This is part of a series of interviews Windy City Times is running on LGBTQ+ candidates in the 2023 municipal elections taking place Feb. 28.
Twenty-nine year old Larry Svabek has been an instructor, lecturer and fellow at the University of Chicago for over seven years. During his undergraduate years at Northwestern University, Svabek was a fellow at the university's Center for Civic Engagement and affiliate at the university's Alice Kaplan Institute for the Humanities. Svabek also spent three months as a legislative intern for then U.S. Rep. Dan Lipinksi in the summer of 2013.
The 48th Ward includes most of Edgewater, the east side of Andersonville and a little bit of Uptown.
Svabek is running against Leni Manaa-Hoppenworth, Joe Dunne, Andre Peloquin, Brian J. Haag, Isaac Freilich Jones, Roxanne Volkmann, Andy Peters and Nassir Faulkner. Three-term incumbent Ald. Harry Osterman announced his retirement in July 2022.
Windy City Times: What were the reasons/catalyst for your decision to run for this specific office?
Larry Svabek: I have been very politically engaged and involved since I was young. I always tell folks that my first formative political experience was with my mom. She ran for the school board in the south suburbs District 135 when I was 10 years old. I knocked on doors with her and we made buttons together. It was really exciting. My mom raised me to see politics as a way to give back and serve the community. Throughout high school, I was involved in the Orland Township Youth Commission. I used to set up all the senior dinner dances. I was very famous at those as a dance partner.
I continued that work doing constituent services in Washington, D.C. for Lipinksi and I fell in love with politics. I studied it as an undergrad and decided to get a Ph.D. in politics so I could teach and do research about it.
Over the last three years, I have been very involved in efforts to move the city to reform the police. I was first organizing alongside other north siders with the Civilian Police Accountability Council. We were fighting for community control of the police. We wanted stronger community oversight. When we realized we needed a wider coalition to have legislative success, I was a part of the negotiations that brought folks together.
We formed Empowering Communities for Public Safety (ECPS) and I helped move it through city council. It was an historic win. We ended up passing it with a broad majority of city council members. This gave me a taste of city-wide legislation and I got involved with neighbors on the issue. I felt like we needed some people to come in with some energy and [who] are really interested in policy details and moving the city forward.
When Harry announced he was stepping down, I had a couple of people text me asking if I wanted to run and I said I was thinking about it. Within a week or so I had filed to run for this seat.
WCT: What are the most pressing issues right now for the 48th Ward and how will you address them? Of those pressing issues, which ones do you feel that the incumbent alderperson failed to address and how will you be different in that regard?
LS: There are three issues that really are central to what folks are talking about when I knock on doors. The most common answer I get is public safety. People are really worried about this because there have been violent crimes in the ward. I am very interested in making sure that we get the ECPS district counselors implemented on day one, so we need to elect an alderperson who is really interested in integrating them into public safety decision making.
These new counselors that we get to elect this time because of ECPS will be very important mediators between police and community members. All public safety begins with community members knowing what is going on in their community, including knowing how, when and where crimes are committed. I think we need to move past how we are responding to crime and think about how we are preventing crime. I have been a huge advocate for making sure that we get money out the door when we appropriate it for violence prevention. The last year we have put aside about $100 million for programs like READI Chicago and Chicago CRED and we have only spent about $5 million of that. We have to make sure that when we are actually trying to make the city safer and break the stranglehold of organized crime we are doing it in a way that is affective and results oriented.
Affordable housing is a huge issue. Some residents have told me they have family members on the west coast who are seeing what happens when there is an affordability crisis.
Our neighborhood is getting more expensive. I am a renter and because my income is not rising fast enough to cover my rent, I will have to move to another apartment. I am really protective of affordability standards, including making sure we do not allow developers to pay [city fees in lieu of providing affordable units]. New units should be family-sized and deeply affordable so there can be mixed income housing in the ward.
