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Interview: Fifteen Minutes With Ald. Manny Flores

By Kate Gardiner in News on Aug 17, 2009 3:40PM

Kate Gardiner/Chicagoist

Last week, Chicagoist caught up with the Master of the First Ward - and the only alderman regularly on Twitter - Chicago Ald. Manny Flores outside the Green Exchange. We've seen Flores in the news a lot lately for his insistence on shining light on government transparency as well as his battle to cap the city's Olympic liability (which he allegedly later backed down on). We talked to Flores about the economy, green initiatives, and he gives us a definitive answer on speculation he's running for mayor in 2011 (but a less definitive answer on if he's got plans for something else).

Chicagoist: What's going on in the First Ward?

MF: A lot of local businesses are being hit by the recession, and they're being frustrated by the government - they can't figure out how to get the federal stimulus money... The money's not really making an impact on the economy.

Chicagoist: How can you tell?

MF: Parts of the neighborhood are starting to see the foreclosure rate increase, and people are hurting more. Development is down, of course. You can see that here. The Green Exchange was going to be built without government money - it was wholly privately financed. No TIFs. But since the recession, they've really been impacted. Now they're looking at TIF money to keep going. It's been hard to figure out how to get the federal money - so no one's been able to use it.

Chicagoist: What are you doing about it?

MF: I'm trying to figure out how to provide for cheap rental... and I'm partnering with Ald. [Walter] Burnett (27th) on an ordinance that would direct TIF money to affordable housing. There's been a lot of push back on that one.

Chicagoist: You're one of the youngest members of city council. How does that affect what you do? You seem very internet-conscious.

MF: I'm one of the three under-40s.* I'm 37. There's a group of 45-50s and then there are the elder statesmen. I show a lot of them how to do a lot of good things - from clean tech development to showing them ways to use technology in their ward... I showed an alderman EveryBlock recently, and he was skeptical at first... by the end I couldn't tear him away from it. It was the foreclosures he was fascinated by.

Chicagoist: We talk to you frequently about transparency - we're proponents of transparent government where we can get it, especially in Chicago - but we know you're working on other ordinances and ideas. What's been the biggest push lately?

MF: Green initiatives. Green technology. I find it inspiring - it really fires me up to transcend local boundaries and have a global impact. The Green Exchange is one of those things - we came at it from a bad situation, where a big company, supporting a lot of people, closed its doors. It's about how to turn challenges into service, politics, green technology. And combining that with the power of technology... you get everything from EveryBlock to the Exchange.

Chicagoist: So much green. The First Ward seems to be a hotbed for environmentally-oriented companies. What about the people who live there?

MF: We're working on making the redevelopment of Lathrop Homes as green as possible. In theory, it's going to be the first LEED gold certified development - 32-acres, all certified environmentally-friendly. It'd be the first time CHA did LEED certification, and the first development in the country, we think. Preliminarily, there'd be about 900 units eventually as high as 1200. The push is affordable housing versus market rates in the area.

Chicagoist: So what's next for Manny Flores? We saw your new web site, and we're thinking, 'is Manny running for Mayor?'

MF: I'm not running for mayor.

Chicagoist: Are you considering higher office?

MF: [shrugs]

Chicagoist: We heard there's a little alderman on the way any day now?

MF: I love my job, and I will encourage him or her into public service, but I don't think I'm going to push her to do this job.

*Alds. Brenden Reilly, 42nd and Scott Waguespack, 32nd are the others.

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