Tag: Rep. Willis

Area Lawmakers React to Illinois Budget Plan | Sugary Beverage Tax Put on Hold

Springfield

Thursday, July 6, 2017 || By Michael Romain || @maywoodnews

The Illinois House voted 71 to 42 on July 6 to override Gov. Bruce Rauner’s veto of a revenue bill “that will hike the personal income tax rate — while also voting to override two other budget bills,” the Chicago Sun-Times reported on Thursday.

For the first time in two years, Illinois has a full budget in place after after a two-year impasse, “the longest such impasse for any state in modern history,” according to a July 6 New York Times report.

“The decision to approve the budget, which includes an income tax increase expected to generate about $5 billion, came as Illinois was sinking deeper into fiscal misery,” the Times reports.

“The state is $15 billion behind in paying its bills; has delayed or stopped payments that have especially affected the elderly, poor and students; and has been warned that its credit rating could sink to junk status, the lowest for any state.”

In the run-up to, and after, the historic vote, local state lawmakers were vocal in their support of the measure.

After the State Senate voted to override Rauner’s veto earlier this week, state Sen. Kimberly Lightford (4th), (whose district includes Bellwood, Broadview and Maywood, along with other western suburbs and parts of Chicago), said that the plan “would give our neediest populations and decimated institutions a fighting chance.

“Families, our most vulnerable populations and businesses alike need consistency,” Lightford stated. “It is time for Governor Rauner to set aside his political antics once and for all and do what he was elected to do, enact a budget.”

State Rep. Emanuel “Chris” Welch (7th), whose district includes much of Proviso Township, praised the plan.

“The plan cuts state spending by nearly $3 billion, while protecting our seniors, supporting our most vulnerable citizens, revitalizing our violence prevention programs and funding our schools, colleges and universities,” he said.

In a July 6 Facebook post, uploaded as the House debated the governor’s vetoes, state Rep. Kathleen Willis (77th), (whose district includes all or parts of Bellwood, Maywood and Melrose Park), said that although the measure isn’t perfect, “we must do something. As one of my colleagues said last week the state hemoraging. This is a way to stop bleeding out. My view is that you must stop the bleeding before you can repair the damage.”

Sugary beverage tax blocked as budget cuts loom, says Preckwinkle

Soft_drink_shelf_2The cost of sugary beverages sold in Cook County were set to go up one penny per ounce this summer, but a Cook County Circuit Court judge blocked the inevitable from happening.

Now, Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle is warning that if the judge keeps the tax from taking effect by August, the county would have to cut 10 percent of its budget.

Per the Chicago Tribune, “In a letter dated Monday sent to all county elected officials, bureau chiefs and department heads, Preckwinkle budget director Tanya Anthony said analysts would be providing them ‘a recommended course of action’ to meet spending cuts needed if Cook County Circuit Judge Daniel Kubasiak doesn’t lift a temporary restraining order that’s preventing the penny-per-ounce tax from being levied.

“Kubasiak stopped the tax, which was supposed to go into effect Saturday, after the Illinois Retail Merchants Association and several grocers sued the county to permanently block it on the grounds it is vague and unconstitutional.

“The county was counting on $67.5 million to be collected through Nov. 30 via the tax on pop and other drinks.”

Read the full Chicago Tribune article here. VFP

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D89’s Attempt To Pull Out of PAEC Rankles Some Residents

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The location of Proviso Area Exceptional Children, 1000 Van Buren Avenue in Maywood, where many of D89’s special needs students are sent during the school day. The district is currently trying to pull out of the cooperative because it believes it can serve those students better on its own | Google 

Saturday, June 4, 2016 || By Michael Romain 

A growing contingent of community members are raising alarms about proposed legislation that would allow District 89 to pull out of the Proviso Area Exceptional Children Cooperative — which is a special education joint agreement program established to provide special education services for six area elementary and high school districts, including Bellwood District 88, Broadview District 92 and Proviso Township High School District 209.

House Bill 6252 would amend the Illinois School Code to allow an elementary school district to withdraw from a cooperative like PAEC if that district “maintains grades up to and including grade 8 […] had a 2014-2015 best 3 months’ average daily attendance of 5,209.57 [and] a 2014 equalized assessed valuation of at least $451,500,000, but not more than $452,000,000, and the special education joint agreement consists of 6 school districts.”

The proposed legislation — which was co-sponsored by state Reps. Kathleen Willis (77th), Camille Y. Lilly (78th) and state Sens. Don Harmon (39th) and Steven Landek (12th) — passed both houses overwhelmingly on May 31 and awaits Gov. Bruce Rauner’s signature.

Some residents, including PAEC board members, local high school board members and community leaders, have taken to Facebook and email to protest the pending legislation.

Among their criticisms of the bill, they say it establishes criteria that are exclusive to D89’s grade composition, attendance numbers and property tax base, and is tailored specifically to allow D89 to leave the cooperative by circumventing the process that’s in place for dealing with member district disagreements.

In 2013, according to Terry Smith, PAEC’s executive director, D89 had petitioned to withdraw from the cooperative, but was voted down by the other member districts. A second appeal was also voted down. After those appeals failed, there was no other recourse for the district, since there doesn’t exist any regional body to appeal to.

“Cook County is the only county that doesn’t have a regional board,” said D89 Superintendent David Negron in a recent interview. “It was disbanded two years ago. For our purposes, the legislative route was the only route to go, because there was no regional board. Had there been one, we’d have gone that route.”

