University of Chicago Professor Hopes to Make Change in 48th Ward


Shreeya Pattekar and Vienna Nicholas (Loyola sophomores)

The race for the 48th Ward alderperson position is drawing near; election day is February 28. The ward encompasses Edgewater, Andersonville and Uptown and had 10 candidates vying for the position, which is currently held by Harry Osterman. 

The elected alderperson serves to represent the voters’ interests in the city council of Chicago, while proposing and voting on legislation. 

Larry Svabek (29) is one of the candidates. Having grown up in the south suburbs of Chicago in Orland Park, he developed a passion for politics. When the arts education program was threatened at his school, Svabek helped his mother campaign and win a spot on his school’s board. Her term in office showed Svabek how much the world needs politicians who will actually do the right thing. 

Svabek has since continued to be an active member of the Chicago community, completing his undergraduate studies at Northwestern University, and graduating with a PhD in Political Theory and American Politics from the University of Chicago. He now serves as a professor at the University of Chicago and resides in Andersonville.

*Interview has been edited for length and clarity. 

RogersEdge Reporter:What pushed you to go from lecturing in political science to running for office?

Svabek: I always felt like I wanted to run for office, ever since my mom ran. I always felt like I wanted to take on that responsibility. I want to help my community in that particular kind of way. There’s a lot of ways people can help and should help their community. Not just elected office, but for me, that was something I was interested in. 

And so I was finishing the PhD, and I was doing the police reform work and it was scratching an itch, and I felt like I did want to get more involved. I teach politics in a way that’s active and feels connected to the world. And even though I did theory and history and that kind of work, I also taught a class where we read works on police reform, a class where we talked about the abolition of slavery, and how these movements are connected, where they go and what’s changed over time in the course of American history and organizing the way we think about security and safety in this state. So, for me, I’m always straddling this boundary between intellectual life and active political life and I just wanted to step more fully into that side of things.

RER: What police reform do you imagine yourself implementing? 

Svabek: I worked with the CPAC [Civilian Police Accountability Council] coalition. I pushed it and when it became clear we needed a wider coalition, I served in negotiations that brought GAPA, [Grassroots Alliance for Police Accountability] the alternative, and CPAC, together, and we formed empowering communities for public safety, which created civilian oversight of police. 

I do believe in a more serious community control model. But I do think the empowering communities ordinance gave us these new district counselors who we are going to elect. On day one, we need to elect someone who’s going to implement these counselors, bring them into the decision making, make sure they’re engaging the community. We need to be having serious conversations about how policing is taking place in the community. We need treatment of trauma to be expanded. We need a mental health care crisis response team, and it needs to be citywide and everyone needs to have access to it. The number of mental health crises has skyrocketed over the last five years. And police officers are not the right response to this issue. 

I really want us to work on prevention, which means seriously funding anti-violence programming like the Chicago CRED. If we don’t talk about prevention, I worry that sometimes we get stuck in politics about how we are  responding. There’s important ways we should reform and remodel how we respond to crime, but prevention is really going to have to be part of the conversation, because that’s the mistake we’ve made for decades. 

RER:  You did mention on your website how you wanted to work on affordable housing in the area. A lot of citizens are concerned that if you bring in affordable housing, the crime rate is going to go up. How would you respond to this?

Svabek: Well, first of all, that’s a misguided axiom because I think it’s wrong to paint with a broad brush that everyone who lives in affordable housing commits crimes. I would say, there has to be a balance. 

From a different perspective, I think we’ve seen the failures of buildings that are only affordable because it’s more likely that landlords neglect those buildings. The sad reality of our world is that people don’t often take care of folks who don’t have money. So with affordable housing, we need to rigorously protect our affordability standards. Which means, every large development needs to have units set aside that are affordable, they need to be built in the community. They shouldn’t be paid in lieu of fees so that they can avoid paying. I want to work with developers so that we build more family units, not studios. 

I would say to those folks,  don’t judge too quickly. Also, we have a responsibility to house neighbors and we shouldn’t be just taking everyone who’s on affordable housing and forcing them into housing in one part of the city. We need to make sure that we all share in the work of being in solidarity with people who don’t have permanent homes and shelters.

RER: So you mentioned earlier that you were a  product of the public school system? How are you going to improve it? 

Svabek: Well, the first thing is just a commitment to being active in the community. I’ll make sure my office can coordinate for resources when they have school events that need them. Our schools are not funded. We’re funding them based on what experts say is the money that we need in our schools, but we’re not making it to the amount that those schools need. 

So a few strategies are, one, working aggressively with state legislatures to make sure we get more money into our schools and reducing our reliance on TIF [Tax Increment Funding] districts. Basically, the city of Chicago creates districts that hold TIPS [Treasury Inflation-Protected Securities]. There’s expected revenue that’s generated by property taxes every year. But these property taxes sometimes increase more than we expect, and then that access is collected and  funneled into another specific project. 

TIPS can be great, but sometimes, that money is being pulled from other places that need the money more. I propose that the City Council surplus TIF dollars when TIF dollars aren’t being spent on time, which means they get sent back to the local taxing body that would have collected that money. About 1 in $3 goes back to a neighborhood school and CPS so I think it’s really important.

RER: Why should people vote for you?

Svabek:  I think my campaign is at an exciting time. We have a chance to pick someone and bring some change that will hopefully be positive. I think the last four years we have seen that we need an alderman who can do every aspect of the job. I think as an alderman, you have to be great at constituent services. I’ve done that work and I know I care about it. 

If we don’t send someone to the city council who has a vision on how we build a stronger and more unified Chicago, then we’re not going to make the improvements we want to make in the 48th Ward. Hyper local public safety reform, public transit, these are all issues that require an engaged and active city council, not just an alderman who’s making the right investments in our infrastructure, which by the way, should be the baseline of what needs to happen and I feel like I can do it. I think folks should vote for me because I’ve been an ideas driven candidate from the beginning. And I think I’m able to toggle between these two jobs successfully and effectively. 

RER: In 10 years, if everything goes according to plan with the alderperson election, where do you think you will be?

Svabek: I can see myself doing this job for a couple terms, not forever. I think the reality is that it’s a great position, but I’m a political theorist. I always think back to Aristotle, and he says that in politics, to be a citizen is to rule and be ruled in turn. In turn being the operative word there. And I think that I love my role as a citizen, as an engaged and active volunteering community member. I think I would really like to be a leader in this community and engage in politics and rule, as Aristotle called it, but I’ll hope I’ll still be an alderman because once you learn the job, then you have a kind of institutional knowledge that you can really help guide the community. After that we’ll see if I am doing a good job and I want to keep up in politics, or maybe I’ll go back to teach. 

The 48th ward election is scheduled for the 28th of February 2023. If you have not registered, you can go to the Illinois Online Voter Application Website. Polling places are listed on the Chicago Elections website.

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