DePaul University college student Bushra Amiwala ( D ) is running in the primary against incumbent Larry Suffredin and challenger Daniel Foster while Chris J. Hanusiak is running unopposed as a Republican. Amiwala is 20 years old and is the youngest candidate in any county commissioner race this year.
Windy City Times: Why did you decide to run?
Bushra Amiwala: I have always been interested in politics including my involvement with organizations that have a political aspect to them. I realized the most tangible way to implement any long-term changes is through public policy. The 2016 presidential election was a wakeup call. I had a lot of friends who expressed interest in voting for Donald Trump. I have spent a lot of my life defining and reshaping the stereotype associated to Muslims, and more specifically Muslim women like myself, and I realized I had the same ignorance when dealing with Republicans. I did not know what they cared about and thought they were evil because of the media. I worked for then Sen. Mark Kirk's campaign to understand what they cared about and I learned that they feared Muslims. It was someone on Kirk's campaign who said I should run for office and suggested this race because, at the time, everyone thought the incumbent would be retiring.
WCT: You are one of the younger candidates running for office. How will that affect the way you do your job?
BA: I will be in tune with issues that do not just directly pertain to myself, but have a deep level of empathy that helps me understand diverse viewpoints from people of all backgrounds. I have also learned through campaigning that people are more likely to trust a younger person, when it comes to sharing their concerns, or what bothers them at the County level. My perspective will be different due to my age and background as the daughter of immigrants and that is needed on the board. I am also not attacking any other candidates in order to lift myself up. I have gotten support from many individuals in the county due to the way I am running my campaign.
WCT: You were one of the people featured in a recent Time Magazine article on women running for political office around the country. How did you become one of the featured women and how did that make you feel?
BA: I know TIME featured women from diverse backgrounds, but also women who truly have been public servants and have a promising message. It was an honor to be selected as one of the few women to be showcased on the cover, and personally, I was ecstatic to be the youngest person on there, and the only woman wearing a hijab.
WCT: How would you approach the job differently than what the incumbent has done in the past?
BA: A different perspective and ideas are needed on the board because so many of them are similar, including being older than about 50 years old and coming from wealthy backgrounds. This does not align with the makeup of Cook County.
WCT: What about the issue of transparency?
BA: When I wanted to find out about the budget and how money was allocated, the only thing I could locate was an extremely long document. There has to be a simpler breakdown of where the money is going but that does not exist. It will be my job to break this down into everyday language so my constituents will understand where the money is going.
Making our board meetings available online so people can live stream them if they cannot attend in person is the wave of the future. You have to serve the community and let them into the process.
WCT: What are the most important issues facing the county and how would you address them if elected?
BA: The budget deficit and I have proposed a means based taxation property tax assessment model.
We have 45,000 youth in this county who choose not to go to college nor do they have a job because the resources are not there for them to find work. Programming needs to be implemented so they know how to write a resume and be successful during job interviews.
WCT: Would you have voted for the soda tax?
BA: No and this is where transparency comes into play. It was being sold as a health conscious initiative but none of the money was going to fund healthy lunch programs for school kids, for example. Also, when the soda tax was in place none of the people who were laid off when it was on hold were hired back. The way the tax disproportionally affected communities of color also bothered me. I was offered $54,500 from a pro-soda PAC and I declined the offer.
WCT: What are the best ways to raise revenue so the budget is balanced that do not involve regressive taxation on everyone in the county?
BA: We need to see where we are spending money first and cut the waste without laying people off. There should be a correlation between your income and the property taxes you pay, not the size of your house or condo so the rich pay more into the system. It should be the commissioners and board president's responsibility to ensure that fair assessments are taking place.
WCT: Are there any changes you would make in how the county jail and health and hospital systems are run? If so, what are they?
BA: We need prison reformation including how cash bonds are handled because some judges are not following the new ordinance. There have been some positive steps but more needs to be done including reducing the waiting time for a trial to take place.
About half of our budget goes to public safety, which includes the county jail, but about 50 percent of the people in jail have yet to be convicted of a crime. If you are innocent until proven guilty then why are we paying to incarcerate these individuals. Some people are in jail for low drug offenses, including marijuana sales and possession, and these people need to be released.
Increasing the utilization of county-wide programs like County Care ( Medicaid health insurance )is vital. When I asked my college friends if they knew about this program the affirmative response were very low. This surprised me.
WCT: What, if any, interactions have you had with the LGBTQ community?
BA: I am a vocal ally on social media and have stood up for my fellow DePaul students who are in the LGBTQ community on many occasions.
WCT: What are the most important issues or obstacles facing the LGBTQ community and how would you address them?
BA: Discrimination. Even though there are protections that are not being enforced the way they should be. There needs to be more education about the community and the issues they face across the county so people know this discrimination is still happening, especially among LGBTQ youth. When passing legislation and ordinances, gender inclusive language should be used so everyone knows they are included.
For more information, visit www.amiwala2018.com/ .