"When I took office in 2009, we only had one high-achieving school. Now we have 6 high-achieving grade schools and 2 high-achieving high schools in the Ward."
Maldonado was a very early adopter of a new idea: to have Medicare cover prescription drugs! So was President Clinton. This was taken in 1998; the proposal was finally passed in 2006.
More About Roberto
Alderman since 2009; Vice-Chair of the Committee on Workforce Development & Audit, Cook County Commissioner, 1994-2009 and 26th Ward resident for 40 years
Ald. Roberto Maldonado is keeping the 26th Ward affordable for his neighbors and the next generation of families to come. This Ward has always been a diverse residential neighborhood for the 95% — and Roberto is using his office to keep it this way. But high-end developers are hoping to lose this diversity so they can have a market for many years to come.
He has concentrated on building neighborhoods that families need to thrive. Six out of the eleven grade schools have reached a Level 1 rating, the highest available, thanks in part to the Alderman. In addition, he brought 2 high schools to the ward--the first ever in the ward's history. "The backbone of any community is good schools," explained Maldonado. "Good high schools keep students in class and graduating at high rates. This prevents petty crimes and inhibits gang recruitment."
Making the Ward Safe & Secure
Maldonado has spent over $10 Million to re-build the 26th Ward with freshly paved streets and alleys, brighter lightening and security cameras--all in an effort to prevent crime. "Blighted streets attract criminal elements," he explained. In his first day as Alderman, he declared war on graffiti, calling on all residents to report instances to 311. "We received an overwhelming response, leading to thousands of gang graffiti being removed. Still today, I carry a notepad to report graffiti as I drive through the ward daily. So do all my staff," he said.
Maldonado moved to eliminate abandoned houses in the ward by taking property owners to housing court, forcing them to repair these houses or tear them down. "Not only are abandoned homes unsafe and unsanitary, criminal gangs may hide there and sometimes stash illegal guns there, " Maldonado explained further.
Maldonado installed security cameras throughout the Ward because they prevent crime. A 2011 study in Humboldt Park reported that cameras were responsible for a 12% drop in crime. For every dollar spent on cameras, the city saves more than four dollars.
Finding A Place to Play. "Outdoor play is a mark of childhood," said Maldonado. "So in 2010, I directed TIF money to renovate all 11 grade school playgrounds. This allowed principles to use all their funds to improve classroom instruction." He did the same for many of playlots in the Ward, including a large playlot in Humboldt Park.
When the Chicago Park District announced plans to remove the beach at Humboldt Park, residents resisted. "I stood with them, a diverse group representative of the Ward," Maldonado explained. "The beach at Humboldt Park evoked fond childhood memories from those who grew up here and new residents cherished the ease of beach access." After 2 years of organized pressure, the Chicago Park District caved in. "Each time I see the new beach, it reminds me that community action is the best indication of a desirable place to live and put down roots," said Maldonado.
Maldonado helped build a baseball stadium that's a replica of Cubs Field and later batting cages for the baseball leagues that started in 1960. "When Humboldt Park became so neglected many would not visit, the Puerto Rican baseball leagues kept the park on life-support. The movement to improve the community and the park sprang, in part, from these leagues and drew a diverse population back into the park, "said Maldonado.
Returning the Ward to Affordability. At 27, Roberto Maldonado moved into an affordable 26th Ward. He left Puerto Rico for Chicago to pursue his doctorate at Loyola University, after graduating from the prestigious University of Puerto Rico with a Master’s Degree in Clinical Psychology., "I only had $300 in my pocket and crashed on my brother's couch until we found an apartment I could afford. Of course, it was in the Humboldt Park neighborhood," explained Maldonado. "The affordable rents I had kept financial strain at bay. I want this neighborhood to do the same for coming generations--that's why I have legislation pending to keep it that way, why I approve affordable housing and why I promote city programs for middle-income families."
Maldonado voted NO on the Mayor's property tax and the current budget because it is another factor that is driving housing costs higher. "The City of Chicago simply cannot continue to reach further into the pockets of working Chicagoans to finance decades of economic irresponsibility and mistakes."
Fighting for Quality, Affordable Education. Roberto was able to pay for full-time tuition so he wasn't forced to take on student loans that accumulated interest while he was in school. "Families in the 26th Ward can't pay for college now. Their children are burdened with interest-bearing loans so young people must stay at home longer. This neighborhood is being saddled with college debt that will take decades to repay. That's one of the reasons I supported Bernie Sanders in the 2016 Democratic Primary."