According to some PAEC board members, however, the proposed legislation doesn’t address that general problem. Rather than proposing legislation that establishes such a regional board, they say, the bill only allows for D89’s specific departure. Negron, however, said that the establishment of a regional authority is something legislators told him they were working towards.

PAEC Board members also argue that the legislation may not be necessary, since the West 40 Intermediate Service Center was given all the responsibilities of a regional board of education when the latter was disbanded.

Neither Willis nor Lilly could be immediately reached for comment. Among other local state lawmakers, Sen. Kimberly Lightford (4th) voted in favor of the bill and Rep. Emanuel “Chris” Welch (7th) didn’t vote on the measure at all.

Smith contends that D89 lobbied for the legislation without contacting PAEC’s administration or the cooperative’s member districts.

“They moved the bill forward without contacting the cooperative to get information from us, as well as from our parents and member districts,” Smith said. “We weren’t aware of it. So we were not informed as this bill moved forward.”

Negron, however, countered that the nature of the legislative process is public and PAEC officials could’ve discovered the proposed law through various means.

“We never led them to believe we were done with the withdrawal,” said Negron, who started with D89 last July.

“There were meetings shortly before I got here where we still made it clear that the district was pursuing this,” he said. “The legislative process is open to the public, so we weren’t hiding anything. There are a lot of legislative updates that go out to districts. We were in those and had been in those for a few months.”

Why D89 wants out

A June 2013 20-page evaluation of D89’s special education services strongly recommended that the district “bring back most, if not all of the students currently being served in a PAEC program to District 89 over the course of the next two years,” with the possible exception of the program for alternative education.

The evaluation, prepared by Sandi Cole, the director of the Special Education Leadership Program at Indiana University, offered a frank assessment of the district’s special education service delivery.

“While there are certainly exceptions throughout the district, there appears to be a general lack of willingness to share the responsibility to teach all students,” Cole wrote. “A dual system of education — special and general education — seems to exist in District 89.”

“Pulling students out of general education and separating them for instruction is a common practice in District 89,” she noted. “It is my observation that many more students with disabilities in District 89 could be educated in the general education classroom for all or most of the school day.”

“It is also my observation that many teachers believe that they currently do not have the necessary skills or training to make this happen and, in some cases, do not believe that students with disabilities can progress or learn in general education. There exists in District 89 little understanding of current research that would indicate otherwise”

Since Cole’s 2013 report, the district has made strides toward providing a more inclusive learning environment for students with special needs, said Negron, adding that the district has implemented autism and deaf/hearing programs at Lincoln School in Maywood and Jane Addams School in Melrose Park.

“This year, we probably have some of the most comprehensive professional development I’ve experienced in any district,” he said. “At the end of the day, all we want is what’s best for our kids.”

In numerous documents published since 2013, D89 has claimed that it will be able to provide all of its special needs students with improved services on its own, although some students may still need the services of PAEC. The district also claims that it will have more control over funds that are allocated for special education services and may save $1.2 million by providing those services on its own.

This school year, according to rough estimates provided by Negron and Smith, between 50 and 60 D89 students were enrolled in PAEC. That number is a steep drop from 2013, when more than 100 D89 students were being served by PAEC, according to Cole’s report.

“Gradually, our district has been scaling back, because we’ve been able to provide services within our school buildings,” Negron said.

According to a D89 restructuring impact analysis, the district will continue to send around 20 of “the most severely impacted students” to PAEC, but projects to serve approximately 80 special needs students in its school buildings. An estimated 10 new classrooms will be opened in existing school buildings to service the population.

The district noted that it would be better equipped to ensure that its policies and forms comply with federal and state mandates “and are updated on a timely basis;” and that it will have immediate access to special education student data and temporary records that is currently maintained by PAEC “irrespective or where or by whom services are delivered.”

For its part, PAEC provided its own analyses in direct response to D89’s financial analysis, which Negron said was prepared by the district’s administrators with the help of outside legal and financial assistance.

According to a document prepared by PAEC officials, D89’s financial rationale “is simply wrong.” The document claims that the district, instead of saving $1.2 million while operating special education services on its own, will actually “spend at least $200,000 more per year (and in likelihood, even more) to run its own special education program than it would to remain a member of PAEC and have its children served there.”

PAEC claims that, in its analysis, D89 failed to include some expense items, used incorrect expenditures, used “overly optimistic” reimbursement estimates and failed to include refunds that are “unique to PAEC membership.”

The district, PAEC claims, failed to properly account for additional personnel, such as psychologists, teacher tutors and physical therapists, it would need to hire,; and failed to include cost increases related to workers compensation and property/casualty insurance; among other omissions.

“This [withdrawal] will negatively impact the students in our program, because if they’re not part of PAEC, they will no longer automatically be eligible for our programs and it will financially impact our member districts,” said Smith.

In response to PAEC’s counterclaims about D89’s financial analysis, Negron said that the district’s analysis was based on budget numbers provided by PAEC and that he’s confident in the reality they project.

“We based that budget on information we received from PAEC,” he said. “Our analysis is based on hard numbers. I’m sure they’ll tell you the same, but we feel pretty solid in terms of where we stand.”

Negron said he wanted to correct the record about the district’s timeline for pulling out of PAEC. Even if HB 6252 is signed into law, he noted, D89 would still be required to complete and submit a comprehensive withdrawal statement justifying the need for pulling out of the cooperative to the Illinois State Board of Education — a process that could take up to a year.

“The process is still a ways away,” Negron said. “It will take several more months,” he said, adding that creating the withdrawal statement would be no easy task. He noted that the district is hoping to pull out of PAEC by the 2017-18 school year.

