As 35th Ward alderman, Carlos Ramirez-Rosa has stood up to both entrenched politicians and powerful developers on behalf of working people, families, immigrants and other residents of the ward.
A longtime West Side resident, Rosa and 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 proposed 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, all things he said he is proud of accomplishing in his time as alderman. He also addressed 25,000 local issues in the ward and passed 541 ordinances, some that he introduced or co-sponsored in city council.
Rosa has served as the alderman for the 35th Ward since May 2015. Elected after defeating Alderman Rey Colon at age 26, Rosa became the youngest serving alderman and one of the youngest in Chicago’s history. Rosa, a democratic socialist, is a member of the city council’s progressive caucus, alongside fellow Logan-area Alderman Scott Waguespack (3nd Ward).
Previously a community organizer for the Illinois Coalition for Immigrant and Refugee Rights, Rosa also served as a congressional aide to former Logan-area U.S. Rep. Luis Gutierrez. In his time in office, the alderman has helped pass legislation providing property-tax relief and protecting immigrant families. In its endorsement of Rosa, the Chicago Sun-Times called him “one of the better-informed aldermen” and “an independent voice in the city council.” The Chicago Tribune, endorsing Rosa’s opponent, criticized the alderman’s vote to borrow money for construction projects and legal expenses.
Rosa’s opponent Amanda Yu Dieterich and others have alleged that he is not sufficiently present in the ward and accessible to residents (including in the Tribune and on LoganSquarist). Dieterich’s campaign has sent a flurry of mailers critical of Rosa, including some that link him to former Cook County Assessor Joe Berrios, currently under ethics investigation. Rosa responded on Twitter.
Looking ahead, he said he wants to push a $15 per hour minimum wage, rent control and other progressive causes. Read his platform here.
We spoke to the alderman (in a follow-up to our previous interview with Dietrich) and as part of our election coverage ahead of Feb. 26
LoganSquarist: What are you proudest of in your time as alderman so far?
Carlos Ramirez-Rosa: I’m proud of being one of the most progressive leaders in the legislature and responding to community concerns, on everything from economic policy to police reform. So, I didn’t just stand up to the mayor on his massive property tax increase, and vote no. I pushed for a property tax rebate program. I sponsored legislation and won a $20 million rebate program to address rising property taxes for some of our most vulnerable families.
I’ve also been the chief sponsor and have won legislation to do things like ensure that immigrants can’t be abused based upon their perceived or actual immigration or nationality status. There was a very nasty incident that happened some years ago where a Chinese-American woman was working the reception at a business that was targeted by the local police. And one of the police officers told her to shut up or he’d put her in a box and ship her back to China.
Based upon that incident, Asian-American advocacy groups, immigration justice groups, legal groups came together and we worked and passed an ordinance that said in the city of Chicago, if you abuse or coerce someone based upon their immigration or national status, and you are a city employee, you can be reprimanded or fired. And it helps to ensure that our police officers aren’t abusing immigrants in that way.
And then we also co-sponsored and passed legislation to ensure that all Chicaogans regardless of their sexual orientation or gender identity or expression will be protected from discrimination, particularly as it relates to the facilities that they use in public. So we wanted to ensure that the city of Chicago was protecting everyone. And I introduced that legislation and we passed it.
We’ve also done a lot of things locally. So, one of the things that I’m proud of locally is our inclusive, democratic and transparent approach to local decision-making. So, we have our 35th Ward community-driven zoning and development model. That 35th Ward Community-driven zoning and development model ensures that local residents and not deep-pocketed developers are the ones that are driving decisions that are impacting Chicago for generations to come.
Looking ahead, what are you hoping to achieve in a new term if reelected?
I think our continued vigilance at city hall has been so extremely important. We’ve seen the recent stories about corruption and wrongdoing involving two chairmen of the Chicago City Council. It appears that maybe even Mayor Rahm Emanuel himself may have been aware [of] or may have been involved in some of these acts.
