The voter politician credibility gap -- Conversations with 1st Ward Aldermanic Candidates

Date: 
02/20/2011

There is a gap in trust between citizens and public officials. Here in Illinois, we are particularly dubious, where politicians say one thing and do another, and where so many are indicted or even imprisoned. Knowing everything we know, why should people trust you and take you at your word? Why should voters think you are different?

Deborah Lopez
You're absolutely right. That is a challenge to convince voters - not convince them, but help them realize that this is a historical time in Chicago's political leadership, and they should be a part of this history. I think the difference to me is very clear. I've been communicating: I don't belong to any special interest group, or any political organization. I can be considered an independent. I don't belong to the old way of doing things. I'm not tied to Joe Barrios or Jesse Juarez, the committeeman. I'm here to raise the bar in terms of what is expected of an alderman. I'm here to give voters a choice, so that when they go to the polling place it's not just one name. That's what sets me apart.

I'm someone who has a passion for public service, has the experience, has grown up in the area, and is not tied to anyone, that old school politics way, you know, patronage. I hope voters will begin to see that in me, that I am a fresh face with fresh ideas and that I would be part of a city council that hopefully will be comprised of a lot of new aldermen at this point.

Chicagoans tolerate a lot from their elected officials and the governmental process. What won't they tolerate?

I would like to believe that at this point, our residents will not tolerate any more mismanagement, corruption, cronyism, patronage. They're buzz words, but I wish people would take them serious. It's disheartening when I talk to people, and they kind of laugh it off and say, "Oh, it's Chicago politics. What do you expect?" No. This is not what to expect. This is what needs to stop. And it can stop.

I'm hoping that residents will not tolerate any more mismanagement - because corruption costs taxpayers a lot of money. And it's very upsetting. And that's something I take personal. Why shouldn't we take it personal? It's our tax money. Funny how we never hear about how much the city is spending to defend or pay all these legal fees of corruption. Those are things that I would really hone in on: sharing the transparency and really democratizing processes.

For example, the Tax Increment Financing (TIF) program. Part of its original intent, at least when it was being drawn up, was that there would be community advisory groups as part of a TIF, so we know how our tax dollars are going to be spent. Why can't we see a line-by-line item on how that TIF is going to be spent and how it's supposed to benefit our area? It's about democratizing, about letting those who are interested in knowing - because some residents, they trust the public officials, and say, "Hey, that's there job. Let's trust them."

I think the widespread apathy is the years and years of, whatever you call it, the old school machine, behind-the-scenes backroom deal, that although this may have happened many many years ago, it seems to still have been alive and well. At some point, people are like, "Come on. How much more is this going to go on?" I think we're at that tipping point, between more recent the Blagojevich, and just what we see on the front pages about city contracts going to people who shouldn't be getting it, or the city buying commodities that aren't good quality. It's just, it's horrible. And it needs to stop.

Alderman Moreno
We think about it all the time. And it's by behavior. For instance, I have a separate political office, a separate political room. If people want to talk about a fundraising event or something, those are discussed in those areas, just so they know that there's a difference. It's not part of the service office.

I got some great advice when I was first appointed alderman: "Don't be so quick to give up your old friends for new friends." And it's true. Because a lot of people want a piece of you. A lot of people have their own self-interest in terms of development, zoning changes, café licenses, liquor licenses - all those things are controlled by the alderman, and they want to be able to influence you that way. You've got to be very, very strident about your terms.

This is what I've set forth as policy for this office: any change to a liquor moratorium, any zoning change - those are the two biggest things where people have gotten in trouble. I have a community map that overlays the whole ward. I take those and I give them to community groups, and then they give me their opinion back on what they feel. Do they approve it? Do they approve it with changes? Or do they disapprove it? I, 100% of the time, take their recommendation and act on it.

When Walgreens, nation-wide, wanted to start selling liquor, three of their Walgreens were in liquor moratoriums. They got big lobbyists, they got big people coming to me. I gave it to three different community groups. Two said they were okay with it. One said they weren't. I lifted the two moratoriums for those, and I didn't lift the one for the other. Walgreens was okay with it - they wanted all three - but that's by policy. Every offer that comes in here, every lobbyist - so that takes away a lot of that mistrust, is being transparent on that.

The Tribune put all of the answers for the first time for alderman, but I put mine up the day I submitted them on my Facebook. I said, "Here are the answers I had for this questionnaire." And there were some tough questions in there. The more open and transparent you show yourself, those questions go away.

Chicagoans tolerate a lot from their elected officials and the governmental process. What won't they tolerate?

I can speak for the 1st Ward - What they will not tolerate, and what I won't tolerate, is hypocrisy. They may tolerate that you disagree with them. They may tolerate that. They may even tolerate that you misspoke on something, or that you changed your mind. But hypocrisy is different than that. Hypocrisy is saying, "I am going to fight for affordable housing," and then voting against the - which I co-sponsor - 'Sweet Home Chicago.' That's hypocritical. That's not just you changing your mind. You're being a hypocrite. I would much rather sit there and disagree on immigration issues - which I have with some 1st Ward residents - than pander to them about that. They see through that.

Ronald J. Baltierra
I would put out - which I have, and nobody else has - my resume. I'd lay my resume right on the line, with phone numbers and addresses. I believe I'm qualified to handle this job. You don't believe me? These are the people I've worked for in 25 years. Nobody's doing that. Even when Daley asked for everyone's resume, did he show anybody anybody's resume? No. He kept it to himself. He made the final decision.

What would be the big bullet points on your resume?

Honesty. Honesty. Honesty. It would be honesty. My job was done professionally and honestly. That's basically it. That's what we need from aldermen. We need honest, straight-forward, aldermen.

How can you prove 'honesty' before you've been elected? What would you point to in your past on your resume to say, "Look at this, this, and this. This proves that I'm honest. This proves that I'm trustworthy. This proves that I know what I'm doing..."

I have no political background. So what else can I say other than my personal -

[Campaign assistant Nicole Erickson chimes in.] "Military."

Well military, yeah. Military. I've been awarded just about every minority you can get in the City of Chicago being a contractor. That shows that you got, you know, integrity.

"Medals."

Yeah, a bunch of medals I got in Vietnam.

"Medals of honor."

I'm a well-decorated veteran.

"That should stand for something these days, don't you think? I think."

Okay. Let me ask you this: Chicagoans tolerate a lot from their elected officials and the governmental process. What won't they tolerate?

Oh, that's a hard one. I don't know.

NICOLE: "That is a tough one."

What won't they tolerate? I don't know. You don't get that many voters out. Believe it. We got seventy some people in there, that are voters, and what did we get last time? 4500? 4800? What percentage is that? What do they tolerate? I really don't know how to answer that one.

"It's funny to say that - if I can interject - because we all bustle along and easily get over crisis. We can easily talk about something for a short period of time, but (snaps fingers) we get over things quickly."

Look at our mayor for example. Look at how many times he pointed to himself and what he did didn't work out, and then the following week everybody forgets about it. Same thing. It's in one door and out the next. That's it.

First look at aldermanic candidates in our area by Our Urban Times.

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