Javier Yañez. Illustration by Shane Tolentino.

Meet the Challenger: Javier Yañez

Yañez believes his civic experience and grassroots values makes him the best candidate for 12th state Senate district

Javier Yañez is the chief-of-staff of 25th Ward alderman Byron Sigcho-Lopez. He said he took the initiative to run against Little Village-raised State Senator Celina Villanueva upon noticing her inaction in Springfield around ongoing issues like harmful industrial development, street violence, and families struggling to keep their homes. Yañez joined the race late in the election cycle, which limited his endorsements and fundraising efforts, though he has received the backing of the Chicago Tribune and former governor Pat Quinn. The incumbent secured the endorsement of Rep. Jesús Chuy García, which makes for a challenging race for Yañez, but he believes his civic experience and grassroots values are what will get him elected. The Weekly sent the candidate a short questionnaire, aimed at helping inform readers ahead of the primary. The answers are included below, edited for length and clarity.

What skills or experience do you believe make you the better candidate for this seat?

I am very fortunate to have been able to serve my community across different legislative offices at the county and City level for nearly ten years. From my vantage point as a staffer for then-Cook City Commissioner Chuy Garcia, Cook County Assessor Fritz Kaegi, and most recently, for Alderman Sigcho-Lopez of the 25th Ward, I had the opportunity to see in detail how our communities can be strengthened while also seeing the commonalities as to why so many of our current elected officials fall short. I’ve learned how you come into public office is a critical reflection of how you will serve. My opponent, the incumbent, was not once, but twice appointed to the Illinois legislature by one of Chicago’s most notorious indicted politicians, Michael Madigan, and she has received tens of thousands of dollars in support from many of the elite financial donors who benefited from his five decades in Springfield.

I have the experience and, most importantly, the political independence and courage to stand up to entrenched interests in Springfield taking money out of the pockets of the hardworking people of the 12th District. What does that mean? It means I’ll actually fight to Lift the Ban on rent control, not just give the policy lip service, while taking money from Realtor PACs and cozying up to Senate President Don Harmon who is one of the biggest obstacles to the legislation reaching Governor J.B. Pritzker’s desk. 

It means I’ll fight to reform property taxes and make the ultra rich of Illinois pay their fair share. It means I’ll fight for environmental justice, clean air, and sustainable green jobs in our industrial corridors, and stand up to industrial polluters when they poison our communities like Hilco did to Little Village at the start of the pandemic in 2020—not remain silent while I accept political contributions. It means I’ll fight to keep Illinois a state where reproductive health and the freedom to choose is protected. It means investing in the immediate short term and long term solutions to public safety will be a top priority because our residents deserve the same safety that more affluent communities of Illinois enjoy. I will fight for us because I come from the grassroots, I am accountable only to the grassroots, and I’m fighting for our communities.

What legislative measures would you champion in Springfield?

Property tax reform so long-term residents can stay in their homes, and lifting the ban on rent control so tenants can anticipate stable rent and mom-and-pop landlords who provide affordable housing can receive a break in their property taxes for the preservation of naturally occurring affordable housing.

Campaign finance and ethics reform: Illinois tax payers simply cannot afford the corruption tax any more, be it in their tax bills, their utility bills, or their lack of investment in essential government services. We need to take strong steps to preserve democracy in Illinois and ensure public officials work for the taxpayer, not for themselves and the billionaire class. 

Investments in addressing the root causes of violence for immediate and long term solutions. It is not an accident that communities of the 12th District have higher rates of violence and crime on our streets when compared to communities across Illinois with better funded schools, social programs, and other critical services. Our economic corridors and labor force are some of the most vibrant in the state. As your state Senator, I will fight for the investments our communities are entitled to and for a better and more peaceful quality of life for all our residents.

Also, I am committed to fighting for health justice and that means investment in environmental justice. Like other issues of systemic inequality, our communities bear a disproportionate burden of pollution and the diseases associated with pollution ranging from asthma, to heart disease, to cancer, and more. I will fight to ensure the cumulative burden of concentrated pollution is included in environmental permitting, a moratorium on new polluters in overburdened areas, and to relocate existing unacceptable sources of pollution harming the wellbeing of our communities.

Describe three issues that concern the constituents of the 12th District and how you’d begin to address them?

  1. Affordable housing: The Southwest Side neighborhoods continue to rise in housing costs and property taxes. There is so much concern amongst the 12th District constituents about the security of their daily lives and where they are going to rest their heads at night. Our neighborhoods, which were seen as too dangerous to drive through, are now seen as “the coolest neighborhoods in the world,” according to Forbes magazine, and with this have come rising costs. But what makes our communities so vibrant is its people, which is now being lost. Tenants are facing skyrocketing rents. Mom-and-pop property owners, who have continuously provided affordable housing to residents, are being forced to sell their buildings to predatory developers, forcing not only the homeowners to relocate, but the tenants without the secure and stable housing they deserve. In Pilsen, we have already put a stop to predatory practices by developers, but the work is not done.
  1. Public safety: Elected officials continue to talk about public safety and say that it is a priority, but it is not being done with the urgency that is required. Families are losing their children to gun violence at an alarming rate and all we hear is that there needs to be more investment into our communities, but it is happening at a devastatingly slow pace. During our campaign, we have talked with constituents that tell us that they want to go to their neighborhood parks and gathering spaces, but do not feel safe doing so, so they stay inside, rather than walk with their families and friends to the park or go to the playground with the children. Not every community in Illinois has the rates of gun violence that our communities do. As State Senator, I will fight to rectify the historic and entrenched inequality that starves our families and institutions of resources needed to keep our communities safe.
  1. Environment: The Southwest Side has continuously been used as a dumping ground for polluting industry that the North Side doesn’t want. As a result, our communities experience disproportionate rates of illness and short life expectancy so that the Northside can stay healthy and billionaires can keep putting money in their pocket. My wife is a preschool teacher in Back of the Yards, and across from the school, not even half a block away from the playground is a trucking/freight company. Freight trucks idle and spew out toxic diesel exhaust throughout the day while her children run, play, and climb trees, breathing in contaminated air. Rates and the severity of asthma have increased and it is not a coincidence. The families that my wife works with, amongst many others, are scared for their children’s health and safety, but also heartbroken that nothing is being done. The constituents have demanded time and time again that polluting companies have no place in our neighborhoods, and yet elected officials have stayed silent on the issue. If elected, I will fight for clean air, environmental justice, and a sustainable green corridor that strengthens, not weakens our families’ quality of life.

Explain how you would work with other elected officials or stakeholders to get things done.

This past year, I worked with state and county elected officials to secure over $500,000 of investments in public safety infrastructure and youth programming. During the COVID pandemic, I worked with local businesses and chambers of commerce across the Southwest Side to raise nearly $100,000 in resources for local families, many who are undocumented and unable to secure government assistance, to ensure these families could have support they so dearly needed. Throughout the pandemic I also worked with the Mexican Consulate to bring information sessions and resources to Pilsen and surrounding communities about matrículas, so families needing emergency travel could secure the documentation necessary to reunite with their families. As Senator, I will leverage my experience as an entrepreneur and a bridge builder to fight for the legislative changes and investment that our communities deserve knowing that our fight is stronger when we’re fighting together. I have already had the opportunity to creatively bring resources to our communities under challenging circumstances, and as your Senator, we’ll fight together to bring a truly tangible improvement to our communities.

Update, June 17, 2022: This piece was updated to include endorsements made shortly after publication.

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