Interview with Illinois State Senator Robert Peters (13th District)

The Neighborhood Network Alliance is presenting brief interviews with elected officials who represent South Shore.



What communities do you serve?

I represent South Shore, Hyde Park, Streeterville, Bronzeville, South Chicago, East Side, Woodlawn. It’s a range of folks. The idea is you always have to focus on relationship-building and communication, listening, and being your authentic self. If you are who you really are and are as real with people as they are with you, you can work with issues they care about and come to a happy space where you can address issues facing people in the district.


My job is to represent everyone in the district, but not misrepresent who you are. Some days people might not like what you do, some days they will. But whether there is disagreement or agreement, the key is respect.


What is your view on education in the community?

I think the state has done a better job in the last couple of years on education. There’s been a good amount of money, $8 million, put into the parent mentor program in South Shore, so we could have more parents involved in our schools. We’ve also promoted more equity for local school councils, so they better reflect the community. We’re trying to make sure that all parents and kids are fairly represented in education. On top of that, we continue to push back on school closings. When you close schools, that has an impact on other parts of the community, because schools are anchors.


Yes, demographics may shift, but we don’t have to contribute to those shifts. We need to make sure community anchors – and that includes schools -are supported. They are an economic and moral base in our communities.


In the long run, we must continue to fight to create more equity in education in Illinois. The school funding formula we have in Illinois must ensure that schools most in need get the resources they deserve.


What can we do to improve the housing situation in South Shore?

It’s a combination of things. We have to make sure that we are providing relief to people who are there. If they are in the homeownership space, that means relief on property taxes. We also need to make sure that we expand early entry to buy a home.


We do not reject the building of housing, but we have to keep it in line with the stability of the community, especially in South Shore.


Meanwhile, people who live in South Shore have shared their views with us on another issue. Whether they live in high rises or on the lakefront, they want to know that legislators are engaged on key issues like erosion and flooding. These communities need resources, just like any other communities that deal with these issues.


We also have to regulate how rents are done. Make sure we don’t have speculation in the rental market and build more affordable rental units. When rents skyrocket, we know what happens – it pushes people down.


We’ve done a lot during COVID, putting resources into housing to maintain stability. We know that housing issues will continue to be very important in South Shore.


What can be done to improve public safety in the community?

We have been seeing the same status quo – and it’s not working. Public safety is always a concern. It’s also connected to a number of key issues – housing and economic development need to happen. We need to keep stretching reinvestment.


We also need to focus on intervention. But we also need to focus on trauma, so young people who have immense amounts of trauma get what they need. What won’t work is the same thing we’ve been doing for the last 30 or 40 years – dozens of pieces of ‘tough on crime’ legislation. Let’s face it, it’s not working. Tough on crime is not always the same as smart on crime. No one should be worried about walking down the street, going to the grocery store or school. We need to have a new approach for dealing with violence, crime, and punishment.


The status quo right now is there’s public safety for a few. We need the status quo for all to be let’s figure out the root causes and deal with individual trauma. Right now, the system is focused on disruption, not on lifting people up.


You can build up trust between entities when you shift from having police as a wall of segregation. We should focus our energy on our most violent situations, like so many other countries. Then we don’t have to be worried about whether a traffic stop will lead to a violent encounter.


We’ve put millions into body cameras, police standards and training, and changed our retrial system. Implementation will go into effect in the next few years. This can also be a bipartisan issue. We’ve worked across the aisle, for example, to pass legislation so that Illinois won’t be the false confession capital of the world, where if an officer lies to a young person to get a confession, that is not admissible. I have colleagues who are very conservative, but we have a good relationship.


Partisanship is not necessarily a bad thing. Lack of communication is. We can work with members on the other side of the aisle. If people think they don’t even need to talk to you, then you will never work things out. But let’s remember America has always had a history of partisanship. There is, however, a nervousness about what is happening now in our country. The issue now is that we should not be pushed by right-wing reactionary behavior.


How do you see the Obama Presidential Center impacting the community?

There’s no doubt it’s historic, a unique opportunity. At the same time, for all of us who played a role in making that history, people need stability. It’s incumbent for us in government to help provide that stability. One of our jobs is to make sure we don’t have runaway speculation that affects the middle class.

How do you see yourself engaging with community groups in South Shore?

I come from an organizing background, and communication is the first step. In order to build a relationship, we can’t take things too personally. If you can’t reach me, reach my staff. Do it from a place of relationships.


Readers:

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