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Attorney Seeks 44th Ward post

This article shared 2867 times since Wed Feb 12, 2003
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Following is our final interview with candidates in the 44th Ward. See our Web site for interviews with Ald. Tom Tunney and Rick Ingram. Next week's Windy City Times election guide will list endorsements from GLBT and progressive organizations.

WCT: Let's talk about your background on legal issues and in politics.

Dean Maragos: My father was involved in public service for almost 60 years. He was a labor delegate to the 1944 convention in Chicago for Franklin Roosevelt. He worked extremely hard for Harry Truman. When I was nine years old, I was working for John F. Kennedy's campaign, handing out pamphlets. I also worked on my father's campaigns. He served in the Illinois House from 1968-1970, and then he ran from 1970-1980 as a member of the Illinois Senate.

WCT: Do you consider your views similar to your father's, and would you say you are the same? A progressive Democrat?

DM: Absolutely a progressive Democrat. He was for open housing on the Southeast Side of Chicago. He was pro Equal Rights Amendment. Those values have been passed on to me.

WCT: What other campaigns have you worked on?

DM: I worked on Lisa Madigan's attorney general campaign. I worked on Jesse White's campaign [for Secretary of State]. ... And I worked very hard on Paul Vallas's campaign.

WCT: What is your opinion of Ald. Hansen and the Mayor endorsing Tom Tunney? Given your connections as a precinct captain, and knowing the Mayor ... did you lobby?

DM: I was not a lobbyist. ... I believe in the political process. That is the best process in order to have the electorate tell you what their will is. As precinct captain [1995 to the present], it taught me immensely about what the issues are in the ward.

WCT: During that time period was when the controversy occurred on the Halsted Street creation of a gay commercial district, with the rainbow pylons. That caused a lot of controversy—had your precinct taken a position on it? Did you? Given your experience with the similar development of the Greektown area of town, how did the two compare?

DM: I did work with the Department of Transportation, on the part of Halsted on Madison to Van Buren [for Greektown].

WCT: As a property owner in the area, did you have an opinion on the gay project?

DM: No—I'm happy the electorate and the community had its word. I thought it was a great debate.

WCT: What other community organizations, non-profits, you have been involved with?

DM: Mayor Daley appointed me to ... revitalize the Greektown area, which had at the time serious urban blight, traffic and parking congestion ...

WCT: Why did you get involved?

DM: The Mayor appointed me because my father had a reputation of being a fair and just person. ... Because of my father being a pioneer in the Greek service area, the mayor asked me to get involved in explaining the changes. It involved a streetscape, the Greek artifacts being placed there. The Greek community had several factions, so they needed someone to unite them. I was fortunate to be chosen as one of a team—Paul Vallas, Gary Chico and myself were the spearhead of that team. As a result, an area that was once a blight is now one of the pearls of the city. It is a vibrant small business area. It also has residential, which never existed before. I am the general counsel on a pro bono basis to the special service area tax commission, since 1996. We review each and every zoning matter and report back to Ald. Walter Burnett. I learned how to solve all those problems. There were developers who wanted to come in and not act in the best interest of the community, and we stopped them.

WCT: The Greektown project is similar to the North Halsted project in the gay business area, in that both are destinations for businesses and tourists. Some of the same issues of development are occurring here.

DM: This is why I am running for alderman. These are not projects I am thinking of solving, these are projects I have already solved. I am running because I believe I am the best person to solve the problems, as I did in Greektown over the last decade. I care about this ward very deeply. My wife and I have chosen to live here and we want to raise our daughter Anastasia here. The issues of zoning, traffic, parking, education, crime, stopping hate crimes, protecting the elderly and affordable housing ... making sure all the diverse people can continue to live in the ward. I look forward to representing the gay and lesbian community because I think I would be their best advocate.

WCT: How does your mainstream or non-profit work translate to the gay community?

DM: I don't see sexual preference, race, or men/women issues at all. I am completely blind to those issues. I was raised to believe you look at a person as an individual based on their character, their honesty and their integrity. I don't care if that person is an African-American, Mexican, lesbian, gay, I don't see that. ... I am running for alderman here. This position is probably the most important for all the constituents as far as effecting the lives of each individual voter. ... I have looked over the field of candidates and I respect them. I believe I am the best qualified because I have the most experience to represent all of the diverse groups.

I am also honored to have Gregg Kiriazes, who is gay, as my campaign manager. I was honored to have him join my campaign, because gay and lesbian issues are issues I am going to be proud to represent.

WCT: Do you have any legal experience on gay issues?

DM: No, I am not a civil-rights lawyer. I am an expert on municipal law and zoning.

