Robert "Bob" Fioretti ( D ) was an alderman for Chicago's 2nd Ward. He also challenged Mayor Rahm Emanuel during the 2015 mayoral election and is currently a partner at the law firm, Roth Fioretti, LLC. His primary opponent is the current president, Toni Preckwinkle.
Windy City Times: Why did you decide to run?
Robert "Bob" Fioretti: The county is broken and needs new leadership that I can provide.
WCT: How would you approach the job differently than what the incumbent has done in the past?
BF: I would work from day one to fix the corrupt, unjust property tax system. I would not favor anymore regressive taxes that hurt working people the most. I would be much more transparent when it comes to the budget process instead of waiting until the last minute to strike a back room insider deal. I would have budget hearings year-round throughout the county. In short, I would listen to the people instead of dictating to them.
WCT: What do you see are the most important issues facing the county and how would you address them, if elected?
BF: The corrupt and unjust property-tax system. I would work with the new assessor from day one to make the assessments more fair for residential homeowners.
Maintain quality healthcare for our residents. One reoccurring problem is the county has done a poor job of billing out of county patients and Cook County residents who have insurance. There are hundreds of millions of dollars that have been left on the table for years. If the county cannot improve its collection process, I would seek to outsource the debt collection as other governmental agencies have done.
Public safety- I believe it is possible to have Cook County law enforcement work more closely with the Chicago police department to stem the tide of violence in Chicago and throughout the county with a cooperative approach between both entities in the neighborhoods, especially on the south and west sides, where we are seeing much of the violence. I would also bring job empowerment to communities.
At the county hospital, $169 million worth of contracts were approved this past year with zero going to prime minority contractors and less than two percent going to subprime minority contractors. We need to bring jobs to every neighborhood so we can all work together. It would be much more beneficial to our communities to stem the tide of violence. As alderman, I brought 8,000 jobs to my ward. I created jobs and closed a food desert. I passed positive legislation for my residents and I would do that for all parts of this county.
WCT: What additional measures would you advocate for to provide more transparency in how the county government is run?
BF: Everyone says go on the county websites but that is not the only way. I think having regular meetings throughout the county on a year-long basis to listen to the people and talk about different programs will help create a greater belief in the transparency of county government. Elected officials have to be very proactive when it comes to letting constituents know what is happening so everyone is reached across the board and that involves multiple communication methods.
As alderman, I would have job fairs and advertise them on websites, Twitter and Facebook but we would also hand out brochures in the neighborhoods. I would have several thousand people show up for every job fair we held in the ward. I had different aims for my job fairsgeneral population, ex-offenders and veterans. I would tell the corporations they were not there for a beauty contest, they were there to hire people and they were very successful.
WCT: What, if any, interactions have you had with the LGBTQ community?
BF: I have been a observer and participant in Chicago's Pride Parade almost from its inception. I fought for marriage equality, including as a speaker during many of the rallies, and was happy to see it pass, but that is only the beginning of the struggle and fight the LGBTQ community faces.
My wife and I were at the vigil on Halsted Street in June 2016 right after the Orlando Pulse nightclub massacre happened. I have been a long-term fighter against discrimination based on race, sexual orientation and gender identity.
Back in the '90s, we sued a large restaurant because one of their employees had HIV and was fired because of it. We reached a settlement with the restaurant and it was one of the first cases of its kind.
WCT: What do you see are the most important issues or obstacles facing the LGBTQ community and how would you address them?
BF: I am a long-term advocate for the LGBTQ community and this includes addressing LGBTQ youth homelessness, unemployment, discrimination and violence. If you are Black and a member of the LGBTQ community you face more prejudice. There are also issues surrounding healthcare access, immigration justice and justice for the transgender community.
As a civil-rights lawyer, maybe I think of things in a different way to bring equality across the board. As county board president, I will fight for the LGBTQ community.
WCT: Are there any additional changes you would make in how the county jail and health and hospital systems are currently run? If so, what are they?