Finally, the environment is a big issue. We have to do more to curb carbon emissions which means more protected bike lanes so it is safe for pedestrians and bikers throughout our ward. We also need to invest in climate resilience because we are feeling the effects of climate change. Flooding has been a major problem this past year and severe weather is only going to get worse. Making sure that new developments are investing in flooding mitigation techniques like green roofs and flood gardens are some ways to make headway on that issue.
I feel like Osterman has a really responsive office and is great with constituent services, and people appreciated that, so the next alderperson is going to have to keep up that part of the deal. However, I think we can elect an alderperson who is a little bit more proactive in the city council and interested in passing progressive legislation. That is what I plan to do.
I think the city council has been passive over the past few years, and we need to put in a coalition of progressives who are going to fight for ordinances like Bring Chicago Home, who are going to speed up the rate in which we are replacing lead pipes, deal with the public transit issues and have better oversight of governmental departments at the city level. When the city fails to address these issues, it hurts our communities.
WCT: What public safety measures would you advocate for during City Council meetings to lessen the number of crimes (including assaults, shootings, carjackings and other thefts) occurring in your ward and across Chicago that do not include adding more funding for the Chicago Police Department?
LS: I grew up in the wake of the 1990s crime bill, so during my lifetime police budgets have gotten larger and larger. When you look back at the data at the number of crimes in Chicago, it is not clear that more money for the police has necessarily correlated with lower levels of crime.
What I really want us to have is a more sustainable, deeper approach to crime prevention because I think for a lot of people, they get to the point of "let's lock up folks that have done something wrong" and we do not ever get deeper into why crime goes up and down and how we can ensure that it lessens. READI and CRED are effective in deterring folks who are at high risk of getting involved in gun violence, either as a victim or perpetrator. They provide counseling, job training, education for those without a high school diploma or who want to get an associate's degree. The city is not making sure that the dollars get out the doors to properly fund READI and CRED and that needs to change.
WCT: With LGBTQ people under attack on multiple fronts across the United States how will you use your position as an out queer alderperson to ensure that anti-LGBTQ groups like AWAKE Illinois, Moms for Liberty and others who are responsible for those attacks do not gain a foothold in your Ward and Chicago writ-large?
LS: Standing up and being a leader. Queer people are particularly poised to know about leading in this way. I grew up queer. You get bullied when you are young. People make fun of you because of how you act and the way you talk, and you know what it is like when people do not stand up for you. Making sure you affirm the humanity of every person and always return to that regardless of what marginalized group is being attacked.
The important thing is if these groups try to hold events in Chicago, leadership at all levels has to denounce it immediately and say this is not welcome here. I would hope most queer people who are running for office and win would feel comfortable doing that. We have all faced barriers for many different reasons in the LGBTQ community. We have to affirm the dignity of all queer and trans people and demand that they be respected and have the ability to live somewhere safe with access to healthcare and be employed with fair, living wages. Also, [I would] attend rallies which I will continue to do as well as speak in the suburbs to raise awareness about what is happening and the issues we face. I am happy to build coalitions between suburban and Chicago leaders. I think the drag scene has started to move pretty comfortably between the suburbs and the city now that the suburbs are more LGBTQ friendly. I would love to strengthen those connections.
My first fundraiser was a drag fundraiser and it was in the wake of the shooting in Colorado Springs, Colorado. I remember one of my queer volunteers spoke about how important it was to move forward with the fundraiser saying that it was a way to show up for drag performers. It is a wonderful art form and everyone should be able to enjoy it.
The 48th Ward is an incredibly queer place, and that is one of the reasons why I moved here. I want that legacy to continue and that means encouraging people who are queer to own businesses so there are spaces that are accepting and interested in hosting queer nightlife and cultural events.
WCT: What will you do to address the growing numbers of Black and Brown trans women who are attacked, assaulted and murdered in Chicago?
