Openly gay retired educator Andrew Rowlas is running in the Feb. 26 citywide elections to replace longtime Ald. Debra Silverstein in representing the 50th Ward on the city's far north side.
Windy City Times: Why did you decide to run?
Andrew Rowlas: We've got to do better than the current alderwoman. She has voted, according to Take Back Chicago, in her first term, 98 percent with the mayor. She's not thinking with independence for the ward. We're supposed to have a strong city council, and we have lost, in the last 34 years, because of the power structure, a deliberative democracy in our city.
The city council just rubber-stamps whatever the mayor says he wants, and that's not the way we're supposed to be. We're supposed to discuss issues and say, "This is good for the city" or, "This is not good for the city." It's broken and it needs to be reformed.
WCT: What in your background makes you think you're someone who can help do that?
AR: I was a public school educator for 38 years, so I was always kind of involved in issues. I see myself as a progressive, both as a candidate, and, philosophically speaking, in politics. I try to keep up with what's being done, and think I know what can be done better. As an educator, we were constantly under attack for supposedly not doing a good job, so we had to constantly evaluate our curricula, our goals, things like that. The schools I worked at, when getting ready for accreditation every seven years, had to do a self-examination, and say, "Here's what we've done, here's what we could have done better, and here's what we need to do." I think that process is something that needs to be done in government.
WCT: You pledged "full-transparency in 50th Ward decision making"which many politicians promise. What does that look like to you, and how would you ensure that it's ongoing should you be elected?
AR: One thing that's important is to have regular community meetings. We're not a politically active ward in many ways. I think it's important to get people involved. Another thing is that we need to have a planning and economic development board. I went around to the various corridors and we've lost about 100 storefronts. One of the best places, on Lunt and Western, [BBQ Supply] closed. There are three empty store fronts and a convenience store nearby that closedfour empty storefronts. People I knew would walk over there. Now, they're going to get in their car and go to Niles or Skokie, or wherever. We've lost a lot of opportunity.
WCT: Who would you want to be part of that board?
AR: I would definitely want to get as many groups to the table. I'm all for participatory budgeting, so the process there is to get as many organizations, religious groups and people involved as you can. Piggy-backing on that idea, I'd definitely want to get some realtors and developers on it, as well as a cross-section of the local population. That includes high school kids. Young people have so many good ideas. I would also like for there to be seniors represented, and people between those ages.
WCT: What do you think is a reasonable minimum wage for the city?
AR: At least $15 now, not waiting a minimum of six years to implement it.
WCT: What are the most pertinent issues for LGBT residents of the ward?
AR: I'm surprised at how many there are, when I go around from door-to-door. I think that people feel safe here, but I don't know how comfortable feel being out. I think trying to be involved in the decision-making in the community events might help. When everyone talks about "diversity," they're speaking about religious and ethnic diversity. Maybe we need to emphasize the LGBTQ diversity we have as well. That community is not just restricted to white people either.
WCT: have you done any kind of advocacy or activism work on behalf of the LGBT community?
AR: I retired 10 years ago, and didn't stay too involved. But when I was teaching, I was involved with GLSEN. I never took a leadership position. For a while, I went to the gay and lesbian Democratic group, but they folded.
WCT: Why is it important for members of the LGBT community to hold elected office?
AR: We offer a lot of insight. We offer another perspective. I think that we, as a whole, have a broader view of society. Often people from our community have been discriminated against and threatened, and as a result we often see things from a viewpoint that is helpful to identify with other minority groups.
WCT: What are your thoughts on how the City Council has erupted into controversy the past few weeks?
AR: I don't think my alderman is corrupt, but she has been quiet. She has gone along with things and she has gone along with the majority. I think her silence has contributed to this. She's got to know what's going on and know what the power structure is.
See rowlasforward50.com .