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Garcia prepares for final weeks in mayoral race
Video interview link below
by Matt Simonette

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During the days leading up to the Feb. 24 mayoral election, mayoral candidate Jesus "Chuy" Garcia was adamant about only accomplishing one thing in the election—getting in a runoff.

And it worked. By the time voters had cast their ballots that frigid Tuesday, incumbent Mayor Rahm Emanuel had won 45 percent of the vote, less than the 50 percent-plus-one-vote required to declare a winner. Garcia trailed with 34 percent of the vote.

"The majority of voters voted for change, and the fact that you have a run-off in the mayoral [race]…is unprecedented," Garcia said March 4. "The fact that 18 or 19 city council seats are in the runoff [as well] is an important message about change that the voters sent."

Garcia has been reaching out to the LGBT community throughout his campaign, drafting an extensive platform of issues, for example, and meeting with community leaders March 3 at Cultura in Pilsen.

But now that the runoff is in full-swing, Emanuel has been swinging back at Garcia, suggesting that he is "flip-flopping" on issues such as red-light cameras and is dodging the specifics of his many plans.

Windy City Times spoke with Garcia at his offices March 4. The interview was conducted by Matt Simonette and Gretchen Hammond.

Windy City Times: What kind of relationship between yourself and Gov. Rauner do you foresee were you to be elected, and what do you think the financial landscape of the city is going to look like, given the cuts he proposed back on February 18th?

Jesus Garcia: After the election, regardless of how it plays out, and whatever role he may or may not play in the mayoral election, I think the dire financial straits of the straights, and the challenge the city is facing, will cause us to have a sobering conversation, a very sobering relationship, a very real one, about how we move forward. These are not great times. They're not happy times, but we'll have to get real and have some serious conversations about the challenges that we both face.

WCT: You've suggested that the pension deficit can be at least partially offset by utilizing TIF funds. What would the process of disentangling that money look like? How long do you think that would take, and how would you present it to city council members and developers who are invested in that process?

JG: First, we've got to wait for certain things to happen—the supreme court ruling on the case that's pending, the state legislature to act. Thereafter, we'll know what challenges remain for Chicago. Right now we think that it's about $600 million. I've stated that I'm in favor of taking a portion of the TIF proceeds and using them as a good-faith down payment, while sitting down with the stakeholders to talk about how to make the pension funds sustainable down the line. That's a little harder to get specific about while we're waiting for things to happen, but I think that, probably, this could occur within the first six months, to say the least. It would probably have to.

WCT: You've pledged to hire 1,000 additional police officers should you be elected. How could they be hired, given the difficulties the city would face in providing pensions for them?

JG: Remember that we spent $100 million in overtime because, in part, the department is understaffed. We could use a portion of that to begin hiring officers and training them in community policing. That's key, and I'm glad that the mayor is appointing, or will appoint, at least one community policeman before his term is up. He's got 999 to go. That's how I would begin to approach it. There's been an increase in expenditures the past four years of $1.4 billion, so obviously we'll be scouring through that for additional savings, but we're also looking at a host of potential new revenue sources as we move forward, as I consult with experts with municipal finance in public pensions. These are nationally renowned people that we're being advised by.

WCT: At our previous interview, you spoke of the need for robust community policing. We've found that quite often "community policing" is a buzz-phrase for politicians, so what do you think would be an achievable community policing model, specifically one that could be implemented city-wide?

JG: There's much to be learned from the L.A. experience. They embraced community policing. They were one of the departments with one of the worst reputations for corruption and brutality. From the time that they embraced community policing, their department has undergone a transformation. Their crime rates also went down. They've been successful in establishing a much more positive relationship between police officers and community residents, by which I mean people in neighborhoods, community leaders, activists, block club people, nonprofit organizations, local school councils—these are the individuals who know what's going on in the community. If you don't have a close relationship—a relationship of trust and mutual respect—they will not provide information to you so that crime can be reduced or prevented. It's very important that we engage in this approach to public safety. It hasn't been done in Chicago in a long time. We took a step in that direction with the CAPS program, but it was placed on the shelf and totally abandoned.

WCT: Speaking of those neighborhoods, we covered a story on Austin, which seems to be under the control of gangs. If you talk to any of the non-profits that work there, they would agree. Would you say that it's fair to say that Austin has been neglected by this city? How would you go about resolving that issue?

JG: Austin is one of many neighborhoods that haven't had much attention from city hall. Undoubtedly it's been a disinvested community and it's one of the larger community out of [the 77 in Chicago]. It's an example of a type of community that needs to get reconnected with the [rest of] the city, with city hall, with the mayor. As we move forward with communities like that, with initiatives and strategic investments we can make in certain parts of the city, we can begin demonstrating to people that we know of their isolation and their despair, and the day-to-day struggles they experience just to get by, to make a living. That's what I mean when I say I want to place neighborhoods at the center of governance in Chicago, making them a priority [and letting them know] that they're important. To be out there, to engage the folks that struggle on a day-to-day basis, to improve community life. It's the non-profits, the day-care providers, the local school council members who are out there, trying to create a sense of hope and a better future. Austin is one of those neighborhoods. So is North Lawndale. So is West Garfield Park. That's just talking about the West Side and is not to exclude Roseland or Englewood.

WCT: When we asked Mayor Emanuel about some of the complaints that children were being forced to walk through gang-infested areas, he said that there are people who are supposed to be guarding or watching over those children. Is that enough?

JG: It isn't enough. That was a band-aid solution to a bad policy-decision that was taken. Making children walk those long distances does place them in danger, and it does require vast resources to ensure their safety in the morning and in the afternoon. Again those are consequences of a decision that wasn't thought through.

