People with Passion: Ronald J. Baltierra

Date: 
02/17/2011
BaltierraInJung

Baltierra checks out election posters in the Jackson Junge Gallery

Interview February 4, 2011

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This started in '09. I had a street light right next to my house that lit up the alley. I'm right next to the El. That street light shined 75% of that alley. Illuminated it. That was out for almost five months. And by that light being out, it looked like Sleepy Hollow. You familiar with Sleepy Hollow? They put in all these new trees in the front of my building, and then they don't trim them. I've been trimming my trees ever since they installed them ten years ago. If you look at the other side of the street, you'll see it looks like Sleepy Hollow. The street lights, when they're on, that area's all dark. My side of  the street, when the lights are on, it's lit up because I trimmed everything at least twenty feet off the ground.

That was the beginning. I started to realize, my god. They came to us, and said, "Hey, I'll give you a tree. This is not a problem. You don't have to pay for it. We want to beautify the neighborhood." I says, "Okay fine. But don't put it in front of my sewer line," because what happened was an existing tree busted out my sewer line, and I had to pay 4500 dollars to repair it. That was a city tree. So I said, "No more trees in front of my house." Started getting concerned back then, like, "Who's paying for all this?" The city wants to beautify, and yet I have to pay for the repairs.

So my sewer went. I paid for that. The light was out for five months. They broke into my basement. And I do shows. I do karaoke and DJ for Mexican events, or for senior events. That's where I entertain seniors. They broke into my basement, they stole my equipment. And they found a body fifty feet from my doorway wrapped in plastic, duct taped, and stuffed in a duffle bag. Because of the light being out. I screamed and cried about that for about another month. Nothing was being done. They said it was not a problem.

Potholes! I lost my muffler in a pothole. My daughter lost her front end in a pothole. My neighbors in the building I live in have lost one thing or another due to the potholes. Pothole's been like that for, I'd have to say, at least five years. Major potholes. I got photos. I started an organization called U.N.I.T.E. that came from the south side. That's United Neighbors to Improve The Environment. I picked that up and I brought it to the north side about two years ago. People worked with me instantly. I had a good forty-five people jump on the bandwagon because they wanted me to clean that area up.

CTA put a fence up to prevent the homeless from moving in and sleeping around the work house. So that was another issue. They had lots of homeless people living there. They had prostitution there. I got rid of the prostitutes. I called the police and the police came, and they went to remove the prostitutes, and the prostitutes say to the police, "We didn't do anything wrong. Why are you jumping on us?" And the police would say, "The guy in that house right there called us, and he wants us to remove you." Oh my god! I'm looking through the crack of the door trying to see what's going on, and all of a sudden when they pointed the finger at me, boom! I close the door and go, "Oh man. Now I gotta face these people." Which I did. And I had to face them. That was a headache in itself.

We own an apartment building. Nice apartment building. Rehabbed. Put a lot of money in it. We couldn't get any tenants this last time around because graffiti was all over the place and it wasn't being removed. Finally I got a hold of the alderman - Manny Flores, which was the alderman before this one - and they took forever to clean it up. The new one came on board. I said, "I want to be this guy's friend. I want to get him to help me clean this up." Well, I got a hold of him, and he was even worse because he had no experience. He was handpicked by Mayor Daley. Handpicking someone with no experience is a little different than grabbing someone that knows the street and the community.

Daley says, "I'm looking for an alderman. You want to be an alderman, raise your hand." I raise my hand. I was one of the ninety that submitted my name. I was one of sixty that qualified. I was one of five at the end of the day when the mayor made his choice. And I thought that everybody's thinking, "Wow, this is a fair, honest mayor's attempt to find an alderman." Well, if you go back and look at one of Moreno's sites, in his site he says that he was handpicked and sent to the mayor for the mayor to select him to make him the next alderman. Totally opposite of what the mayor said: "I'm looking for someone." He's admitting he was handpicked and hand-delivered. Manny Flores took him to the mayor and said, "This guy wants to succeed me."

