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Millennial Alderman Embraces Data, Technology in Search of Good Government

By Paul Biasco | August 26, 2015 7:21am
 Alderman Carlos Ramirez-Rosa (35th) self graded himself on 33 points that he promised to address while campaigning for his first term.
Alderman Carlos Ramirez-Rosa (35th) self graded himself on 33 points that he promised to address while campaigning for his first term.
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DNAinfo/Paul Biasco

LOGAN SQUARE — Chicago's millennial alderman says he is embracing data and technology in pursuit of good government on the Northwest Side.

One hundred days into his first term, Ald. Carlos Ramirez-Rosa is set to release two data-rich reports — one on the 35th Ward and another on grading himself on campaign initiatives — that his staffers have spent months compiling.

The report on the 35th Ward, which includes parts of Albany Park, Avondale, Hermosa, Irving Park and Logan Square, focuses on housing, education, crime, education and business activity.

The goal is to take outside influence out of decision making and have a baseline set of data reaching all corners of the ward, he said.

"I want to make sure when I am making decisions, whether it's voting or supporting an ordinance, whether it's allowing something to be built or not supporting a zoning change, I want to make sure I am doing that with real accurate information at my finger tips," Ramirez-Rosa said.

The report details rising rents in the ward neighborhoods, specifically that rent has gone up by an average year over-year increase of 11.6 percent in Avondale, 9.9 percent in Logan Square, 6.3 percent in Irving Park and 5 percent in Albany Park based on data from Zumper.

Paul Biasco discusses Ramirez-Rosa's first 100 days as alderman:

It also found that 24 percent of parcels in the 35th Ward have been listed in a foreclosure filing since 2005.

The 35th Ward report was assembled by Tyler Darnell, a University of Chicago math major and policy intern in the ward office.

"People come to you with different agendas and those agenda will often drive the information they present to you," Ramirez-Rosa said. "If you can have a document like this to say, 'Actually this is what’s really going on in my community,' you will be that much more of a good decision maker.”

The 26-year-old alderman also issued a report grading himself on 33 campaign initiatives.

The alderman's office will release both reports Thursday and hold a conference call at 6 p.m. to discuss the state of the ward. Constituents can RSVP for the call at aldermancarlosrosa.com.

During his first 100 days, Ramirez-Rosa canvassed on a weekly basis, hitting 21 blocks and knocking on 891 doors while speaking with residents to identify issues they are facing.

His office also instituted constituent relationship management technology that tracks every single interaction between constituents and his staff, whether it be a walk-in request, phone or business request.

The service tracks everything from how long on average it takes he or his staff to return a phone call to how long a city service request such as a light out took to fulfill.

In the first 100 days, the technology tracked 5,312 successfully resolved issues and assisted 51 businesses, according to the report.

Ramirez-Rosa considered some of his biggest achievements during the start of his term to be the proposal of a revenue plan along with his colleagues in the Progressive Caucus, efforts implement immigration-friendly measures and his work to secure a promise from a landlord to retain Section 8 status on approximately 500 housing units in Albany Park.

Moving forward, the alderman has plans to make ward business more participatory and transparent.

All requests for zoning changes have been put on hold during the first 100 days in office as the Ramirez-Rosa has begun work on constructing a new community-driven zoning and development process.

That process should be complete in September.

The biggest change in ward business will take place in 2016 as Ramirez-Rosa implements participatory budgeting.

That form of budgeting will let ward residents decide how to spend roughly $1.3 million in discretionary cash each year on improvements to the neighborhoods.

"Unfortunately what I've seen in my time in Chicago is some aldermen will reward their allies and punish those parts of the ward that don't vote for them," Ramirez-Rosa said. 

The alderman is working to gather a group of community leaders this fall as part of the process, and the effort will go public in the spring of 2016 with brainstorming sessions on how to spend the money.

Ramirez-Rosa pointed to the 22nd, 45th and 49th wards as examples where participatory budgeting has been successful.

"My hope is in 2016, 2017 and 2018 when we issue these reports we will see positive changes in the community and we will be able to track that," Ramirez-Rosa said.

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