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Joliet City Council Candidate Rachel F. Ventura Interview
Living along the Pacific and Atlantic there is no place quite like home for Joliet At Large City Council Candidate Rachel F. Ventura. Born and raised in the City of Joliet Rachel was a girl scout for 11 years and performed over 2,000 hours of community service by the age of 18. She attended schools on both the east and west side of the city and continued her education at Benedictine University in Lisle, Illinois with a Bachelor’s of Science Degree in Mathematics. Rachel likes to look at the numbers, loves animals, and has volunteered in the community everywhere she has lived. Today Rachel F. Ventura is ready to give back and serve the residents of Joliet.
Guzman: Thank you so much Rachel for allowing me the opportunity to interview you today. What made you want to run for Joliet City Council At Large?
Ventura: I moved away after college and after traveling around I came back home and was a little disheartened to see that Joliet had a lot of liter, had a lot of crumbling infrastructure. When I started looking at some of our job opportunities here and saw our unemployment is up I thought of my girls. I wanted to make sure that my girls grow up in the hometown I grew up in having the same pride for our city and right now I don’t know that is something they can have especially since crime is on the rise. There have been two fatal shootings in my neighborhood in the last couple of months and I want to make sure that this city is safe for my kids but also very enjoyable because I know Joliet can be a great city. I want them to have the pride I had because when I was out living elsewhere I would brag about ‘oh yeah Joliet has this and this town is great but Joliet has all these other things’ and I want to make sure they experience and feel those things I felt as a youth.
Guzman: What do you feel are the most pressing issues in Joliet today?
Ventura: Money, jobs, crime. I feel that even though the city says they are 50 million in the black right now there’s a lot of things that we need. If we invested in some of our infrastructure and jobs that is much needed that 50 million will disappear really quickly. We have already seen people fighting over the scraps as we saw with some of the issues that arose with the Rialto and where that money was coming from how people felt whether they should get money or not and I feel if we had more money coming in we could spend that money on other areas and maybe there wouldn’t be as much tension. I always believe we should spend our money fiscally responsible. We don’t want to be taking money from one area and giving it to another. We don’t want to be robbing Peter to pay Paul. Make sure everyone is getting their dues. We need to bring in more money to the city. I don’t believe we can do it on taxpayer’s backs. People are tired of being taxed as it is. The taxes aren’t helping right now. It’s making things worse and we are trying to recover from the recession. The best way I find to bring in more money is to get outside money which is why I believe we should leverage our tourism here. As for the other two issues I touch on crime. Crime has continued to rise. Although a lot of the eastside areas have cleaned up and I definitely commend the community effort that has gone into that to make those neighborhoods safer a lot crime has moved to the near westside. The density issues, broken windows, darkened lights, the trash in the street, and the over parking are adding to a situation where crime continues to foster. We need to as a community get involved and clean this up but also mostly as a city at this point. We need to continue to follow up on some of the houses, enforce the parking, make sure all the lights are turned on, and that our liter is picked up. Citywide I believe that going forward the city needs to be sponsoring at least once a quarter and we can partner with the County and the Park District in having citywide cleanup days. That’s one of things if I’m elected it’s very easy to implement that and get that moving so we can take pride in our city. I also want to bring back Community Police. I think that is a big issue right now. We need to have police back in our schools as officer friendly. Kids start to learn that police are doing a job. They are there to protect and help us. Now in today’s world we need to make sure we don’t have labels that divide us but that we recognize one another as individuals who are trying to help the community. As a kid we used to have block parties with our police and fire department where we would section off a block and we would all come out have a barbeque. I think we can have that again in Joliet. The last thing is jobs. Our unemployment right now is at 7.2%, the state is at 6%, and the country is at 4%. We are a lot higher than both. When you go on indeed.com to look at jobs we only have like a thousand jobs that pay over 22 thousand a year. The reason I looked at that is because our per income capita average in Joliet is 22-24 thousand dollars. That’s the average of what our citizens are making and that is not enough. We can’t fix Joliet on taxpayer’s when they are not making enough to live on. We need better paying jobs, city jobs are great paying jobs. We need to bring those jobs back to full staffing levels and aggressively fill those positions. That includes fire, police, and city. Not just the warehouse jobs but we need a good diversity of jobs and we want long term jobs. Jobs people are going to stay longer than five years. I think we can do that by revitalizing downtown. I went to the community economic development meetings and they spoke about of 80% of job growth happens in existing companies. By bringing tourism people will spend more money here and that will fuel job growth. Among those three things small and large businesses, existing businesses growing, and city jobs police and fire we can really get that unemployment to a much lower level than what it is now.
