Exclusive interview with Jesus "Chuy" Garcia

The candidate for mayor discusses economic development, CCAP funding and his ties to Austin

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By Michael Romain

Editor

Recently, the mayoral campaign of Cook County Commissioner Jesus "Chuy" Garcia reached out to the Austin Weekly News to sit for an interview—so far, the only mayoral campaign to do so. 

It was a brief conversation that focused on Garcia's connections to Austin, his vision for economic development and his thoughts on the recent $300 million gap in Child Care Assistance Program (CCAP) funding: 

Do you have any personal or professional connections to Austin?

As an activist who has done community organizing for several years, I've had the opportunity to work with several groups in Austin—from the South Austin Coalition Community Council (SAC) to the Westside Health Authority. As a member of the board of Woods Fund Chicago [a nonprofit organization that organizes around issues of social justice and community empowerment], I've had a variety of relationships with people who work in Austin, such as Bob Vondrasek. I also play softball at Columbus Park against people like Danny K. Davis and Ricky Hendon. 

Talk about some specific actions in the area of economic development that, if elected, you'd immediately take in office—actions that, for whatever reason, you believe the current mayor does not have the will or wherewithal to take.

I've had conversations with folks who are passionate and interested in strategic investments made in Austin to solidify and invigorate commercial strips there. That's important, because the commercial strips haven't received enough attention in City Hall. There was a Kwanzaa event at Sankofa on Chicago Avenue and part of their vision is the development of an African-centered district there that could feature the history of African Americans settling on the West Side, in addition to goods and attractions based in African culture that could foster economic development in the area. 

I'm very interested in how the city could support an initiative like that to build a strip that becomes attractive, that people would want to visit, that provides more options to local shoppers in the community and has the affect of circulating dollars more times in the neighborhood. 

Coming from community organizing—as a former director of a community development corporation—I would meet with people who do planning and develop strategies to develop that idea. People in the neighborhoods are the experts. I would want to put my Department of Planning and Development to action to figure out the most tangible things that can begin immediately. 

This is one of the reasons I provided a letter of support for UIC's application seeking to bring a library to the West Side. This area really needs the attention and investments of that nature could really spark a comeback.
In addition, the West Side has the possibility of attracting modern manufacturing and industry. The West Side has man buildings that can be reused for modern, clean manufacturing. 

One gentleman I visited in a barbershop on Madison Avenue said, 'Why don't you take the school that closed in that area and put a roller skating rink there.' Something like that would be unique and those are the signals that demonstrate that there's potential for something like that.  

Will you endorse any aldermanic candidates—specifically those in the 28th, 29th and 37th Wards?

I've only made appearances with some alderman candidates. In the 37th Ward, we have a close relationship with Tara Stamps, because she is a Chicago Teachers Union-endorsed candidate in the community and also because the incumbent [Ald. Mitts] endorsed Mayor Emanuel. 

It was recently announced that Illinois's Child Care Assistance Program (CCAP), which provides subsidies to low-income parents to send their children to early childcare, is facing a $300 million shortfall. Mayor Emanuel did write a letter urging Gov. Rauner to find funding for the program. What action would you take in this area if you were mayor? 

I'm still not privy to the city's fiscal conditions right now. I'm eager to find that out, but I think the daycare issue is urgent and critical. It determines whether kids have a safe place to go and whether moms have the ability to continue working or not. This has huge implications, because working moms and working parents rely on it. 

It's a bit tough for me to make a commitment given that I'm not sitting there, but it's a real bread and butter issue, because the daycare funding is the life-line for the well being of low-income communities. I would explore if the city could come up with any kind of [supplemental] support.

How would you handle the city's multibillion dollar debt crisis? In particular, how would you find money to help level the playing field between neighborhoods, which many people feel have long been neglected, and the downtown area of the city that gets most of the economic attention? Do you think there are ways in the city's budget to address this economic inequity? 

Once we shut off the spigot for the cronies and favored wealthy who have been benefiting from the city's assets, managing those assets, contracts, appointments, etc.; instead of investing in people who are already wealthy, its incumbent on us to redirect resources to the neighborhoods. Here are some ways I plan to do that:

1) Hire more police officers to be trained to engage in community policing. Developing relationships is critical and having that trust and mutual respect is critical. 

2) Ensuring there's greater equity in schools and that there's greater support for schools without resources.

3) Economic development tools need to be provided by the city in terms of grants to chambers of commerce, community development corporations and the like to ensure investments made by the city can have greater impact. There's not been enough thinking about neighborhood investment in a proactive way 

4) Also, there's the question of the Chicago Housing Authority (CHA), which is sitting on 12,000 vouchers, equaling $32 million that hasn't been tapped into since 2006. It's a crime that we're sitting on those types of resources when we can engage in more affordable housing development, especially in communities hit the hardest in the recession and foreclosure crisis. Some of those resources are at our disposal; we have to figure out how to invest them wisely in our communities. 

CONTACT: michael@austinweeklynews.com 

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