By Justin Agrelo
Hilario Dominguez is making waves and ruffling some feathers on his run to become the 25th Ward’s next alderman. The ward covers all of Pilsen and Chinatown, and parts of Mckinley Park, Tri-Taylor, the West Loop, and the South Loop. And it hasn’t seen a new alderman in more than two decades.
Dominguez, 25, a former educator who was born and raised in Pilsen, is the youngest in this race among five candidates. And with major endorsements from Chance The Rapper and the Chicago
Sun-Times, Dominguez is looking like the candidate to beat.
Late Friday evening, after hours of canvassing and just four days before election night, Dominguez spoke to me about that Chance endorsement, his views on term limits, the 25th Ward’s controversial 22-year Alderman, Danny Solis, and more.
What was it like it for you to be endorsed by Chance the Rapper as a man of color from Chicago?
Funny story. Chance and I have known each other since high school. I used to be his DJ. Him and I are good friends. It was a proud moment having a friend who’s done so much for the community and so much for himself and for music just come out and be able to use what he has built to support me and my effort and my campaign. It was a proud moment.
What’s your favorite song of his?
Oooh. I’m gonna have to throw it back to his original “10 Day.” No actually, I think I’m gonna do “Cocoa Butter Kisses” with Vic Mensa. We actually got endorsed by Vic as well. I think for the purpose of this campaign, my favorite song is “Blessings.”
I covered the 25th Ward candidate housing forum in January for Medill Reports. You were the only candidate who spoke about Black Lives Matter and Freddie Gray [an African American man from Baltimore who died in police custody in 2015]. Being a non-Black Latino candidate standing in front of mostly non-Black Latino constituents, why was it important for you to touch on Black issues in that space?
Just thinking back to when I worked as an ally in the Black Lives Matter movement for justice for Freddie Gray in Baltimore, it was very important for me to recognize the significance of being Latino and being an ally in Black issues, right? There are a lot of intersectonalities between the struggles that Latinos face and Black people in America. For far too long the institutions have done their job at separating us and forming divisions. And so, it’s really important for me in my personal life to have gone beyond that and to look for bridges.
In your interview with South Side Weekly, you talked about growing up in Pilsen and then witnessing what Pilsen is today, which is very different than it was when you were growing up. What does it feel like knowing you might be the alderman for people who may have displaced people from your community?
That’s a good question because often times I think about I might be the alderman for the working class and middle-class families that have fought tooth and nail to build a community that wasn’t getting resources, that wasn’t getting help by elected [officials], and now it’s changed vastly.
My perspective is still [that] I might be an alderman that could provide balance to a community that is rapidly developing and forgetting about the working and middle classes, especially the Latino working class and middle class and immigrant community that has helped build and shape [Pilsen]. It is often those families that carry the weight of the city.
Chicago has a reputation for machine politics.
What do you say to people who view you as perhaps the next generation of the Latino machine in Chicago?
I say that, first and foremost, that is unequivocally wrong. I say that I come from a family that is working class and has struggled living pay check to pay check to try to put food on the table. That’s all I know. I, as a teacher, can barely afford to live in the neighborhood I grew up in and the only reason I can is because I’m renting in a building that is owned by family. So, for someone to try to call me a machine [candidate] because I’ve received support from people who have been champions of progressive values, like Chuy Garcia and Theresa Mah who are now finally in power, I think that’s wrong.
[People] also forget about the history of these individuals. Chuy was [criticized] consistently by the Daley machine….Our communities have lost a lot. Until recently, where we’ve had wins, progressive wins especially on the Southwest Side, we’ve also been losing. I’m honored to have that support of someone who’s been in this fight for a very long time. I’d say that’s a wrong assessment and that I’m also not shying away from having that support from people like Chuy Garcia.
But do you feel there’s a point where you just become part of the machine by simply being in politics that long—like a Chuy Garcia? [Chuy served as an Chicago alderman, state senator, county commissioner, mayoral candidate and now holds a seat in Congress for the 4th district.]
