John Laesch: 2021 candidate for Aurora mayor
In the April 6 consolidated election, incumbent Richard Irvin, Alderman Judd Lofchie and former East Aurora Unit District 131 board member John Laesch are vying for a 4-year term as Aurora mayor.
Occupation: Union Carpenter (Local 174), works for Kiewit
Civic involvement: I have been more of an activist than a group joiner. I have served on the Steering Committee with Northern Illinois Jobs with Justice since I moved to Aurora and have participated in a number of initiatives to push for living wages, oppose corporate charter schools and fight for environmental protections at all levels of government. I have volunteered for various organizations like CAAN or Hesed House when invited, but the majority of my charity work has been in an on-call basis when my friends or neighbors need a friendly, neighborhood carpenter.
Q: How do you view your role in confronting the pandemic: provide leadership even if unpopular, give a voice to constituents -- even ones with whom you disagree, or defer to state and federal authorities?
A: I view my role as providing clear leadership in helping to protect the lives of Aurora residents, the livelihood of business owners and workers, and making sure residents maintain a place to live and are vaccinated if that is their choice. Every elected official has the responsibility to do what is in the best interest of the general public during a national crisis like this pandemic. As the pandemic continues, I will keep Aurora in compliance with CDC and IDPH guidelines to protect the public and help flatten the curve so health care facilities can stay below capacity.
The City of Aurora did a good job helping some businesses modify outdoor dining and curbside pickup, but others received no help. The city could have helped all Aurora businesses navigate paperwork for federal financial assistance. The applications should have also been in Spanish also.
As mayor I would have put a mask requirement in place for all public places early during the pandemic. The mandate would have been enforced by the businesses, public institutions, or nonprofits, with police backup if a business faced an obstinate customer. I do not support random stops on the street for those not wearing masks.
Q: Did your town continue to adequately serve its constituents during the disruptions caused by the pandemic? If so, please cite an example of how it successfully adjusted to providing services. If not, please cite a specific example of what could have been done better.
A: The city did a good job coordinating with Northern Illinois Food Bank to distribute food.
Right now people in Aurora are struggling to find ways to get vaccinated, Many are facing housing and job insecurities, small businesses are closing their doors, and people are concerned about rising crime rates.
The city could have done a better job proactively helping businesses qualify for CRF money and make adjustments for outdoor dining.
We need a proactive approach to help residents qualify for assistance with utility bills. There are still significant resources available for utility assistance.
We need a proactive approach to help local landlords and renters get emergency rental assistance (ERA funds).
We needed a more proactive pursuit of CARES money that was available for homeless people to find temporary housing and hotel rooms early during the pandemic.
All of these efforts would bring more money into our community and stabilize our local economy.
We need better communication. A quarterly newsletter and dedicated Web page could have publicized these resources and communicate to residents how to get in line for a vaccine.
Q: In light of our experiences with COVID-19, what safeguards/guidelines should you put in place to address any future public health crises?
A: We need to have constant communication with the public and possibly a call center helping direct our residents to the correct place to get vaccinated. The city should partner with the counties to create a city vaccination center.
VNA has a solid footprint in Aurora and would be an ideal institution to partner with to have a central health coordinator. This position would coordinate and be a liaison between the city and County Health Departments, IDPH and CDC.
We need to write up a "lessons learned" from a public safety perspective and evaluate what could have been done better to respond as we craft future contingency plans.
Our first responders need to have an adequate amount of PPE on hand.
During the last two years of my military service, I led a crisis action team in the Middle East. It was an intelligence unit that responded to various threats as they arose (Khobar Towers, the embassy bombings, Iraq, etc.). The leaders' role was to prioritize the work of the team and proactively implement good ideas. I am capable of leading Aurora through the next steps of this pandemic, the vaccine rollout, and/or a possible housing crisis.
Q: What cuts can local government make to reduce the burden of the pandemic on taxpayers?
A: I will put a halt to the corporate bailouts that use millions of taxpayer dollars in the numerous public-private partnerships that have failed to bring living wage jobs or affordable housing to Aurora.
Some specific examples include the $16 million that has gone to Copley, the $10 million to buy up the land at the Farnsworth interchange, the $850,000 that went to Russ Woerman and buddies at 80 S. River St., millions to JH Partners and APS Data, plus the endless TIF districts. Mr. Irvin talks about putting buildings back on the tax rolls, but if a developer gets $1 million in city money and that building is in a TIF zone, and doesn't have to pay their fair share of taxes, how is this helping anybody other than the developer?
My biggest cuts will be the corporate bailouts.
I will take a 25% pay cut as my first act in office to set the tone that I and everyone else who works for the city of Aurora is a public servant.
I will shift part of the police budget to crime prevention initiatives.
I will shift a significant portion of the Department of Neighborhoods Standards Division over to a Department of Sustainability. "
Q: What do you see as the most important infrastructure project you must address? Why and how should it be paid for? Conversely, during these uncertain economic times, what infrastructure project can be put on the back burner?
