Amanda Yu Dieterich wants you to know she’s here for you. The 10-year Logan Square resident is mounting a challenge to embattled incumbent alderman Carlos Ramirez-Rosa (35th Ward) and, if elected on Feb. 26, promises to be more present than her opponent was during his first term.
Dieterich has a deeply progressive plan for serving the needs of her potential constituents in Logan Square, Albany Park, Irving Park, Avondale, and Hermosa. From promoting green energy to ensuring that office hours are accessible to working families, funding schools to maintaining the streets, balancing gentrification with the needs of longtime residents to meeting the specific needs of immigrants, her platform is ambitious but cohesive and wide-reaching.
The owner of a local small business, The Early Word, a branding and design studio, Dieterich has been involved with the community since she arrived. In addition to facilitating local cooperation through a series of social media groups and block party events, she is on her second term as a member of the Local School Council for James Monroe Elementary School.
Rosa, on the other hand, enters the race in the wake of two failed bids for higher office during his four-year freshman term as alderman. He was booted from the lieutenant governor slot on state senator Daniel Biss’s gubernatorial ticket in 2017 over his controversial support of the Boycott, Divest, and Sanctions movement against Israel in support of Palestine and dropped out of the race for U.S. Representative Luis Gutiérrez’s seat (4th Congressional District) in 2018.
Critics, including Dieterich, question his commitment to the office in light of these self-aggrandizing tendencies. Rosa was also removed from the Latino Caucus on City Council in May 2018 over charges of a poor attendance rating and lack of engagement. (He claimed that his dismissal was politically motivated and was later reinstated.) And he carries further baggage in the form of charges that he had failed to pay off a 2014 loan and that he was in arrears on rent for his former offices on Sawyer Avenue.
However, Rosa supporters admire his stance on social justice causes, standing up for working families and his progressive, Democratic-Socialist platform. Since his time as alderman, he has helped pass more than 541 ordinances, including major legislation that’s delivered $20 million in property tax relief for working-class families, protected immigrant communities from abuse, and affirmed the equal rights of all people regardless of their sexual orientation, gender identity, or expression, according to his website.
A longtime West Side resident, Rosa supporters say he has been present and recently made significant improvements to the ward, such as a new playground in Hermosa, a new library in Irving Park, a new boutique hotel with $17 an hour jobs in Logan Square, a multi-family affordable housing development in Albany Park, and a new Belmont Blue Line train station in Avondale.
On a frigid Tuesday afternoon, I journeyed out to Dieterich’s gritty but inviting headquarters for a chat about her time in Logan Square, her progressive politics, and what sets her apart from her opponent. Below is an edited and condensed version of our conversation.
LoganSquarist: Is there a history of public service in your family?
Amanda Yu Dieterich: My dad is a retired judge in Taiwan and my mom is a retired professor. Those are the values I was raised with—public service. When I was growing up, Taiwan was under martial law. We weren’t allowed to talk about politics. As a judge in Taiwan, it’s very different from the United States. You’re not allowed to have party allegiance. You have to stay completely neutral. We weren’t allowed to discuss anything.
When my mom came here she was more involved in trying to build a life here for us. Figuring out where to work and at the same time figuring out the school system. It’s very different here than it is in Taiwan. [We had to learn] a whole new set of traditions and customs.
What are your responsibilities as a school council representative?
Before that, I was part of Chicago Community Trust’s collaboratories [a project aimed at fostering community discussion and cooperation] on parent engagement in neighborhood schools. I really got into learning a lot about neighborhood schools and the lack of resources. I wanted to get involved, so then I visited our neighborhood school. At that time, the principal said, “We’re actually looking for a community rep. Would you run for it?” And I said yeah. One of the big responsibilities of the local school council is really learning about CPS budgets and approving them, learning administrative functions, hiring teachers, and fulfilling the student’s needs.
You run your own business. How will your business skills inform your political trajectory?
I decided to start my business after graduate school. I wanted to do branding of businesses; the other part of my business is doing social invitations and fun events. One of the things I’ve learned in helping other small businesses is how much red tape there is for businesses to start. I help them gather the necessary resources. It all starts with a dream. To me, it’s very fulfilling to help them realize that dream.