BF: We have to focus on mental health issues and try and reopen some of the clinics that were closed by governmental agencies at all levels as well as restore funding cuts. I think that would solve some of the crime in our communities across the board. Getting proper mental and physical health checkups for our residents is the greatest way to increase the viability of a county.
In Lake View, a man was arrested for shoplifting and given two days in jail and when he was released he did it again and was arrested. Part of this is a lack of jobs in our neighborhoods but more importantly it goes to the mental health of many of these individuals. We have to address this problem. Walk under any viaduct in this city and what do we see, the homeless are multiplying. One out of every three homeless people is a veteran. Is that the way we are going to treat our veterans? Mental health is one of the top issues and I am going to address that as county board president.
WCT: Would you have voted to repeal the soda tax?
BF: I would never have voted for it in the first place. I am against regressive taxes that hurt working people, especially lower-income workers.
WCT: What do you see are the best ways to raise revenue so the budget is balanced that don't involve regressive taxation on everyone in the county?
BF: Everyone says we need to raise money, but I think we have an out of control budget. We have to look at what we can do to address the property tax system. The Chicago Tribune had a series of stories about Cook County property taxes and the assessments of mostly downtown commercial property and higher value residential properties that are purposely under assessed which shifts the burden to working class homeowners. I believe the system needs to be reformed to reflect accurate values on all properties. More revenue can be raised if this changes than the regressive taxes we are looking at now. We have to reject the premise that we needed a soda tax. The budget has exploded over the past eight years under the current leadership.
We are taxing people out of this county instead of inviting them in. Businesses are leaving at a quick pace because they do not want to be here. Why did I announce my candidacy in Lansing at the Lansing Airport? The home values and foreclosure rates increased because of the high tax structure there. You walk across the county line to Indiana and the value of the homes are higher and there are less taxes. Also, the lease hold tax virtually killed the airport. The owners of one of the hangers said eight to ten years ago they had 50 to 75 planes on the runway every day and today they have zero. This airport should be an economic engine. At the time of our announcement, on the Lansing Municipal Airport website, they were telling people to come there and they will place them on the Indiana side because there are less taxes. The airport is located in both Illinois and Indiana.
Chicago and Cook County should be a place where people want to live. We have transportation centers and cultural events that are unparalleled, 16 universities in Chicago alone with 75,000 students come to the downtown area every day. About 15 to 20 thousand students live downtown which is why we avoided the problems of most major cities.
I have been in favor of legalizing and taxing marijuana. I would make a stronger push for a casino downtown and in the southern suburbs. There are ways we can do this holistically. You have to find ways that will benefit all businesses.
Everyone is talking about Amazon and the potential $2.5 billion in so-called tax credits and Rauner, Rahm and Preckwinkle signed off on the deal. Did you ever hear of any hearings in those three bodies of government? No, they just signed off on it and who suffers from that? The deal they made would send the income taxes Amazon employees pay to the government to pay for services right back to Amazon and who would suffer the most under this deal, residential property owners. We have to have hearings on this before any final deal is made.
There are ways we can help small businesses which are the lifeblood of economic opportunity in this county. Let's think about the mom and pop stores that have grown to 50-100 employees and have been around for 20-30 years. I keep hearing from people who have been here for a long time and are thinking about moving their businesses across the border to Indiana. Once that dual railroad track system comes into play in Indiana, Chicago is going to see an even greater decline in population. People will work in Chicago but live in Indiana.
We need to grow our tax base, not continue to burden people who are already here. We will do this by having leadership that does not drive them away.
WCT: If elected, how will your previous work and volunteer backgrounds inform how you do your job?
BF: I have brought community groups together to fight for change and have created change. I have a strong record of listening to my constituents and working for the best interest of all of them and not just a chosen few. I had regular town hall meetings. When I was president of the historic Pullman Foundation I fought to make it a landmark area and to repair the tower after the fire. We raised ten million dollars to make that happen. Ninety-nine plus percent of the resolutions, orders and ordinances I introduced as alderman got passed because I worked for my community's best interest.
For more information, visit bobforcook.com/ .