Mayoral candidate Garcia calls for investment in poor neighborhoods

By Evan Garcia

Cook County Commissioner Jesus "Chuy" Garcia speaks to an attendee after a discussion at the University of Illinois at Chicago.
Cook County Commissioner Jesus “Chuy” Garcia speaks to an attendee after a discussion at the University of Illinois at Chicago.

Chicago mayoral candidate Jesus “Chuy” Garcia reiterated his commitment to Chicago’s underserved neighborhoods at a panel discussion Thursday.

“You can’t have a thriving part of the city and one that is desolate, hurting and hopeless,” Garcia said. “Not everyone can be healthy and secure in a city that has that kind of dichotomy.”

Garcia, who ran unopposed last week for his second term as 7th District Cook County Commissioner, linked the challenges of the city’s most disinvested neighborhoods to the rest of Chicago. The aspiring mayor said violence is mobile and threatens everyone.

“Whether you’re riding the L, bus or having a good time at the park, you are not safe,” Garcia said.

Economic development in underprivileged areas is one way of tackling this negative outcome, Garcia said. He proposed using large tracts of land in poorer regions for urban agriculture. These initiatives would help foster an attractive business climate while aiming for a just and fair society, he said.

Garcia and three other panelists spoke on the subject of race and inequality at the University of Illinois at Chicago. The Great Cities Institute, a university program that researches urban issues, sponsored the event.

Garcia’s political history and mayoral ambitions were a recurring theme.

When the discussion shifted to women, Garcia referenced his boss, Cook County President Toni Preckwinkle, as a pioneer of positive change in politics.

“Men have really messed up government for a long time,” Garcia said. “It took a woman to run and get elected to Cook County president for the county to be put on solid footing.”

Garcia said the presence of women in politics puts an emphasis on family, sexual harassment and fiscal responsibility. More women in politics would bring about “more thoughtful and comprehensive public policies,” Garcia said.

Revisiting his mantra of support for all of Chicago’s neighborhoods, Garcia criticized the city’s school system.

He called for a revision of the state constitution, incorporating a graduated state income tax in lieu of property taxes as a financial source for schools.

“You have great disparities of funding depending on where you live in Illinois,” Garcia said. “You either have a rich district with industry and a strong tax base or you have a poor one without those things.”

A progressive tax proposed by Garcia would apply lower rates for low income-earning citizens while raising rates for those earning more. The state currently employs a flat income tax rate of 5 percent that all Illinois residents pay, regardless of income.

Garcia also said that less reliance on property taxes would prevent them from increasing. He referenced Minnesota as a state with a graduated income tax system that’s produced better quality and more equally funded schools.

Garcia traced the pattern of inequality in Chicago’s history.

He pointed to the redistricting, or gerrymandering, of Humboldt Park in the early 1970s as an instance of government preventing minority participation in politics.

At the time, the Humboldt Park area had a strong and vibrant Puerto Rican population. In 1971, the area was divided into four separate wards instead of one. Garcia called this a “tool of suppression” to keep Humboldt Park from electing a Puerto Rican representative.

During a lighter moment of discussion, he pointed to New York City as a place that “went against the grain in electing an unlikely candidate.” New York Mayor Bill de Blasio served as public advocate before unexpectedly winning the mayoral race earlier this year.

“Not that I’m advancing a particular preference that I may have in respect to the upcoming contest,” Garcia said with a grin.

Garcia recently won the endorsement of former Chicago Teachers Union President Karen Lewis, who had a strong following in the mayoral race before dropping out because of a cancerous brain tumor.

The support from Lewis and several teachers who have volunteered for Garcia have transformed him from a dark horse candidate to a worthy competitor of Mayor Rahm Emanuel.

Voting for the mayoral election will take place on Feb. 24.