Progressive Labor Activist Seeks to Oust Cardenas in 12th Ward
By Jim Vail
*Note to our readers. Second City Teachers does not advocate the vote as a way to further a progressive political agenda to fight back. However, this year's elections for mayor and aldermen feature several great candidates who are fighters for the working class. This week we take a look at the 12th ward that includes Little Village where candidate Pete DeMay is seeking to unseat incumbent George Cardenas, a big supporter of charter schools and privatization in the city.
|12th ward alderman candidate Pete DeMay with substitute teacher and biking guru Chris Didato!|
Can you tell us a little about yourself? What is your background? Where did you go to school and what job do you have? Why did you decide to run for alderman?
My name is Pete DeMay and I am a candidate for 12th Ward Alderman. I am a McKinley Park parent, and a union organizer with the UAW. I chose to run for office because I am sick of seeing our public schools privatized and upset that the gulf between rich and poor in our city keeps on growing – making things worse for working people and their families.
I am the product of public education and the son of a public school teacher. I was raised in a rural, agricultural community in Western New York State, but thanks to free, quality, local, public schools, I was able to gain admission to an affordable, quality, public state university (SUNY Brockport) and fulfill my academic potential. My hope is that all kids in the 12th Ward have the opportunities I did.
Growing up, I was taught the importance of public service by my father (a volunteer fireman and ambulance driver and a committed activist) and my mother (an elected school board member). Consequently, I joined the Peace Corps after college and taught agriculture and forestry in Panama for two years. Upon my return to the US I found my passion and began organizing low wage immigrant workers in Texas with the union UNITE. Union organizing brought me to Chicago in 1999, and my wife Liz (a native Chicagoan and Maria High School grad) and I were thrilled to buy a home in McKinley Park in 2002 – the house where we live today with our young son Red and foster daughter Maggie.
As an organizer for the past 18 years, I have always fought to help bring economic justice to low wage immigrant workers in a variety of industries and I have never been afraid to lead, or take on tough fights. As your Alderman I will stand up to Rahm, his millionaire donor friends, and the rubber stampers in the City Council when necessary, and I will always do what’s right for the Southwest Side and the 12th ward.
For too long, the communities of Little Village, Brighton Park and McKinley Park have been neglected while millions in city revenue subsidize corporate welfare projects downtown for the wealthiest 1%. It’s finally time for the rich to stop leaching off of our tax dollars, pay their fair share, and start fully funding our neighborhood schools, parks, city services and job creation programs.
Things are tough in our neighborhoods and we need a fighter, not a mayoral puppet. With your support, I will lead us in the fight to win economic justice for the Southwest Side and the 12th Ward.
What is wrong with the current alderman?
The current Alderman George Cardenas is a rubber stamp and votes with Rahm Emanuel 97% of the time. He favors Charter Schools over Neighborhood Public Schools, and the neighborhoods he represents have not prospered during his tenure. Furthermore, George Cardenas has a reputation for paying family members with taxpayer money and is currently being investigated by the FBI. I think we can do much better.
What are the important points in your platform?
1) Full Funding for all Neighborhood Schools. Our community can’t prosper if public schools continue to be bled dry. Our kids deserve much better.
2) Smart, Sustainable Development. We need walkable, vibrant commercial and retail spaces that encourage community, create local jobs and discourage gang activity.
3) Programs that Attack the Root Causes of Crime. Gang activity and youth unemployment go hand in hand. As a full time Alderman, I will focus on securing funding for public and private sector jobs to get youth working and out of gangs.
4) The Elimination of TIF. Rahm’s shadow budget benefits his wealthy donors and leaves the Southwest Side fighting for crumbs. The downtown millionaires and billionaires should be paying more in taxes to promote development on the Southwest Side – Not the other way around!
See more at: http://demayforthe12thward.nationbuilder.com/
What do you think of public education and charter schools?
Poverty is the number one indicator of student success- research indicates that poverty affects a child’s cognitive abilities. Closing public schools and opening charter schools doesn’t change that. In fact, the instability created by budget cuts, school closures, and charter expansion hurts the ability of teachers to teach and students to learn. Plus it is an enormous waste of taxpayer dollars. That’s why I support:
· A moratorium on school closings and charter expansion- We need to improve the schools we have, not reinvent the wheel by closing public schools and opening more charters.
· An elected, representative school board. Students, teachers and parents are now often ignored by Rahm's appointed, pro-privatization board and its time for a democratic change.
· Reduce high-stakes testing and promote opt-out for parents- Students need to be taught how to think critically and solve problems, not fill in bubble sheets.
· Bilingual education and culturally sensitive curriculum -Kids should be able to get a well-rounded education that reflects and respects their background, instead of marginalizing their culture. School is more than a test prep factory, and students are more than scores.
· Safer schools through ending harsh discipline policies and promoting restorative justice- Punitive discipline does not work; it just leaves troubled students further behind in school, increasing the dropout rate. We need to build our young people up while keeping them in school through restorative justice programs such as peer jury.
· Early childhood education: I will gladly join the fight for Universal Pre-K in Chicago, Our kids deserve it!
What can you change in the City Council?
There is a great deal that a progressive City Council can change in our Chicago. After all, the City Council votes on the City’s annual budget and all other major legislative initiatives. Rahm can’t carry out his agenda without a complicit City Council. Lamentably, however, our legislative branch of government has historically been nothing more than a weak rubber stamp for the mayoral agenda. If elected, I won’t cower or be afraid to vote NO on legislation that hurts working people or the residents of the 12th Ward. With a Progressive majority in City Council and a mayor like Chuy Garcia or Bob Fioretti, we can prioritize funding neighborhood parks, schools and services instead of Rahm’s wealthy campaign donors.
What are the biggest problems facing the city?
Revenue for schools, parks, police, services, and pensions. Rahm Emanuel is trying to balance the budget on the backs of working people and retirees. I think we need progressive taxation. It’s time to make the bankers and speculators pay their fair share and get this city back on the right track. I support:
ü Eliminating TIFs (Tax Incremental Financing) and restoring the revenues they divert to the city and school district.
ü Instituting a graduated city income tax - where the wealthiest pay a much higher percentage
ü Instituting a graduated state income tax – where the wealthiest pay a much higher percentage
ü Instituting a sales (transaction or speculation) tax on large scale financial transactions.
ü A downtown Casino to allow the city to capture gaming revenue
ü A tax on banks that buy and sell foreclosed properties
ü Any effort to limit the City’s use of expensive outside consultants and end privatization of city services
What is it like running for alderman? Do you have to do a lot of fundraising and knocking on doors?
It is exhausting and awesome at the same time. I love getting a chance to meet neighbors and it feels great talking to folks because they are really responding to our progressive message for change. The fundraising is kind of a drag but that’s the game. I do knock a lot of doors. It really energizes me. Only 2600 people voted for Cardenas last time (out of 18,000 registered voters) so retail politics is really important in this race.
Have you received any endorsements?
Not yet. Lots of CTU members have been volunteering for the campaign and I anticipate some labor endorsements rolling in over the next few weeks. Many unions were holding off endorsing until after the November Governor’s election.