The phrase “out with the old, in with the new” is a saying that we all have heard before and it usually relates to New Years Eve resolutions, making progress and bettering ones life. Even though New Years has long past this analogy applies to the race for the 31st District Representative. The 31st District encompasses portions of Chicago’s Englewood, West Englewood neighborhoods, Oak Lawn, Chicago Ridge, Palos Hills, and other nearby communities.
I had a chance to catch up with Willie Preston, an organizer out of Englewood who has a passion for the people and is running against the incumbent. He’s very much in favor of a progressive income tax and understands the importance of having a STEM focused curriculum for our children. He’s just a regular family man that wants to see change in his community and has stepped up to the plate to do so.
Candidate for 31st District State Rep Willie Preston and family (above)
QM: As 31st District State Representative what do you plan on doing differently in comparison to the incumbent?
WP: “Many things, my plan, unlike my opponent, I have a plan and it calls for bringing our back trade schools to Chicago. Everybody is not coming to college when I go down to Springfield I’m going to be down there fighting for vocational training inside our schools. We’re talking about plumbers, electricians, boiler makers, truck drivers. And this has to be done at the state legislature and that’s what we’re going down to Springfield to do. When my kids graduate high-school, south side of Chicago, I don’t want them lost or having to go to college and take out debt just to make a decent living. I want them to graduate with their diplomas in one hand and their union card in the other, if they decide their not going to college and that’s OK with us. My mother-in-law is a carpenter, she makes $100,000 annually, every year $100,000. She can raise a family, that’s head of household income, you can have you a home, a new car, your children can go to school, a good school that you can afford. You definitely won’t have to go to anybody’s aid office looking for food stamps. That’s the type of life changing politics that’s what this campaign is based on, we’re doing this to save people’s lives and change people’s lives. That’s one thing on the economic side, as far a property taxes go we plan on banning Mike Madigan and other law makers who practice property tax appeal law.”
QM: What is that exactly, property tax appeal law?
Preston: “So, when you get your property tax bill in the mail, lets say its $900. You think that’s too high for your little house so you go and say, “Hey, this is too high!” You need to hire an attorney because you don’t know the property tax law, property tax code, so you go and hire an attorney to get your property tax reduced. Mike Madigan, coincidentally, or not coincidentally who is one of the most powerful lawmakers in Illinois has the number one firm in Illinois. That’s not by coincidence so what we have is a situation that I have here is a situation where-“
QM: So you’re saying that he’s controlling what the law is-
Preston: “That’s right, he’s controlling it to make sure that he personally benefits and gets rich from it, and he does do it. Then what he does is re-funnel that money back into politics and make sure that he gets to come into the black community, Latino community and chooses who he wants to represent that community.
My campaign represents a stark contrast from that, he wont get to choose the leader over here anymore. We win this election we send a strong message that this community is an independent community and we’re going to choose our own leaders.
So right now we have two buildings that have been recently sold downtown. What we knew as the Sears Tower is now called the Willis Tower at 1 N. Clark, they got $50 million in property tax reduction. So the government doesn’t need $50 million laying around. We give somebody a reduction we increase some where else. So where’s the increase coming from? Its coming right here from my people, my people have a extra $200, $300, $500, $700 increase in their property tax, regular working class folk while rich folk downtown are getting under-assessed we’re getting ours over-assessed. There needs to be a property tax frieze or a serious reduction in property tax. And that’s what also is driving up the rent of people who are just getting started. 1500 dollars for a 1, 2 bedroom apartment? We’re gonna end that and how we’re going to stop it is by having people like me down there at Springfield that will say no, and fighting against that and winning.”
QM: In one interview you say, “Springfield politicians largely just go along to get along, and that’s what I’m seeing in my district right now and I want to work to change it.” What exactly do you see that needs to be changed that hasn’t in the past 30 years?
Preston: “Well a lot of things, but one thing I can site is this. We have somebody that’s been in office for nearly 50 years, Mike Madigan, he’s the Speaker of the House. Every last Democrat votes for him in the House, every last Democrat in Springfield votes for him to be Speaker of the House, “go along to get along”. That is so much centralization of power it’s unnatural, it’s un-American. We don’t have kingdoms, or supposedly we’re not supposed to be about that, this is supposed to be about democracy. And one thing I’m going to do is not vote for him as Speaker of the House that will be a stark difference. Throughout the years as Chicago and Illinois have gotten blacker and browner, the state funding to our education system has gotten lesser and lesser. We have more black politicians that most people inside this nation in terms of our state government, and they went along with that. That’s why today Illinois is last in state funding for public education. Last in America in the funding percentage allocated to public education. I got family in Mississippi, like most of us do down south, we used to laugh at them and call them country. But you know what, they’re ahead of us, they have a state government, a supposedly racist state government in Mississippi and they are racist. But they invest more in their education than we do. We’re going to end that, in Springfield that’s what Mike Madigan and other lawmakers who prioritize our state budget that went along with it. I was a victim of it, if you were a student of CPS you were a victim of it. Other people were surpassing us but we didn’t know it because we were children and they were getting invested in more than us. And so look around at 28, 29, 30, 33 years old they are executives, they’re in media, they’re in government. They’re in a host of things and enjoying the spoils of a global economy, we’re not because we were not trained, we were not invested in. Its nothing wrong with us, it was something wrong with those state politicians who allowed it happen and I’m taking one of them out with the help of people from the movement.”
