What experience and/or personal background qualifies you to hold this office? If elected, what would be your top three policy goals for this office?
I was born in a middle-class family in Mexico. Like many families, my parents struggled to find high quality education for me. I was enrolled in a public school, which was underfunded and overcrowded, but I was lucky to have parents that were involved in my education and worked to make sure I got everything out of that school. And now, I’m proud to say that I am a product of public education.
My parents sacrificed almost everything they had to send me to a public law school, and I still had to wait tables and answer phones to pay my way through school. It was in law school that I discovered my passion for activism and organizing. During my time as a student organizer we discovered that an assistant dean was embezzling money and abusing his power. So my friends and I led a student walk-out that shut down the school to force the Administration to fire the corrupt dean.
My final year of law school I interned with the Mexican State Department and I was recommended for an extended internship with the Consulate in San Antonio. So, in my final year of law school I worked at my internship, took classes, and went to night school to learn English.
That internship opened the door for a job as a staff attorney with the Consulate in the small border town of Eagle Pass, Texas. For the next three years, I worked defending the rights of immigrants, reuniting families and minors arrested at the border, and helped return to Mexico the bodies of immigrants who died trying to cross the border. Everyday, I saw the human cost of failed policy.
In 2002 I left Eagle Pass for Philadelphia where I worked with the Consulate to uphold the constitutional rights of immigrants facing the criminal justice system.
Years late I turned in my diplomatic visa, became a permanent resident, and I joined the death penalty division of the federal public defender office in Harrisburg. Two weeks into the job, out of the blue, I received a call from my supervisor informing me I had been fired. It turned out that only permanent residents of allied countries could work for the federal government, and Mexico was no longer considered an ally because Mexico, as a member of the UN security council, didn’t support the invasion of Iraq.
In a matter of weeks, I was an activist and an organizer again. I teamed up in a project lead by Larry Krasner to ensure that immigrants and underrepresented communities would have access to fair legal representation, I joined NCLR to empower Latino voters, and later worked for President Obama’s reelection campaign organizing core constituency groups. I was proud to become a citizen that year and cast my very first vote for President Obama.
After leaving the campaign I was asked by Mayor Nutter to help build the Mayor’s Office of Immigrant and Multicultural Affairs, where I helped to make Philly a Sanctuary City, ending the city’s information sharing with ICE and keeping families together.
I’m running for City Council because I have learned, first hand, the human cost of failed policy. I’m running because all of our communities deserve a voice and a seat at the table. I’m running for City Council because I want to make sure that no matter where you come from or what you look like, Philadelphia is a city of fairness, opportunity, and justice.
On council, I will:
- invest more resources to improve municipal services to have cleaner , litter-free neighborhoods and fix our crumbling streets and roads.
- propose a modernized, tiered tax-abatement system that supports first time buyers looking for properties valued less than $300,000 and ends the 10-year abatement for properties valued over $700,000.
- work with my colleagues to increase city funding and demand from Harrisburg a real and fair funding formula. I will focus my short-term efforts to provide teachers with basic support like school supplies and easy access to parking, and create a safer school environment for our children.
- support neighborhood economies and commercial corridors, access to microloans for small business, a living wage of $15 an hour for everyone, and workers’ rights and union diversification.
Our city has a major inequality problem: 26% of Philadelphians live in poverty, making us the poorest big city in the US. If elected, how will you address the issue of poverty, through legislation and other means? In your response, please address our tax structure, programs to support and invest in neighborhoods and small businesses, workforce training, and engaging businesses and non-profits to address this issue.
If elected as councilmember At-Large, I will adopt the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals platform, that establishes poverty as its number one priority. Philadelphia needs to address the issue of poverty in a comprehensive way, addressing, among others, the following issues: improving access to sustainable livelihoods, entrepreneurial opportunities and productive resources; providing universal access to basic social services, and; empowering people living in poverty and their organizations.
Our tax system must be modernized. By reforming the 10-year tax abatement, and analyzing the possibilities to enact PILOTS for large nonprofits and restore BIRT to pre-2018 cuts levels, we could pass a series of initiatives that would generate enough revenue to create training programs and entry level jobs, provide better access to high-quality education, and increase funds for affordable housing.
Philadelphia lacks sufficient affordable housing and programs to help address homelessness. What actions will you take to combat this? Please be specific and consider land disposition (Councilmanic prerogative, land trusts, land banks, etc.), tax laws, zoning regulations and assistance programs in your response.
Philadelphia is facing a housing crisis because every day it becomes more difficult for a low-income family to become homeowners. While high-end apartments buildings, houses, and condos are gentrifying neighborhoods at a record pace, affordable housing has been forgotten and neglected by the city.
When elected to City Council I will advocate to increase City funds for affordable housing and support the poorest Philadelphians. I will also propose a modernized, tiered tax-abatement system that supports first time buyers looking for properties valued less than $300,000 and ends the 10-year abatement for properties valued over $700,000.
In order to accomplished this, I will advocate to end the councilmanic prerogative and reform the land bank in order to make mandatory the transfer of public property. The landbank will never accomplish its goal if councilmembers control which properties go into the bank and which don’t.
If elected, do you plan to reduce or increase taxes, and which ones? Do you support the creation of any new taxes and, if so, what would be your plan for the revenues generated?
