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ELECTIONS 2019, 33RD WARD. Lesbian alderperson Deb Mell talks feats, LGBT issues
by Carrie Maxwell, Windy City Times

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Deb Mell has been the 33rd Ward alderman since 2013 and previously served in the Illinois General Assembly as a representative for the 40th District.

Prior to being an elected official, Mell worked for Christy Webber Landscapes. She was a member of Equal Marriage Now in the mid-2000s and participated in protest actions that led to her arrest in front of the Cook County headquarters. Mell's arrest made the news due to her father's and brother-in-law's ( former Ald. Dick Mell and Gov. Rod Blagojevich, respectively ) political positions at the time and led to her running for office following a training session with the Victory Fund.

She is running against challengers Katie Sieracki and Rossana Rodriguez Sanchez.

Windy City Times: Why should people vote for you again and not your two challengers?

Deb Mell: I have proven myself as an independent progressive voice that gets things done. I have led on issues from affordable housing and reform to taking on abuses in the TIF system. I have also secured incredible improvements to our public parks. My staff is great and knows how to work with the community on solving problems big and small. The ward has big challenges ahead and we have the infrastructure, relationships, passion and knowledge to move our ward forward. I have a reputation for having a transparent and accessible ward office that listens to constituents.

WCT: What are the most pressing issues for the 33th Ward and how would you address them?

DM: The rising cost of living and the need for additional resources to combat displacement is critical. The impact on our local neighborhood schools has been devastating. We must expand and preserve affordable housing and pass new tenant protections.

Public safety is another big concern. It is an important part of the job and I embrace an all-of-the-above approach that includes expanding social services, revamped community policing, empowering young people and taking a proactive approach to dealing with troubled buildings that contribute to gang violence.

WCT: In what ways have you advanced LGBT equality during your time as alderman?

DM: I helped pass a bill that ensures CPS students can use restrooms that matches their gender identity. I have signed many resolutions reaffirming Chicago as an LGBT-friendly city. I have worked to strengthen the LGBT caucus and let our voice be heard on important issues of the day.

WCT: What is your vision for the LGBT community?

DM: I want our community to experience more equality in every aspect of life. I am so encouraged by this previous election and the rainbow wave we witnessed. We need to recruit more openly LGBT people to run for public office. There needs to be more acceptance of our trans brothers and sisters. We should be free to live our lives, start a family, support our community and contribute to society without facing discrimination.

WCT: Do you have any openly LGBT people working on your staff? Campaign?

DM: Not on my staff, but they are a part of my campaign.

WCT: HIV prevention and awareness are still important issues for the community. What have you done since becoming alderman regarding this issue? How will you use your role going forward to address it?

DM: We try and generate a lot of awareness in the community on public health matters. We hold regular health fairs with a range of services like HIV testing. Our office also participates in events hosted by Howard Brown Health and Center on Halsted. We were big proponents of the city's first LGBT Databook, which was a great first step in the city toward collecting important data on health disparities. It was an enormous achievement for Chicago.

WCT: Do you back an elected school board? Should the CEO have education experience?

DM: Yes to both.

WCT: What are your recommendations for better relationships between the police and citizens they serve, including people of color and the transgender community?

DM: We need a well-trained, accountable and more diverse police force that can earn the trust of our most vulnerable residents. With better training, I am hopeful we can restore trust with those residents who have suffered abuse and reduce the staggering amount we pay in settlements.

The FOP [Fraternal Order of Polic] also needs to negotiate in good faith and accept that there will be changes to police contracts. Having officers that truly understand the needs of every community is vital. We have to address the issue of trans people being murdered. The trans community experiences violence at alarming levels. We need a public awareness campaign and more training and attention from our police department regarding the trans community.

WCT: What is the ideal minimum wage for the city of Chicago?

DM: Fifteen dollars an hour.

WCT: How should Chicago increase its revenue stream?

DM: A state-wide progressive income tax, legalizing cannabis, gambling at airports and a real estate transfer tax are some ideas. We must scale back regressive fines, fees and taxes. We must also hold Springfield more accountable and I am optimistic they will do more with the new administration.

WCT: Are you currently backing anyone for mayor?

DM: No.

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