Seeking a second term serving Chicago's 35th Ward, Alderman Carlos Ramirez-Rosa offered Windy City Times a bold vision for the next four years. In a recent interview, he spoke about the issues facing his ward and the city, how economic reform could help the LGBTQ community and more.
Windy City Times: What factors motivated you to seek reelection for alderman of the 35th Ward?
Carlos Ramirez-Rosa: I love the city of Chicago, and I got in involved in politics because I know that our working families are suffering. I know that our immigrant families are suffering. I know that our trans sisters and brothers are under attack. And so, my involvement in public service is about moving forward our movement for social and economic justice.
Moving forward our fight to see a world where everyone is treated with dignity and respect. That's why I ran for alderman, and that's why I'm running for reelection. As 35th Ward alderman, I'm very proud that alongside my colleagues in the LGBT caucus, we removed the prohibition on our trans sisters and brothers being able to use the bathroom of their choice. And now in the city of Chicago our trans sisters and brothers and friends can use the bathroom of their choice without fear of discrimination. I'm very proud of the fact that we passed legislation in the city of Chicagolegislation that I was the lead sponsor onto ensure that our immigrant sisters and brothers and friends could not be abused or coerced based upon their perceived immigration or nationality status.
So this is exactly the type of legislation we need to be passing in this moment of Donald Trump's right-wing presidency and his effort to take us backwards. But we're not done. And I think one of the greatest accomplishments in our progressive movement is that Mayor Rahm Emanuel is now out. We now have an opportunity to pass a lot of the legislation that I have been fighting for over the last four years that was blocked by that administration.
WCT: What would you say are the biggest issues facing the 35th Ward right now and what steps would you take to address those issues if re-elected?
CRR: We have to understand that our wardand wards across the cityare gerrymandered. Right, so we have wards across the city that are gerrymandered and the issues impacting the 35th Ward don't stop at the boundary between one ward and the other. The issues impacting our ward are underfunded schools, a lack of investment to address public safety issues, regressive taxation that is driving working people out of the city, corporate handouts in the form of TIF [tax-increment financing] largesse and a lack of investment in our neighborhoods whether that be city services or issues related to public safety or to our public schools.
For the past four years, I have been fighting as a member of the progressive caucus and as one of the most independent and bold progressive voices on the council board. To make sure that we're taxing the rich. To make sure that we are ending the handouts that come through TIF funds that go to some of the mayor's biggest donors. I'm very proud of the track record that I have as it relates to fighting for working families. And I think, in terms of addressing the issues in the 35th Ward, it's going to come down to continuing to fight at City Hall to make sure that we are fully funding our schools, and we're funding job programs, after school programs and that we're funding neighborhood investment.
WCT: You were one of the first openly gay Latino aldermen in Chicago, giving you unique intersectional insight into the way government works. What do you see as being the most pressing issues for the LGBTQ community both within the 35th Ward and around the city?
CRR: One of the issues we face is a continued lack of funding to ensure that we have outreach not just around health services, but also around mental health issues. The city closed down six mental-health clinics, claiming they didn't have enough money to provide the funding to keep those open. And that has had an impact on our community. I actually speak to parents who say, "Look, my child is trans and they would like to begin the process of transitioning but I don't know where to turn to."
While Howard Brown is a tremendous important service that our community has, it's hard to get to for a lot of our LGBTQ sisters and brothers and friends outside of Boystownoutside of the Lake View community. I think that we need to ensure we increase funding to ensure that there's outreach in every single part of the city to meet the needs of the LGBTQ community. I think it's also important we understand that the issues that are impacting working Chicagoans are the same issues that impact all LGBTQ Chicagoans. Our LGBTQ seniors need affordable housing. Our LGBTQ young people need fully funded public schools that provide that provide them with after school programs that can often be extremely critical to provide them with a safe space to learn and grow and be themselves.
WCT: Homeless LGBTQ youth are a big focus in one Chicago mayoral candidate's LGBTQ policy framework. She's proposing 24-hour drop-off centers at Chicago public schools. What kind of engagement could the 35th Ward expect from you in helping LGBTQ youth ( homeless or otherwise ) and what ideas do you have to address the problem?
CRR: I've spoken up boldly for the need for progressive taxation. One of the issues the city of Chicago faces is we have a massive pension obligation that we need to meet while at the same time we need continue to be able to provide the city services that taxpayers deserve and expect. And the question then is, how do we then also fund the things that the community needs? For example, the services and support for LGBTQ youth. So that is why I support progressive taxation, and in my second term I am really fighting to make sure we are doing things like passing a commercial lease tax for downtown.
In the island of Manhattan, the city of New York has a commercial lease tax, and if you have a corporate lease for one of the skyscrapers in downtown Manhattan, you pay a tax on that lease. These are major law firms, these are major corporations that are renting out that space. And this actually generates $800 million a year for New York City. If we were to structure something similar, it would generate $200-300 million a year by asking those corporations downtown to pay an additional tax. We also need to enact TIF reform. Last year TIF siphoned off about $660 millionthat should have gone to public servicesinto special funds that the mayor then uses as his piggy bank. What I would like to see is substantive TIF reform, I would like to see progressive revenue, I would like a commercial lease tax for downtown. And with the money in place, I will then be fighting to ensure that our LGBTQ community gets its fair share. But also that we understand that fairness comes in the form of equity. And that means that we have to be funding these services to ensure that we are addressing the issues impacting LGBTQ youth, our seniors, and the population as a whole.
More about Alderman Ramirez-Rosa's campaign is at www.carlosrosa.org/ .