This is part of a series of interviews Windy City Times is running on LGBTQ+ candidates in the 2023 municipal elections taking place Feb. 28.
Belia Rodriguez is a lifelong Chicagoan who attended Chicago Public Schools. She is the owner of Sun Telesolutions (an information technology support business), founder of Chicago Info Tech (also an IT support support business) and an advisory board member of Housing Opportunities for Women. Previously, Rodriguez was president of the Rogers Park Business Alliance.
Rodriguez and her wife Jennifer Kleiman have been together for 17 years.
Most of the Rogers Park and part of the West Ridge neighborhoods make up the 49th Ward. Rodriguez is running against first-term incumbent Ald. Maria Hadden and fellow challenger William "Bill" Morton.
Windy City Times: Why did you decide to run for this specific political office?
Belia Rodriguez: I made the decision to run this past October, after being asked for years to run and declined because I loved what I was doing professionally at the time. What changed this time was I saw the changes in our neighborhood and all the progress we had made over time going backward. I looked around and there did not seem to be anyone else who would be a good competitor and make it to the ballot.
WCT: What are the most pressing issues right now for the 49th Ward?
BR: Crime is ever-present and out of control. There does not seem to be a plan to address this in the city council. Our businesses are being broken into on a regular basis.
The main reason why I am running is the encampments park that is within walking distance from where I live, that I always used to go to.
First it was a few tents, and then it grew to between 40-70 tents there, because of the pandemic. They have tried to do re-housings and that has reduced the number of tents to about 20, which is still a problem. Again, there is no plan for how to help these unhoused people, so everyone has a place to live who are camping out in the park.
I am a businessperson, so economic development is important to me, and that ties into safety and the makeup of the community and who the residents are. We need to address the housing issues across the city. We need to do smart economic development and that means having the right buildings in the right places.
I have some wish list items including what we can do about climate change and why we are not moving more toward solar power and vertical farming for example. Why aren't we training people in these industries? We clearly need more jobs in our community.
WCT: What public safety measures would you advocate for during City Council meetings to lessen the number of crimes (including assaults, shootings, car jackings and other thefts) occurring in your ward and across Chicago that do not include adding more funding for the Chicago Police Department?
BR: The Chicago Police Department (CPD) gets 40 percent of the city's budget. I do not want to see any of that money taken from them. I do want to see it spent in a smart way. The number one thing we need to do is recruit more qualified CPD candidates. When I have conversations with people at the police station, that is what I am told.
At a city level, we have to look at why police officers leave, with some retiring early. The thing we have to do is support them and make them feel good. When morale is down and people are quitting, you have to support employees and give them a reason to stay. CPD has been found to have a higher suicide rate than other police departments in urban areas so that is another red flag.
There has to be smarter ways to do policing. I was talking to Arne Duncan about ways to apply what Chicago CRED has learned, and is doing to address the gun violence problems we are having in this community. I would like to see us work with more data science and technologies that tell us how to address crime a little bit more targeted and not try big, expensive approachesreally hone in on the people who are most at risk or have high risk behaviors toward crime.
If we are proving people with more support and are making decisions and creating an environment where people do not have to choose crime then things might change. At the end of the day, we might need to arrest some people who are really dangerous and put others at risk, to be a deterrent for others so they do not become criminals themselves.
I want good policing and to hold cops accountable. I have lived here for five decades and the crime right now is at the extreme level I have not seen before.
In terms of other money in the budget that is set aside to help reduce crime in Chicago, we need to look at how it is spent and decide what is effective. If some things are not working, then we need to look at other opportunities that are available. Some of these programs like Chicago CRED, which is working, are being funded by private dollars and that has to change.
WCT: With LGBTQ people under attack on multiple fronts across the United States how will you use your position as an out lesbian alderperson to ensure that anti-LGBTQ groups like AWAKE Illinois, Moms for Liberty and others who are responsible for those attacks do not gain a foothold in your ward and Chicago writ-large?
BR: I am lucky because our ward is very LGBTQ-friendly, and growing in that population as people continue to move into Rogers Park. There is occasional anti-LGBTQ hate in the ward; however, for the most part LGBTQ people are embraced by most people here.