Before discussing changes to our current tax system, it is imperative that we acknowledge the poor job that the City is doing collecting taxes and running an efficient government. Every conversation about changing our tax system and implementing new or changing current taxes, must be joint by a conversation on how to be more effective enforcing out tax code and administering our budget. Currently the city is leaving over $500 million on the table as a result of poor tax collection, mainly from out of town landlords. A potential solution is to contract the debt to secure at least a portion of the tax not being collected.
With that said, in addition to advocating for changes in the 10-year tax abatement and, as councilmember, I will support the increase of the Use and Occupancy tax to 1.5%, enact PILOTS for large non-profits, and restore the Business Income and Revenue Tax (BIRT) to pre-2018 cut levels.
The revenues generated should be directed to build more affordable housing and the trust, fix our crumbling schools, and invest in much needed municipal services like street pavement and trash collection.
If elected, what would you do to ensure our public school system is fully funded and provides an equitable education experience for all Philadelphia students? What is your perspective on charter schools?
I believe that the crisis facing Philadelphia public schools should be at the forefront of the City’s priorities. This crisis was caused by a corrupted and inept government that misused key funding and applied a bias approach against marginalized communities.
I will support Philadelphia public schools by working with my colleagues to increase city funding for our schools and I will be a fierce advocate to demand from Harrisburg a real and fair funding formula. In the short term, I will focus my efforts to improve school safety climate, I will develop public-private partnerships to provide teachers with basic support like school supplies and easy access to parking, and I will help develop programs to educate our children in a diverse and multicultural environment as global citizens.
I believe in a system where our schools are well funded and provide a world class education, and I’m committed to provide our children with a more comprehensive approach to basic education. An education that champions equal access for immigrants, an education that celebrates multiculturalism, and yes, an education that promotes global citizenship as a tool to open our children’s future to the world.
I’m proud to say that this vision was well received by the Nominating Panel who selected me as one of the forty five candidates recommended for the new Board of Education to Mayor Kenney.
Do you support any reforms to current policing practices in Philadelphia, including stop and frisk? What programs would you advocate for to assist returning citizens, including post-release counseling for jobs, housing, and other support services?
There should be more implemented alternatives to jailing a person, which is costly and ineffective, we need to provide a person with mental health counseling and rehabilitation services like job training programs. A person should be detained only if there’s probable cause and no one should be incarcerated before found guilty unless that person presents a clear risk to others.
For more than 5 years I led the criminal division of the Mexican Consulate in Philadelphia, working to protect the constitutional rights of immigrants facing criminal charges. This allowed me to witness first-hand the human cost of the failing current criminal justice system.
Safety represents the opportunity to live, work, and raise my family in a city that protects me and my family, without violating the constitutional rights of others. In order to achieve this vision, I will promote new programs to increase police community outreach, I will advocate to eradicate the stop-and-frisk, and I will support the end of cash-bail.
What is your opinion about the increasing privatization of city public spaces and institutions, including Dilworth Park and Franklin Square? What steps would you take to protect or expand public spaces in Philadelphia?
I opposed the privatization of public spaces and institutions. As a councilmember I will make decisions in a case by case basis because developers receiving bonus properties in exchange for building public spaces, could open the door for Philadelphians to be cheated out of thousands of dollars in public space. As London and New York have done, I will support legislation to regulate privately owned public spaces. We need to establish a new charter that regulates the rights and responsibilities of privately-owned public spaces’ owners and users.
How will you advance immigrants’ rights?
My entire professional career I have worked defending the rights of immigrants and advocating for comprehensive immigration reform, that includes a pathway to citizenship. I have worked reuniting families and minors arrested at the border, and helped return to Mexico the bodies of immigrants who died trying to cross the border. I know the human cost of failed immigration policies and I will continue to be a passionate advocate for reform.
I was honored to be chosen by Mayor Nutter to help launch the Mayor’s Office of Immigrant and Multicultural Affairs, where I worked to make the city more welcoming and easier to navigate for immigrants by expanding language access for the city and voter services, and making Philadelphia a Sanctuary City.
I will protect our city’s status as Sanctuary City including banning ICE from Philadelphia’s courts, Department of Human Services, and hospitals. I will continue to support the Mayor Kenney’s vision to not let federal funds get in the way of protecting and supporting my community.
I will continue to advocate for more participation of immigrants in the political process. I’m very proud about the possibility of becoming the first immigrant, born and raised abroad, elected to city council in Philadelphia.
If elected, what will you do to advance environmental justice in Philadelphia? Specifically, how will you advocate for greater residential and commercial energy efficiency and support efforts to eradicate lead poisoning in schools and households?
I’m proud to say that I used to work for Democracia USA (c3) and Democracia Ahora (c4). Under this banner, we were one of the first Latino organizations in the country to launch a comprehensive environmental engagement program for Latinos called Go Verde Ahora. As part of this effort, I partnered with Pennsylvania Conservation Voters to plan an engagement program for Latinos in Pennsylvania.
On council, I will support a participatory study to formulate a local Green New Deal energy plan, that includes a transition to greater residential and commercial energy efficiency and implements stricter regulation for lead control, create unionized jobs, and mandates the school district to invest the necessary funds to guarantee lead-free schools.
I will also advocate to create a public-private partnership to modernize PGW’s infrastructure, which is decades overdue for replacement. This would allow the necessary investment for PGW to reduce emissions and accidents.