It has been an interesting couple of months for Chicago’s political scene. Much of the media’s attention has been focused on who stays in the February ballot and the issues affecting the city appear to have taken second place. In an effort to provide information to our readers about the candidates, we sat down with mayoral candidate Miguel Del Valle for an interview.
Gozamos: You have a long history of service to the City of Chicago and the state of Illinois. If you were to highlight one thing that distinguishes you from the other candidates, what would it be?
Del Valle: You can distinguish me from at least two other candidates because I have always advocated for and work for the behalf of neighborhoods of the City of Chicago. I have both feet firmly planted in the City of Chicago; I’ve been here for 55 years. Unlike other candidates, I have not enriched myself personally from my connections with government. I have been a public servant and have served not just my own legislative district for 20 years but also the entire city as City Clerk. I am the only one of the candidates who has been elected to citywide office. I was elected City Clerk 4 years ago. That is what makes me different, as well as my long history of advocacy and service to the neighborhoods of Chicago. I am progressive; my voting record reflects that. My legislative accomplishments reflect that, and those are the things that distinguish me.
G: What are the issues affecting the Latino community in Chicago? How do you propose to battle those issues?
Del Valle: The reason I am running for mayor is because I want to use the authority of the mayor’s office to affect change in the areas that I care deeply about, in areas that I have worked for years beginning with education. We need to improve the quality of public education in Chicago; we need to transform low-performing schools into high-performing schools. We cannot continue to develop a parallel system of public education: one made with magnet schools, charter schools and selective enrollment schools and the other being neighborhood schools that are in many cases underperforming. We need to create more academic options for our children. We need to create a system that is engaging parents. That is why I propose that all underperforming schools create community learning centers which would extend the school day as well as provide learning opportunities for families–where parents will go to classes in the evening while students receive tutoring and homework assistance and where students will receive enrichment programs that will help them excel and test at grade level. We want our schools to be anchors in the neighborhoods. They can become anchors if they are viewed and function as community learning centers for the entire community, not just schools that close at 2 o’clock and are unused for the rest of the day.
We need more career and technical education in our high schools. We need to give our students more opportunities in advanced placement courses so that they can better compete to get into colleges and universities. We need to reduce the dropout rate; among Latinos it’s a little over 40% in the City of Chicago. I propose a Chicago youth core, a program within the schools that would give high school students the opportunity to work part-time within the private sector so that they can gain valuable experience and well as income that would help support them and their families. These are things that need to happen on a large scale in the City of Chicago if we are going to see significant improvement in low-income communities.
Our is a tale of two cities, a thriving downtown and the growing residential areas around downtown where people with a college education live and work, while in the neighborhoods we still have areas described as food deserts. How is it that in one of the most powerful cities in the world, we have food deserts? We have neighborhoods where you cannot find a grocery store or fresh produce. Those are the things we have to change. We cannot be a world class city unless every neighborhood is a good neighborhood, a neighborhood where kids can grow safely and get a quality education. That is what my campaign is all about.
G: That goes into my next question, what are your plans for community development? How will you make sure resources are fairly distributed among the neighborhoods?
Del Valle: It starts with using Tax Income Financing (TIF) to create revenue, using TIF districts as they were originally intended: to bring revenue to blighted areas. We have to stop creating TIF districts in areas undergoing development and will continue to undergo development regardless of whether the district is created. The purpose of a TIF is to help economically depressed areas to undergo infrastructure improvement, street improvement, school construction, and the construction of public facilities such as libraries.
G: How do you plan to bring transparency into the mayoral office?
Del Valle: I want to bring to all government offices what I have already brought to the City Clerk’s offices. My job is not done. In January I will unveil an improved City Counsel’s office website. We want the public to have access to the information generated by the legislative branch of government, the City Council. It will be easier for you to find an ordinance. When you talk about TIF districts, all that information should be online. I want to see that transparency applied to all the offices.
G: At the beginning of the election season, most of the attention seemed to be focused on contesting Mr. Emanuel’s candidacy. Now that the issue seems to have been put to rest, how do you plan to recapture the attention of the voters and have them refocus on the issues?
Del Valle: I am going to do that by continuing to talk about the issues, by talking about the dropout rate. We talked about the parking meters and how we want that negotiated. I have been critical of this process of challenging Mr. Emanuel’s residency because I felt that in the end he would be in the ballot. I feel it has taken away attention from the issues that must be in front of the voters. I have been to every forum that I have been invited to. This is what this election should be about, being in contact with people. It’s the first time in many, many decades that we have a mayoral election; it’s a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. We have had a Daley in the office for 43 years, father and son. These next few weeks are a very valuable time, and I want to use it to talk about whatever is important to the voters of the City of Chicago.
G: Any final words for our readers?
Del Valle: I want to remind people that January 25th is the deadline for voter’s registration. There is very little time to register. Whether they are new citizens or just turned 18, in order to participate they must register. Often time people do not realize they cannot vote until the day of the election. Today there are 75,000 fewer registered voters than there were during the mayoral campaign four years ago. I would urge you to contact the Chicago Board of Election to find out if you are registered to vote and if you need to register to vote, you can go downtown to the Board of Elections. Our campaign is the only campaign pushing to register voters. There are some campaigns that would actually like to have a low turnout. We want a high turnout. We want high rates of participation. We want the voters to express themselves on that day.