And I think that people are sick and tired of a city hall that prioritizes the rich and powerful few at the expense of the rest of us and our neighborhoods.
I’ve been one of the leaders that’s been critical of that approach that prioritizes downtown and special interests at the expense of our neighborhoods. And I think because we’ve been so vocal in the 35th Ward, we’ve now seen that movement go to other places of our city. We see progressive candidates all across the city running and poised to win. Whether they’re in the 49th Ward, the 46th Ward, the 33rd Ward, the 1st Ward—just to name a few.
So, I’m really excited that with the new council coming in we’re going to be able to pass so much of the legislation I’ve been fighting for and championing alongside community groups that for far too long was falling on deaf ears. And that’s things like winning a $15 minimum wage. That’s things like making a street safer by implementing a smart public safety strategy that doesn’t more in policing but invests more in after-school programs, jobs programs, education and mental health services.
It’s doing things like making sure we erase the gang database and remove the carveouts from the Welcoming City Ordinance, so that our city becomes a true sanctuary. It’s accomplishing things like building more affordable housing and passing reasonable measures to stabilize rent and ensure that working families and low-income families and immigrant families aren’t being displaced from our ward.
Why was the boutique hotel project such a big success?
[The new boutique hotel project will] bring customers to our commercial corridor to help our businesses along Milwaukee thrive and will bring dollars into our community. It will also deliver vast majority of the jobs — the developer signed a community benefits agreement where they’re going to pay a $17 an hour living wage, which is what we consider the Logan Square living wage. And they’re going to hire locally. And they’re also going to provide funds to help maintain the Paseo Prairie Garden, which is right there, just steps from the new hotel.
I’m so proud that through our community-driven zoning process, we were able to bring together groups like Logan Square Preservation, we were able to bring together groups like Logan Square Neighborhood Association. People from all different backgrounds, some that have lived in Logan Square for 20, 30 years, some that have lived here for three years. We were able to bring everyone together for this end result.
So, the measure has now passed the zoning committee. We just need some final tweaks, and then it’ll pass the full city council. And then I’m looking forward to seeing that being built, and for the hiring to take place during my second term.
We’re going to continue those types of successes, and we’re going to continue to make sure that as development evolves and grows in Logan Square that it continues to be done in the best interests of the entire community. And that it brings everyone in the community to have a seat at the table to have their voices heard.
You said the community-driven model has become a model for other locations. Where else has it been implemented?
Yeah, absolutely! So, parts of our model have been adopted in the 26th Ward. So there, there was a group called Grassroots Illinois Action 26th Ward, GIA 26, and they fought for several years with Alderman Roberto Maldonado and finally were able to convince him to implement a process very much like our own. And one of the great things is that if you look at the notice that was designed by my office, the notice that GIA-26 uses is the same exact notice.
So, they took the same template, they took the same language. Because our notices are designed to make sure that people, regardless of whatever educational level they’ve attained, whether they speak English or Spanish, are able to understand what it is that this zoning applicant is seeking and begin to think about the ramifications or impact it will have in the neighborhood.
And then other groups, so for example the 25th Ward, a nonprofit Pilsen Alliance is seeking to implement a version of our process in the 25th Ward. And as you know, Pilsen has faced many challenges when it comes to zoning and development. And community members have often felt left out of the decision-making process.
Some of the biggest issues people are talking about are education, infrastructure, crime and housing. Could you touch briefly on what your approach will be to each of those?
I’m very proud to have the endorsement of the Chicago Teachers Union. And it’s because the Chicago Teachers Union recognizes the role that I’ve played in making sure that we have fully funded neighborhood public schools. I believe in an elected school board, as do the vast majority of voters in the 35th Ward. I think that we need to make sure that parents, teachers and students have a real seat at the table when it comes to the decisions that are being made that are impacting our schools, that are impacting our education system for generations.