When you’re in politics for a long time and you’re in a status quo sort of role, then yes. But I mean, again, if we historically look at Chuy’s past, here’s a leader that has taken heavy hits and turns and losses and has never been part of that status quo. I don’t think he’s this machine [politician]….He’s built a progressive movement. For sure what people are scared of, and rightly so in this city, is one individual with power and they abuse it, right, i.e. Danny Solis?. But Chuy is not machine despite his longevity in politics. He has shown us a history of fighting for working class families.
What are your ties to Danny Solis? [Solis, the 25th Ward’s 22-year alderman, wore a wire to aide an FBI investigation of Alderman Ed Burke, and isn’t running for reelection]?
[Laughs] I have no ties to Danny Solis other than my being a resident in the 25th ward. That’s it. There are no ties. These huge attempts to tie me to him are almost like mad scientists trying to connect the dots to something that doesn’t even exist.
On the campaign trail, it’s easy to say “I’m not corrupt. I’m not a part of this machine. I have no ties to Solis’ brand of politics.” What is that going to look like if you’re elected? In your mind, how are you going to commit to that independence in practice?
I believe that part of the reason we ended up where we are today is because we do not have term limits in City Council. We have term limits in the highest office of our nation and we need to have them in our city. So when I say that, I’m basically saying that if and when I’m elected, I’m limiting myself. I’m limiting the amount of years I’ll be in office. So that means, the important thing for me to do is to create the policies, practices, and policies in our ward, in our city, that will supersede me and allow the community to have the decision making capabilities. Every process. Every proposal. Every legislation that we are talking about right now is thinking about how do we put the community at the decision making table. Not just for viewing. Not just giving input on projects or policies. But actually deciding on them. Because what I’m saying when I say I believe in term limits is that no one person, no one alderman is ever important. It’s actually the community that should always be uplifted.
I believe that the harder part to being in government is governing. Like, getting elected is hard, yes. But the harder part is actually going to be the governing, to impact change and enact it. I think the only way to that is to have people with you. The people have to be part of the process.
What is that term cap for you?
I think two terms is great. eight years.
From reading through your interviews and seeing you in person at the housing forum, you have made consistent remarks on being from Pilsen, your time as a school teacher, and your goals of putting the community first and fighting for the working class. So, what is missing from the narrative that you’ve built about yourself that you want to add?
At my core, what I’m trying to portray and what I’m trying to get across is that I’m nowhere near this perfect, polished politician that we’re used to. My story consists of alcoholism and abuse within my family and incarceration and going through poverty. The reason I share this is because now more than ever we should have elected [officials] that not only are from communities, but can connect with the struggles of our communities. And for better or worse, these are some struggles our communities go through. Those are the everyday struggles that I’ve seen growing up. Some of those struggles I still go through, like mental health. That’s not just something I believe we should have [in public services] as a community. That something I have been personally affected by and I’ve gone through. So, at the core of myself, I’m trying to be vulnerable in sharing my story and sharing who I am so that people can see that I’m not a polished person. Yes, I have accolades and accomplishments, but at the core I am still a working-class person struggling to pay bills.
Is that enough though? Is being able to connect with community struggles enough to ensure that you’re going to do right by the people?
It’s part of the enough. It’s part of what our people deserve. Our people deserve someone rooted and connected to our struggles. Again, most people that try to connect me [to Solis], maybe they forget [or] maybe they don’t think about this. But growing up [in Pilsen], I grew up under his leadership as well. I grew up seeing my parents and my neighbors hearing that there wasn’t enough. There wasn’t enough being done for them. They didn’t feel like their voices matter. They didn’t feel like they were even seen. And so, for me, that’s what I grew up on. No one has to tell me how Solis hasn’t done enough for us because I’ve lived it, contrary to other candidates.
Personally, I know my truth. I know where I stand. And it’s always been with the community and that’s where I will always be. Whether people like me or not, I will always be there to try to help them, because that’s what our people deserve.