is Latino. There are over 40 languages spoken. I can speak three or four different languages to people when I am knocking on their doors. It doesn't matter if it's Chicago or Afghanistan, people have the same prioritiesgood education, jobs, safe streets. People want to know their tax dollars aren't being wasted. They are sick of pay-to-play politics and nepotism corrupting their government. Because of the work I have done overseas, I have experience in multiple sectors. Everything I've done everywhere has been about building communities and bringing them together. You have to find out who the key people are, who influences them, what they care about, how they get their information and how to bring them together to talk. Facilitating conversations and identifying common ground, just talking to different communities and learning to listen to people without automatically giving my pre-determined idea of what should happen.
WCT: The LGBTQ community has a significant presence in the 33rd ward. What do you think are their greatest issues moving forward?
Annisa Wanat: Most of the LGBT people I know face the same issues that their neighbors face. There are elements of discrimination that I'm not privy to because I'm not exposed to it in the same manner. Equal marriage was great but what's next? We have to end discrimination in health-care. The issue that always gets to me is homelessness. I used to be a teacher so I know how important it is for people in middle and high school to be nurtured both physically and emotionally and how influential those years are. If you don't have that core support it can influence everything else later on.
WCT: You've mentioned where the homelessness problem starts. In terms of solutionshousing, employmentwhat are some of plans to help secure them?
Annisa Wanat: I am going to be a voice. When we look at issues like housing, we need people who are the kind of voice to make sure the city has the money to actually address these things. The city has been making very irresponsible budget decisions that have resulted in higher taxes for all of us and decreases in services. So the ability to negotiate more affordable housing units with developers or providing more social services or employment training for at-risk youth, when the city doesn't have any money, things like those are the things that go first. We need people making more responsible budget decisions. A lot of non-profits that serve these communities get a lot of government money and the government is notorious for being late in paying grants. When a non-profit is already struggling because the state hasn't paid them their grant, it's unfair to everybody especially the stakeholders receiving their services.
WCT: Many of the challengers running say they are doing so to be a voice against the kind of decisions that the mayor has made such as the closing of public schools and mental health centers. How would you fight decisions like that in a City Hall that is overwhelmingly supportive of him?
Annisa Wanat: The City Council has forgotten that, as a legislative body, they're supposed to provide oversight to the budget and make sure things are working well. They don't do it. The only way to combat that is for more Aldermen who will speak up. There's a handful now in the Progressive Reform Caucus but it's not enough. The way that debate on issues is squashed in Chicago is frightening to me. It's the same kind of thing that I see in a one-party, semi-authoritarian regime overseas. Right now, the talking point is that a "rubber-stamp 'no' is just as bad as a rubber- stand 'yes'," but the Political Reform Caucus has voted "yes" 50 percent of the time. That's not a stamp either way. It's someone who looks at and decides upon each issue.
WCT: One issue is police sensitivity to the LGBT community and accountability when abuses occur. How do you address that?
Annisa Wanat: I've talked to some police officers who are very frustrated because they aren't getting the professional development they need. If you are overworking them, you cannot give them sensitivity training up front. Accountability is wrapped up the same way. We cannot address either until we stop having an overworked police force.
WCT: You are facing tough competitors in Mell and Meegan. What differentiates you from them?
Annisa Wanat: We need people who will get this city out of its budget crisis and ask tough questions. The sitting Alderwoman has never stood up to Rahm. I have spent my life speaking out and advocating to politicians across the United States for better budget decisions. I am not afraid of standing up for what is right. Tim is a very good teacher but has absolutely zero budget experience. Budgets lay out the values for a government and, right now, where we are putting our money does not reflect the values of the people of Chicago.
Visit www.annisaforalderman.com/ .
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