I also support substantial TIF reform. I’ve been one of the few aldermen that has consistently raised my voice that we need to make sure that our property tax dollars are going to our children, are going to our schools and are not going into the pockets of private developers. [TIF, or tax-increment financing, designates that property-tax revenues beyond a certain point go to the districts where they’re collected.] There was $660 million last year that should have gone to our schools and services that instead was siphoned off to TIF districts, and the studies show that most of those dollars went to private luxury developers — many of which, if not all of them, [were] big campaign contributors to Rahm Emanuel and his rubber-stamp aldermen.
And I’m also going to continue the successful partnerships that I’ve established with local neighborhood schools and LSNA, whether that be investing events, helping them out with contributions. Or connecting them with additional opportunities that exist for additional programming or support.
In terms of infrastructure, the city of Chicago needs to increase the amount of money that we invest in our infrastructure. The menu money [or capital improvement] program has been stagnant for the last 10 years. And what that means is that the cost of constructing a new sidewalk, the cost of resurfacing the street has increased, but the amount of money that the city allocates for each ward to do that has not. So, that’s actually a significant cut in the amount of money that goes toward infrastructure.
We try to makes sure that that money is allocated as transparently, equitably and democratically as possible through our participatory budgeting program. Consistently, year after year, through participatory budgeting, most of our money has gone to street resurfacing, so making sure that streets that have a lot of potholes, rather than getting patches that become insufficient, they’ll instead get a whole new blacktop.
But they’ve also gone to things like lighting improvements, particularly when they’re needed because of public safety concerns. They’ve also gone to things like putting disability/ADA curb cuts so that people that are in wheelchairs are able to cross the street.
And it’s also gone to things like pedestrian safety improvements. So, putting in pedestrian islands on Fullerton, on Kimball and on other major intersections to make sure that that safety is taking place.
We are going to be very lucky, because one of the major infrastructure improvements that we need in Logan Square along Milwaukee Avenue will be taken care of through federal funds. So, federal funds were allocated some years ago to resurface Milwaukee Avenue. That process has been completed between Addison and Central Park. The next phase now will be from Central Park to Logan, and that’s what some folks refer to as the Bicentennial Improvements Project.
So, because of that project, we’re going to get all new sidewalks, we’re to get all new streets, new lighting, new bus stops. And then, of course, there is the possibility, if the final proposal is approved, of the square being reconfigured. So, I’m going to keep fighting at the city council to make sure that we are taxing the rich to do things like fund our infrastructure.
But in the meantime, we’re going to take advantage of those opportunities that exist like, you know, leveraging the federal funds to accomplish the reconfiguration of the partial roundabout at Logan, Milwaukee and Kedzie.
Crime and safety
With crime, I think we need to look at the best practices and look at the research. And the research says that the best way to address public safety and reduce crime is to invest in after-school programs, job programs, mental health services and education, rather than on more policing. So, I am going to continue to push on the citywide level to see the implementation of that strategy.
But at same time, we’re going to work at the local level to ensure that we’re addressing issues of public safety as immediately we possibly can. So one of the things I’ve done with my ward office staff is ensure that every single CAPS [Chicago Alternative Policing Strategy, or community policing] beat meeting is attended by either myself or one of my staffers. So, there’s about 12 CAPS beats that take in portions of the 35th Ward. Some of them meet six times a year; some of them meet 12 times a year.
And we work with local residents to really figure out, what are the issues that we need to discuss at those meetings. How do we troubleshoot those issues at those meetings? And working hand in hand with community groups, local residents, and the police commander, we figure out a strategy to address that. So, in the western part of Logan Square, working with the 25th police district, we identified a problem building that was the source of a lot of gang activity and gun violence in the neighborhood.
And we were able through my office, through the 25th Police District, through the residents that were attending CAPS, we were able to work with the Buildings Department and were able to work with the City Law Department and work pretty quickly in a relatively short time frame to make sure that the individuals that were committing crime that were using that property could no longer do so. And that they had to move out of the property and that the property had to become secured.
