The Illinois gubernatorial primary election is set for March 18, and the race for the 39th district state representative seat continues to be a hot one as independent democrat, Will Guzzardi and incumbent Maria Antonia “Toni” Berrios both vie for the job.
LoganSquarist is sitting down with both candidates to hear about their stance on a variety of issues and their accomplishments thus far in the campaign. Both candidates are being asked the same questions by the same reporter. Read Rep. Toni Berrios’ Q&A session here.
Tuesday, LoganSquarist sat down with Will Guzzardi at his office and talked about his campaign and where he stands on issues including education and the state’s economy. Be sure to check back this month for a Q&A session with current State Representative Toni Berrios.
LS: What have you been doing to engage residents in your campaign and get your name out there?
WG: Our biggest focus has always been going door-to-door, knocking on people’s doors, talking to them about the campaign. We’ve been doing that since the beginning of September. I am right now on my third pass through the district, so pretty soon now we’ll have knocked on doors in every precinct three times. We’ve talked to probably 7,000 or 8,000 voters by now about the campaign. The response we’ve gotten has been amazing. People are excited to see us showing up at their door, and they’re excited at the prospect of politics being different, to break from the status quo and some new leadership in their neighborhood.
LS: If you are elected, what is your main goal for your time in office?
WG: There are some really important policy goals that I have. Probably chief among them is fixing our state’s economy. I think that that has to start with a fair income tax in Illinois, I think that’s really critical to make sure that working families in this community and every community have the burden eased and the very wealthy pay their fair share. And that big corporations are held accountable to paying their fair share.
There’s also a broader goal, which is about changing the way that politics works in Illinois. And that’s probably the most important to me, in that right now our state government doesn’t represent the interests of people in this community or in any community, practically. Our state government is out there fighting for the very wealthy and the entrenched interests and the political interests, and the rest of us are finding it harder and harder to get by. So I think we really need to break up that sort of entrenched political establishment and get people in there who are actually fighting for the values that the community shares.
LS: What are your thoughts on the influx of charter schools in Chicago, and how do you see them affecting the community?
WG: I think folks in this community are skeptical about the expansion of charter schools. And I’m concerned about it too. I mean we just closed 50 neighborhood schools, so it seems sort of disingenuous to turn around and say, “oh, all of a sudden we need all of these new charters.” I believe that charter schools just aren’t a solution for public education. Charter schools are not intended to serve every child, and it is our responsibility as a government, as a society to provide a good public education for every child. The charter school system doesn’t do that. It’s not designed to do that. I think we just need to invest in our public schools because they’re the only place that every family gets to go.
There’s a lot of additional scrutiny and accountability that I think we have to apply to charter schools that I don’t think we’re doing right now. I think we need to do more to enforce the laws that are on the books, but also charter schools aren’t accountable to making transparent their budgeting process in the way that CPS have to do because they’re public schools. Charter schools don’t have to tell us how their spending their money, using their public money, and that’s a big problem. And I think we also need stronger labor laws so that teachers at charter schools are able to join or form unions. I think that’s very important as well. I really believe in labor unions, organized labor. So there’s a lot of state-level policy that can make sure that the charters we do have are held to the same standards as traditional public schools. And I think we need to consider a moratorium on additional charter schools, and that’s state legislation as well because it’s a very difficult case to make right now that we need to open more charters in the city of Chicago.
LS: How do you plan to bring issues that people in the 39th district feel strongly about to Springfield, and how do you plan to represent this district?
WG: It’s going to be an uphill battle in Springfield because the sort of vested interests there are very powerful and have an interest in holding onto power. When I get down there, I don’t think it’s going to be easy for me to advance the agenda that I care about. That being said, I do think it’s possible. I think there are a lot of good people in Springfield, people who do care about these issues, and it’s going to be up to me to build bridges with those folks and to work on building coalitions with other lawmakers who care about these specific issues, and to try to find ways in which I can work with leadership where that’s possible and stand up to leadership where I have to. It’s going to be difficult waters to navigate, but that’s part of the job of being an elected official.
LS: How do you plan on bringing the bigger state issues back to the community and making the community aware of those topics?