“I’ve heard people say we want to pull out within a couple of months,” Negron said. “That’s not accurate.” VFP

Scroll through the documents cited in this article below: 

Illinois Legislature Approves Rauner’s Budget Gap Bill That Cuts Some Programs to Fund Others

Friday, March 27, 2015 || By Michael Romain 

Budget Bill Largely Shuffles Money Around Without Adding Much-Needed Revenue

By a vote of 32-26, the Illinois Senate passed a bill on Thursday that will provide short-term funding in areas such as daycare assistance for low-income parents, court reporter pay and prison staffing, according to a March 26 report by the Chicago Tribune. The measure, which was sponsored by Illinois House Speaker Michael Madigan, passed the Illinois House by a vote of 68 to 49 on Tuesday, March 24.

The money will be enough to fund these programs until the end of the budget year on June 30, after which point the state will need to find a way to address an estimated $7 billion budget shortfall. Last year, Illinois Democrats passed a budget last year that did not provide enough money to fund the state’s programs for the year.

“The deal frees up $226 million for a subsidized child care program, $117 million to meet payroll at Illinois prisons and $27 million for mental health service grants,” the Tribune notes. “It raids $350 million from funds for road construction, a diversion that Rauner and fellow Republicans have opposed in the past.”

“Under the plan sponsored by Democratic House Speaker Michael Madigan, approximately $1.3 billion would be taken from balances in special funds designated for uses such as road construction or fire prevention,” according to a March 24 report.

“Another $300 million would come from cutting spending by 2.25 percent in most other areas of state government for the last three months of the current budget year. While pension payments and health care for the poor are largely protected, schools stand to lose an estimated $150 million through the end of June,” the report states.

Local lawmakers Rep. Chris Welch (7th) and Sen. Kimberly Lightford  (4th) voted against the short-term fix. Rep. Kathleen Willis (77th) voted for the measure. VFP

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A Patchwork of Optimism: MFA Hopes This Year’s Parade Prefaces What’s to Come

Screenshot 2014-10-16 at 1.38.10 PMThe Huertas family enjoying last weekend’s Pumpkin Patch Parade. Below, left, walkers march down Washington Boulevard. Photos by Michael Romain for the Village Free Press.

Screenshot 2014-10-16 at 1.36.00 PMThursday, October 16, 2014 || By Michael Romain 

MAYWOOD | Neidalis Huerta, 4, played around the picnic table where her parents, Jessica and Nester Huerta, sat basking under a mellow, but generous fall morning sunlight during last Saturday’s Pumpkin Patch Parade. This was the family’s second time out at the annual festival hosted by Maywood Fine Arts (MFA), the organization where little Neidalis takes ballet lessons.

“It brings happiness to me,” said Jessica Huerta. “This event is about community and family. Neidalis looks forward to going to ballet and we look forward to coming to this every year.”

Volunteer Gary Woll, whose three middle-aged daughters are all former students of Maywood Fine Arts, said he’s been attending the Pumpkin Patch Parade virtually every since it began 13 years ago.

“There have been times when this outpouring has brought tears to my eyes,” said Woll, a former village clerk and Maywood’s longest-serving trustee.

The parade typically starts with a retinue of dance routines performed by MFA students and family members, games and volumes of inflatable fun along Fifth Avenue from Lake Street to Main Street — the stretch of space where the venerable performing arts and cultural organization has made its mark for fifty years.

Last weekend, Benny the Bull, the lovable Chicago Bulls mascot, played to an ecstatic crowd that lurked and lunged for t-shirts that the mascot threw out, at one point even pulling Maywood Trustee Ron Rivers in on the act.

The walkers then lined up at the intersection of Lake and Fifth Avenue behind fire trucks; MFA’s co-founders Ernie and Louis Bauman; and Benny the Bull, who stood on the roof of a massive mobile home turned party truck. They would walk down to Chicago Avenue, over to 9th Avenue, down to Washington Boulevard and back to the site at Fifth and Lake.

The carnivalesque atmosphere at this year’s Pumpkin Patch Parade was punctuated with a sense of expectation. MFA is hoping to construct a new dance studio on the site of their old space Fifth Avenue space, which caught fire in 2010 and was subsequently razed.

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Although the organization is still somewhat mute about its building and fundraising plans — it’s still seeking a sufficient level of funding to be secure enough to actually break ground and start the construction process — board members and staff have been cautiously optimistic about the project’s prospects.

The funds raised from the annual Pumpkin Patch Parade are vital for the organization’s day-to-day operations, with virtually all of the money going toward operating income; however, MFA officials hope that the event can galvanize community support for, and perhaps attract high-net-worth donors to, the organization’s capital campaign.

“Without this income we can’t continue to operate,” said Katherine Bus, a drama instructor and communications director for MFA, several days after the event.

“It really does help us pay for what our tuition doesn’t cover — 40 percent of our revenue is earned income and 60 percent is contributed. We couldn’t operate without [the Pumpkin Patch Parade] and this is really the only event we ask families to participate in [financially].”

“It’s been a very good day so far,” said Amy Luke, a longtime MFA board member. “The fundraising has been going well, we’ve had support from our legislators. We’d love to find one big donor to help us out, but we’re working at it. It’s grass roots, but it will be built.”

The Parade typically attracts local elected officials and this year was no exception, with several Maywood trustees, Maywood Mayor Edwenna Perkins, State Representatives Chris Welch (7th) and Kathleen Willis (77th) and State Senator Kimberly Lightford (4th) among the attendees. Many of these officials said they’ve seen MFA’s construction plans and pledged their support for the project.