QM: So being more specific are you saying that in regards to CPS’ education or Illinois in its entirety?
Preston: “Illinois in general. CPS is obviously where the most black and brown children, more specifically black from a historical context. That is where the large share of black and brown children attend school in Illinois, which is CPS and we have been underfunded for decades, the last in America. We have to get billions more dollars in order to treat these kids fair so they can be ready for this global economy they’re going to inherit.”
QM: Whats your take on CPS as an entity and what do you plan on implementing to reverse the school-to-prison pipeline?
Preston: “Well one of the things that’s extremely important, something I’ve been working on prior to running for office, is focusing on de-centralizing power. What do I mean by that? Right now one person gets to appoint the entire school board, that’s the mayor of Chicago. That is why we find corruption because its a billion dollar budget that these folks have with contracts galore. One person should not be appointing all these people, they have to be accountable to the people who vote for them as well as the taxpayers. The way that we do that is by making certain that we have an elected school board. We have to force these people to run in elections and I think if we do that it would have to happen again at the state level. At the state level if we run a bill and make sure that it happens now, an elected school board, we’re going to have elections. In fact many other school boards districts, except for CPS, does it so we’re going in that direction. By the way, my opponent, in the 90s voted to make this law by having the Mayor of Chicago appoint the entire school board.”
QM: Regarding education, what is going to be your main focus?
Preston: “Science. Technology. Engineering. And mathematics. We all know what the recipe for the future success is going to be, we all know. But it takes billions of dollars, school should look radically different from when I was in school. In fact schools should look radically different from when my grandmother was there, but they don’t. My grandmother went to Gillespie and if she walks into a school on the south side of Chicago it’ll look identical to when she was a child. And that is a serious problem. So we need billions more dollars-“
QM: That means the architecture is old, and perhaps unsafe-
Preston: “Yes, the architecture is old, the technology is old, we’re very clear on that. When we think about lead and all these other things we have to consider the lack of investment we’ve made into our capital funding inside of our buildings, including our schools. To your question with schools, we need billions more dollars to invest in science, technology, engineering and mathematics. Making certain that these are at the core of what our children are learning. So that when they’re eighteen they’re not wondering, “What am I going to do now?” No, they’re going to school to actually prepare them for a career inside the industries that are going to be dominating the economy over the next decades. So, how do we get there? We need a progressive income tax, which I support. We need to be able to fund our schools not based on the property tax, that is regressive, it never has worked and its failed folks in our generation. Lets say J. B. Pritzker is worth seven billion dollars lets say I’m worth seven thousand dollars. We’re paying the exact same income tax, that’s a problem. For me, this is not a new idea however we have Republican states surrounding us such as Wisconsin and Indiana who back this. As you make more and more in your income, you just pay a higher rate, its that simple. And if we do that, this progressive income tax, and scale up the tax revenue we’ll generate from this will be billions of dollars. Enough money to be able to pay for the schools that I just envisioned. Imagine when we walk in schools and they were technologically relevant. Imagine if we walked into a school and instead of a green chalkboard, that my mother and grandmother were writing on, there were interactive white boards. Where children can interact with professionals who have different occupations such as farming, folks inside business, etc. We need to make certain we’re giving our children the opportunity to thrive and be successful. This is what the progressive income tax will help us pay for. I’m calling all people from the movement to get involved right now because this is a serious campaign. This is the campaign for those of us that’s in the movement. This is the campaign that we should target, we should take out an old incumbent who’s been there for thirty three years unopposed and put in one of our own. Lets actually get some results for our people. We haven’t seen anything out of this government but just a handful of people we don’t know. We don’t know them because we’re too busy trying to survive but there are people who are receiving billions upon billions of state money. No one knows them or interacts with them or are benefiting from them. Its time for us to go in a different direction, we need a #NewBreedofLeadership that’s thinking totally different from that. One that understands government, appreciates its history and also has a vision for the future as to what things can be. Imagine what it would be like if we had 14% of the states procurement budget. And I say we meaning black firms, you’re talking billions and billions of dollars. Its not a hard lift either, 14% going to black firms in our community. The thing for me is that we’re going to go down to Springfield and fight for 14% procurement for black firms. That is a win for everybody, that’s a win for black business owners who will create jobs within the community. Especially the ones who have nothing to do who are standing on the corner and this will prevent them from either going to jail or winding up in a casket. We’re going to offer something different for this community, we’re going to offer something different for the south side of Chicago. I’m not interested in giving individuals with power more power, these same folks and old contracts that have been used again and again. We need to get new contracts for new entrepreneurs. If we lean in as much as we possibly can up until the 20th they won’t have a choice but to see some black power politics coming out of the south side. We’re going to make it happen.”