Last year, many Chicago Heights residents didn't know who David Gonzalez was. In a few weeks, Gonzalez will be the city’s mayor.
A close friend to the late Mayor Alex Lopez, Gonzalez said his decision to run for office was a difficult one. After all, he had never run for office in the Heights. Gonzalez ended up winning the race by more than 900 unofficial votes. He is expected to be sworn in May 1.
The mayor-elect sat down with Patch at his much-discussed accounting office at 2617 Chicago Rd. to talk about his plans, his campaign and what surprised him most during the election—including mayoral candidate Joe Faso accusing him of selling drugs out of his accounting firm,
As mayor, what will be your top priorities?
There are a lot of issues that are facing the city, so we're not going to be looking at just one priority, but one of the major priorities is the crime and the drugs throughout the city of Chicago Heights. At one point it was only in a couple of locations, but now it's just gone havoc throughout the city. So that's going to be one of top issues we're going to be looking at.
Another issue we're going to be looking at is, we have a lot of financial problems here in the city. This is not a problem that's just in the city if Chicago Heights. This is a problem that faces a lot of south suburban communities, in terms of money they are not getting from the state, foreclosures affecting the property taxes.
We have to work with state legislators for pension reform when it comes to how much money these cities are having to contribute to these pensions. Currently, one third of our tax money that the city collects in Chicago Heights goes to fund pensions. That puts a real big strain on your budget because that's the money that you need to fix your streets and your infrastructure, to put more police on the streets. So you're fighting that problem. We have that as a big issue.
Right now we’re spending $2 million more every year than what's coming in. We've eaten up most of our cash reserves. We only have about two or three million dollars. I'm not that sure, because I'm not in office. We only have about a year or year and a half before we run out of money, and if you run out of money, you're going to facing major layoffs throughout the city.
We need to find new sources of revenue coming in through economic development, and you also have to start attacking it on the expenditure side, which is (asking) how do you start reducing the waste in government? Attacking it from the revenue side and expenditure side, you start balancing the budget. Once you start a balanced budget, it trickles down and has an effect on how you fight crime and drugs.
It all kind of comes together. You can't just look at it like, 'Well, it's just crime.' It's a big picture that you have to start looking at.
Another thing that we want to be involved in, even though the school board is run independent of the city, we as elected officials have to have more of an interest and knowledge of what's going on at these school districts. I've always said, as a finance person, if we start solving our budget problems and we start solving our crime and drug problems, we're still not going to have good families moving into Chicago Heights if the school districts are failing. When people are moving into the city, they're not looking at whether we've got a balanced budget. If they've got kids the first thing they're looking at is, 'What kind of school system does the city have?'
We want a bigger role of just being more active in terms of communication. Not hands-on, but just communicating and seeing what's going on in these school districts. We all have to sit down and start working together as a group—the park district, the township, the school district and the City of Chicago Heights all working together.
Have you spoken to Joe Faso since the election?
No, I haven't spoken to Mr. Faso as of today. I expect to see him in the near future, at the next council meeting. If I haven't spoken to him by then, I'll speak to him there.
Did you and Joe Faso have any past relationship before the election?
Joe was part of the Unity Party for eight years. Sometimes he fails to tell people that. Part of the reason for the Unity Party is to put our political differences aside whether you're Republican, Democrat or Independent, put those differences aside and create a team and do what's best for the city of Chicago Heights.
Joe Faso split off the Unity Party. Because we were in the Unity Party, we had to have relationships. I've known Mr. Faso for eight years. We always had a good relationship. It was just because of him wanting to run for office and myself running for mayor that our relationship went sour.
I've always had respect for Mr. Faso, but I don't have respect for the way he let other people, or himself, run his campaign. That's where I lost respect for Mr. Faso, in terms of the way he campaigned.
Are you still following through with the slander lawsuit against Faso?
Yes. We just met with our attorneys. We're moving forward with that lawsuit. You see where my accounting office is right here (2617 Chicago Rd.). This is a separate building from next door (2619 Chicago Rd.).
Mr. Faso has sat right in the same chair you're sitting in. He's sat in my office. He knew where my office was, and for them to say that we're selling drugs out of this office is slanderous and it's an insult to me as a certified public accountant when they knew very well that it was the building next door. For that reason, we will be moving forward. I was totally surprised at that kind of negative campaigning and dirty politics.
What surprised you most during the election?
Me being involved in campaigns, I was surprised at the negative campaigning. This type of campaigning is what keeps people from wanting to run for office. There are a lot of good people who want to run, but then they see what you're up against. A lot of people that know me, know the type of life I've lived, the way I raise my kids, how hard I've worked for my education, and yet they try to run me through the ringer and through the mud. Could you imagine other people with just a little bit of blemish on their background? It really keeps good people from running. That was one of the hardest problems I had. …
We had a lot of people that didn't want to run for office just because of the politics and campaigning. That was one of the biggest surprises for me. I knew you've got to be ready for negative campaigning, but not outright lies and practically stereotyping Latinos as drug dealers and gangbangers and thugs. That was surprising to me, and I've been involved (in election campaigns) since 1995.
Are there any misconceptions about you that you want to clear up or address?
We spent a lot of time knocking door to door. Meeting with the residents, meeting with the voters. We were able to talk to the voters directly about the misconceptions and about the negative mailers that they were getting. Once you get to talk to people, they realize your background. A lot of voters already realize it is negative campaigning so they're half truths.
It really proved, in the election, that the message was getting delivered. We were noticing a lot of these voters that we had talked to door-to-door were coming out, and it was a pleasure to see them.
A lot of the other misconceptions that are out there will be proven in this defamation lawsuit. Also, as I take office, there's always a fear of the unknown with some people, and I think as they start to realize who Dave Gonzalez is and what I'm about, those fears and misconceptions will go away.