“I had an opportunity to weigh in on their grant application before the county and they actually got $117,000 from the county just recently,” said Richard Boykin, who was recently voted the Democratic nominee for Cook County Board Commissioner, 1st District, and whose virtually a lock to replace current commissioner Earlean Collins.

“I’ll do everything I can to help them access as many county  and federal dollars as possible,” he said. “I’m going to help bring private donors in, too, because I’m going to tell folks about the goodness and importance of this organization. The arts help to develop life skills, so you’re helping to build a well-rounded person. I’m honored to be here.”

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District 209 school board member Theresa Kelly, the longest-serving board member in that district’s history, said that her adult son is an MFA alum.

“They did a fantastic job with him,” she said. “They’re still doing a great job and I’m proud that they’re going to build a state-of-the-art facility here for our children.”

Rep. Welch, who said that he’s been attending the parade for as long as it has been going on, said that he’s optimistic about MFA’s building prospects based on his evaluation of their strategy.

“I think they’ve got a very good game plan,” he said. “I’ve seen it laid out from a fundraising and marketing standpoint and it is on point, which is why Sen. Lightford, Kathy Willis and I are partnering to do what we can from a state perspective. The community is rallying around it as well, so I think they’ve got all the right ingredients working in the right direction.”

“Maywood Fine Arts — keep going!” said Mayor Perkins, whose grandchildren are all MFA alum, including her grandson Craig Hall, a soloist for the New York City ballet.

Della Patterson, a candidate for the District 209 school board, said that all of her children — she has 30-year-0ld twin daughters and a 33-year-old son — have gone through MFA. Last weekend, she was at parade looking after her grandchildren, who are also students in the organization.

“We’re used to the Pumpkin Patch,” she said. “I think its a great event that gets many community members out and that’s a great thing. We have kids from all over participating.”

In addition to future pledges of support by political leaders, MFA received a check for $17,909 from the Bonnie Brae Charity LemonAid Stand.

Bonnie Brae was started 13 years ago in the wake of the 9/11 attacks by two children who wanted to memorialize the victims and their families. This year, the River Forest-based charity teamed up with MFA in a rare display of cross-town collaboration that Baumann said is the fulfillment of a life-long dream — one that she hopes extends indefinitely into the future.

“Maywood went to River Forest and guess what? Its a normal thing that would happen!” she told the crowd. “Now, River Forest has come to Maywood. I’ve been looking forward to this kind of hand-holding my whole life.” VFP

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A Conversation With Rep. Kathleen Willis (D-77th)

Willis

Monday, March 17, 2014 || By Michael Romain 

When told that Maywood has not one, but two state representatives, most residents here react with surprise. Most residents live within the 7th district, currently represented by Emanuel “Chris” Welch, a Democrat running unopposed. The 77th district, represented in the General Assembly by Kathleen Willis, only covers a slice of the Village’s north side, well past Lake Street. That sliver, however, holds about 900 residents.

Rep. Willis’s challenger during this election cycle, recent John Marshal Law School grad and Melrose Park resident, Antonio “Tony” Favela, 31, has pushed hard on her Democratic legitimacy and her legislative independence. He posits that Mrs. Willis symbolizes a looming problem in state and national politics.

In 2012, Mrs. Willis defeated 20-year incumbent Skip Saviano, a Republican, after Mr. Saviano’s district was redrawn, putting his once safe GOP territory into Democratic contention. That election, if measured by Mrs. Willis’s campaign contributions that year, cost nearly $600,000. It was her first electoral victory and the basis for Mr. Favela’s oft-repeated claim that the first time the Representative, a former Republican, voted Democratic was for herself. He says that today’s political culture is less ethical, more money-driven and more dictated by acts of technical comeuppance, such as gerrymandering, than ever before.

If Mrs. Willis is worried about her younger challenger, she hasn’t shown any signs. In fact, insofar as local elections are driven on narrative and framing, she hasn’t pushed back too hard on Mr. Favela’s characterization of her as a political opportunist unwilling to seem too out of sync with the Madigan machine who put her in office–even when the tactics of Madigan’s campaign operatives would seem beyond the pale of anyone with decency (no matter how many levels of plausible deniability by which one is protected).

Last year, after reports surfaced that men identifying themselves as state election officials were visiting the homes of those who had signed Mr. Favela’s campaign petitions and bullying them into retracting their signatures, Mrs. Willis simply denied that she knew the men. She didn’t condemn the reprehensible behavior. And this month, her campaign mailed out three palm cards that–if not quite matching the psychological terror those men (likely affiliated more closely with Speaker Madigan than Rep. Willis) inflicted–were every bit as distasteful and ethically egregious.

All three mailers claim that Mr. Favela is connected with a developer “that wants to build a Las Vegas-style strip club next to a convent in our community–despite heavy opposition from local residents.” 

The only basis for this claim, which Rep. Willis herself acknowledged, are the campaign disclosures of Jesse Martinez, who ran for mayor in Melrose Park last year. Mr. Favela was on Mr. Martinez’s ticket as a candidate for clerk. That’s the ‘connection’. That’s it. From this connection, the card concludes that Mr. Favela “does not represent our values and will not protect our families.”

Another mailer depicts Mrs. Willis wholesomely surrounded by a group of schoolchildren as she points down at a book. Inserted beneath this scene is this non sequitur: “Sex offenders were abusing a loophole in the law to stalk children at private playgrounds. Kathleen Willis passed a new law closing this loophole to crack down on these dangerous predators and protect our families.”