Guzman: You spoke of revitalizing downtown Joliet. Do you have any specific ideas on what we need and do you see the Rialto Square Theatre being a part of that?
Ventura: Absolutely, the first thing is we have to bring in businesses down here. Not one or two over time because that leaves that business all alone. We need a community of businesses down here to cross promote and one person can go to several businesses. Small businesses like the Route 66 Diner is a great destination restaurant. We would like to have some more of those because coming through Route 66 want that experience. A good burger joint down here; souvenir shops for travelers. We also need large businesses. An Olive Garden would be nice. Trader Joes or Whole Foods. Grocery stores become really important in revitalizing an area. We definitely need more eateries. We need shops people can get their necessities. Maybe a Walgreens or CVS down here and shops to shop at. We can’t stop at just businesses. We do need to make this a mecca for young people as it states in the Camiros Downtown Study in 2015. That was a fantastic plan laid out how we can incorporate housing in this area. With the Colleges right now that’s a focus we should really be driving as these young people live down there whether it’s St Francis or JJC we could partner with maybe Lewis to get more housing for younger people. The train station becomes a vital part of that. We need to make sure people have good access to the trains as people that want to live downtown and work in Chicago they can just jump on the train. Without having good housing available that makes it difficult. We need to address our parking. I’ve lived in California, Virginia, Seattle, and in these areas they have either meter parking they pay with credit card but more of them are transitioning to limited time parking. So 2 to 3 hours parking where they would come by and chalk tires and after 2-3 hours same meter maid would walk by again and if there was still chalk it would be a ticket but it was free parking otherwise. That becomes really important on street parking because if people feel deterred to come down here afraid of a $10 ticket every time they park downtown they won’t come. You don’t pay to park at the mall so when you come downtown to nice dining or shopping you shouldn’t have to pay to park on the street. The parking garages I think we need to beautify them and large easy access signs. Not many outsiders know how cheap our parking garages are. That is something we should be advertising. As for the Rialto I definitely think the Rialto is Jewel of the City. Other people have said that and I don’t think they are wrong. We need to capitalize on that and VenuWorks and new Rialto Board are doing a good job in trying to work together to make sure the Rialto does well but also Joliet does well. Tim Berry with VenuWorks has been very open to all ideas. I been giving him ideas asking him to cross promote with the businesses advertising on the back of Rialto tickets. So if you go to a show on the back of the ticket it might have a discount or free appetizer so people go to those establishments in the area. We would have a way to track how much business the Rialto brings in downtown.
Guzman: How do you feel about the 8 districts?
Ventura: Sometimes the best way to move forward is to compromise. My idea on it is to include an additional district, make it 6 unique districts. I do believe some of the lines need to be redrawn to be a little more equal in representation but then I think we should have an eastside at large and a westside at large much the way District 86 has a west and an eastside representative. Where that dividing line would end up being I think it would be worth have a study done have someone look at the census data. If I had to step down to make sure we had 8 districts I then would do so.
Guzman: How did you feel about the City of Joliet’s response in the immigration meeting and should residents be concerned?
Ventura: Chief Benton did a great job in some of the things that he represented about the police not going after people for immigration reasons. They wouldn’t ask for papers if they were stopped for a crime. I thought that those were fair answers. It is true we are not immigration. That’s not what our police are for. I do respect that however I feel the city could have gone a step further to make sure we are not destroying families tearing them apart. Maybe that means we have to get some more information about what civil services we can offer for our city. Do we need to bring in immigration lawyers with advice? Do we need to talk to the foster system? Do we need to have churches and communities come together to make sure everyone has a Plan B in undocumented households? These are things the city can support. I always been taught that you treat people the way you want to be treated and I would hate to think someone would come into my home and tear my family apart. If the city can stand behind its residents I think it’s really important. If immigration comes in we need to make sure our residents know where they can go get help. That’s what a community is supposed to do.
Guzman: What have you experienced in your travels that you would like to see in Joliet?
Ventura: I lived in California, Washington, Virginia, Georgia and some of the things I would like to bring here are the tourism. Especially in Virginia they have historical tours and similar landmarks there when it comes to Route 66 and Lincoln Highway. We are not using these to best of our potential. I have ideas for tourism. We could really benefit from an on off bus tour. The bus would tour historical landmarks six or seven locations. Downtown would be a great place to stop. I would love to see the Collins Street Prison open for tours. State Senator Pat McGuire has some legislation right now trying to push through that money that is brought in for the prison is spent on the prison reinvested. Really good first step up get money from the state and then we could partner with the county and park district to have it running to its full potential. Another great idea at Broadway Greenway Park put visitor’s center to give nonresidents information before they arrive downtown and sell souvenirs. You could see the prison from that location too. It’s a great place to have a visitor’s center and enjoy the park. Nice bike path and get some ice cream at Rich and Creamy. Take pictures at Dick’s Towing. Haunted Trails is across the street so Broadway Street is set up for some good locations. I would love to get some of our churches involved. Maybe St. Rays would want to do tours of the cathedral and that could be a stop. Add the casinos and Splash Station to that list as well for stops but we really want to have a company come in survey what our best locations should be to make the most money. At each location people could jump off and get back on. I’ve seen this in other towns that have really worked well and we could do that here.