Mayor Daley also appointed me, and reappointed me, over the past eight years, to the Community Development Advisory Council. I have been co-chair of the Economic Development Subcommittee. We allocate $7 million a year to 170 or so delegate agencies, to increase the economic stability. Many of them are Chambers of Commerce. That has made me aware how to help increase small businesses. The alderman's the advocate for the dollar amounts. We made a policy in the council, not to go over the amount of money. Just a 'yes' or 'no' on whether the delegate agency was worthy.

WCT: What other progressive political groups have you been involved with?

DM: The main thrust has been on a candidate basis. I have supported candidates for office. ... I don't see gay and lesbian issues as gay and lesbian issues, I see them as issues impacting all ...

WCT: Some issues, such as hate crimes on Halsted Street and just off Halsted are specifically targeting gays. As a resident of the ward, had you been involved on that topic at all?

DM: I worked on it as a precinct captain to make that aware to my community, as far as prevention. As a citizen, I am outraged. It is not only hate crimes against gays and lesbians, it's also members of the Jewish community, the African-American community, the Mexican community. I am very sensitive to those issues. Period. That's a crime issue.

WCT: What are your plans on crime?

DM: First, you have to get the community involved. The city has allocated $1 billion of its budget to crime prevention—to the police. So that is a citywide issue. You need more CAPS meetings and civic awareness. Two, not only CAPS meetings, but my whole program as an alderman is to be proactive, to get out into the community. We have 14-20 community groups. I would go out to those groups and have meetings. Let me go back to Greektown. It is extremely successful there. When you go to the community groups, establish what the priorities are in each community. And third, I would have an aide devoted to the crime issue. I am against closing the 23rd Town Hall Police District. That district is perfectly located in the ward, concerning traffic during Wrigley Field games, for the eastern and northern part of ward.

I have moved government agencies to change ... . In Greektown, in 1997-'98, the Illinois Dept. of Transportation and the city Dept. of Transportation, after the Greektown project was completed, were going to stop the Adams Street exit from the southbound Kennedy to go into Greektown. I went to the meetings, the hearings and stood up and spoke common sense. There was no economic impact study. Why would the city spend $3.2 million on an area and then cut off the main artery to that area. ... They kept the Adams Street exit open.

Let's take that experience on resolving issues. In order to be successful in turning government's ears ... I would go to Police Supt. Terry Hillard and say closing the 23rd does not make sense. I have already worked with the police. I understand how they think. I know what their priorities are. v We need to better educate the police force on the needs of our community.

WCT: What about affordable housing and set-asides?

DM: I have been a zoning lawyer for many years. I have seen set asides work. Ald. Tony Preckwinkle has a 25 percent set-aside. I am for it, and I am going to work hard for doing that. The new zoning reform act has a lot of these issues being protected. Being a zoning attorney has given me a great advantage, to enforce the existing laws.

I am the only municipal lawyer who is running for alderman. I am also an accountant. Having served as assistant director of revenue (for the city), I understand city budgets.

Let's talk about the affordability issue from an economic standpoint. How does a developer get to meet the legal requirements and still make a profit. Very simply. One, immediately I would have citizens advisory groups in each of the organizations in the ward. I would enforce the [plan] that all developers go before these boards, for a zoning change. I would empower these groups. The reason we obtained balanced growth in Greektown was with community input.

WCT: What does empower mean?

DM: I think a mass council is not how you want to do it. ... When you get so many people trying to make a decision, it takes a long time. Let's empower the people directly affected by the change. ... We might have some people overseeing the contiguous areas. But a mass council is not the best way. I believe, being Greek, as the ancient Greeks did, the power of the city-state was that it was a small group of people voting on the small issues.

WCT: What authority would you give them?

DM: They would be advisory. By empowering, it gives them a voice. But it also holds me accountable.

WCT: How would that have applied to the situation with the Dakota condo development and Circuit, a gay bar next door?

DM: I have not been part of that, but it appears the community is against the Dakota. Prior to the development, I would have had the community advisory board informing me, and the developer, of what the community issues are. I am going to be putting out a brochure, as alderman, to all developers, about the rules.

I will meet with the Metropolitan Planning Council—I want to know what their plans are for my ward. Then I am going to hold community meetings, to show how the city's plan will affect the ward, and get input. Then I will meet again with city.

If a developer sees all of this review and still wants to develop in the ward, I think it will be just like Greektown, a success for everyone. The developers are businesspeople. They are very smart. They understand that the good developers are going to be coming in, and the bad developers ... who don't want to do affordable housing, etc., won't come into the ward. There are a lot of good developers out there, who understand the community needs to come first.