FavelaFavela III

Favela II

When asked to respond to the allegations in the mailers, Mr. Favela said that the reality is actually opposite what they claim.

“These attack ads do not have a shred of truth to them. They are 100 percent false,” he said.

“First, I encourage everyone to look through my campaign disclosures. I have not received a single penny from any strip club owners. Second, this ad is obviously referring to the strip club that has already opened in Stone Park. How can they claim I am allied with someone who wants to build something that is already built? The truth is that one of my lifelong friends, Roberto Hernandez, was one of the people who led the fight against the opening of the strip club. He is whom I am proud to say I am allied with.

“Third, not only is Willis telling big fat lies, but she conveniently fails to acknowledge that she has done nothing about this strip club or any other similar establishment. In fact, she is being supported and endorsed by [Melrose Park Mayor Ronald Serpico] who has regularly accepted donations from similar types of adult entertainment establishments. He’s gotten $6,200 from Bobby’s bar.”

Last week, I sat down with Rep. Willis to discuss her thoughts on the palm cards, her legislative record and her response to some of her challenger’s claims, among other issues. 

Are those palm cards from your campaign? And if so, how do you justify their subtle intent, which, when I look at them, seem to be to elicit a certain kind of response among a certain group of likely voters. They call that dog whistle politics. It’s racially and ethnically insensitive and it plays on people’s fears and prejudices. What’s your reaction to the mailers? 

I approved all the cards that went out. Those cards that have gone out, they all have quotes where the sources came from. There’s no denying that Favela was part of Jessie Martinez’s ticket in the past and all that came from his finances.

But is that fair?

I hate negative campaigns, but unfortunately we know that they work. Campaign strategists know what works best. That’s all I have to say about that.

Willis II
Rep. Willis seated beside Sen. Don Harmon (right).

Of course, you were once a Republican. Your opponent has used that part of your past to frame his characterization of you as a politician who was simply bought by the highest bidder. He questions your independence. How do you respond to his attacks on your record?

I never ran on a ballot as a Republican. I have friends that are Republicans, but I live in Du Page [a heavily Republican county]. I have pulled Republican primary ballots in the past. But my mentality and the way I think have always been much more Democratic than Republican. I believe in social services, I’m pro-union and pro-choice. I’m community-minded. I think it’s the person more than the party that people support.

As for my independence. When you’re a democrat, you take everything that comes with being a Democrat. I try very hard to make my votes on what is necessary for the 77th. When I represent the 77th, I represent not just the Democrats, but the Republicans, the Independents, even the nonvoters.

As you know, the Maywood Public Library has been through a rough period lately. It had to close for a few weeks before reopening. Your colleague in the General Assembly, Rep. Welch, held a series of press conferences and convened a temporary advisory committee to work on solutions for the library. Your opponent has said that your absence spoke to a larger pattern of absenteeism on issues in the 77th district and neighboring districts. I will say that I was quite impressed when I called your office some months ago and you answered personally, saying you were in the middle of signing constituent birthday cards. But how do you address Mr. Favela’s claims?

First off, I happen to have a Master’s degree in Library Science. Libraries are very improtant to me. I was in constant contact with Rep. Welch when the library closed. When he had that press conference, I was running a resource fair with over 40 vendors and 300 people that day. But I was very concerned.

Libraries always need more funding. I’m in very close contact with the Illinois Association of Libraries on a regular basis. Libraries need more resources all the time, especially during downturns. They have a lot of great programming free of charge. My husband sits on the library board in Addison.

But libraries also always need to be careful with the way they spend their funding. Maywood Library is its own [taxing] district. And there’s a lot we can’t control. They have to take that responsibility themselves. It’s truly important to keep libraries open. In fact i talked to Mayor Perkins not long ago on this issue.

On the larger issue of my accessibility, in the 23 months I’ve been in office, my goal was to be extremely accessible to the community and I think we’ve done that.  I make myself available, because I am constantly out and talking to people in the community. When I’m back in the community now, I’ve probably been to each home 2-3 times in the last 13 months. That’s the job I’ve done well and I want to continue doing that.

The vote for pension reform was a bipartisan effort, but it was also pretty controversial. The unions didn’t like it too much. Can you explain your vote and explain why it may have been necessary?

We had done many, many discussion over the course  of the year. Pension reform was one of the top issues in the state. I didnt take a state pension, because I felt it was an issue we needed to deal with. I did what we could to save the state pension. This was a bill that was agreed upon bipartisanly to make that step to be able to save the pension system and not do additional cuts in vital services.

Are you for raising revenue via raising taxes?

I’m not for raising taxes that’s for sure. I’m open to looking for new revenue sources.

Will you consider raising taxes on corporations?

We’d have to look at that. VFP

A Conversation with Antonio “Tony” Favela, Candidate for State Representative, 77th District

February 28, 2014 || By Michael Romain

Antonio “Tony” Favela, 31, is running a campaign to unseat the current state representative for the 77th District, Kathleen Willis; he’s a Melrose Park commissioner; while still campaigning, he was completing the last year of law school; and at the time of this interview, he was about a week away from taking the Illinois Bar exams.

Mr. Favela hasn’t slept in months, which makes the uphill climb of taking down an incumbent–albeit a first-termer–all the more steep. However, if there’s a subtle aura of tiredness, exhaustion and even a slight grumpiness (toward his opponent) that contours his presentation, there’s also, ironically, an almost fearless, carefree, abandon woven into his campaign rhetoric. Over the course of this race, that truth serum (combined with the fact that he’s in the race at all) may have put him on a collision path with the Speaker of the Illinois House of Representatives–by many accounts the most powerful politician in the State and Rep. Willis’s backer–Michael J. Madigan.

