James Johnson: Candidate For Skokie Village Board – Patch.com

james-johnson:-candidate-for-skokie-village-board-–-patch.com

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SKOKIE, IL — Ahead of the April 6 consolidated municipal elections, Skokie Patch provided questionnaires to all candidates and parties on the ballot for Skokie Village Board. Seven candidates, including two incumbents, are seeking four-year terms on the six-member board.

Six candidates were slated by the Skokie Caucus Party and five still have the endorsement of the party, which has won every village election for the past 60 years. One candidate did not seek the party’s backing and is running as an independent.

Skokie Patch is publishing all responses submitted by candidates verbatim and in the order they have been received.

James Johnson

Age (as of Election Day)

32

Town of Residence

Skokie

Office Sought

Village board

Party Affiliation (if a partisan race)

Independent

Does anyone in your family work in politics or government?

No

Education

BA in Religion, Davidson College; MA in Theology, Loyola University Chicago

Occupation

High-School Teacher / Local Activist. I’m finishing my 5th year of full-time teaching at St. Joseph High School in Westchester, where I teach classes in Social Justice, Ethics, Theology, and Film. Before I decided to become an educator, I was part of an intentional community in Winona, MN, where I lived and worked in a house of hospitality for homeless women and families. During that time, I helped lead a grassroots environmental campaign that led to a ban on frac-sand strip-mining (part of the “fracking” process) across the state of Minnesota. I hope to continue my work as an educator and activist for the indefinite future.

Campaign website

jamesforskokie.com

Previous or Current Elected or Appointed Office

None

The single most pressing issue facing our (board, district, etc.) is _______, and this is what I intend to do about it.

It’s tempting to say Covid, or the economy, but my answer is climate change. The climate crisis is the single most pressing issue facing our world as a whole, so it obviously needs to be at the forefront of our local policy-making. We don’t experience the urgency of climate change like we do the pandemic, but it will impact Skokie residents long-term for generations to come.

If elected, I will ask to be appointed as the Trustee Laison to the Village’s Sustainable Environmental Advisory Commission. My goal will be simple: make sure the Village’s next Sustainability Plan sets bold, measurable targets for climate action. Without actual targets, Skokie’s sustainability efforts will always fall short. I propose we craft timelines for 100% renewable energy use, net-zero carbon emissions, and revise our land-use policies to promote land restoration. There is much to be done, and I’d be honored to help lead the way.

Do you support Black Lives Matter and what are your thoughts on the demonstrations held since the death of George Floyd and the shooting of Jacob Blake?

I fully support the Black Lives Matter movement and participated in numerous nonviolent demonstrations last summer. As Americans, we should be so proud of how Black Lives Matter has evolved into an international, human rights movement. It has invigorated activists across the globe, myself included.

Do you think the current board has done enough to support racial equality, and if not, what specifically should be done to do so?

The current board has done a lot, but I do not think they have done enough. Case in point: The Village still hasn’t updated its symbol, which features an Indigenous man’s disembodied head like a logo! It’s posted all over town – on signs, buildings, flags, Skokie PD squad cars, garbage bins, etc.

Supporting racial justice is more than symbolic acts and well-meaning declarations. It requires dismantling systemic barriers in housing, education, policing, government, healthcare, and more. ANY Village policy that has a disproportionately negative impact on people of color should be examined and reformed.

I’m looking forward to collaborating with the new Village Board to promote antiracism and equity through systemic change.

What are your thoughts on the national and local coronavirus response? Do you favor measures such as limiting operation of non-essential businesses and restricting indoor/outdoor dining? And do you favor a local mask mandate?

I will do what our national leaders should have done from the beginning of the coronavirus crisis: listen to the experts. My background is not in health-care, so I will follow the lead of the incredible staff in our Village Health Department, and do what I can to support their important work. I support our local mask mandate and hope our local businesses can reopen as soon as safety-measures permit.

What are your thoughts on the state and local coronavirus vaccine distribution, and how do you think local governments should work together to handle vaccine rollout?

Again, I trust our Village Health Department to distribute the vaccine as quickly and equitably as possible. For months, I’ve been listening to the Covid-19 updates at the bi-monthly Village Board meetings and know that Skokie’s well-organized efforts have been hindered by the lack of vaccine supply. Hopefully this will change in the near future, because I know our Health Department is eager to hasten their local vaccine distribution.

What are the critical differences between you and the other candidates seeking this post?

Skokie has had a one-party government for 63 years, and I am the first Independent candidate since 2013. Every other candidate on the ballot will represent the Skokie Caucus Party, which has held exclusive control over our elected Village government since 1959. (Though, the Skokie Caucus Party has recently and rightfully disavowed one of their Trustee candidates – Billy Haido – after they discovered misogynistic and conspiratorial posts from his social media accounts.)

I am the only candidate for Trustee who publicly supports:

– Climate: 100% renewable energy by 2030, net-zero emissions by 2050, and the hiring of a Chief Sustainability Officer.

– Housing: An inclusionary housing ordinance to promote fair and affordable housing.

– Democracy: Independent, nonpartisan elections by 2025 and an end to the Village’s one-party system.

