The following is part of Windy City Times' series of interviews with LGBTQ+ candidates in the 2023 Chicago municipal elections.
Among the 14 aldermanic races to be decided in the runoff election on April 4, Illinois State Rep. Lamont Robinson will face off against Prentice Butler in the 4th Ward to replace Ald. Sophia King.
Robinson, a small business owner and the first Black openly LGBTQ+ community member in the Illinois General Assembly, spoke with Windy City Times about his appreciation for the voters who have helped his political trajectory, why parity in education is important to him personally, and his plans for the ward.
This interview was edited for length and clarity.
Windy City Times: What would you plan to do on day one as Alderperson?
Rep. Lamont Robinson: On day one, I look forward to going to all of my neighborhood schools and meeting with principals and teachers that represent the 4th Ward.
WCT: How do you think being the son of a CPS teacher has informed your thoughts on improving public schools?
LR: If I may share a little bit of a story, my mother would take my old Reebok Pumps, my Starter coats… if she felt as though there was a pair of shoes or a jacket that I didn't wear, she would take it and give it to her students. My mother spent 34 years in Chicago Public Schools; 25 of those years, she taught at John Harvard Elementary on 75th and Vincennes in the Englewood community.
WCT: Other kids of teachers can probably relate to that.
LR: I'm an only child, and my father passed away when I was in high school, but she would take her resources as a Chicago Public school teacher and buy school supplies for her students. As we talk about service, my mother planted that seed for me early on. For me, making sure that we have parity in all of our neighborhood schools, making sure that our students have the resources they need to be successful, that our teachers are not going out and buying notebooks or having to buy clothing items or take their kids' clothes to their students is something that's very dear to my heart. That's why the first thing I would do is meet with my principals and find out what the needs are of the school and the needs of the kids.
WCT: You've talked about the lack of parity in the 4th Ward in terms of economic development and schools compared to surrounding areas. As Alderperson, how would you address that?
LR: We need to do more as it relates to economic developmentand I really want to say economic empowermentwe've got to be able to empower our neighborhood businesses. We have two black-owned women businesses that want to expand, one is Ain't She Sweet and one is Simply Soups, Salad & Sandwiches, and we have to be able to give them the resources to do that. We always talk about affordable housing, which is important, but we don't talk about affordable commercial spaces. I want to be able to focus on the 47th Street, 43rd Street and 35th Street corridors and bring in new businesses, and help the businesses that are there. I also think that that will lessen some of the crime that we're seeing in the area, as well.
WCT: A lot of election interviews have been very focused on crime. What is your holistic approach to addressing the safety concerns of 4th ward residents?
LR: Again, it goes back to economic empowerment. I'm a small business owner, and I hire within the community. I know other small businesses do the same. If we can strengthen our neighborhood businesses where they can put people to work, it will also lessen some of the crime that we're seeing. It will also create opportunities for people to walk and feel safe and secure. Making sure that we work with organizations that deal with mental health, because a lot of our folks, unfortunately, are self-medicating. They're doing this on the trains and across the 4th Ward. We have to be able to help people get the resources that they need. Also, making sure that we create opportunities for our youth before school and after school. I think all of these things really tie into a holistic approach as it relates to public safety.
WCT: How will you articulate the values of the 4th Ward community? Particularly underrepresented voices.
LR: Continue to do the work that I've been doing. I also represent the fifth district in the Illinois General Assembly, [so] a lot of times folks will call me if they need city services. For me, it is getting out to meet with folks that I know might not necessarily come to me. A lot of times those are seniors, folks in CHA housing. Make sure that I engage, showing up door knocking. … Those are ways that I can make sure that I hear from those folks and those folks know that they have a voice.
WCT: What does your continued support of the African-American HIV/AIDS Response Act look like, and how will that impact Chicago's LGBTQ+ community?
LR: Well, the numbers are still… I wanna say devastating, right? We still see high rates of HIV in the African American community in our teenagers. Making sure that the state is doing its part. The city also needs to create an ordinance, and I hope that will maybe be one of my first ordinances to put forth: a plan to getting to zero [new HIV transmissions] by 2030 in the city of Chicago. We can do it; we have the resources and the same fight that I have had to secure funding for the African American Response Act, I'm going to do that at the city level. The city also has issues as it relates to HIV, and supporting Black-led organizations that are doing the work to make sure that we eradicate HIV.
WCT: What else does that entail?
LR: Also making sure that we educate our youth around PrEP. I have legislation out there to make sure that our youth are able to get PrEP without parental consent. A lot of our folks, young and old, in the African American community still don't know about PrEP, and that's a travesty.
WCT: You worked to secure funding for the Howard Brown South Side LGTBQ+ community center project. What phase is that project in right now?
LR: The governor is extremely supportive of the project, still. I know we're going to have a new mayor, so I need to make sure that that person is going to be supportive of the center. We secured the funding and now it's at the city level to be able to look at what's the best site that this center will be able to go in on the South Side of Chicago. I look forward to leading that effort at the city level because, again, it is much needed. We just talked about the high rates of HIV cases in our youth, so we need to have the center on the South Side even more so now.
WCT: Looking back on your time as a state rep, is there anything you would have done differently? And how could that be applied to being alderperson of the 4th Ward?
LR: I am extremely appreciative of the voters in the 5th district for allowing me to make history as its first member of the LGBTQ community that is Black and gay. I will also make history in the City Council being the first out, Black [male] Alderperson. I don't have many regrets; it has been a wonderful experience. A lot of legislative success that we've had for the LGBTQ community and for everyone, such as passing legislation that replaces the lead pipes across the state with bipartisan support, working with my Republican counterparts to make sure that everyone is able to have clean drinking water.
WCT: What separates you from your opponent, Prentice Butler?
LR: I have experience at the state level, being able to know where the resources are to be able to fund projects like the senior center. We will be bringing a senior center to the Bronzeville community; we will also be bringing an LGBTQ center. For me, being an educator, being a small business owner, someone that has been involved and ran a nonprofit, and a state legislator…we need this type of experience in the 4th Ward; we need this type of experience in the city of Chicago.
Learn more about Lamont Robinson Jr. at www.votelamontrobinson.com .
Full interview series at www.windycitytimes.com/lgbt/ELECTION-2023-INTERVIEW-SERIES-Windy-City-Times-interviews-candidates-91UPDATED93/74615.html .