The very thought is almost heretical–a young, ambitious, reform-minded Democrat running a race against the biggest Democrat of them all–which is why this particular race is perhaps the closest I’ll get to using the word Biblical in a sentence (as in epic, as in David and Goliath, as in…you get the picture):

Tony Favela Portrait

What got you into this race?

I’ve been involved in the community for a long time. I’ve lived in the district my entire life. I was born and raised here. Just knowing my opponent’s background made me want to give the voters a choice. Our district lacks a true leader and I think I can be a better leader than she’s been.

What about her background made you want to be an alternative for voters?

Here’s a person who was a lifelong Republican. She was an active member of the Addison Township Republican Party. The first time she voted in a democratic primary was for herself. When you trace back all the money, it comes from one source [Speaker Madigan]. Her political beliefs are for sale to the highest bidder. The leadership of the Illinois Democratic Party has dumped an obscene amount of money and invested it in her; they have been holding her hand every step of the way, but their resources can be better spent.

For instance, they could be spending money on Governor Quinn’s reelection, instead of on someone who is really not a true Democrat. She’s a puppet and does what they say. I’m running my own campaign, knocking on doors, everything. And the people who are helping me believe that I’ll make a better candidate than her. Her people don’t even know what she stands for. She goes knocking on people’s doors and says, ‘Hi, I’m Kathleen Willis, vote for me.’

What about your professional and educational background makes you a sound alternative?

I’m a recent graduate of John Marshall Law School. I’ll be taking the bar on February 25th and 26th. I’m a graduate of Fenwick High School and DePaul University. I attended Melrose Park Elementary. I’ve taught at Triton and substituted in District 89. I currently serve on the zoning board in Melrose Park. I was appointed last May by Mayor Serpico and unanimously approved by the board of trustees. I’ve worked for ComEd. I’ve also worked for a startup business right out of college. I’ve spent a lot of time volunteering for organizations and giving back to my community.

Getting back to Rep. Willis. You say that one of the reasons that you’re a better alternative is because you won’t be a tool for the Democratic Party, which implies that Rep. Willis, despite her Republican background, seems to be rather effective in furthering the Democratic Party’s various platforms. Isn’t that what the Party wants? Someone who’ll toe the line and help it pass legislation? Unless, of course, you don’t believe that the legislation it’s passing is particularly beneficial to constituents.

For instance, there was quite an outcry from the public after the General Assembly passed the latest iteration of pension reform, for which Rep. Willis voted. Unions and public sector workers (teachers in particular) felt kind of betrayed and many thought it was consistent with a national trend of states going after public sector unions and their benefits (i.e., Wisconsin).

There are a lot of legislators doing great things. I know a few that are great Democrats. I don’t necessarily think that it’s the Democratic Party as a whole that’s problematic. I think a lot of people who voted for the pension bill voted for it because something had to be done about the pension system. You have to balance the unions’ interests along with the taxpayers’.

So I don’t think you can say that, because the Democratic Party voted for reform, that means that the Party’s automatically anti-union. As far as my opponent goes, I can be seated right next to her talking to you and I can say ‘ditto’ to every response she gives, but there would still be a huge difference between me and her. If a libertarian comes and throws a million dollars at her, she’d be espousing libertarian principles. So the main thing is that I don’t know what she actually believes. The only reason the Party is spending money on her is because they can control her.

Take the gay marriage bill, for instance. According to the Illinois Observer, she had to be given the green light to vote for that. That’s not leadership. What if the Democratic Party would not have been in favor of the gay marriage bill? She wouldn’t have been allowed to vote for it. We need a representative who can stand on her own two feet, make decisions for herself and is not beholden to those whom she counts on for financial support and for help running her campaign.

How can the State stabilize its fiscal situation without doing so on the backs of its poor and working class residents? For instance, there seems to be a lot of focus on austerity measures–cutting public services, cutting public employee benefits, etc.–and yet, barely any talk of raising revenue by raising taxes on corporations, for instance, many of which barely pay any taxes at all. Before jumping to the conclusion that the state has no money, maybe it should first try collecting some of the revenue that it’s owed by the very entities in the best position to be taxed without being unduly harmed.

One of the good things that have come about because of pension reform is that investors have more confidence in Illinois. Unfortunately, however, I don’t think the bill will be proven constitutional in court, so we may have to revisit it.

What we can do right now is streamline services. Illinois has almost 7,000 units of government and a lot of them offer duplicate services and they’re units of government that serve minimal purposes and are relics of the past. We’ve got over 900 school districts and some only have one school in them. We need to take a look at all these units of government and get rid of the ones no longer necessary. Although, some townships in Illinois might still provide something beneficial to taxpayers, others may be redundant. For instance, is a township in Cook County really necessary? We need to at least ask that question.

You’re right about the corporate taxes. Two-thirds of corporations don’t pay any taxes at all other than the property tax, but Madigan just announced that he wanted to give a third of corporations that do pay taxes a tax cut. The argument that high taxes in Illinois are causing people to flee is just not true. The economy has grown in the private business sector by 16 percent in the last five years, according to one report. I wouldn’t be against lowering taxes for businesses, but we do have to make that two-thirds of corporations that don’t pay taxes pay taxes.

I’m also for reforming our personal income tax code. I’m for a progressive tax in Illinois. Studies have shown that if we institute a progressive tax system–where 94 percent of Illinois residents won’t see a tax cut; only the six percent making at least $200,000 a year–the revenue will be in the billions. Right now, the tax rate is at five percent. It’s up from 3.5 percent. It is scheduled to go down, but unless we fix our fiscal situation, we’re going to be back in the hole again.