WCT: You've said that part of the community policing initiative would be promoting a culture within the police department that is respectful of members of the trans community. How could that be implemented?

JG: We need to raise awareness through training, by familiarizing officers with that community in particular, so that their level of awareness and sensitivity, and engagement with that community, occurs at points of contact. Some of that training needs to raise awareness about stereotypes … and how to engage members of that community. Members of the community can be some of the best trainers in how to engage that community.

WCT: So you would employ members of the trans community to engage in police training?

JG: Well, I would hope there would be some volunteers. That makes perfect sense. You involve [those who are] affected in helping to shape awareness and policies and procedures so you achieve the desired impact. What's the desired impact? To prevent discrimination, violence … and from being singled out. it's about achieving equal treatment.

WCT: On February 18, The Guardian broke the story of the Chicago Police Department detaining suspects "off the grid" at their Homan Square facility. What were your thoughts on that story? How does it relate to your overall position on police officers' accountability to residents?

JG: My immediate reaction was, why is a British newspaper reporting on this? And if true, why isn't the local media reporting on it? I did some checking through staff about the assertions made in that article. We spoke with some experts in the field and we continue to investigate. We have not ascertained whether the assertions are true. They're troubling, and we continue to investigate.

WCT: It does bring out a greater question of accountability, particularly for trans people, and especially trans people of color. How do you assure that they are held accountable?

JG: I can't speak for the present administration. I can only speak to the future. Under my watch as mayor, I will be clear with the superintendent that the code of conduct for officers is going to be ensuring equal treatment of everyone in Chicago, including the LGBT and transgender community. It's very, very important. It's a matter of equality and I think that when the tone is set at the top. When your superintendent embraces those core values of equality, the likelihood is that real outcomes on the ground will get improved dramatically. Whenever there is misconduct, we will hold public employees, including police officers, to the law and high standards—Chicago needs to be inclusive and embracing to all communities.

WCT: What's the mayor's role in helping the immigrant community, especially undocumented immigrants, adjust to life in Chicago?

JG: Immigrants contribute immensely to Chicago. They should be welcomed to the city. Chicago has a history of welcoming city for many decades, for many waves of immigrants, and those coming today shouldn't be the exception. We ought to be embracing and compassionate. Immigrants contribute immensely to the local economy. In light of the governor's budget proposals, immigrant services would suffer as a result of these proposed cuts, at least within the present framework we have seen. I would work hard, if the cuts were to become a reality, to look at how the city can close the gap on potential services that would suffer from that. In addition to that, I would move to make the city's ordinance with respect to the Immigrations and Customs Enforcement agency mirror what we've done in Cook County, which is, protect the Constitution, ensure equal treatment and establish a relationship with the immigrant community, including the undocumented sector.

WCT: It's something that's a federal issue, but one of the alderman candidates we spoke with was willing to go even further. With so many undocumented immigrants living in fear of ICE knocking down their doors, they suggested that we make a safe haven for these undocumented immigrants, saying, "We're going to protect you, regardless, of ICE, and you don't have to be afraid." Would you go so far as to make a statement like that?

JG: That's a bit difficult to say. The undocumented population is dispersed throughout the city and not concentrated in one area. I would work hard to ensure that there isn't profiling or targeting, [and making sure that ICE is not] engaging in any practices that are in violation of the Constitution or anyone's civil rights. I will speak out against that. I will denounce that, and I will seek to reassure the community that I'll be vigilant in that regard.

WCT: How would you implement HIV/AIDS services and education in the face of the looming budget cuts?

JG: Tough question. Since we don't know what the cuts are yet, I would seek advice from the experts in the field, from providers of these services. When we're in the new reality of austerity and budget cuts, that comes to be the case. You want be strategic and you want to be practical, so I would probably want to hear from folks like them as we move forward.

WCT: How can the city best address youth homelessness in the LGBT community, again, given that support from the state is likely to be reduced?

JG: We need to engage the advocates on this topic. We need to look at what kinds of resources we have in the [Department of Planning and Development], and we also need to look at the resources within the Chicago Housing Authority. The city has been sitting on CHA [resources] for a long time. The "Keeping the Promise Ordinance," giving the council more oversight over the Chicago Housing Authority, is a step forward to ensuring accountability, so the CHA doesn't sit on critical resources that can provide housing, including 3,000 vacant units that are just sitting there when they can be housing individuals and families, and the housing choice vouchers—about 12,000 of them—that are being wasted when we have a homeless problem, and we have a need for affordable family housing in Chicago. I would say that this is a crime that this has happened under the watch of the mayor.

WCT: Why do you think you're a better choice for mayor, for the city's LGBT community, than Rahm Emanuel?

JG: I have a history. I'm not a newcomer. I haven't become a recent convert. I stood up for the rights of the LGBT community under a more difficult historical period, and I think that's what speaks—my history and consistency with respect to the community. I've maintained a consistent position and engaged the community, both in my neighborhood and citywide, and always sought to stay informed and engaged about the reality that that community has.

[Note: In a follow-up, Windy City Times asked about Garcia's pledge to restore the position of a liaison between the mayor and the LGBT community, and what function he foresaw the liaison having. Garcia replied in an email statement:

"The role of the LGBT liaison will be to ensure that the voices of the LGBT community are at the table when policy decisions are made by my administration, to gather input on public policy issues from community stakeholders and experts in the field, and to assist LGBT Chicagoans to access city services and resources. The liaison would also provide support to LGBT organizations and important community events, including the Chicago Gay and Lesbian Hall of Fame, the City's annual Salute to LGBT Veterans, Proud to Run, the annual Dyke March, and the Pride Parade."]

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