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In His Shoes

Rep. Luis Gutierrez discusses what he would do as mayor


Seven-term U.S. Rep. Luis Gutierrez has to catch himself from discussing his aspirations for February's mayoral election. He sometimes forgets to include "potential" before "campaign". Gutierrez has his eye on City Hall, a fortress made penetrable by corruption indictments bursting around Mayor Richard M. Daley. Chicago Life asks what a Mayor Gutierrez would bring to pressing city issues.

Would you try to resurrect the "big box" ordinance from the City Council graveyard?

I think it's an excellent opportunity for Chicago leaders to chart a new course in effective economic development. Let's remember that the Targets of the world get millions and millions of dollars in direct and indirect subsidies and city assistance. While the CEOs receive multimillion-dollar financial packages, the city splurges tens of millions of dollars encouraging them to locate and relocate in the city. The "big-box" ordinance time has come.

Mayor Daley has used tax-increment financing (TIF) districts to subsidize downtown development and to reward and punish aldermen. Would you call for a moratorium on TIFs?

It goes back to having a City Council that is truly independent. My former City Council colleagues have forgotten the single most important detail about their servicethe weak mayor, strong city council arrangement. The first thing we should do is make sure we have a City Council that is truly reflective of the people. I think we should have several months of moratorium on further TIFs until we correctly regulate how they are used and what they are used for. There needs to be a lot more public disclosure. To me it's almost the ability of government to use the public's money with no oversight, with no legislative process. I think that's wrong.

Some people say you slighted the black community by endorsing Daley over Tim Evans in 1989. With that history and many competitors, how are you going to win support among black voters?

I started in politics with Harold Washington in 1983. I've always believed that you support the Democratic nominee. Tim Evans wasn't a candidate in the Democratic primary. He ran as an independent candidate. In 1983, [when] Harold Washington won the Democratic nomination, much of the Democratic Party abandoned [him] and supported the Republican. We denounced that. I felt we should not be using the same tools and methodology we had rejected.

The Chicago Housing Authority says more units will be destroyed than built in its Plan for Transformation, pushing public-housing residents into the private market. What has changed since the 1930s to explain our reliance on private forces?

The federal government has turned its back on the city and public housing needs across this nation. We need to be aggressive. And how can the city go about having a housing policy that doesn't demand more of the developers?

What should the city be demanding?

When they ask for increased zoning, sidewalks and infrastructure, they should give back. Right now they have to give back virtually nothing, simply displacing one neighborhood after another. We're talking about our burgeoning middle class being eliminated from housing opportunities. Ald. Billy Ocasio is now demanding of any developer 20 and 25 percent affordable housing. The alderman has shown us it's possible to do it and to have a neighborhood that continues to grow and improve. The days [when] everyone owns a bungalow are quite over. We need to look vertically. We need to look at our housing code. You can find other ways to reduce the cost of affordable housing without reducing the salaries of the workers, simply by using new technology and materials.

You've endorsed charter schools. National studies show they provide no better education than traditional schools. One local charter credits its success to fundraising that brings $3,600 more per pupil per year. What happens when foundations stop writing those checks?

Current studies show that nearly all Chicago charter schools outpaced comparable traditional public schools on standardized tests. Chicago should be in a position to put more kids into charter schools. People are going to look for new educational opportunities for their children. I think our city needs to get behind those new opportunities. Charter schools may not be the total answer, but it is part of the answer. We need to look at our complete system. Part of it is going back and sitting down with the governor and legislature and looking at how our state finances its public-school system. As long as it's based on property taxes, kids in poor neighborhoods are going to get a poor education. Anybody who's driven to the North Shore suburbsyou see their facilities, see the ratio of teachers to students, see how they pay their teachers nearly twice as much as we pay our teachers. Guess where the quality teachers and education are going to be? We cannot continue to let poor people not have the same opportunities as everyone else.

Transportation activists ask why the Circle Line connector will run along Ashland Avenue's gentrifying neighborhoods. What are your priorities?

I know our CTA has not been the beacon of public participation it should be. If we have a City Council that is truly going to evaluate the nominees the mayor makes to boards and commissionslike the CTA, park district and school systemyou are going to have people come forward who are going to bring those issues up. You are going to have much more of a participatory democracy. Even a Mayor Gutierrez with all the power and centralization would not be the best thing for the city.

If a federal immigration law passes that would criminalize immigrants or those who work with them, how would you protect those populations locally?

Immigrants are critical to the future of the city, to its social, economic [and] cultural greatness. I would make sure that everyone who lives in our city who has a health care need, an educational need [or] a housing need is treated without regard to their immigration status. It would just be the policy of the city.

How can you win without patronage, like the 48-page clout list linked to your ally, County Commissioner Roberto Maldonado?

I don't have such a list. Of course the commissioner has denied that the list is his. I have no reason to believe that's not the truth. But that's one list too many. We should sign Shakman [a 1983 court decree prohibiting patronage hiring], and if we need federal oversight, let's have federal oversight, so there's no political hiring. Let's privatize the hiring of every possible position. Part of the reason people want [these] jobs is because they fear others who might get those jobs [would] use those patronage workers against them. This is a total disarmament-nobody can get a job, not the mayor, not the City Council member, not a powerful contributor - no one.

Published: August 01, 2006
Issue: November 2006