Detroit City Council Candidate Guide: Two vie to replace Castañeda-López in District 6

September 30, 2021, 9:05 PM by  Violet Ikonomova

Gabriela Santiago-Romero and Hector Santiago

Detroit voters this year have the chance to tip the balance of power on City Council in a high-stakes election held against the backdrop of a federal corruption probe into several councilmembers and their aides.

Over the coming weeks, we'll roll out surveys featuring each candidate on the ballot Nov. 2.

In District 6, Gabriela Santiago-Romero and Hector Santiago are vying to replace Councilmember Raquel Castañeda-López. Santiago-Romero has won the outgoing councilwoman's endorsement.

Gabriela Santiago-Romero

1) Tell us a little about yourself.

Gabriela Santiago-Romero is the Policy and Research Director with We The People MI, based in Detroit. She’s an immigrant from Mexico and a Southwest Detroit native. She earned her master of social work studying Social Policy and Evaluation with a focus on Community and Social Systems from the University of Michigan. She received her bachelors from the University of Detroit Mercy focused on international business. She’s a community activist and organizer who has extensive experience working for Detroit nonprofits and local government. She’s a former candidate for Wayne County Commissioner in District 4 which covers Southwest Detroit, Lincoln Park and Melvindale. Love and food fuel her work.

2) What are the primary challenges facing Detroit?

Some of the issues that need to be addressed are our housing insecurity, lack of good jobs and lack of basic city services. When I’m talking to residents, many of them can no longer afford rent or don’t have access to good safe jobs that'll allow them to pay for housing. Many residents are simply frustrated by the lack of basic city services.

3) What steps will you take to address those?

I want to work together with community leaders and grassroots organizations to put together legislative and budgeting priorities the city should be focused on. We need policies that support Detroiters staying in their homes. We need budgeting priorities that address our housing insecurities. I plan on working together with unions and local businesses to support the creation of good jobs. As I campaign I'm taking note of which areas in our district need investments in street lights, speed bumps and other city services and I'm reaching out to our district managers to support addressing these needs. I will continue to advocate for our neighborhoods that need support while on council.

4) Why should people elect you over your opponents?

I have the grassroots relationships needed to really advocate for progressive change. I have a background in social work, policy, research and evaluation. I will use my skills and lived experience to bring forth the bold ideas that we need to truly create change in our city for the most vulnerable. I'm running for office because I believe we need leaders who care about their constituents and are willing to be held accountable. 

5) What council decisions have you disagreed with since 2014?

One decision that was incredibly troubling for me was the choice to give tax breaks to major developments happening downtown when we could be using the money to be reinvested into the city. I don’t believe that we should keep giving corporations tax breaks. I believe they should be paying their fair share.

6) What mayoral agenda items have you've disagreed with since 2014? 

I disagree with the mayor's decision to continue to invest more money into our already inflated Detroit Police Department. I believe we should be investing more money into our neighborhoods and residents.

Hector Santiago

1) Tell us a little about yourself.

Growing up in Southwest Detroit, I learned the value of faith, community, treating others with respect, and hard work as the oldest of four kids. A graduate of Western High School, I was the first in my family to attend college. I am currently helping care for my father on dialysis, an experience that has given me a firsthand understanding of the importance of healthcare access. Following a nonviolent offense charge, I qualified for the city’s Project Clean Slate program and successfully obtained expungement, giving me the opportunity of a second chance and inspired me to pursue public service. For nearly a decade, I've led a workforce development program dedicated to improving residents’ quality of life, job training, and expanding youth education opportunities for Detroiters. My direct work with returning citizens has helped hundreds of people overcome barriers to employment and get a second chance when most had counted them out of society. My wife Liz and I are raising two girls in Southwest Detroit. In my spare time, I coach youth baseball, mentor in conflict resolution, and teach Sunday school.

2) What do you see as the primary issues holding back Detroit?

My top priority is being a strong voice for people and championing a more just, prosperous, equitable future for everyone in our community. Our community holds so much potential, but for too long, we have been disregarded and disenfranchised. If elected, I will prioritize building economic opportunity, public safety, and justice reforms to ensure that everyone who calls our great city home gets the same second chance that I did.

3) What steps will you take to address those?

I will always put the people first. That starts with building sustainable, equitable economic opportunity that fosters entrepreneurship, supports small businesses, invests in local infrastructure, and promotes workforce training and development for all residents, regardless of background or zip code.

Neighborhood safety is also a top concern because every resident, regardless of political ideology, age, or background, wants their kids to be able to play safely outside. I will center neighborhood safety as a main priority by continuing to build trust through the recruitment of public safety officers from within our communities, reducing emergency response times, and enhancing resources through community policing and partnerships with District 6 Neighborhood Police Officers to keep all residents safe.

As someone with firsthand experience navigating the justice system, I know the importance of reforms and will  invest in recidivism programs as well as advocate for equal opportunity in employment, housing, and other areas for returning citizens eager for a second chance after serving their time.

4) Why should voters elect you?

I am proud to have grown up here, gone to school here, and am raising my kids here. For too long, politicians who only show up during election time have angled for our vote but forgotten about us once they get elected. I am not that person, and will always remain accountable and accessible to the people. That is why if elected I am committed to hosting regular town halls in every zip code. We cannot just talk to the neighborhoods with business districts and higher rents when we are talking about jobs and development. When we talk about current development, we must make sure the residents who have lived here for decades have a real seat at the table. In neighborhoods that have been invested in like downtown and Corktown, we need to think about what our five- and ten-year investment plans for these neighborhoods look like. We need to bring everyone in to drive innovation.

As I speak with residents about their concerns, one thing is clear: Our community is yearning for and deserves new leadership with the lived experience to get results. While I might not come from the elite “political insider” circle, I do know the everyday challenges facing the people. I know what it’s like to have to decide between paying rent or the electric bill. I know what it’s like for a potential employer to not give your resume a chance because of the color of your skin. That’s why over the last decade, I’ve dedicated my time to building a strong workforce development program that helps local residents overcome barriers to employment, education, and other opportunities that wouldn’t otherwise be available to them.

I’ll take that same focus to the City Council and serve as a bridge between our community and the Council, and make sure everyone -- not just the well-off or connected -- gets a fair shot. This moment calls for collaboration, not more backroom deals, so every voice is lifted up and heard. That’s how we’ll advance real justice and build a truly equitable future where everyone has the opportunity to not just survive, but thrive.

5) What council decisions have you disagreed with since 2014?

Many, especially in some of our underserved neighborhoods of color, lack healthy food and produce options. In recent years, there has been significant discussion over urban farming and the importance of increasing access to land for residents eager to purchase in their neighborhoods for that purpose. City government should make it easier for people to purchase lots, build healthier neighborhoods, and improve our broader community in the process — we should never be shutting out residents.

6) What mayoral agenda items haver you disagreed with since 2014? 

Regardless of policy differences, this moment, as we come out of the covid crisis and look to the future, calls for collaboration to get things done for the people. On issues of disagreement, we do not need more political games or finger pointing — especially after years of insiders saying ‘my way or no way.’ The people deserve leaders who are willing to work together to actually get things done on the issues impacting their daily lives. 

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