Attorney Alyx Pattison says she's in a position to make changeprovided she can survive a runoff against challenger Brian Hopkins in the 2nd Ward, which now consists of parts of seven neighborhoods thanks to redistricting.
In a recent face-to-face interview at a 2nd Ward cafe, Pattison discussed everything from HIV/AIDS funding to development issues in a talk in which each candidate was allowed to ask the other one question.
Windy City Times: As you know, the city has gotten a credit downgrade and seems to be in dire financial straits. What do you think can be done to turn things around?
Alyx Pattison: I think the plan has to first start with Springfield telling us what to do. We've heard oral arguments [recently], and there's a real question as to what they're going to do. Are they going to uphold the pension reform aloft? That's going to drive so much of what we have to decide. So it's premature to talk about the ways we're going to raise taxes and cut spending until we know that the parameters of the problem are. So the plan starts with defining the problemand I don't think we're at that point.
WCT: Are you against raising property taxes? Is that a last resort or "no resort?"
Alyx Pattison: It's a very last resort. There are a number of things we can do firstand one that makes a lot of sense is [increasing] sales tax on services, but that requires Springfield help, too. One has to know and remember what lane an alderman runs in. A lot of what we can do without relying on Springfield has to do with property taxes, but that's a last resort. There are more natural places to start.
WCT: You've received endorsements from the Chicago Tribune and the Chicago Sun-Times. However, your runoff opponent has received endorsements from two of your four former opponents [Bita Buenrostro and Cornell Wilson]and some might argue that's a better indicator of who's better for the ward. [Note: Steve Niketopoulos has since said he would also support Hopkins.] What's your response to that?
Alyx Pattison: They might say that, but they'd be wrong. Bita Buenrostro is a Republican candidate; she supports Brian because he's most like her. He doesn't favor the minimun-wage ordinance that Mayor Emanuel passed. He has said in other forums that he would've opposed the sick-time ordinance that would allow a mom to take time off if her child is sick, for exampleand, with this ordinance, the employee would have to earn the time. Bita is more aligned with him, ideologically, and that's a simple fact.
When it comes to Cornell, that's a pure political play. Both Cornell and Brian told me that Brian offered the chit of a Cook County commissioner seat because Jerry Butler is retiring because he's ill. Brian offers chit; I offer change.
WCT: You describe yourself as "progressive" and "independent." No offense, but many before have said the same thingand turned out not to be. What assurances do we have that you will be who you say you are?
Alyx Pattison: Well, my stances on those [forementioned] policies are an indicator of where my politics are. The Chicago Federation of Labor has supported my campaign. I have never run around town attending any rallies for any of the mayoral candidates; Brian has been photographed with a sign at a Rahm Emanuel rallyhe's decided he isn't independent.
Also, I have worked brick by brick by brick to raise the money; I haven't used donations from one or two powerful people. Ninety percent of my donations are under $500; 56 percent are under $150. I have a huge base of grassroots support. Contrast that with Brian, who's been funded to the tune of $50,000 by neighboring alderman Brendan Reilly, who, I'm sure, intends to control a lot of what Brian does on the lakefront. Brian's been bought and paid for by one alderman.
WCT: Let's switch gears. You're in favor of HIV/AIDS funding, but can you assure people that funding will continue?
Alyx Pattison: We have to look at the whole budget; I can't isolate it as a one-off. This is another difference between Brian and me. As much as I support it, I have to be a responsible member of city council. I'm not going to promise that anything is a sacred cow. There can't be any sacred cows; we are marching toward a financial cliff. Somebody has to be the adult in the room.
For better or for worse, Mayor Emanuel has taken a responsible stand at this point; he's had to. We have to have a larger discussion. I do think HIV/AIDS funding is a priority, but we have to look at the whole picture together.
WCT: What do you think is the biggest problem for the LGBT community?
Alyx Pattison: There are issues facing the LGBT community that aldermen can play a role in helping to resolve. In general, LGBT rights are the last frontier of civil rights. Women and minorities are still discriminated against, but we can fight that, legally; [in some states], LGBTs can be fired for being gay.
At the city level, there are unique issues. I'm fully in support of what Ald. [Tom] Tunney and the mayor have done with the senior housing [in Lake View]. I'm single myself, and may end up staying that waybut it changes the way you age when you don't have kids or a partner to take care of you.
The other thing nobody talks aboutand this issue overlaps with women and LGBTsis a huge problem with human trafficking. Groups that are hurt by this are women and girls as well as young gay men. Other cities have done amazing work with their police forces about being sensitive to issues [concerning] women and gay men being trafficked. They're not criminalsthey're victims. I want to do something about that issue. Cook County Sheriff Tom Dart and Commissioner Toni Preckwinkle have been good on thisthe city police, not so much. Sensitivity training is needed.
WCT: And it's a huge problem with the trans community as well.
Alyx Pattison: Yes, it is.
WCT: What are your plans regarding tourism dollars and the 2nd Ward. Are you talking about bringing people to the west side of the ward? The eastern part has plenty of tourists.
Alyx Pattison: Yeah, I think we're doing pretty well on the east side of the ward. Every dollar they bring in is a dollar we don't have to pay in taxes. But I'm most excited about two places on the central and western sides of the ward. In the central part, we have the redevelopment of Finkl Steel, but there are questions: Is it going to stay zoned as a manufacturing district or is it going to be rezoned? But whatever is built there, we have to give part of the revenue back to the people of the city when it comes to the river.
I'd like to see us design something that's beautiful and revolutionary, like a real riverwalk. And people don't have to take trains; they can be delivered there from their hotels. Finkl Steel used to have big galas that had people delivered there in boats. So there's an opportunity there to create a tourist draw. But I'd also like to connect the west part of the ward to that. What I mean is thatit's outside the ward on two different spotsthe 606 Bloomingdale Trail represents a real opportunity to bring tourism dollars to the city and to the west part of the ward. Then, those businesses, such as theaters and funky boutiques, can flourish.
My vision is a lot bigger than the east side of the ward, which has plenty of tourism dollars.
WCT: This is your opponent's question: The 2nd Ward alderman will have to oversee a once-in-a-generation development on both sides of the ward, east along Lake Shore Drive and west at the Finkl Steel property. Please give examples of your specific experience working on these kinds of complex development issues.
Alyx Pattison: I don't have direct experience working on issues of this magnitudeand neither does he. There has never been development of 115 acres on the north-central part of the [ward], and it's never existed along the lakeshore, either. He should probably answer the question himself.
WCT: So it's an even playing field?
Alyx Pattison: Exactly. That's what it is.
WCT: So, why should voters choose you?
Alyx Pattison: Two reasons: I have been really honest with residents about who I am and where I come from. [I grew] up the child of a single mom and the grandchild of a woman who suffered from severe dementia and a stroke. Along the way, we needed a handout, occasionally; I have grown up on food stamps or reduced school lunch or my grandmother's Social Security check or earned income-tax credit.
I'm not suggesting that I want to help everyone get on food stamps, but I have had success as a result of government legislation. I made partner at a law firm and went to Northwestern [University] Law School. The government helped set me up to succeed. I do passionately believe in the idea of making government work for people. So when it comes to being alderman, I will fight passionately for people, I'll fight in city hall downtown and I'll clean up our neighborhoods. I want to help people and their neighborhoods succeed so they'll do their best.