For me, it means being the out lesbian that I am. In terms of what we can do at the city level, [it also means] to always be a voice and speak out against acts of hate and discrimination. We have to say loudly that we are not a civilization that tolerates this. We can do better as a neighborhood, ward and city.
It should be safe for everyone to be who they are and love whomever they want to love. It is us who have to be brave enough to come forward and speak out for others who are under attack.
In terms of ordinances, if something comes up that shows we are lacking that protection for LGBTQ people, then this should be looked at by the city council and made into law.
WCT: What will you do to address the growing numbers of Black and Brown trans women who are attacked, assaulted and murdered in Chicago?
BR: I will be more vocal about this. There are a lot of things that happen and we do not publicly address them. Occasionally you might see a story about this issue, but then it fades away. We as elected officials have to provide that visibility to push the media to cover these stories and drive law enforcement to step in and provide justice in those cases. We have to hold these people who commit those crimes accountable to set an example that we do not tolerate violence towards anyone and especially those who do not have a voice.
WCT: What about addressing the needs of unhoused people as a whole, some of whom are LGBTQ youth?
BR: I was fortunate when I came out that I found my community here on the North Side. I grew up on the South Side of Chicago, where it was harder to be LGBTQ. I understand when young LGBTQ people are living in an unsafe environment and have to leave. We should have housing available for these young people. This means looking at the city budget and finding potential partners that would be willing to manage that housing and run programs and services, like therapy and healthcare, that help these young people get on their feet.
WCT: Are there any other LGBTQ issues that you feel should be also prioritized and why?
BR: Making all Chicago Public Schools safe for LGBTQ students including Gender and Sexuality Alliance (GSA) clubs and easily identifiable safe spaces within the schools.
WCT: In your first campaign video, you indicated the divisions in the ward and your desire to make things better. Talk about that message in light of the dustups between yours and Ald. Maria Hadden's supporters.
BR: People have been complaining to Maria for over a year on her social media pages, and when I decided to run they discovered they had a candidate to vote for. These people also would reject Bill Morton as a candidate.
While these people support me, they are not attacking her because of meeven when I tell them that it is time to pull back on your criticism of Maria and that is what my video led with. That is how I feel.
I do not spend a lot of time on Facebook, because it is toxic. To me the campaign is in real life, not online. I do not run into that same level of toxicity in real life. I would love it if we could all get out and about. I have physical meetings and events for people to come and meet me. My language is not aggressive to other people. Leading in that way by not participating in it has been my approach.
My mission is to run for everyone. I spend my time with the voters asking them what their concerns are and what I would do differently to solve those problems because that is why I am running. Everything I look at is coming from an approach that our neighborhood is a magical place in how diverse it is. I want to know how we grow that without losing people as well as make it better for everyone so they can enjoy their lives.
WCT: There have been reports that former Ald. Joe Moore is involved with your campaign. Is this true? If so, please explain this to the voters.
BR: I have had interactions with both Joe and Maria because I have volunteered here for the past six years. Joe is a friend and has been prior to me running. He encouraged me to run for office but so did a lot of other people. Joe is there for me as a political advisor if I want to contact him with questions about things I do not understand. The very same way I am sure David Orr is there for Maria because he has been at both her campaign launches which is great. No one should walk through a campaign without support. Joe is not officially involved with my campaign.
WCT: Are you currently endorsing anyone for Mayor and if so, who is it and why?
WCT: Why should voters choose you over the other candidates? What are the biggest differences between you, the incumbent and your other challengers?
BR: I am solutions-driven. I am somebody who is going to make a plan that involves everyone at a roundtable coming up with plans to try and fix problems.
Bill [Morton] is a great, hardworking guy who will be 100 percent focused on the ward. Maria is focused on the high-level stuff at a city level, and that sometimes leaves ward residents without someone to help them with what they need. I will be focused on both the ward and what the residents need as well as citywide issues.
See beliafor49th.org/ .
NOTE: This interview has been edited for length and clarity.