– Police: Common-sense police reform measures like “8 Can’t Wait” and body-worn cameras.

I’m also the youngest candidate and hope to bring a fresh perspective to the table. In order to promote civic engagement across the Village, it’s of utmost importance that we reform our democracy and make it easier for local residents to run for office. I’m a truly community-oriented candidate.

If you are a challenger, in what way has the current board or officeholder failed the community (or district or constituency)

To be fair, the Skokie Caucus Party has done an excellent job in many aspects of managing the Village. People move to Skokie for good reasons – we have excellent services, fantastic schools, 40+ parks, a world-class public library, and so much more. Recently, our Village Board has done a great job of weathering the storm of Covid through our incredible Health Department, and has been proactive in ensuring the safety of residents.

On the other hand, I believe the flaws of Skokie’s one-party government are increasingly evident. The recent episode over their misogynistic Trustee candidate, Billy Haido, is just the tip of the iceberg. It’s undemocratic that the SCP chooses their slate of candidates through a small committee, as opposed to letting all of their members participate. It’s unethical that our Caucus-backed representatives have appointed their own party-leaders, Michael Lorge and Jim McCarthy, to high-paid positions in the Village Corporation Counsel’s office. And by not supporting independent, nonpartisan elections, they have chosen the interests of their own political party over the common good of Skokie residents.

I’ve met many members of the Skokie Caucus Party who are truly remarkable individuals, and are dedicated to the wellbeing of the Village. But it is time for the Village Board to become a true council and incorporate independent voices that better represent Skokie in all its incredible diversity. This will make our community even stronger.

Describe the other issues that define your campaign platform

Since the beginning of my campaign, the three central issues of my platform have been environmental sustainability, affordable housing, and participatory democracy. I’ve defined my campaign around these three issues because I believe they’ve been somewhat overlooked by our Village Board. They are critically important, but haven’t gotten the attention they deserve in policy-making.

I’ve also been very vocal in my support of antiracism and equity work in the Village, particularly in regards to policing. It’s been 9 months since Skokie’s “Vigil for Black Lives,” but our elected leaders have been slow to support common-sense police reform measures, like adopting bodycams and “8 Can’t Wait.” Police reform is good for everyone, police included.

What accomplishments in your past would you cite as evidence you can handle this job?

I am a political outsider, but I have a wealth of experience that will make me a great Trustee. I’ve traveled all over the world, speak fluent Spanish, and want to improve the Village’s outreach to ESL Skokians. I’m well-educated, a great researcher, and a quick-learner. As a community organizer and activist, I’m attentive to the needs of my community, and as a full-time high school teacher, I’ve encountered and overcome all sorts of challenges (especially this year, during the pandemic!). I don’t have a traditional political resume, but that is part of what will make me such a great Trustee.

If you win this position, what accomplishment would make your term in office as a success?

I am committed to concrete goals that can be accomplished in a single term:

Sustainability: I will make sure the Village finishes its 2016-2021 Sustainability Plan, especially our unmet objectives for air quality and energy conservation. I will work with the Village’s Sustainable Environmental Advisory Commission to make sure that Skokie’s next Sustainability Plan, for 2022-2027, includes bold, measurable goals for reducing energy use, greenhouse gas emissions, and waste in the Village. It’s time for serious climate-action in Skokie.

Housing: I will support an inclusive housing ordinance and resist the luxury developments that price-out poorer residents.

Democracy: I will publicly endorse independent, nonpartisan elections in the Village of Skokie for 2025, and invite a Village-wide conversation on electoral reform. This will be my single, greatest accomplishment: helping transition our government to a nonpartisan system that will make it easier for Skokie residents to run for office, and prevent the Skokie Caucus Party (or any political party, for that matter) from limiting political action in the Village.

Why should voters trust you?

The Skokie Village Board holds tremendous responsibility as the policy-making body for the Village. In offering myself for this office, I promise to be honest, transparent, and diligent in advocating for the community’s needs.

I am the only candidate that does not represent the interests of a political party, which makes me the candidate that will most directly represent the people of Skokie. I am a full-time educator and activist, not a career politician. My background is in religious studies, ethics, and community organizing, so I have a profound respect for the life and dignity of every person.

What are your views on fiscal policy, government spending and the use of taxpayer dollars in the office you are seeking?

Particularly given Covid and the resulting economic crisis, there are many more Skokie residents experiencing economic insecurity. As I’ve gone door-knocking all over town, I’ve met countless residents who’ve complained about taxes and the high cost of living in Skokie. I’m here to protect Skokie’s affordability, and make our Village more accessible to lower-income residents.

Is there any reason you would not serve your full term of office, other than those of health or family?

No

The best advice ever shared with me was:

“Vision without work is only dreams, and work without a vision is pure drudgery.” A friend told me to never forget this…

What else would you like voters to know about yourself and your positions?

I love Skokie. I feel such a deep sense of gratitude for this incredible, beautiful, multicultural, interfaith community. If elected, I will take a sabbatical from my work as a high-school teacher and dedicate myself full-time to public service and activism in Skokie. I will be the most active, independent Trustee this Village has ever seen. Why? Because the people of Skokie deserve it.

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