A number of states have different progressive tax standards. Each state has its own solution. But we can institute a progressive tax system where 94 percent will see a tax decrease. They’re the people who need to benefit. I think it would be okay if Bruce Rauner wasn’t able to afford another commercial. I don’t know anyone who would have a problem with that.

What are some key issues for which your campaign wants to raise awareness and attention?

The most important one is the financial situation of the state. Another issue would be schools. They’re the pillars of communities. The better they are, the more people want to move in. Right now, the 77th district is a working class district and our schools could be better. For instance, I’m a proponent of having schools rely less on property taxes and more on state investment. Right now, Illinois has the fifth largest economy in the nation among states and we’re ranked last in state funding for education. So, the effect of relying so heavily on property taxes is that in some of these communities like Maywood, where foreclosures are rampant, there’s less money for the schools. I was recently endorsed by the Illinois Federation of Teachers (IFT) and they really understood that I believe that education is something critical for the state to become better than what it is. We can’t keep cutting and cutting and putting 48 kids in a classroom and expect Illinois to be prosperous.

What are your thoughts on the bipartisan charter school reform movement?

My biggest problem with charter schools is the lack of transparency and the potential for patronage and nepotism and awarding contracts. Take a look at Juan Rangel, the former CEO of UNO Charter schools, for an example. I think we need greater transparency and accountability for charter schools. The other issue I take with them is that, in the City of Chicago, almost half are under-enrolled. And yet, the City is proposing to open thirty more in the next year or so. If we’re going to open any new schools, it should be to serve communities where the schools are overcrowded. In my district, District 89, some schools have 38 kids in a classroom.

The privatization of public education is just one aspect of the privatization the world, really. Everywhere we look, we see functions and services that used to be within the realm of the public (whether we’re talking parking meters, roads, schools, etc.) that are now in the hands of wealthy private investors. What is your perception of this global move to privatize the public sphere? Do you see any potential benefits in it?

I don’t see the benefit to the people of Illinois in privatizing everything. The City of Chicago lost billions of dollars privatizing parking, for instance. Worse, when you start privatizing, you’re going to see prices go up. When you privatize something, the purpose is to maximize profits. And when main goal is profits, profits, profits, people suffer. You have to pay $15-$16 to park somewhere downtown for three hours now. So, I’m against privatizing public services.

But, as you probably well know, the ideology of privatization is rampant, especially in a place like Springfield, where, just like in Washington, powerful private corporations have lobbyists and those lobbyists have lots of money. Money talks. How do step into a place like Springfield and not get eaten up by the “profits over people” and the “pay-to-play” culture so pervasive there?

I think the reason why a lot of that is happening is because private interests donating hundreds of thousands of dollars to campaigns. The other thing is that it’s on the voters as well. We elect the people we elect, and so when people don’t care about voting, then the politicians that do get elected see that people don’t come out to vote. They’ll take that into account when the foreign investors come in and want to donate thousands of dollars to them. That has a lot to do with it. That’s why I think we should have some kind of reform in campaigning and government ethics.

In the majority of legislative districts in Illinois, there’s hardly ever a challenger. These districts are either heavily Democratic or heavily Republican, so no one bothers putting up a fight. But in districts where there is a fight, the party leadership ends up spending hundreds of thousands of dollars to try to win it. That’s what happened to the 77th district. We need an independent commission to draw these districts so they’re not gerrymandered and so that they reflect the population and not the party most likely to win in that district. And we need to have some restraint on how much money parties can dump on a candidate. We should open up the democratic process and maybe that will take care of that pay-to-play stuff.

Maywood isn’t really aware of the 77th District. A lot of people don’t realize that Maywood has two representatives, since the 77th only covers a sliver of Maywood North of Lake Street. However, that sliver encompasses several hundred residents, which is significant. How would you make Maywoodians more aware of the fact that, as a Village, it has two representatives in the State House, not just one?

Most people don’t know what a state legislator does, so the simple answer is to explain what we do. And yes, Maywood has one precinct in the 77th district, but that’s still about 900 people. So one of the things we can do to bring awareness is work with Rep. Chris Welch more. He clearly has the majority of Maywood in his district, but people have to see us working together more because we both represent Maywood.

For example, when the library closed, Chris Welch got everybody together and found a solution. Now imagine if Kathleen Willis was there. It would’ve been twice as effective. But she was nowhere to be seen. I was there. Not campaigning for political reasons, but because I’m concerned about my district. So if people don’t know that there’s a 77th District in Maywood, that’s the representative’s fault. We need to make sure people know that there’s somebody representing them in Springfield.

What are some lessons you’ve learned about the democratic process during the course of this campaign?

I think that one of the things I wasn’t prepared for is how easy it is to knock someone off the ballot. That’s a situation where the rules are meant for the game to be fair, but people use that in their favor. I wasn’t challenged, but you have to make sure that your sheets are clean, because any little mistake will get challenged. They didn’t challenge me, but they terrorized my supporters. I wasn’t expecting that. So in the future, I know that I’ll inform my volunteers on how to get a 100 percent clean signature. Also, you learn a lot of election law. You think you have a grasp on something until the moment when you realize that the way things are is not the way you interpreted them to be.

Any closing statements?