Because you do invitations, is that how you came upon this space? I saw it used to be a print shop.
It’s really just a happy coincidence! The print shop moved to Elston. We saw the “for lease” sign and contacted the property owner, who lives above, and he said yes.
When did you decide to throw your hat in the aldermanic ring?
July. I thought about running for office this year, but I wanted to know more about what it entails, so I went to a couple of campaign trainings. One is PtripleC—the Progressive Change Campaign Committee and then one is Democracy for America. In going there and meeting other people, and listening to the speakers [I realized] that I have peers who really believe in doing the work and helping their community. That inspired me.
Are there any politicians, locally or nationally, who you’re really excited about?
Quite a few, for various reasons. Locally, I really love the work of other aldermen and seeing how they’re able to do the work efficiently. I love Scott Waguespack’s constituent services. He has a great team and system in place. I love the Progressive Caucus and their values and issues they believe in. Nationally, I’m quite excited about Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and how she’s moving forward things that matter by being herself. I think that’s important.
Any mayoral candidates?
There’s a lot going on [and] seems like there’s a news story every week. I have to sit down and think about it a little more. There are definitely some great progressive candidates out there.
What differentiates you from your opponent?
Ultimately, we’re running for different reasons. I’m running because I believe in belonging. We need to ensure that every resident in our community feels that they belong. We need to work toward affordability, accessibility, and accountability, locally and citywide. I want to serve because of that. We need these things in our ward and in our city.
Will you commit to attending a certain number of city council meetings?
I plan to attend all of them, unless there’s an emergency, but I don’t think that will happen. I plan to be there at the public sessions. Being on time is important.
Do you feel it is appropriate to spend time on international issues when you are in a local government office? For example, Rosa took a public position in support of the Boycott, Divest, and Sanctions movement against Israel.
I think that everybody should have positions on national and local issues. That’s what we are as human beings. We have opinions. I think he makes his own decisions on his positions. We should look at everything in terms of impact and equity.
Education seems to be one of your major planks. What needs to change in the school system? What current programs need to be reinforced?
I am for a fully elected school board. I also think the community school model is very important. It’s currently in the testing phase. It’s rolling out at certain schools. It’s something that I will advocate for [in] our schools. That model supports not only students, but their families. I think [that] in order for a neighborhood to grow and thrive, we need to support everybody.
Have you seen any shortfalls in your work with the school system?
I think we need to fund our schools. We need to change our funding system. It shouldn’t be ‘per pupil.’ Some schools with decreasing enrollment, they’re getting less funding; in reality, they should be getting more resources and support. It becomes an inequitable formula. We need to look at funding by need and prioritize that.
Do you see any gaps in current constituent services?
For me, an alderman needs to be accessible to the constituents. We need to make sure our hours are working family-friendly. Personally, I would see myself extending office hours so people who get off at five can come in. And having ward nights more frequently, once a week—making sure we’re reaching outside of Logan Square. The ward, as you can see [she gestures to an outline of the 35th Ward hanging on the wall] includes Hermosa and goes all the way up to Albany Park.
Do you have a system in place for making sure that all inquiries are responded to?
One of the things I’ve noticed is [how] the output of information on the ward website and social media [is handled]. And ensuring that you’re not just sending a general email. As a small business owner, I know that you sometimes get so many requests that you’re not actually able to [respond]. Working toward a system that is able to separate different requests and promote the current 311 app and tracking that for residents within the ward [is what I support].
What are your views on the living wage and the universal basic income project?
Universal basic income is something the city is putting together in terms of a pilot program. For me, I’m very much for trying various methods to see if we can create a Chicago for all. That is something that may happen. Studies have shown that it’s happened in other cities. I am behind the pilot program that [47th Ward Alderman Ameya] Pawar is putting together. In terms of the living wage, with Chicago losing population, a lot of times it’s because people can’t afford to live here. We need to see what the cost of living is and what we’re paying people. We need to ensure that we are able to sustain our city and stop people from moving away.