LS: In the last big forum I held about domestic violence, I said that it fuels a ton of the violent crime in Chicago. Due to people's perception of crime, and the way they see it happening as this public phenomenon of stranger on stranger, they do not realize that so much of this violence is driven in private places.
There is a good reason for mistrust among the trans community and especially Black and Brown trans people when it comes to the police, because the police have not always been responsive. Sometimes the police have actually caused harm.
We need to ensure that the consent decree the CPD is facing is met. This is the bare, minimum standard for police reform and they are currently failing in this regard. It includes meeting with social service providers to work with victims of domestic violence. One of the ways we can ensure that domestic violence does not turn into a deadly, lethal situation is ensuring they have every resource available to leave that situation if they are able. This means being able to call a shelter or a mental healthcare provider or responder.
I am a big proponent of treatment not trauma. Last year, the city put aside about $25 million for domestic violence prevention and very little of that money has been spent, which meant that there were many days last year where there were no shelters for people to go to if they needed them. That is a travesty. If we wanted to take this issue seriously, then the funding would be allocated already.
WCT: What about addressing the needs of unhoused people as a whole, some of whom are LGBTQ youth?
LS: Since the COVID pandemic began, the number of unhoused people in Chicago has grown by 13 percent, and that includes one in seven CPS students. This is where Bring Chicago Home comes into play. We need to make the real estate transfer tax progressive, and use that money to fund permanent, supportive housing that has wraparound services for folks and that includes ones that are specifically focused on LGBTQ youth who are unhoused.
I am interested in what Ald. Carlos Ramirez-Rosa was able to do by getting tax credits that incentivize development for LGBTQ youth-specific housing for those aging out of foster care. I would really like to replicate that in my ward and potentially make it mixed generational housing.
WCT: Are there any other LGBTQ issues that you feel should be also prioritized and why?
LS: There are a lot of Chicago Public Schools (CPS) students who have been interested in gender neutral bathroom options. I think the city council should work with leaders from CPS to make sure those options are available in every school so everyone is comfortable using the bathroom. I have had friends go through what is now an arduous process of getting gender affirming care, with long wait lists and difficulty in finding someone they feel comfortable working with, so I want to press the Chicago Department of Public Health to convene medical leaders to come together and create a report on ways to speed up this process.
WCT: On your campaign website you mention that the 48th Ward is "diverse, entrepreneurial and fun-loving." Expand on that a little more.
LS: I think it is important for folks to see what qualities I recognize that are important to our community and what drew me to it. Hopefully that resonates with folks. It is diverse and welcoming because we have a history of being a place where all sorts of people from different economic, racial and ethnicity backgrounds as well as LGBTQ folks live together. It is entrepreneurial because there are a lot of small businesses that are unique and special to our ward. It is a fun place because we have Kathy Osterman and Hollywood Beaches which are great places to hang out in the summer. We have Margate Park, where I have celebrated my birthday in the past and Clark Street, which is a lot of fun at night.
WCT: Are you currently endorsing anyone for Mayor and if so, who is it and why?
LS: I am not officially endorsing anyone; however, I am drawn to Brandon Johnson. I have been a part of some organizations that are involved with Brandon. I think he is exciting and has a vision for the city. I think we have lacked a vision over the last couple of years and I think he is bringing energy to city politics and that is why I am running.
WCT: In what ways are you the best candidate for this office out of your many challengers?
LS: I am a researcher. I am very comfortable with policy details and dealing with policy experts. I believe that we need more data-driven approaches, especially on issues like public safety where people's feelings can really reign supreme.
I have a history of coalition building, [and I have] moved legislation through city council by passing what I think is an historic bill, the Empowering Communities bill and that was hard work, because we had folks from a variety of ideological backgrounds involved in the process. I know that progressive policy making cannot be a go-it-alone enterprise. Lastly, I have a vision for the city that involves the entire city council making different decisions to help Chicago as a whole.
See larryfor48.org/ .
NOTE: This interview has been edited for length and clarity.