We need to continue to fight for rent stabilization. We need to lift the ban on rent control at the statewide level. And then we need to figure a scheme that works for the city of Chicago. One that recognizes that people rely upon rental income to pay their property taxes and their water utility bill, to pay their own bills.
But also recognizes that the practice that we see time and time again in Logan Square, where a big landlord, a big developer purchases a building and then from one night to the next doubles the rent. And says if you can’t pay this in 30 days, you gotta move out, that that practice needs to end. And that that practice is unjust, and it should be outlawed.
I’m proud and happy that Rep. Will Guzzardi is championing lifting the ban on rent control in Springfield. In the 35th Ward, a vast majority of residents on election day vote to lift the ban on rent control. We had a total of 71.54 percent of 35th Ward residents—that’s over 9,000 people this past November 2018—vote to lift the ban on rent control.
So, there’s a mandate for Springfield to take action, and I’m going to continue to fight alongside Guzzardi, our state Sen. Iris Martinez. She is now going to be the main sponsor for lifting the ban on rent control in the senate side, and she’s a part of senate leadership. So, it’s a huge victory for us as well.
I wonder if you could respond to criticisms from your opponent and others about your presence and availability to the community?
Yeah. I actually have a list of the number of events that we’ve had. I’m not quite sure if my opponent is misinformed or intentionally trying to mislead the community, but since taking office, my office had had 137 service and outreach events, all throughout the 35th Ward. I have regular ward nights, on the first and third Monday of the month, unless there’s a holiday or some other type of event, like severe weather.
We’ve had numerous, over two dozen public zoning-input meetings, more than many other aldermen across the city. I’m very proud of our walk-the-block events. So, if you are a resident and you have concerns about what’s happening on your block, you can reach out to my office and we will schedule a walk-your-block event, where I go out there and investigate different issues that you’re facing on your block, alongside you and your neighbors.
I pride myself in being accessible. People tweet at me, and I respond back to their tweets. People email, people call, people can text the office. People can attend ward night. People can attend many of the events that we have throughout the year and throughout the ward.
And if none of those options work for them, then they can always reach out to my office and schedule a one-on-one meeting with me. The vast majority of meetings that I have—and my day is mostly just full of meetings all day—are with ward residents, are with small business owners, are with community groups.
What happened with your old office? [Rosa recently vacated his old office, and landlord Mark Fishman said the alderman owed more than $42,000 in back rent.]
Sure, I think, this is what happens when you stand up to big developers and landlords like Mark Fishman. You know, when I was running in 2015, and I was out there knocking doors, people consistently said that in Logan Square, they were very concerned [about] and they were very tired of the role that Mark Fishman was playing in displacing working families. And so I went door to door, I spoke to people.
My commitment that I was going to make sure that it was the residents of our ward, that it was the working people, whether they lived in a single-family home or rented an apartment, that were going to be the ones that had the power that made the decisions that were going to impact our community. And that it wasn’t going to be big landlords or developers like Mark Fishman.
Now, Mark Fishman, who was one of the biggest campaign contributors to my predecessor, giving him tens of thousands of dollars, and in return receiving about $1 million in TIF largesse for the Logan Theatre. And people were very upset about that. And so, not only did Fishman shower my predecessor with tons of campaign contributions, but he also sent out a letter to all his tenants in his buildings on the eve of the election urging them to vote for Rey Colon.
So, shortly after I took office, I heard through the grapevine that Mark Fishman was upset at me, he was really angry at me. And then, some months later, after I had signed my four-month lease at my office with the previous landlord, he purchased the building. And he purchased the building shortly after we had amended the lease with the previous landlord to bring in state Representative Will Guzzardi as a co-occupant. And the agreement that we had, in writing, with the previous landlord was that the city would take on 60 percent of the rent and that state Representative Will Guzzardi and his state district office would take on 40 percent of the rent.