WCT: This brings up an issue—you have worked with a lot of businesses, with the rooftop owners at Wrigley Field, and restaurants and bars in that area. Do you feel there will be any conflict with you representing the ward, in relation to current or former clients? Are you going to continue as a lawyer, if elected?

DM: I am not going to represent any interests before the 44th Ward. I have resigned, months ago, from representing any of the Rooftop owners, or any individual in this ward. I felt it's not only important to not have a conflict of interest, but also not to have an appearance of a conflict of interest.

WCT: Would you practice law?

DM: I have an obligation to wrap up business for my clients. I would still have a position in the firm, that I own with my father. but I would represent no one in the 44th Ward. Gary Chico, when he was president of the school board, had a strict policy in his law firm, that every dime brought in, through municipal work, was fully disclosed. You have my word that full disclosure will be my rule.

Let's talk about my being a full-time alderman. This ward is going to require 99 percent of my time. This is going to seriously impair my income for my family. But I am looking forward to public service.

WCT: But if you are dealing with a situation around Wrigley Field, and some of your past clients are among those ...

DM: I represented a handful of Rooftops, not the association, not all of them. I feel no conflict of interest, because of the Rooftop owners, the restaurant owners, all of my clients respect me for my fairness.

WCT: Have you taken a position on the Wrigley Field debates?

DM: I am following the community. The community's issues are very important to me—lights, night games, etc. They have to be approved by the community.

WCT: Everybody says the community will have input, but at some point the tough choice has to be made—there is no consensus on most issues. The alderman is going to have to make a choice.

DM: I am not only going to make the right decision, I am going to put them into an ordinance. I know how to write ordinances. This is what we did in Greektown—any agreement, I put it into an ordinance. Once all the parties realize that whatever the deal we come up with is going to be emblazoned into an ordinance, they are going to make sure this is the deal that is best for them.

WCT: Do you have an opinion on more night games?

DM: No.

WCT: What about the Belmont Rocks Shoreline revetment debate?

DM: I believe the Hyde Park report (showing how to make the project more attractive and using the existing limestone) needs to be reviewed. We have to re-use the limestone. From an environmental standpoint—recycling to save dollars is critical. I have heard and seen some of the plans. I understand they are in flux. I feel we have to stop any construction and closely review each proposal.

WCT: One of the questions that comes up is independence from the mayor. Belmont Rocks, Wrigley Field, in these areas, you might have to come up against Daley—who you have worked with in the past.

DM: There have been many issues where I have worked for the community, which initially were not in keeping with the 'mayor's position.' But this is a great mayor—because he listens to the electorate. He understands the issues and respects the community's issues. With Wrigley Field, he is listening to the community. ... I don't think the mayor is 'against' the community's issues—I think it is the job of the alderman to make the issues clear. As an attorney, I have learned advocacy. I am the only candidate who has served in city government. I was assistant director of revenue appointed by Mayor Jane Byrne. I know what the issues are as far as the city is concerned, to come to a compromise with the community's concerns.

WCT: What about education. Your daughter is in pre-school at a private school. Talk about this issue of public and private schools. What can the alderman do?

DM: Education to me is probably the most important issue. That resolves the issue of crime, of business. It solves the problem of city dollars being spent to deal with delinquency. There are a lot of ways to solve the crime problem, education is probably the best. The reason my daughter is attending St. Luke's is because my wife attended St. Luke's. My family has been in this ward for over 40 years. ... This is a decision my wife has made, and I respect her decision. We are applying to public schools for her continuing education.

WCT: What impact can the alderman have on education?

DM: There is a tremendous amount I can do. Monitor it. I vote for the city budget. I am going to meet with every principal of the schools here. I will find out their needs. I would use the alderman's office as the bully pulpit. I would work with businesses to help the schools. On fundraising ... I can hold a press conference with all of the principals, so the public knows what the issues are.

I watch CAN TV and the school board hearings, and I feel after watching those I know what the issues are. They say they are worried about flowers, trees, sidewalks, fences, stop lights, quality day care, all of these are within the authority of me to solve.

Let's talk about a safe environment—it not only involves police, but community involvement by parents and neighbors who are not parents. ... It takes a leader to raise the consciousness of the community to these issues.

WCT: What role does the state play?

