By AARON GETTINGER
Shelly Quiles is running to be the 5th Ward’s alderman with a campaign focused on social issues and a pledge to incorporate constituents’ advice to solve them.
“I’m not a career politician, and I’m not a person who comes to this with 20 years of experience,” she said. “I’ve definitely tried to do a lot of homework to bring myself up to speed to what the city issues are. But what I care about is really the residents having a voice.”
Born in Evanston, Quiles moved to the South Side in elementary school, living in South Chicago and Bronzeville. She attended the University of Chicago (U. of C.) Lab Schools.
“We have been a part of this community for a very long time,” she said: Her great-grandfather founded the Apostolic Church of God, 6320 S. Dorchester Ave., and her father owns a contracting business. “My mother is a clinical psychologist, so I grew up understanding the attachment to work and the importance of mental health from the people that raised me,” she said.
Today, Quiles is a child therapist working at LYDIA Home. She has degrees from the University of Illinois at Urbana–Champaign and the U. of C. School of Social Service Administration and previously worked in marketing and at a literacy nonprofit in New York City, where she married.
A need for more affordable housing brought the family back to Chicago, and they settled into a house near the Metra Electric tracks on a stretch of Dorchester Avenue — an address somewhere between South Shore, Woodlawn and Grand Crossing.
“There’s wealth and struggle and progress — also like a lot of people left behind, and you feel it. There’s a giant vacant lot right next to my house, and it’s really obvious there’s a divestment and investment happening all around us,” she said. “It’s like a weird spot in the 5th Ward, because certain places you go in the 5th Ward, you see a lot of boom and things happening and being invested in, and in certain places, it’s like, ‘What’s happening? Is anything happening? Does anyone care?’
“Which is kind of what brought me to this bid for alderman,” she said. “Just understanding that there is a chasm of places where there’s a lot of resources and places where the resources are nonexistent — all in the same place.”
Quiles said many of her patients come to her through the Illinois Department of Children and Family Services and are dealing with a “myriad of complex problems” like poverty, substance abuse, child abuse, trauma and “terrible circumstances befalling a family” like the death of a parent. With Chicago Public Schools, she has helped form an art, music and dance therapy program. She said she, alongside Jonathan Projansky, helped inaugurate Black Lives Matter Chicago’s food box project.
Quiles said that the city and Chicago Public schools should combat social issues together and that more resources should be directed to the work, but she was not specific about where funding should go or where it would come from.
“I don’t believe we don’t have it,” she said of funding. “I just believe that we’re deciding not to put it to mental health. I don’t believe we don’t have enough money. I believe that money is pretty flush in the system, but there’s a lot of things we’re very wasteful about and comfortable being wasteful about.”
Asked to specify, she referred to Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s proposed police and fire academy, and she said no one was asking where the projected $95 million for it would come from while mental health centers close from a lack of funding. She was unaware that the academy is to be debt-financed through bonds.
“I don’t see that being problematic, to debt-finance investing in people,” she said. “I think that’s the best way to use debt.”
Regarding paying off the debt, Quiles pointed to the pension crisis and said that residents, not outside advisers, could fix it, decrying a supposed gulf between local government and small business owners. In addition to walk-in visits to gauge their needs, she also proposed sending out surveys. She proposed food truck accommodation along Stony Island Avenue as it is done on Ellis Avenue near the U. of C. campus.
Asked if she supports a constitutional amendment over the state pension issue, Quiles proposed a task force of pensioners, lawmakers and financial experts to propose reforms, later saying that she supports some kind of amendment but not specifying its terms.
She said she was not opposed to either the proposed casino in Chicago — though said it comes with responsibility to combat gambling addiction — or a commuter tax. Quiles said that Chicago residents “should get discounts on taxes” akin to a “citywide discount for residents on the sales tax and retail sales” to promote retail sales, saying that the city loses tax revenue from consumers who go to the suburbs to make purchases.
As someone who volunteered for former President Barack Obama’s campaigns and agrees with his ideology, Quiles nevertheless said that the OPC plans have not been drafted with sufficient community partnership. She supports the Obama Presidential Center community benefits agreement and opposes the closing of Cornell Drive in Jackson Park.
Despite numerous community meetings from the Obama Foundation and municipal agencies over the immediate provisions of the South Lakefront Framework Plan, she said that only “piecemeal” information has been released about roadway changes.
“As a resident, and from residents I’ve talked to: people don’t know this information,” she said.
Quiles said that her opposition to the “cop academy” does not mean she opposes officer training that emphasizes de-escalation. “We really have to have police in this area who see residents as people they want to protect,” she said. Instead of “demonizing” people caught selling loose cigarettes, Quiles said that they should be directed to jobs training, which she said should be linked at a ward level.
“I don’t come to this believing that I know everything and I have all the ideas. But I do believe that there are a lot of residents in this community who have really great ideas, and they’re not being engaged and included in the solutions,” she said.