Unfortunately, Fishman refused to honor that agreement, and it became very clear very early on that he was seeking to use it as a point of leverage.
We now know that Mark Fishman is working closely with my opponent every single step of the way. [Rosa has accused Yu Dietrich of taking campaign contributions from Mark Fishman. In January, Block Club reported a $5,000 contribution from the HB1 corporation, affiliated with Fishman’s company.]
When he served a notice making up the bogus claims that I owed rent … he provided that to my opponent and her communications team.
And look, I stood up to Mark Fishman when he was evicting families from our ward in 2016. I don’t know if you remember the incident that was covered by the local media that took place—I want to get the correct address for you here—that took place at 2936 West Palmer. So November of 2017 at 2936 West Palmer, there were—the apartment building had just been purchased by Mark Fishman. And all the tenants in the building were issued 30-day eviction notices, just as winter was about to start. And many of the tenants there had deep ties to the community, including small children who were attending local schools.
Alongside LSNA and Guzzardi, I joined them outside of the Logan Theatre for a protest. And we called upon Fishman to stop the eviction of these families—and at minimum, allow their children to serve out the school year, because we know how destructive it can be to a child when you are, you know, in the middle of the year, forced out of your home and have to relocate to a new school, and how traumatic that experience can be.
Mark Fishman ignored our pleas and continued to evict those families. So, this is the history of a man who has displaced families and has been used to using his money and throwing around his wallet to get his way. And so I think that he really couldn’t stand that here was an alderman that he couldn’t buy off. That here was not another Rey Colon. That here was not another Joe Moreno. That here was someone actually that was going to stand up boldly and speak up on behalf of the working people of our district.
And we now know the consequences. We now know the results. He’s targeting me. He is funding my opponent’s campaign to the tune of thousands of dollars. But I am proud of my track record standing up for the working families. I work for the people of our district, I don’t work for Mark Fishman.
And I’ve never met a landlord before that didn’t want to get paid. If he had simply signed the paperwork with Will Guzzardi that the state required, he would have gotten paid that 40 percent that was part of the negotiated new contract with the previous landlord. But he refused to honor that, and we know why. Because it was all about power. It was all about political games for him.
[Fishman told Block Club that he’s enforcing the existing lease and that Rosa and Guzzardi cannot have two separate leases for the same space.]
What is your message to the voters of the community?
I will say that I am very proud to have been one of the most outspoken progressive leaders in this city. When necessary, I’ve stood up to Mayor Emanuel, city council leadership and special interests to address community concerns, from economic policy to police reform. We know that too many aldermen in the Chicago City Council have been rubber stamps for the mayor’s agenda. And I’m proud that I, alongside some of my colleagues in the progressive caucus and community leaders in Logan Square, have been publicly critical of an approach that has prioritized downtown development and corporate interests at the expense of the rest of Chicagoans.
I believe it’s important to be bold and speak truth about the direction of our city. Because principled, bold leadership is more important than being personally rewarded for being a rubber stamp for city hall’s broken status quo.
So, I find it reassuring that [Dieterich is] now seeking unseat me, because it means that our work has had impact.
So, that’s really what’s at stake this election. I think that our ward is one that wants to see that independent, bold progressive leadership. And that’s exactly what I’ve provided. And because of that independent, bold progressive leadership that I’ve offered, both at the city level and the local level, and standing up to Mayor Rahm Emanuel, standing up to big landlords and developers, now there are people working to unseat me, and they’re funding my opposition with thousands of dollars—$27,000 in the last two weeks. [See Dieterich’s campagin donations here].
Is there anything else you’d like to add?
Another thing — again, it’s like so many things where [Dieterich is] either just totally wrong on her facts or misleading people intentionally, and I don’t know which one it is. But I think she also said something about my city council attendance. I’ve missed four council meetings in four years. So, that’s an average of one meeting per year. I have a 94 percent attendance rate at city council meetings, and I’m proud of that.
Featured photo: Erin Brown