Over the next month I will be collecting signatures to put my name on the ballot for Chicago’s 25th ward aldermanic election on February 24th, 2015. The first question people ask is, “Why?” I’m running because I love this city and it could be so much better.
The corruption of Chicago politics is an old joke, but it stopped being funny a long time ago. The institutional corruption in the city is a tax on all of us who live here. From red light cameras and privatized parking meters to underfunded schools and pensions, the average Chicagoan has to pay a tax every time an interested party makes a campaign contribution to your alderman or mayor.
I’m making my campaign about corruption because nothing you care about is going to change until we deal with the corruption of the system. I’m including the new ward map in my campaign imagery because gerrymandering is one way in which our system of representation has been corrupted. The new 25th ward map is reminiscent of the old Yakov Smirnoff routine, “In Chicago you don’t pick politicians, politicians pick you!” To be fair, if you’re a partisan there is a strategic argument for gerrymandering… You’ve got to beat the other team! But in Chicago the other team is a negligible threat, so who are the alderman using gerrymandering against? They’re using it against the citizens. The people who know the current alderman Danny Solis best, the residents of Pilsen, voted against him 70/30 last time. He won because the people who didn’t know him well only saw the billboards and signs that his campaign contributions bought.
The TIF program is another form of legalized corruption in the city. The program as intended is supposed to bring development dollars to “blighted” areas of the city, but the legal definition of blighted is essentially meaningless. The program turned into a slush fund for elected officials at the same time they made it legal to not pay into pension funds. These two dynamics not only represent a transfer of wealth from pensioners to corporations, but they also represent a shift in economic policy. Building basketball stadiums doesn’t induce economic growth. Gifting millions of dollars to build a supermarket across the street from an existing supermarket is a waste of tax money. Pensioners on a fixed income going out to lunch induces economic growth. A strong public school system that keeps families in the city induces economic growth.
Why do aldermen ignore these basic economic truths? A strong public school system and a pensioner above the poverty line doesn’t make for a good photo op, nor does it induce many campaign contributions. Campaign contributions make the world go around for politicians. Aldermen find it beneficial to gift millions of tax dollars to private corporations and those corporations (or their executives or executives’ partners) find it beneficial to donate thousands of dollars to aldermanic campaign committees. This system of incentives will have to be fixed before we are going to have lasting solutions for our other problems.
Finally, I’m not just some guy who’s come out of left field. I’ve lived in the UIC/Pilsen area for 12 years. I’m the fourth generation in the Hernandez family that has lived here. My great-grandfather moved to Taylor and Racine in 1929 at the start of the Depression. My father and grandfather lived at Harrison and Racine until 1961. Like many Mexicans, when UIC moved in they moved out. I have roots here. I care deeply about this place and the people that call it home. But the ward isn’t just Pilsen.
The new ward includes parts of University Village, Little Italy, West Loop, South Loop, and Chinatown. I have the diversity of experience and perspective to understand the issues and needs of these different neighborhoods. I lived in Little Italy for 9 years before moving to Pilsen. I lived and worked in Beijing at China’s prestigious Tsinghua University for half of last year. I go to work everyday at a tech startup in the West Loop. I’ve earned bachelor’s degrees in mathematics and philosophy, a master’s degree concentrating on game theory, and a PhD in statistics; all from UIC. I’ve studied transportation and published in peer-reviewed journals. I am on the local school council at Pilsen Academy. Everyday I work with big data to solve business, political, and social problems as a data scientist. I want to take those skills to City Hall and put them to work on behalf of the residents of the 25th ward and all the citizens of Chicago.
I hope you’ll support me and my campaign to fulfill the promise of a better 25th ward and a better Chicago.
Troy Hernandez, PhD
P.S. Ironically, I’m going to need campaign contributions to run this campaign. Your donation will buy you no favors in city hall. It will not get you a city job. It will only go towards my campaign for a better ward and a less corrupt Chicago.