A: Due to high debt and an uncertain economic future my administration will be focused on maintaining existing roadways without committing to new projects. I would make sure that we are filling in potholes, maintaining sewer systems, and completing necessary repairs without overextending.
On the need for a larger salt storage area and repairs to existing maintenance facilities I would opt to upgrade existing facilities instead of putting $35 million into a proposed centralized garage that residents do not want.
Aurora still has lots of lead pipes leading into homes. I would look for federal grant money to remove and replace these lead pipes with copper. This is an example of a "green upgrade" that will improve the quality of health in our community.
I will look at a feasibility study and environmental impact study to see if we can use Turbulent's low-impact hydro power product on the Fox River. If given a second term and the pilot project is successful, I would explore a citywide smart grid upgrade.
I support an expanded, publicly owned fiber optic internet option. I oppose the privately owned, "smart city" approach that leaves taxpayers vulnerable to endless rate increases.
Q: Do you plan to address businesses that don't adhere to the governor's order to close or restrict business?
A: I feel like this question does not apply to our current situation as we are in phase 4, but should we return to phase 1 or 2. I would enforce the governor's orders and continue to work with businesses to meet their needs within the order to ensure they survive. If businesses are not adhering to the governor's orders, those businesses should not be eligible for CRF money.
We can't predict what possible mutations of COVID might emerge, what the long-term economic impact is going to look like, or if the latest relief bill will help stabilize our housing market enough to survive the end of the moratorium on evictions.
I will follow the advice of scientists and experts as the pandemic continues. My priorities will be the safe and equitable distribution of vaccines, making sure health care facilities are able to handle another surge, keeping people in their homes and helping businesses keep the doors open, and recover after the pandemic is over.
Q: Do you agree or disagree with the stance your board/council has taken on permitting recreational marijuana sales in the community? What would you change about that stance, if you could?
A: I support the legal sale of cannabis and would increase the tax from 2% to 3% and dedicate those revenues for youth services.
I would make sure that the intent of the law was upheld and seek to have any Aurora dispensaries go to those who have been harmed by the war on drugs. When cannabis was illegal, black men went to jail for selling it. Now that cannabis is legal, white people are profiting off it. This isn't right and I would work with the victims of the war on drugs to obtain state dispensary licenses.
Q: Describe your leadership style and explain how you think that will be effective in producing effective actions and decisions with your village board or city council.
A: I lead by example and always find a way to include everyone's opinion and thoughts in a discussion. As an organizer I have learned to listen to diverse opinions. I don't shy away from controversy and over the years have learned to work collaboratively with diverse opinions.
In my first 100 days I will hold a citywide goal setting meeting and hold individual meetings in each ward with the elected alderman from that ward. We will use feedback from these meetings to craft an agenda for my next 4 years of service.
I put in long hours and have a reputation as someone who doesn't shy away from hard work. Currently there are significant parts of the city that have been ignored. We are seeing a significant increase in violent crime and crimes of survival. The civil unrest on May 31 underscores the racial disparities that exist in our city. These issues require someone who will put in long hours and hard work to engage various communities and work toward community-driven solutions to improve our economy, especially job creation.
I am forward-thinking and pro-active and like to address the root causes of a problem.
Q: What's one good idea you have to better the community that no one is talking about yet?
A: I am the only candidate talking about the need to address our high poverty rate by creating good-paying jobs by becoming a model green city. It is a 20-year plan that looks to strengthen our local economy now and in the future. In the vacuum of manufacturing jobs leaving Aurora, past mayors have been working to turn downtown Aurora into an entertainment zone (the casino and Rivers Edge Park) and a bit of a boutique shopping area. These plans have moved along modestly and serve as a short-term band aid, but they don't bring enough good-paying jobs.
To strengthen our local economy, address rising crime rates and stabilize our housing market for the long-term we need a plan that brings more better-paying jobs and a reduction in our 11.6% poverty rate.
By creating a department of sustainability, we will help residents and business owners find existing utility, state, and federal money to make spaces energy efficient or move to solar, we will bring more money into our local economy, and create jobs that cannot be outsourced.
I will also work toward urban farming and a local food economy to create jobs and provide clean, healthy food that is produced with a low carbon footprint.
Q: What makes you the best candidate for the job?
A: We need strong, ethical leadership that is focused on serving all of Aurora, not just the downtown area and politically connected friends.
We have raised almost $50,000 from small dollar donors who want better, ethical government that is not susceptible to bribes from those doing business with city hall. This will allow us to have a more open, competitive contracting process that saves taxpayers money. It also builds public trust.
We need someone who is forward thinking, pro-active, capable of handling a crisis, and able to implement a strategic plan that addresses the needs and concerns of all Aurora residents.
Finally, I think that we need someone who is focused on finding solutions to the root causes of increased crime rate, civil unrest, and racial disparity in our city. It really all goes back to good-paying jobs and a vision that creates a strong, local economy.
I have that vision and will lead our city in a new direction. I believe that the city of lights can be a beacon of hope for our nation.