While pursuing his studies, he also worked full-time as a psychologist in the Chicago Public Schools. "My brother also worked for CPS as a math teacher. I admired his dedication and the dedication I saw among the other teachers. Now, as a single parent with 3 children attending public schools, I stand with our union teachers and their valuable support staff of assistants, librarians, counselors and school nurses.
According to Cook County Clerk David Orr, Chicago TIFs will produce a surplus of $461 million. I've co-sponsored an ordinance to send this TIF surplus money to our schools." said Maldonado. "Spending this money to rebuild our schools is also an economic driver for businesses which will increase jobs."
Maldonado stated, "Most of this surplus money is currently being banked in downtown TIFs. Despite decades of fiscal mismanagement, some political leaders seek to blame the teachers for the school budget deficit. That must stop. Soaking the working-class homeowner, shortchanging our teachers, and building more charter schools must stop too."
When Roberto first took office in 2009, there was only one high-achieving grade school (Level 1 rating) in the 26th Ward. By working diligently with CPS, 6 out of 11 grade schools in our ward achieved a Level 1 rating by 2013. Knowing that good high schools prevent petty crimes and inhibit gang recruitment, he was able to bring 2 top rated high schools to the ward. "The Ward is diverse but all are united to build good, high-achieving schools near by," said Maldonado.
Beating the Machine, Leading Puerto Ricans into the Fabric of Chicago. When Maldonado arrived in 1978, Puerto Rican residents were already striving for social and political acceptance. This energy was evident as their unique cultural stamp on the Ward appeared through community organizations. Maldonado explained, "But we could never repair the streets, rebuild the Ward or hold the police accountable without first beating the Machine Alderman. Harold Washington--and joining the dynamic, diverse movement that swept him into office--showed us the way. This historic election was our training camp."
He served in Harold Washington’s administration as Director of the Mayor's Office of Training and Education and, later, his position as campaign manager for, then-Alderman, and future Congressman, Luis Gutierrez fueled Roberto’s passion for politics. Now, it is the only officially recognized Puerto Rican neighborhood in the nation with a diverse population who are proud of this designation.
Roberto Maldonado was appointed Alderman of the 26th Ward in July 2009, after serving as Commissioner of the 8th district for 15 years. He won election as Alderman in 2011 with the largest margin of victory of any Alderman on the City Council. Maldonado serves as Vice-Chair of the Committee on Workforce Development & Audit.
Running for Cook County Board of Commissioners, Appointed Alderman in 2009. Maldonado has always believed that government exists to help poor, working class and middle class families who face discrimination and lack a voice in government and politics. His legislative agenda reflected this belief. As Commissioner, he was able to pass the first Sanctuary County in the nation in 2007. Maldonado said, "Immigrants make America great. Congress must pass lasting protection for DACA young people and give them, along with their parents, a path to citizenship."
In 1994, Maldonado became the fourth Latino elected to the Cook County Board of Commissioners since its inception in 1831. During his term he was appointed to the Board of Directors of the National Association of County Officials (NACO). Maldonado also served as past-President of the NACO affiliate, the National Association of County Aging Programs, advocating for federal and county senior health issues.
Building the Largest Minority-Owned Mortgage Company in the Midwest. In 1988, Roberto opened a mortgage company catering to mostly first-time, minority home purchasers. "Larger mortgage companies were ignoring the influx of minority home buyers. So I saw a chance to cater to their special needs and they came my way," explained Maldonado.
As a CPS parent, Maldonado will not settle until the 5 remaining grade schools in the Ward achieve Level 1 ratings and offer a safe and conducive learning environment. Since 2013, six of the 11 grade schools have achieved Level 1 ratings.
Roberto lost his long-time wife, advisor and confidant, Nancy Y. Franco Maldonado, to pancreatic cancer in 2016. "The heartbreaking loss of my wife Nancy has opened a world of suffering I never could have imagined," said Maldonado.
Roberto now lives with his three children, Rene, Roberto, Jr., and Raquel in Humboldt Park. All three of his children have always attended public schools in the area. They all attend Maternity BVM Catholic Church.
Maldonado doesn't wait for residents to come to his office. He walks the ward, listening to residents and seeing for himself what needs improving.