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ELECTIONS 2018 Gaylon Alcaraz steps into race for county commissioner
by Matt Simonette

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Longtime activist and community organizer Gaylon Alcaraz has announced that she'll be running for the Cook County Board of Commissioners' 4th District post, which is currently held by Comm. Stanley Moore.

Alcaraz, who was inducted into the Chicago Gay and Lesbian Hall of Fame ( now the Chicago LGBT Hall of Fame ) in 2013, is a lifelong Chicagoan who has made significant impacts in local progressive politics. She was a founding member of Affinity Community Services in 1997, and was executive director of Chicago Abortion Fund from 2005-2014, among her many accomplishments.

She maintains that her campaign is about helping residents feel empowered within their district. Alcaraz told Windy City Times that, "I really take that seriously. Increased civic engagement is real important to me—that's one of my platform areas. I want to be sure that I create and leverage partnerships and resources that make a difference in the lives of the residents."

Windy City Times: What compelled you to run for the commission, and why now?

Gaylon Alcaraz: It's because we deserve better. Cook County deserves better. Voters deserve a representative that listens to their concerns and is accessible and engaging in their district, and not just at election time. I'm a community activist so I do believe about engagement.

People are gravely concerned about increased taxes, but their voices are ignored. People continuously complain about these things, but their voices are ignored. … I'm running because Cook County is one of the largest governing counties in the U.S., and it needs strong, progressive and visionary leadership to move the county forward.

WCT: What experiences would you draw from? What in your background qualifies you for a county office?

GA: I have a long history in Chicago as an activist. I have the ability to work with diverse populations. I am also a former City of Chicago recruiter, from the Mayor's Office of Workforce Development, so I have the ability to work with businesses. Also, as a former executive director of a not-for-profit, I have experiences overseeing operations and budgets, and partnering with management companies to oversee large rehab and relocation projects—I did that back in the '90s. I have the experience and the skills. Yes, I come from not-for-profits, but I also did some for-profit [work] as well.

WCT: What do you see as your biggest advantage in a campaign?

GA: My grassroots experience, and being able to relate to people and being on the ground talking to them. Not being afraid to go out on the ground and pounding the pavement—that's one of my biggest advantages. I had to go into all different types of communities, at any time, and engage residents.

WCT: What do you see as your biggest disadvantage?

GA: The not-for-profit world is all about fundraising, and that's very different from the county. But not-for-profits are used to operating on shoestring budgets and doing a lot of work with very, very little, and I believe that this framework can be beneficial tied into the county leadership.

The county is a government body that does not operate the same way that a not-for-profit would, but it needs economic growth, job retention and increased income. It also needs to be attracting businesses for tax bases. Because of that alone, I have been out in the district meeting with businesses and stakeholders to determine ways to improve economic growth and well-being to improve the quality of life for the entire district.

WCT: What kind of feedback did you get from those meetings? What kind of candidate are they looking for?

GA: They have to do some visionary work and come to the table with some visionary ideas. We can't keep taxing and overtaxing people. Not only are residents talking about that, but businesses are talking about that. People are up in arms about this taxing. That's a concern across the board.

WCT: What do you see as the biggest issues facing Cook County that you would like to help tackle as a commissioner?

GA: The biggest issue facing the county for the past few years has been the population drop here. Cook County has had the largest population drop of any county in the U.S. If we're not gravely concerned about this, we need to be. Because what does that mean? More taxes and higher taxes, and we can't keep taxing residents because they keep leaving.

WCT: What are the most important issues facing Cook County's LGBT community?

GA: Although the LGBTQ community has made great strides, we still have a long way to go towards justice and fairness for individuals. Regardless of individuals, it's about justice and fairness. The current White House administration is determined to turn that all back, turning back the clock on equality. I think that Cook County can stand up for its residents and assure that our residents know that they are going to be treated fairly and know that quality and fairness exist, no matter what.

We can do that through legislation that focuses on equality, justice and fairness for everyone. Sexual orientation should have nothing to do with how you are treated as a human being.

WCT: Describe some of your work and accomplishments in LGBT activism.

GA: I'm one of the founding board members with Affinity Community Services. The work that I did with them not only helped place the organization at the center of the conversation, both locally and nationally, around justice, fairness and visibility for Black lesbian and bisexual women, but it was a much needed resource, it was an anchor for support for the women serviced. The goal was to create visibility, which we did—to have women come out of the shadows, to fully participate in Affinity's work. We created this safe space for these women on the South Side of Chicago.

This can translate into other work, and it has. When we create safe spaces, and when we create visibility—when we make people feel like they are part of the process and they are not being ignored—you get buy-in. You get togetherness and you get people who feel like they're working in one direction, towards one goal. That work that I did was critical, because at that time, the voices of Black lesbian and bisexual women were not being heard, not in here in Chicago and definitely not nationally. Definitely there were some organizations but it definitely was not this blossoming thing that you're seeing now.

Because we created this visibility, this safe space, it allowed all this to happen. … When you empower people, such as the people of a [political] district, everything around them grows and blossoms.

See .

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