WG: I think the way we run our campaign is a model of how I want to be as a legislator. We’re going to keep knocking on doors and talking to folks in the community, and we’re going to be very involved in a grassroots, block-by-block level in what’s going on in this neighborhood. It’s our job to connect to the community. It’s our responsibility as public servants to let our constituents know what’s going on and how these issues affect their lives. People have a lot of very pressing concerns in their lives that keep them from following the ins and outs of Springfield. It’s our job as their representatives to say, “here’s what’s going on.”
LS: Affordable housing in Chicago and Logan Square is a prominent topic, what kind of work are you doing with that, or do you plan on doing?
WG: Affordable housing is a really important issue to this community, and I am really happy that Logan Square is growing and that we’re welcoming new families to this neighborhood every day. It is important that for the soul of this neighborhood we respect the folks who have been here for a long time and that we make sure the neighborhood stays affordable and that those folks can continue to live here and raise their families here. One of the issues that came up around this is rent control. There’s a state law that forbids municipalities from enacting rent control. That doesn’t make sense to me. I think rent control is a really important tool toward stabilizing rents in neighborhoods like this one and neighborhoods around the city. In general we need to focus on rent stabilization and housing market stabilization. We need to invest in affordable housing developments. These are all things that can happen at the state level.
LS: Transparency is a big thing, how do you plan on remaining transparent and easily accessible?
On the policy side, there’s a lot of progress to be made. I think one of the biggest pieces of legislation I talk about a lot is corporate tax transparency. Two-thirds of corporations in Illinois don’t pay any income tax, and it’s also the case that we don’t really know who pays what because corporations aren’t made to disclose that. We need corporate tax transparency, we need to pass legislation that makes corporations accountable for letting us know how much they’re paying. We need TIF transparency so that we know exactly where every TIF dollar is going and if there’s a surplus, that surplus needs to be returned.
As far as me and my office, I can be reached by email or phone or people can just walk in the front door and as long as I’m not out knocking on doors, I’ll be here. And I think transparency isn’t really enough. I think there’s so much information in the world, that just putting it out there doesn’t do the job. It’s not enough to just be transparent. I think you have to be proactive about it. It’s not enough to just have the information; we have to bring it to folks. We have to make sure we’re reaching out and doing our part to get that information in the hands of the people who need it. We’re not just going to be an office that has a door that’s open. We’re going to be an office that’s in your neighborhood and I’m going to come to your neighborhood coffee shop and sit out there for a few hours and invite you to come talk to me. I’m also going to knock on your door and say, “hey it’s your state rep, and here are the things I care about. And what do you care about, and how can we work on that?”
LS: What is your favorite aspect of the 39th district and why do you want to represent this community? Do you have favorite places to go?
WG: This is an awesome neighborhood. What’s so great about this district is that it’s really diverse, and there’s basically three very distinct communities in this district. I love Logan Square, which is where I live, because it’s very diverse and it’s growing and it’s exciting, but it’s also full of activists, people who are passionate about this community and about making sure that it develops in a way that’s respectful and right and great. Then out west in Belmont Cragin, it’s a majority Latino and it was sort of exceptionally hard-hit by the economic downturn, a lot of foreclosures out there, but it’s also a great community. And Portage Park is so cool too in its own right. Its got those great bungalows, like this sort of historic, old-school Chicago neighborhood, and you got so many folks who have been there forever.
I used to live down the block from Taqueria Moran, and so I would go there like twice a week for the first three years that I lived in Chicago, so I know the folks who run the place. They got our mailer in the mail last week, and they recognized me from eating there all the time, so they put it up in their window. So we got them a proper sign and everything. They’re great, and the al pastor at Taqueria Moran stands up to any al pastor in Chicago.
LS: Should you not win, what’s next? Do you plan on continuing working on the same issues?
WG: I think no matter what happens in March, I will not lose an ounce of passion for these things that I’ve been talking about, and in particular for my belief that we need better politics in this city and the state. I look forward, win or lose, to helping good candidates get elected at every level and using the lessons that we learn here and the resources that we build here to make that path easier for good, progressive, independent, grassroots candidates.Photo: Christopher Dilts