I want the voters to know that i’m a true Democrat. My beliefs haven’t been bought. I can’t be sold to the highest bidder. I’m truly in this because I’m passionate about where I live and I think our district deserves better. I can offer better leadership that’s accountable to voters and not to one person who donates hundreds of thousands of dollars to me. I can stand on my own two feet and effectively represent the people of the 77th district. We deserve better. VFP

Quick News: Chief Talley Heralds A Maywood Police Officer’s Compassion, Some Commissioners Appointed, Mayor Perkins Endorsements and More

Thursday, February 6, 2014, MAYWOOD || By Michael Romain

Sgt. Aaron Peppers–Subtle Hero 

At a February 4, 2014, regular meeting of the Village Board, Maywood Police Chief Valdimir Talley approached the podium to read a letter his department had received from a Maywood resident which was addressed to Sgt. Aaron Peppers, who was seated in the audience, a black tie providing a subtle accent of proud formality to his everyday uniform.

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“Dear Chief,” Talley read. “Yesterday my husband collapsed and died on the sidewalk of our home. One of your officers, Sgt. Peppers, waited on me with courage, compassion and respect.”

When reinforcements arrived, Sgt. Peppers took the woman to the hospital and waited until her family came–a subtle act of heroism that the woman and her family won’t likely forget anytime soon.

After reading the letter, Chief Talley presented a beaming Sgt. Peppers with a certificate of recognition for outstanding performance of duty in delivering public services. The incident happened on January 14, 2014. In addition to serving on the police force, Peppers, a lifelong Maywoodian, has also coached football at Proviso East High School since 2001 (see featured photo, courtesy Chicago Tribune).

More on this story later.

Commission Appointments Trickling In

At a February 14, 2014, regular meeting, the Village Board confirmed several of the Mayor’s appointments to various commissions. Former Maywood Mayor Joseph Freelon was appointed to the Fire Pension Board; his wife, Gladys Freelon, was appointed to the Environmental and Beautification Commission; outspoken resident Dorothy Lane Thomas was appointed to the Citizens Water Review Committee; and Steven Fox was appointed to the Economic Development Commission. Trustee Michael Rogers motioned for the Board to also confirm the appointments of Laura Lange and Clifford Christian, both appointments which had been tabled by the Board for various reasons. Trustee Rogers’s motion, however, was only met with silence and so, without a second (which is required to bring up a vote), the motion died. Mayor Perkins and the Board have been in conflict over this issue since the Mayor was sworn-in. For some background on the conflict, click here and here.

NOTIFICATION

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Mayor Perkins, Former Maywood Mayors, Endorse Richard Boykin, Candidate for Cook County Commissioner

At a February 6, 2014, press conference at Meal of the Day Cafe, Mayor Perkins, along with many of her fellow West Suburban mayors, endorsed attorney Richard Boykin for Cook County Commissioner, 1st District.

“I met with Mr. Boykins and was very pleased with the fact that he was interested in what our community was doing,” said Mayor Perkins. “Sometimes Proviso Township is overlooked, but I feel that with Mr. Boykins in office, that won’t happen anymore. I thank him for reaching out to our community, because there’s a lot of need here….Together we can make a difference.”

In addition to Mayor Perkins, former mayors Henderson Yarbrough, Donald Williams and Joseph Freelon also endorsed Mr. Boykin.

In a statement he prepared for the press conference, Mr. Yarbrough wrote of the candidate: “I Perceive him to be a person of integrity, hope and the right man for the job.”

“The gentleman who is offering himself for the office of Cook County I’ve been privileged to know for the last 15 years,” said Mr. Williams. “He’s a distinguished attorney, he exhibits sensitivity and capability, plus he supplements the normal credentials that one presents with his sensitivity in the ministry. Our communities desperately need the kind of contribution that he’s capable of making.”

In addition to Mr. Boykin, Mayor Perkins has also endorsed sitting Illinois State Rep. Kathleen Willis (D-77th). The race for the 77th District, which represents a sliver of Maywood, is a showdown between Rep. Willis and Melrose Park resident Tony Favela, a recent graduate of John Marshall Law School in Chicago.

Out Of Illicit Activity Comes A Stroke of Innovation 

Crushed tires

Einstein is famously credited with inventing the saying, “Out of clutter, find simplicity. From discord, find harmony. In the middle of difficulty lies opportunity.”

Maywood Police Chief Vladimir Talley put that phrase into practice at a February 14, 2014, regular Board meeting.

William Kyle, a Maywood resident, had complained about illegal fly-dumping during public comments.

“We’ve got a guy whose fly-dumping tires at 134 S. 14th and 136 S. 14th….We need some kind of camera or something so we can see this guy….He’s bringing in tires by the boat load…He dumps them there, leaves, then comes back again….”

In October of last year, the Board had listened to, and applauded, a proposal presented by resident Jessie Nolan, which entailed the Village replicating an anti-fly-dumping program implemented by the City of Chicago.

Former Village Manager William Barlow had said that his staff would review the merits of the program and the challenges accompanying its implementation in Maywood. The results of that review have not yet been presented.

Police Chief Talley said that his department was working on ways to deal with the problem–and one way in particular came as a pleasant and impressive surprise.

“We’re in strategy to try to catch [the culprits],” said Chief Talley. “The tires are hazardous [to the environment, but] if we can get some company to chop those tires up for us, we can use that crushed rubber as back field for our shooting range….I’ve been thinking green as well,” he said jocundly. The audience of residents were delightfully surprised by the out-of-the-box suggestion.

The Chief said that the only thing preventing the Village from chopping the rubber is the right kind of industrial-size crushing equipment. However, he pointed out that the measure might be something that the State could fund. VFP

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