So that got me. I'm thinking, "Oh my god, all this." Everything seems to be working the total opposite of what I'm believing politics should be. Because I was a businessman. Been a businessman all my life. Twenty-five years as a businessman. Some of my projects are well known. Harold Washington Library. I did all bronze doors all the way around. The Mexican Art Show on 26th Street. The Dearborn Station. That was destined for demolition.

I was already reaching out, "How can I help?" and I wasn't getting any response. And then Daley offered, "Anybody want to alderman?" And that's when I caught wind of what it was all about. I had no idea what this was about. I had no idea what the aldermen went through, how they operated, and I educated myself. I learned it. I went into the library, went into Google, asked every little detail about, "What's an alderman's job?" And that's when I'm saying, "Whoa, this guy isn't doing his job."

I was calling him up and saying, "Hey, I've got a street light out. Can you send someone out to fix it? Because it's a dark area." Matter fact, I took pictures of it, and I showed him, and I sent it to him and said, "It's a dark area. It has to be cleaned up." And lo and behold, I get robbed, my neighbor gets robbed, a body is found. That got me involved right there.

Where's your building?

It's right around the corner on Evergreen and Milwaukee. Right there. That was it. I said to myself, "If he can't do it, I know I can do it." And that's why I decided to run.

I'm interested to hear the candidates' thoughts on term limits and the idea of being a 'career politician.' Do you think aldermen should have term limits?

Term limits. Two terms. Eight years is all we need of 'em, because I know a lot of them already that went the opposite way. They started off good, but after that, you couldn't control them. You couldn't get them to help. It was either, "What have you done for me lately?" As opposed to, "What are you supposed to do for me?" You're the alderman. I need you. You don't need me. But it's them. "What have you done for me lately?"

So let's say you're elected. But let's say term limits are not passed. You're elected, you serve your first term. You're re-elected, you serve your second term. How would you know, "Okay, my job here is done"?

I would publicize what I have left to do. Whoever's going to run against me, if they feel they can do a better job, give them that opportunity to come stand against me. I wouldn't hide anything.

So you would announce what you felt you still had to do -

Oh yeah!

...and if the next person felt confident, you would step away from the job -

I wouldn't step away. They have to beat me out. But if there's a term, then I would walk away, because it's a two term. It would be eight years. If they had that. If they introduced it. I wouldn't walk away, because I'd be the only one that's handling this. Unless of course someone comes and challenges me. Again, what I would do is I would put my stuff out in the open. If you're better than me, if you feel more qualified. You have to have some qualifications to be alderman. Something, you have to have. There's no way you're gonna grab someone who never did it before in his life to challenge me, and I'm gonna back off and walk away? I wouldn't do that. I just wouldn't do it.

Even if your two terms were up?

Even if the two terms were up. What I wouldn't do, I wouldn't go out there and create problems for my competitor. I would give my competitor the same opportunity that I had running. Because there's always somebody better. That's what you're always looking for. In my business, I always look for somebody better than me, and if he's better than me, I'm not going to stand in his way. That's the way I feel.

So, it's February 23rd, 2011, you've just been elected alderman. What are you most excited to start on?

I gotta clean house. (Laughs.) That'd be the first thing. To get in and clean house. I have to see where they left off. Usually, if I was hired to complete someone else's five million dollar project, my first thing to do is go in there and clean house. Look at the books. That's my number one thing. Bring my staff. Get them together. Let's go there and let's research everything that's been going on for the last three months, five months, five years. There's no way I'm going to jump in and try to run something with no experience as to what went on. Where's the money? Where are the contacts? Where are the contracts? Who are the people that are supporting the ward? You gotta have ward supporters, not alderman supporters. You gotta have people that want a better living in their ward. Those are the ones we have to focus on and bring on board and talk to, number one.

Other 1st Ward Aldermanic candidates profiled in this series: Proco "Joe" Moreno; Deborah Lopez

More information: First look

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