Q&A with Chama St. Louis
What inspired you to run for Peoria mayor?
Peorians deserve a mayor who wants to put more money in the people’s pockets, not developers and corporations; who wants to give residents decision-making power concerning their communities; and who views public safety as access to resources and opportunities, not more arrests or a heavier police presence. Peorians deserve a mayor who prioritizes scalable and startup businesses over big chains and is focused on fixing systemic issues, not continuing the status quo where a few benefit at the expense of the many. Peorians deserve a mayor who they can identify with—who has been active in the community working to change systemic issues that have failed all of us.
What are your top three issues, and how do you plan to address these issues?
The top three issues are poverty, racial inequity and the economy—these are the issues most holding Peoria back from realizing its full potential. To address these issues we need to: Reimagine Public Safety, Rejuvenate the Economy, Reinvest in Our Communities, and Rebuild The Table.
Reimagine Public Safety to make it more about access to opportunities and resources. We should look into establishing a community safety department similar to the one in Albuquerque. The department in Albuquerque is a cabinet-level department responding to calls on inebriation, homelessness, addiction and mental health. It refocuses millions of dollars through the budget process into a public health model with a civilian-led response. It is a third option for 911 dispatch, alongside police and fire. Reimagining public safety in this way will reduce crime and take some of the burdens off our overburdened police department while making Peoria a more attractive place to visit, live and do business.
Reimagining public safety is also about ensuring we’re doing enough on the prevention side to get ahead of the issues, versus always being reactive. Our local government should ensure our residents are equipped with everything they need to aid in their success.
We need to Rejuvenate the Economy by putting more money in the pockets of Peoria residents. If people have expendable money, they will be able to purchase goods and services from local businesses and can afford higher rents or property taxes as their neighborhoods improve. We can raise incomes in various ways.
One way is by closing the job skills gap. Many jobs are going unfilled for lack of people with the skills to fill them, while many people are unemployed and lack the skills to get the available jobs. We need to continue to work with organizations like ICC, Greater Peoria Economic Development Council, Bradley University, and other educational institutions to train people for the jobs that are available in the Peoria area. Once we match workers’ skills with the available jobs, those businesses will be able to realize their capacity, which should generate some extra revenue for the city while increasing income for its residents.
I also recommend that Peoria join the Mayors for a Guaranteed Income network and advocate that all Peorians have an income floor. A monthly stimulus has been talked about over the last year with the pandemic, and that’s something we can do here in Peoria, following the lead of several other cities around the country and internationally. Most of these pilot projects are funded with private dollars; they can eventually be funded sustainably through municipal dollars via public banks (Congress is working on legislation for municipal banks) or other ways like a municipal wealth fund. At least 11 U.S. cities, from Pittsburgh to Compton, are piloting monthly stimulus or basic income programs to give some of their residents direct cash payments, no strings attached. A monthly stimulus can be a real benefit to those who are suffering the most in poverty—allowing them to meet basic needs but also have extra income to buy local goods and services. Direct cash benefits to residents are not new. Alaska has been giving its residents a basic income through the Alaska Permanent Fund since 1976.
We need to Reinvest in Our Communities to improve the quality of our neighborhoods. Every neighborhood in Peoria should be well-populated with nice homes; well cared-for streets and sidewalks; access to opportunities and resources; and everyday necessities within walking distance. Some of our neighborhoods have been neglected, depopulated and left behind over the decades, and it shows. If people in large sections of our city are unable to contribute to the local economy and buy what they need for daily survival, this hurts everyone. We also need to encourage more homeownership while raising the incomes of people who live in these neighborhoods. This can be done in various ways, including state and federal grants as well as working with private donors and nonprofits that have an interest in homeownership.
We often hear about being invited to the table, but far too often, that isn’t a table built for us, where everyone has power and influence. We need to Rebuild the Table. We need to imagine a table where everyone is celebrated and diversity and inclusion welcomed; where startups and small businesses have support and tools to thrive; where everyone feels safe and protected; and where everyone has a shared unity of purpose and sense of destiny. By rebuilding the table, we can ensure that input from all Peorians is woven into the DNA of every decision. That means everyone is directly involved in important decisions by giving input on priorities and values through:
- Proponent and opponent witness slips;
- Making data more available and useful;
- In-precinct ballot boxes;
- Interactive public meetings and town halls;
- Door knocking, phone calls and mailers; and
- In-district connection points that allow community members to provide input and share ideas as decisions are made.
What is your vision for Peoria’s future?
Building a better future for Peoria: a new normal. By changing the culture of our city and moving away from the status quo, we can rejuvenate the economy by centering our focus on small and startup businesses and investing directly in our residents so they can participate more fully in the local economy. We will reimagine our approach to crime and violence as a public health issue, complete with prevention, intervention and reintegration, instead of more policing and arrests. At our new table, we will govern together and engage in ways that reduce inequality, create equity, empower one another and foster solidarity.
I invite you to join me and make this a shared vision for all of us. We will use the influence of public office to empower others. We will set an example that shows people they matter. City government should work in the best interest of the people by implementing policy ideas where racial equity and working families are the priority. As a community organizer, I support a growing progressive movement that is only just beginning in our city. To move the city forward, we have to see Peoria not as it is, but as it should be. It’s time for a new candidate with ideas to eliminate poverty, reform our criminal justice system, and allow residents to participate in our democracy in a meaningful way.
I want my neighbors to understand the power they possess to make change in their communities. Many things we take for granted today were once thought unimaginable—that is, until someone imagined them. I have imagined a new normal for our city and I have a plan to get us there. It’s time for those who lead our city to be more representative of the whole city, not just a portion of it.
Why are you the best candidate to serve in this position?
As a 35-year-old Black woman who is connected to the community with business experience, I am the best candidate with the vision to lead us forward. Peoria is a millennial city with an average age of 35; I can identify with millennials who we want to keep here and attract. As a community organizer, I have knocked on thousands of doors and made thousands of calls talking with residents about issues that concern them. As a Black woman, I know firsthand the problems the city has with racial inequality and segregation. With the policies I have outlined here, I can lead us to become a city that allows everyone to thrive with dignity.
I bring my experience as the former chairwoman and president of the Peoria Black Chamber of Commerce and 12 years as director of PR and marketing for the Illinois Black Chamber of Commerce, fighting for business equity and advocating for businesses at the state level. I have experience connecting businesses to resources and helping women expand their network. I’ve helped businesses build their internal infrastructure to be more efficient and helped with technical support. I have co-written proposals that have brought businesses around the state $750,000 to build their capacity. I am a business owner, too, so I can identify with a lot of the challenges businesses face.
Anything else you’d like to add?
I am the only candidate actively challenging the status quo, and one of the only candidates who has spent 17 years before running for office advocating for the resources our communities need and deserve. To see the Peoria laid out in my vision, we need a mayor who will be willing to take leaps and bounds toward progress, not baby steps. If you’d like to learn more about my policies, follow me on all social media platforms @cstl2021 or visit ChamaStlouis.com. PM