Mayoral Candidate’s Plans for Low-income people and Ex-offenders


Chicago mayoral candidate Patricia Van Pelt Watkins told Residents’ Journal in an interview that she felt a sense of responsibility to run for mayor, and she would carry the voice of the people into decision making of the city.

If elected mayor, Watkins said the people of Chicago can expect an “open government with transparency,” Watkins said during a visit to Residents’ Journal’s offices.

Chicago Mayoral candidate Patricia Van Pelt Watkins, talking to Residents' Journal reporter Quintana Woodridge, on January 1, about her plans to service low-income people of the city, if elected Mayor this February 22. Photo by Mary C. Johns

“They can expect to be engaged. I plan to seriously engage the citizenry in decision making and moving the city forward.”

Watkins, the founding director of the Target Area Development Corporation, feels that Chicago’s communities need to be involved and the city can’t move forward using the same style of problem solving. She said that the business community has been making the decisions for schools, public safety polices and employment.

Watkins said she is well-qualified to be the next mayor because of her 30 years of public service and her educational background, as well as her work with criminal justice and education reform.

Watkins on Life in Public Housing and the Plan for Transformation

Watkins lived in the Cabrini-Green public housing development while she was a child in the1960s. She said her experience living in public housing for five years was a “blessing,” and that she would take what she learned from that experience and do a better job at handling public housing matters.

“I liked it,” Watkins said of living in Cabrini-Green. “It was much better than any housing we had ever had. It was clean, had two bathrooms, it had upstairs, downstairs, bedrooms and heat. I felt that we were in heaven,” Watkins said.

Watkins added that her mother felt differently about continuing to live in Cabrini-Green as living conditions deteriorated. So her family moved out of the development in 1970 to the South Side of Chicago when she was 12.

That is when Watkins said she was able to really see the difference between conditions in public housing and the private housing market.

Regarding the Chicago Housing Authority’s Plan for Transformation, Watkins said, “The Plan for Transformation may have been a good idea on paper but it definitely wasn’t a good plan for the people that lived in the projects because it didn’t fulfill its promise.”

She went on to say that public housing was set up to fail in the first place, and she added that the Plan for Transformation left many people homeless.

To ensure that more affordable housing options are provided for low-income people, Watkins thinks that the Sweet Home Chicago Ordinance is a great model initiative.

“The important thing is for housing to be affordable, truly affordable,” she said.

Watkins’ Safety Plans

To assist ex-offenders to transition back into society, Watkins plans to remove some of the barriers that keep them from getting jobs. She said she would work on removing the boxes on job applications that ask whether a person has a felony record. She added that she would work on laying out the types of jobs that an ex-offender can get based on public safety.

“I definitely wouldn’t want a sex offender working in a daycare or around people who are in a hospital. We want to be sure to open doors to provide employment opportunity for everybody; because everybody, I hope, is an ‘ex-offender.’ In other words, they’ve stopped offending. Any time we say certain people are not allowed to come back into society, we set ourselves up for failure,” Watkins said.

Watkins said one of the main causes for the plague of crime in Chicago is that people are “isolated from opportunities.”

As Mayor, Watkins explained that she would provide more “resources and “employment” for the people living in Chicago neighborhoods. She added that the police department is handling the violence the best they know how, by coming “after a crime happens, because they are trained to handle a situation with force.”

But her plan to deal with violence is to work with community organizations to prevent crimes before they happen. In turn, she said there would be less of a need for more police, and more money will be freed up to go where it’s needed most.

Watkins’ Education Plans

To ensure that students in the Chicago Public Schools system will be able to compete academically with other students across the state, Watkins said she would create a better environment that will help the students learn and success. She said she would hire an educator to lead the school system, have a school board elected by the people, and use evidence-based models like strategic learning initiatives, which she claimed engages communities across the board improving academic outcomes.

“That program only costs $150,000 a year per school. We spend much more than that starting new schools,” Watkins said.

Under Watkins’ plan for education, teachers will be expected to train under a master teacher in a classroom for a year, like at the Academy for Urban School Leadership (AUSL).

At AUSL, the teachers attend night classes to obtain a master’s degree at the same time they gain experience in the classroom. According to Watkins, the current certification program doesn’t prepare teachers to teach because they lack classroom experience.

Youth Initiatives

To provide jobs for young people during the summer, Watkins said she would use different sources of funding and continue to utilize the Summer Jobs Program currently in place for youths 14 to 24.

“We go to Springfield every year fighting for jobs,” Watkins said of community organizations who lobby in Illinois’ capital.

“We go down there every year fighting for more jobs for kids, because it is definitely not enough jobs for kids.

“(The State) is really strapped for cash right now, but I think that part of a public safety program can be to hire kids, maybe using different sources of funding to maybe increase the number of jobs,” she said.

Watkins added that she also plans to get the youth of Chicago more involved in city government.

“I think we’ve shut out the youth. We have them seen but not be heard. I definitely want to engage the youth. I’ve seen their passion and commitment. They are the future of Chicago,” Watkins said.


To create more jobs, Watkins plans to open up more entrepreneurial opportunities by “removing the barriers that keep them from progressing.”

Her plans include waiving all fees for entrepreneurs for the first two years to start their businesses, which she claimed would better enable the owners to employ others, and giving incentives to current small businesses to strengthen them.

“Seventy percent of the jobs here in Chicago are because of the small businesses. I want to make sure Chicago has the spirit of an entrepreneur and that we want to promote entrepreneurs,” Watkins said.

Community Organizing

Watkins said she plans to work closely with community organizations in all aspects of the city government.

She plans to put in place an open budget tracking system, which would be available on the Internet so people can see where money was being put into their communities. She also plans to fund community organizing.

“Chaos is another way of control. We need to change that,” said Watkins.

Watkins added that it is up to the communities to better hold aldermen accountable for what they are expected to do.

“That power lies in the hands of the communities. That is how it is supposed to be,” she said.

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