Is there anything else we can do to stop the exodus of Chicago residents?
Job creation and opportunities. I think we need to look at small and mid-sized businesses in our city. Ultimately, those actually employ a lot more people.
As a small business owner, do you see particular challenges to that? Are there obstacles that can be removed so that it’s easier to start a small business or obtain employment with one?
It starts with informing people what processes are in place and what services the city has. Informed small business owners, it’s easier for them to start. Most of the time, it’s the lack of information in their hands that’s stopping them. I want to be able to help facilitate that.
There are quite a few small business organizations. There are ones for women and minorities. Chicago has a [Small Business Center]. People can go in and get support. Then we have our own small business chamber of commerce. There are quite a few avenues to help small businesses get started. I’m part of the women’s small business chamber of commerce. I’ve actually called the city’s Small Business [Center] for help with licenses and permits.
Do have a program in place for liaising with the police department on instances of crime that are reported to your office?
I will have a liaison for immigrants. One of the most important things is that members of the community feel comfortable telling someone when they witness a crime without fearing any consequences. We need to be proactive in reaching out to neighbors and the community when there is a crime and letting them know what we can do. We need to keep people informed. The root cause of crime is often that we need more opportunities and school funding, after school programs. I want to advocate for that legislatively.
How do you plan to implement greater accessibility to recycling services and other greening efforts?
Every homeowner currently can [purchase] a rain barrel [from the city], but I want to be much more proactive in reaching out to homeowners and saying that you can have a rain barrel. We can help you get it. One of the other initiatives that I’m looking at is community solar panels. In terms of making sure that we’re helping the most vulnerable populations I want to make sure that we can alleviate some of the burden. Having a community solar system for electricity may be an option and I would try and advocate for that to be a pilot in our ward. We’ll have to look at what other cities have done it. I’ve seen it happening in other cities. [I will work] with existing properties or new properties being built or city properties to see what we can do [about green energy].
Are there infrastructure concerns you plan to address, such as flooding on backstreets?
I’m hoping that, in terms of infrastructure, we can have someone address [issues] right away when people call and not ask the caller to get a petition and have 75 percent of people on the street say, “We have this problem” for the office to come out and take a look and then decide on whether that can be voted on in participatory budget[ing]. We need to take care of the ward because it’s our job. It depends on the issue.
Of course, we want lights for safety concerns. Potholes can be dangerous for bikers. I want to make sure our streets are safe for bikers, [pedestrians], and cars. I’ve had a couple flat tires from [potholes]. That is […] part of being an alderman… being able to take care of the community and make sure that it’s safe for everybody who uses the infrastructure.
Note: The only infrastructure improvements that require signatures are speed humps, which need two-thirds (66 percent) of a street’s residents to approve it in the 35th Ward, a petition requirement suggested by the Chicago Department of Transportation (CDOT), and almost uniformly adopted by all 50 Aldermen. All other infrastructure improvements use Participatory Budgeting to allocate funds to improvements that the community votes as most important, but do not require petitions for ward offices to respond. Click here to see the results of PB’s 2018 cylcle for winning projects in the 35th ward.
When we reached out to Dieterich’s campaign for clarification, they claimed that some residents had told them that they were referred to the petitioning process by Rosa’s office for other issues, such as street resurfacing, as well.
Regarding participatory budgeting, Dieterich’s campaign issued the following statement:
“…Ald. Rosa’s approach creates inequity and shuts some of our most vulnerable populations out of the process. Many people don’t have the time to campaign and whip votes for their street to be considered, and immigrant communities are reluctant to advocate for government services in our current political climate. Further, volunteers who may have their own projects up for consideration decide what gets on the ballot and what doesn’t.
When those projects finally do make it onto a ballot, and finally make it to an election, turnout is dismal at between 600-800 votes per cycle. The ward has around 23,000 registered voters and 55,000 residents. This is reflective of an inequitable, inaccessible policy.”
Here is a link to past years’ participatory budgeting ballots and results: http://www.pbchicago.org/previous-cycles6.html
What are you thoughts on how our infrastructure can better serve cyclists?
