LGBTQ activist Gaylon Alcaraz ( D ) is running in the primary against incumbent Stanley Moore and challengers Marcel Bright and Maria M. Barlow. Alcaraz was one of the founding board members of Affinity Community Services and is currently in a Ph.D. program for community psychology. There is no Republican candidate for this office.
Windy City Times: Why did you decide to run?
Gaylon Alcaraz: As an activist who has been on the ground working for 25 years, this seemed like the natural next stepbut I did not think about it that way. The sugar tax was a catalyst in my thinking, but it is really the absence of leadership in this district. This area does not have the resources we deserve and I want to change that.
WCT: What do you see are the most important issues facing the county, and how would you address them if you are elected?
GA: The population drop is a very serious issue. It started with people driving over the border into Indiana or the collar counties to buy gas and pop and then they would shop for other things due to the lower sales tax. This takes revenue out of the county. People also decided to move away from the county and as a result Cook County has had the largest population drop across the country in the last two years. They are tired of being overtaxed and under resourced.
I have been talking to small business owners in the district to get a snapshot of some of the issues they are facing. The common thing I hear from them is the taxes they have to pay and how little resources they receive in return. Some of these business are going to have to close because they will not make it.
Food insecurity in food deserts is another issue. One way to deal with this is community farming and this would provide jobs and internships. This would also provide people with the fresh fruit and vegetables that are absent from the stores in their neighborhoods.
Young people have no resources in certain areas including this district. School closings and the lack of jobs that young people used to do like being a cashier or fast food worker because adults have those jobs to provide for their families. A whole generation of people have been demoralized because of this.
There is also the issue of people's mental health not being addressed across the county and especially the southeast side of Chicago.
WCT: What additional measures would you advocate for to provide more transparency in how the county government is run?
GA: When I was out collecting my petitions this was one of the top issues among voters. I developed my platform by talking to the people I met. Many of them did not even know who their county commissioner was and had never heard the name Stanley Moore. I plan on having an open and accessible office where I can engage with my constituents. I will bring them in to talk about budgeting and have multiple public meetings around the district every single month so they can get their questions answered. Bringing issues to the community first is important. This might have stopped the backlash that happened around the sugar tax where no discussions happened between commissioners and their constituents prior to the vote. To many things are done in the dark.
WCT: Tell me about this public bank system you are advocating for.
GA: In the book "Chicago is not broke" the authors talk about creative, progressive and visionary ideas that I really like. The public bank idea is where municipal bodies deposit their money into this bank and divest from Wall Street. The interest and dividends that come from that money will generate significant revenue. We could do that here. For example. the county's budget is $5 billion so just imagine what that kind of additional money that could be generated due to interest and dividends that could go back into the coffers.
WCT: You say the way campaigns are run are outdated. Tell me more about this.
GA: Engaging with the community is more than yard signs. You need to have your boots on the ground to get your message out.
WCT: You indicated that you would be a full-time commissioner with no other job outside of finishing your Ph.D. Why is that important to you?
GA: It is important to be out there in the community otherwise you will not know what is going on and the only way to do that is to be a full time commissioner who is engaged with their constituents. There are two types of people who run for political office, someone who wants to be somebody or someone who wants to do something. I want to do things for my district.
WCT: How will your LGBTQ activism, as well as other previous work and advocacy initiatives that you have been a part of, inform how you do your job as commissioner?
GA: You have to embrace everyone, and diversity is key. This is a very diverse district in terms of race and income status. My LGBTQ activism was all about being inclusive. The biggest thing is I have been an on the ground activist entrenched in the community, not sitting on a perch directing everyone else. This is what sets me apart from every other candidate in this race. Community activism is about people power and that is what my entire campaign is about. I will bring that to my role as commissioner and this includes working with the other commissioners and government officials that I might not agree with to help my district.
WCT: What do you see are the most important issues or obstacles facing the LGBTQ community and how would you address them?
GA: Jeanne Iveswho is running for the GOP nomination against Gov. Raunerreleased a political ad that had derogatory images attacking the LGBTQ community. People still have this negative view of other human beings and that ad is the perfect example of people not respecting who other people are and how they identify themselves. Spreading falsehoods about the LGBTQ community, which that ad did, is also an issue. If people think it is okay to make derogatory comments or ads about the LGBTQ community then they will think it is OK to do the same thing toward people of color for example. We have to demand that our leadership respects the diverse community that is in their district and beyond.
WCT: Are there any changes you would make in how the county jail and health and hospital systems are run? If so, what are they?
GA: I like several of the initiatives that have already been done around criminal justice reform. One is bail bond reduction and now we are seeing justice for poor people of color who would otherwise be locked up pending trail. This has reduced the jail population, thus reducing the budget line for Cook County Jail and that is what we should be doing. This has a positive impact on the county's budget.
I am a strong proponent of restorative-justice principles like ban the box, where employers cannot ask someone if they have been convicted of a crime. It allows people to come back to their communities and have a fair shot going forward.
We have to provide healthcare for the most marginalized among us as well as those who come to the county hospital because they have inadequate healthcare coverage. When I was looking at a county budget meeting one of the hospital administrators was attempting to explain to Commissioner Sims about why they do not bill people who could afford to pay. The administrator said it takes to many resources and is time consuming which made no sense to me because other hospitals do this all the time.
The Chicago Women's Health Center uses a very successful 35-year old sliding scale model of patient billing. They negotiate with patients to see what they can pay for the services they receive. This model can easily be replicated at the County Hospital so new revenue can be generated.
WCT: Now that is has been repealed, how do you feel about the soda tax? Would you have voted for it?
GA: I would not have ever voted for it. It was a regressive tax and I am against them. It should never have been put on the table.
WCT: What do you see are the best ways to raise revenue so the budget is balanced that don't involve regressive taxation on everyone in the county?
GA: Why are we taxing people more and not giving them resources in return? My daughter lives in Brooklyn and they have high taxes there but she gets so many more resources including free entertainment of all kinds, park district events and afterschool programs.
Enhancing small businesses by providing grants or micro-loans so they can start or expand their business which would assist in community hiring. Then people will spend money in their own neighborhood.
We need to utilize our natural resources such as our forest preserve. One way is to have 5K family walk/runs at the preserve. This would raise revenue and combat health issues that are facing many county residents.
WCT: Research is very important to you. Tell me how that translates to how voters look at candidates.
GA: Doing research on candidates is very important. You find out what their values are including where they have worked, organizations they are involved with and their circle of friends.
For more information, visit www.gaylon2018.com/ .