Guzman: Chicago has such a thriving film and television scene. Do you feel Joliet can be the go to place to film television and films outside of Chicago?
Ventura: I definitely think there is potential here. There are a number of big stars that have come out Joliet. We definitely have talented individuals here. I recently directed the “Drunk’n Gnome” and wrote most of the play. I’m a longtime thespian acted both at the Rialto and the Bicentennial. I’ve spoken with the Rialto about possibly bringing down some comedy shows with Second City Improv but there are hurdles there with Screen Actor’s Guild and contract issues. The Bicentennial it is a great community theatre. Lori Carmine is manager over there and has been in theater a long time and she can grow that. The Joliet Drama Guild continues to do theater in the area. We have a lot of talent here and we can see where that takes us.
Guzman: What do you feel are Joliet strengths and weaknesses?
Ventura: Our strength is our diversity. People bring different ideas to the table and our history. We should celebrate that at all chances. Our weaknesses the fact we are so spread out right now our social economics there is a huge gap between one side of town and the other. We need to close that gap so everyone can enjoy living and enjoy time with their families. Some individuals are working 2 or 3 jobs to make ends meet and as a city we can make sure that opportunities exist for all families.
Guzman: How do you feel about the recent water rate increase?
Ventura: Considering the increases are going to continue to go up each year we need to look hard if there is a way to repeal and bring in money another way. I think people would welcome that. 7% increase now 6% next year. Taxpayers are already pushed to the edge. With property taxes and the state potentially going up that is going to hurt us as well. We need to continue to look at smart ways to not continue to burden the taxpayer. We are going to have water issues going forward so we need to be smart in how we handle our aquifer and what opportunities we have to bring in more water to the city. That’s something we would need to pay for a study to have done look at all of possibilities. Not just Lake Michigan. Not just the Kankakee River and not just in Illinois. Over the border in Indiana they have flood areas so we may want to look at trying to alleviate some of the Indiana water coming into Illinois. In order to make any informed decisions we really need to look at the data and where the water levels at each area before we made an educated decision on that.
Guzman: Do you feel the City of Joliet can strive be a more green energy city?
Ventura: The lighting we need to continue with that and make sure all of our lights are efficient. The other thing is solar panels right now. There are solar roadways, there are solar bike paths. Europe is doing things like this. There are parts of the US that have solar panels going in on their roadways. These are things we could look into as well as adding solar panels to some of the buildings that we have so a lot more energy at a lower cost. Chicago just passed the plastic bag tax. We have a lot of liter in our streets. We really need to look at cleaning some of that up and looking at greener ways not to be polluting our environment. I do think that Joliet could be a leader in green energy and making sure we can be a green town.
Guzman: There are 15 candidates running for City Council. To the undecided voter why should Rachel Ventura be one of them?
Ventura: You should vote for me because I’m a new face and I have a lot of ideas. I’m energetic and I want to be a representative for all people. I’ve lived in a lot of different areas and gone to school on both sides of the water here. I really feel that right now Joliet is not represented equally. That’s true on the far far west out by Kendall County to our south and east sides. A lot of people are frustrated right now. They feel their vote doesn’t matter and their voice doesn’t matter. It does matter. They need to get out there and vote and be informed. They need representation that is also informed. I am someone who reads a lot. I look at a lot of numbers. I budget things out. These are benefits to the city. I have new ideas as well as expanding on some of our old ideas. I network and speak to a lot of people. I feel I have the skill set to put individuals together and communities together as well as multi government entities in order to get things done.
Guzman: What do you like to do for fun?
Ventura: I like to game. I work for a publishing company that publishes gaming books. I’m a huge fan of board games. I like to sit down with other people and do card games and board games. I like to travel. I like to spend time with animals.
Guzman: Any closing thoughts?
Ventura: I would say just get out there and vote. It’s really important. Our last city election voter turnout was 18% and I’m hoping we can beat that. Know that there are people who care and have hope for the city. We need your support so that we can be on the road to change and that we can have a new face for Joliet.