One of the things that I’ve noticed is that, if we want our city to be affordable and accessible, we need to ensure that people who use bicycles to get from home to work actually have access to safe bike racks where they’re able to lock up their bikes. One thing that is lacking in our city’s urban planning is that we’re not providing enough for people who use bikes as their only form of transportation. That’s not fair. I want to make sure we provide that so that people have storage when they in our community and when they get to work.
Have you given any thought to traffic calming measures?
We definitely need to look into making sure that bikers and cars are able to coexist on the road and making sure that we have safety for both and [for] pedestrians as well. We need to sync our lights. And when [they’re not synced], it should be a priority to fix [that]. We need to have CDOT come out and look at overall what is happening in our community. We need to work with neighboring aldermen. You know, around where the monument is, it’s divided between [different wards] and I want to make sure that we’re able to work with our neighbors to make sure that this type of safety is extended to the entire neighborhood, not just the ward.
How can gentrification and neighborhood change be balanced with the needs of existing residents?
I think that we need to meet with all of the stakeholders in the neighborhood and ask them to be part of our solution and not be part of the problem. We need to ask them to give back to the community. I think that that’s very important… working with everybody who is willing to listen to you and believe in your vision of affordability.
The thing with displacement is that we can’t wait four years for something to be built that is not enough to cover [the displacement that] is happening on a daily basis. I want to have a list of available affordable housing from local stakeholders so that when families are getting displaced, they can come to my office and say, “Our landlord is asking us to move because they say our apartment is not up to code, what can you do?” I can call a list of people and ask them, “Do you have any availability, can you take on this family?” And just be that resource.
I also want equitable co-ops so that families can buy in at a lower value, so that they are rooted, or become rooted, in this community. I also want to legalize coach houses. Because when we have no housing, then demand and pricing goes up, but when we have more housing, we’re actually able to meet the demand. Then the pricing will stabilize or go down. It helps long-term homeowners to stay, because property taxes are not going to stop increasing. We want to make sure we’re helping long-term property owners. We need to look at it comprehensively and have multiple ways of tackling this problem and do it at once. My goal in my first year is to bring 50 affordable housing units into the community in multiple ways.
Have you had any encounters with your potential constituents that have informed your sense of what you want to accomplish?
Knocking on people’s doors and listening to everybody’s stories, there are definitely a lot them that reinforced why I’m running… that feeling of belonging, the fact that we don’t want divisiveness in our community. We don’t want it to be “us” versus “them.” Listening to their stories really gave me a sense that this was my North Star. This is exactly what I’m running on.
[Some constituents] moved in from Mexico 30 years ago and talk about feeling a need to belong now. I’m like, “yes, of course, you deserve to stay here. Let me help you.” One older man didn’t know he could appeal his property tax denial, so I said, “Yeah, it actually goes to the Board of Review, apply for that.” It gives me a real sense of this is what I want to do. I want to help everyone here. I want to do the best I can.
Is there anything else you’re particularly excited about in Logan?
I’ve been here for ten years. I’ve seen a lot happening. What I’m hoping is that we can help Logan grow in a sustainable way. We need to ensure that it is affordable to everyone who wants to be here. Being accessible is going to be very important in making sure that happens. Ward boundaries should not define our neighborhood. We should be growing together. I want to make sure that vision happens.
Any last thoughts about your platform voters should know?
Representation matters. I want my story to be out there because I’m an immigrant. I have that immigrant experience. I can see the struggles happening in our community and be aware of what we can do to ensure that immigrant voices are heard. I’m a mom, so I think it’s important that moms have a voice on city council. We understand what it is that our kids are facing in public and how much need there is in public schools. Our heart is in it.
Being a woman and running this race, I’m really realizing how sexist it can be. I want to make sure that women have that voice on city council. And that I’m able to represent our community as best I can. And making sure that everybody has a voice and know that I’m there to listen to them. And doing everything I can to help them. Everyone deserves to belong here and I will do my best to make sure that everyone knows that they belong.