DM: We have a unique opportunity. For the first time in 30 years we have a Democratic governor, House and Senate. I believe Gov. Blagojevich is good to his word, and I look forward to working with [the Democrats] on these issues. Education now has got to be priority one. I am going to be an advocate for education. We have 11 casino licenses, and I have been a licensing attorney for many years. Many come up during the next four years. It is time the casinos pay their fair share to do business in Illinois. Those casinos are earning approximately $4 billion a year. Would I as a casino owner pay $1 billion to the state if I could earn $4 billion? The answer is yes. We need to put these casinos up for bid internationally. We need to increase the windfall profits tax on casinos. We have got to monitor the use of those funds. The lottery in 1970 was to be used for education funds, then moved to general, and once again now education. But it's not enough money. So we have 11 casino licenses—11 times a billion equals $11 billion. My last review of the state's deficit is $5 billion—so that gives us what we need plus a surplus. That has to go to education.

How does that effect local property taxes? The majority in the city and in my ward pays too high. I am going to Springfield to lobby and say the state has got to subsidize the cost, and we have to increase the city's portion too, so that the schools [are getting what funding they need].

WCT: What about healthcare—what can the city do in this area? AIDS, cancer and other issues.

DM: No. 1 bully pulpit. Two, raising the consciousness. Three, working with [Cook County Commissioner] Mike Quigley to represent my ward. The advocacy position is a simple one. I am going to listen to my community issues. We've got HIV issues, elderly issues. We've got to decrease the pharmaceutical costs to these elderly so they don't have to make a choice between paying their rent and taking their medications.

This is why I believe you need a lawyer and accountant running the ward. The way to solve these problems is through accounting—understanding how to get the money in.

WCT: Besides healthcare, what other issues are relevant for seniors?

DM: Seniors are being thrown out on the streets by developers who are pricing them out of the market. By landlords who are raising the rents. ... I want them to live out their entire life in the ward. We're talking about cost of living. For example, Circuit Breaker, which helps them with their drugs. It is a state formula by which the seniors in my ward are able to get certain breaks on drugs. The seniors can get to a formula where they can only break even. I want them to get money back. There are 5,500 seniors in this ward, and my mother and father are two of them. I want to advocate for the elderly because they have problems only I can address.

I am advocating that there have got to be bulk purchases, similar to Minnesota, where all of the agencies that are buying drugs from pharmaceutical companies, to make sure they buy in mass and decrease the cost. The pharmaceutical companies say they need a profit margin for research and development. We can have a win-win situation. So they make a profit, but the elderly, people with HIV, they still get their medications.

As affluent as this ward is, there are plenty of people who need help. The head of the Lakeview Food Pantry here said his demand has gone up in this affluent society.

WCT: What about GLBT youth? The corner of Clark and Belmont is a destination for many homeless youth of all kinds, from all over the Midwest. It is a beacon for GLBTs.

DM: I am going to immediately get into that issue and make sure the gay and lesbian youth have an advocate. This is a health, education and crime issue. These are the issues that have to have the alderman involved.

WCT: What other issues do you see important to the ward?

DM: Primarily the quality of life. I am here to protect the quality of life for all of my constituents. I've lived in this city all of my life. I know this city, it's a great city, it's a great ward. I want to help small businesses. I want to help create more jobs, and help the residential community. Interdependence among all the communities is something I am going to be fostering and making people aware of.

WCT: What about the issue of the gay vote being 'divided,' thus benefitting a third, non-gay candidate. People talk about the need to have someone from their own community have a seat at the table. The same for African-Americans, women, Latinos and others. What would you say to those who say the gay community needs a seat at the table?

DM: I believe that sexual preference—I don't see sexual preference. I see this as a community issue. I don't see race, creed, sexual preference. I am here to represent the entire community. I see the electorate being heard and I respect them. I believe the electorate is going to see me for my qualities and experience. I have a lot of faith in the electorate. The electorate is going to choose us on our merit. The gay and lesbian community is probably one of the brightest constituencies in the ward, city and nation. They are going to choose the candidate based on the best qualified.

I believe I will be elected. I had 7,200 signatures to put me on the ballot, from all communities. I believe I had more signatures on my petitions than any non-incumbent alderman.

WCT: Have you had people expressing homophobia to you? Along the lines of what former Mayor Harold Washington faced—the 'Anybody But Harold' campaign by racists to make sure a Black man did not win for mayor. Do you think some people are backing 'anybody but the gay' candidates?

DM: No. No one has said that. Those who come up to me say they are doing so because of what I stand for.

WCT: In your initial advertising, you had a picture of you with your wife and child. Some people felt this was a way to show your family, but almost as an affront to other types of families. Did you get any criticism?

DM: No. The reason I put that picture in is because I am very proud of my wife and daughter. I am going to represent all of the families. We're for family, we're for all families. I am courting everybody's vote. This is a campaign of inclusion, not exclusion.

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