Quick Hit La Risa Lynch Tuesday February 17th, 2015, 7:32pm

Stamps Centers Campaign Around Education In Chicago's 37th Ward Race

Community activist Marion Stamps fought for the rights of public housing residents displaced by the demolition of the Cabrini Green housing development on the near North Side when she ran for 27th Ward alderman in 1995.

Twenty years later, her daughter, Tara Stamps, is fighting in that same vein, but focusing her fight on education. She is among four challengers, including Leroy Duncan, Maretta Brown-Miller and Otis Percy, running against West Side Ald. Emma Mitts (37th) in the February 24 municipal election.

The 2013 closing of 50 Chicago Public Schools, an influx of charter schools, and excessive red light and speed camera fines are examples of the failed policies that have led to disinvestment in black and Latino neighborhoods, according to Stamps. The time was right, she added, to stand up against such actions.

"While I still have my mother's passion, and I share many of her beliefs about community, this fight is my fight," said the mother of three and teacher of 18 years. "It's authentic to me because I understand how all of this is connected to education."

For Stamps, that disinvestment in minority communities comes from the rubber stamp Chicago City Council, which votes in lock step with the mayor's agenda. According to a University of Illinois at Chicago report, Mitts has voted with the mayor 97 percent of the time.

"Her voting record speaks to what she is not doing correctly," Stamps said, noting that Mitts voted on a budget that removed education funding from the ward.

"How do you vote on a budget that takes $3.3 million out of your community for education? I'm vexed by that," Stamps said.

As an educator, Stamps supports an elected school board and increased restorative justice programs in schools as a means to stop the criminalization of students.

She favors using surplus tax increment financing (TIF) dollars for school funding and opposes the idea of investing in private school operators over neighborhood schools. Stamps said between 2008 and 2014, five schools in the 37th ward were turned around by the Academy of Urban School Leadership, with the latest being McNair School.

In turnaround schools, the entire staff -- from janitors to principals -- is fired. Stamps said this destabilizes schools that are often seen as the community's backbone in some black and Latino neighborhoods. The candidate, who is backed by the Chicago Teachers Union, says turnaround schools take on "this factory kind of environment where [staff] only come for a short time and the turnover is great."  

Instead of turnarounds, Stamps wants education investments to provide "wraparound services" for students in need, including after school programs, strong curriculums and school nurses. Stamps believes taxing the rich could not only help to fund such services, but would also shore up the city's woefully underfunded pensions.

Taxing higher income earners and corporations that profit from corporate handouts and incentives would generate enough revenue to "solve the pension crisis and fully fund schools in all neighborhoods," she said.

"I think we need to stop being afraid to say we need to tax the rich," Stamps said. "Everything needs to be out on the table."

Stamps also backs the notion of implementing a financial transaction tax on stock trades. The idea, Stamps said, has been floated before, but not action has been taken on it. It's unfair, she added, to put retirees in "a financial quagmire" when they've paid into their pensions only to have them diminished because the city failed to do the same.

Other issues facing the ward include public safety and the need for job creation and a higher minimum wage. Stamps supports the use of police body cameras, which the Chicago Police Department has begun piloting. She also supports the creation of an independent citizen police review board, meant to investigate allegations of police brutality.

Stamps added that some "harsh and hard" conversations must happen with police leadership in order for ward residents to feel safe. According to information from the City's Data Portal, the 37th Ward had 14 homicides last year, six more than in 2013.

When it comes to the issue of poverty, Stamps said the key to lifting people out of poverty is increasing the minimum wage to $15 an hour right now as opposed to 2019. In December, the City Council voted to increase the minimum wage incrementally to $13 an hour by 2019. But those incremental increases don't account for inflation, Stamps points out. The cost of living goes up yearly, she said, noting that $13 an hour in 2019 may be inadequate to support a family.

"A livable wage right now will lift thousands of families out poverty overnight," Stamps said.

The aldermanic candidate also supports the concept of participatory budgeting, a practice slowly taking root in Chicago. Under participatory budgeting, residents have a say in government spending. Currently, five city wards have participatory budgeting initiatives to decide the use of $1.3 million in aldermanic menu money. That's a start, Stamps said, but participatory budgeting should be a citywide effort.

"That is what democracy is," said Stamps, who considers herself a progressive candidate and has plans to join the council's Progressive Reform Caucus, if elected. "It means I get to have a say in how my government operates." 

When asked about her thoughts on the mayoral race, Stamps paused for a moment before answering. She questioned what the race would look like if money was not a factor. Until fair campaign finance reforms are put into place, elections will be about "might, not right," she said.

"This current mayor's policies have not been good for working and poor people," Stamps said. "We have to champion a new champion."

Images: Tara Stamps campaign


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