The newest class of Chicago’s City Council committee leaders is settling around a common ideal: open participation and transparency.
Illinois Answers Project spoke with the eight alderpeople who were elected to second terms this year and are now leading committees for the first time. Multiple chairs said they’re toying with plans for evening meetings, hearings outside City Council and new avenues for constituents to engage with the committee’s work.
Below, Alds. Byron Sigcho-Lopez, Andre Vasquez, Maria Hadden and Jeanette Taylor share how they hope to use the legislative bodies as vehicles for policymaking and open communication with constituents. Their responses were edited for length and clarity.
Read last week’s interviews here with new committee chairs Alds. Matt Martin (Ethics), Rossana Rodriguez-Sanchez (Health & Human Services), Daniel La Spata (Pedestrian & Traffic Safety) and Michael Rodriguez (Workforce Development).
Ald. Byron Sigcho-Lopez — Committee on Housing and Real Estate
Sigcho-Lopez (25th) said he wants to pick up conversations on the city’s housing policy that were shut down by the Lightfoot administration, and he plans to take cues from his colleagues and their constituents instead of following the administration’s lead.
“We already took up one item … to double the funding of the [Affordable Housing Purchase Price Assistance Program] for first-time homebuyers who need assistance. It’s part of an initiative to reactivate the … empty lots the city owns. It’s a loss for the city when these lots stay empty, and it’s affecting current homeowners. These are the kinds of housing proposals the committee is going to be looking at.
“We also need to be bringing more accountability to the Chicago Housing Authority. … And we need to have a conversation about [tax-increment financing] and how the TIF program must be funding more housing initiatives in our communities.
“The previous administration committed to passing the Just Cause for Eviction ordinance, but the conversation got sidetracked. But we’ve seen evictions continue, so there is a conversation to be had about Just Cause for people who have been paying rent and haven’t done anything wrong.”
Ald. Andre Vasquez — Committee on Immigrant and Refugee Rights
Vasquez (40th) said he wants to focus on hosting regular hearings with updates on the city’s response to its migrant crisis, modeled on monthly hearings that were held by the council’s Committee on Health and Human Relations at the height of the COVID-19 pandemic.
“Because of the current refugee crisis, the first thing we need to do is report out — we need to make sure the public knows what’s happening. That means, what’s the city doing? How many people are still in police stations? What’s being done at the state and federal level? What about mutual aid work?
“We need to be talking about how we’re going to get long-term revenue streams [to support migrants]. I want to make sure we’re not just talking about the current crisis. We’ve got Ethiopian refugees, Haitian refugees, we’ve got South Asian folks coming here. I don’t want it to just be a Latino committee. And because of the tension we know exists between the Black and Latino community at this moment, we need to make sure we’re also talking about housing for existing populations.
“Something we need to do immediately is to increase language access in all the ward offices. We’ve said we’re a welcoming city, but we haven’t built up the infrastructure to actually be one. I want to establish more of a ground presence, too, so we’re having meetings in the communities and making sure we’re there to answer questions that people have.”
Ald. Maria Hadden — Committee on Environmental Protection and Energy
Hadden (49th) said she’s working on hiring staff who will focus on environmental policy. She said she’s part of a newer class of alderpeople who are “more policy-focused” than committee chairs have traditionally been.
“Broadly, I want to make sure we’re on track for [the creation of the Chicago] Department of Environment — that’s number one. We’ve been having lots of conversations about how to get there … I don’t see us getting there all of a sudden with this [coming] budget. I see it as a build. And the role of my committee will be facilitating a space to have those conversations.
“As far as other big issues, there are a lot of things that we talked about last term that I would like to see moving forward. Building decarbonization is going to be important. We’ve got the ComEd franchise agreement to work on. We’ve got to keep up with our Climate Action Plan goals. We’ve got to know what’s going on with our lake shore stabilization plan.
“I’d like to use the committee to bring a lot of our work to light and engage the community. You can definitely anticipate some committee meetings that aren’t at City Hall.
“We’re in a transition period. We have been an industrial city. We’re always going to be a city where commerce and business are very important. And also, we cannot keep poisoning our constituents. Government is supposed to manage change, so I definitely see us working on helping [the city] shift into whatever the next phase is of what industrialization looks like, and making sure we’re putting in strong protections for our constituencies.”
Ald. Jeanette Taylor — Committee on Education and Child Development
Taylor (20th) said she’s most focused on expanding transparency in Chicago Public Schools and the City Colleges of Chicago. She plans this summer to host a series of subject matter hearings inviting representatives from both administrations, as well as the unions that represent their employees.
“I want to do evening meetings at different city colleges and different schools, just so that people can get used to government actually working for them and being part of their community.
“We want nothing but data [from school officials]. We need to know the makeup of our schools. How many students identify as LGBTQ. Real homeless numbers. It’s not going to be this pretty fluff. They need to be giving the community the real data that they’ve been asking for.
“It’s about being transparent and honest, and saying what we can and cannot do to reimagine education for everybody.
“I’ll be here [at City Hall] once a month on Wednesdays so constituents can come talk to me about the committee. Come be a part of the change and the transparency in these institutions who serve our young people.
“We all have to work together for the betterment of our young people, and for the communities that expect us to deliver.”