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Dilara Sayeed

Democratic candidate for Illinois House (5th district)

Dilara Sayeed

Dilara Sayeed

Democratic candidate for Illinois House (5th district)

BS In Marketing and Economics - Univ of Illinois at Chicago; MS in Education and Social Policy - Northwestern University; MS in Education Leadership - Univ of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign; Doctorate in Education Leadership and Policy - Harvard University
Educator and Managing Partner, vPeer
Past Political/Civic Experience
No elected office Appointed to Gov Quinn Advisory for Minority Policy

Responses to our questions

Why do you think it has been so difficult for Springfield to get a balanced budget passed and signed?

An inability to collaborate is a key aspect of flawed leadership. Governor Rauner seems to believe in "my way or the highway." This trait permeates Springfield. Again and again, during the two-year budget crisis, key stakeholders were left outside the room as decisions about residents and constituents were being made. We must think innovatively and collaboratively to solve our fiscal issues. The Governor's team must bring new voices and frontline experienced stakeholders to the table.

Change in Springfield can come in 2018 with many open seats and first-time candidates. I come from an education and public service background. Having new legislators that are public servants and who have proven experience in the areas our state is struggling with- education, public safety, revenue-generation, etc - will result in stronger legislation that better meets the needs of Illinois residents.

Do you believe the state budget can be balanced going forward without new sources of revenue?

We need new sources of income to balance the Illinois budget. New voices in Springfield, better collaborative, and innovative ideas will be key. To become a stable state where residents can rely on adequate levels of support and funding, we must have more effective management of current revenue, AND we must generate new revenue. Illinois is pretty lean in key areas compared to many states; we spend the least percentage (less than adequate) on schools of any state in the union, spend less per patient on Medicaid than many states, and have fewer state workers per capita than any other state. I am open to trimming spending but not for key public/social services or critical systems of support. I'd like to focus on collaborating with legislators to find ways to increase revenue.

What new sources, if any, would you support? Please be specific.

One way to generate greater revenue is through a graduated tax. Illinois is one of a handful of states that does not already have a graduated tax system- we are not tapping into key financial resources and we are putting undue burden on our low and middle class families. I will advocate for the analysis of the use of property taxes, application of special subsidies, as well as a study of how other states have confronted the issue of inequity and proper use of state funds that actually result in improvement of our systems and infrastructure.

Do you support a constitutional amendment favoring a graduated income tax? Please explain.

As stated above, one way to generate greater revenue is through a graduated tax. Illinois is one of a handful of states that does not already have a graduated tax system- we are not tapping into key financial resources and we are putting undue burden on our low and middle class families.

Please list five areas where you would cut spending.

Illinois is pretty lean. We are right at the middle or lower than average across all the states in major spending areas. The Illinois legislature has to find a way to pay its bills. So I would look for savings, not cuts- that's what I did as a leader of a non-profit, and even with our family budget. In Illinois, let's better fund support systems that allow some seniors to have dignity and live at home rather than pay for them to be at senior centers saves us money. This is more cost effective and compassionate. Working with young people in local centers instead of sending them to juvenile detention centers will save money, and may also reduce recidivism. Identifying any state offices that can be more efficient when consolidated will decrease state salaries and overhead. We must bring stakeholders that work directly in the community to identify the most effective cost saving opportunities. Again, all of this does not take away from the clear fact that we must increase revenue. We cannot cut or even save our way out of our fiscal crisis.

Since the Illinois Supreme Court's 2015 decision tossing bipartisan pension reform, what can and should the legislature do to control pension costs, if anything?

The Illinois legislature has to find a way to pay its bills, and to do it on time. Years of kicking the can down the road has jeopardized our ability to support hard-working teachers and other service teams when they have spent their careers working in our schools and supporting elders, state institutions and the vulnerable across our communities. Generating new revenue through a graduated tax and exploring other revenue programs in neighboring states will help us find a path to fiscal stability.

Should all new state workers be moved into defined contribution plans?

There isn't evidence that this has worked in other states. To go down this path, instead of being All In for finding a path to full funding, just seems irresponsible. Our first priority has to be to show we can pay our current bills. Second, pensions and other key benefits help ensure teachers and other public sector employees that they can actually work today and have something for retirement tomorrow. Public employees serve the community. The community has the expectation of that service and provides the intention of supporting a modest retirement retirement in return. Substitutes to the pension plans are not tested, may be unreliable, and will then put us in a worse footing than we already are.

What should the governor do to control pension costs during union contract talks? What would you do?

The Governor can support a system that pays the current pension bills on time. Retirees worked hard and paid into their pensions and shouldn't have to worry about their payouts being reduced because of mismanagement by the legislature. I would make sure our public employees know I am committed to paying what we owe them. And then I would bring every key stakeholder to the table to talk next steps.

Illinois lost more residents than any other state in 2016 and the trend appears to be holding for 2017. What is the No. 1 reason, in your opinion, for the exodus?

We must be able to Build a Life- with jobs and key services, or we will move to where we can. The number one reason for residents leaving our state is that they believe Illinois is irresponsible and erratic in supporting its residents and making things work. If a resident don't have stable systems that fund key services and provide a safe environment to live, learn, work, and play- then he or she will think about which other state they can rely on.

What should Illinois do — via tax policy, spending or other policy means — to keep residents from leaving?

  1. Get state budgets in place that respect the residents, employees, and environment of the state.
  2. Skilled jobs must be available, and we must be prepared to do them. Ensure young people have strong education systems that prepare them for success in career and in life. Make sure education systems are funded, scholarships/supports that are promised are delivered, and that educators are preparing them for skilled jobs/careers.
  3. No one wants to pay taxes, but we know our taxes support key services- from schools to trash pick up. Illinois must have a graduated tax system that ensures these services are equitably provided to all and that revenue to pay for them is equitably expected from all.

What should Illinois do to promote job creation?

Illinois must nurture entrepreneurs and small business to develop businesses and to keep those businesses in the state. Illinois must prepare skilled future employees. I elaborate on this in the sections above. Businesses will go to a state that has a well-prepared workforce. We must have it and we must market to corporations and businesses that we have it- the place to have a business with skilled employees should be Illinois, not another state in the Midwest or across the nation.

Did you support the education funding reform bill that the governor signed in 2017?

I support this first real effort to fix the school funding formula. I do not, however, support the entirety of that bill. Taxpayer money should not go towards funding private education and charter schools. Rather it should be spent on improving our public education system and ensuring that all school districts in the state are properly funded. Though the bill improved the formula, funding levels in the state are still insufficient. The state legislature should fund school districts according to the level of need of their students. I am an educator and understand our education system from every perspective- teacher, administrator and tax payer. Education funding and reform is one of my key platform areas.

What, if anything, should the legislature do to help Chicago Public Schools?

The state should not demand double-paying of pension bills from Chicago tax payers, the state should increase state funding for all schools, and also fund CPS equitably based on the percentage of low-income and vulnerable students CPS serves.

Do you support opportunity scholarships included in the funding reform bill? Or will you try, if elected, to eliminate that program?

Public funds should not support private education or faith-based programs. I would eliminate this program because it takes more dollars away from public education that serves all students. There is no study that proves a opportunity scholarship benefits student learning.

Should Illinois do more to regulate campaign fundraising? If so, what?

Illinois should consider two main campaign finance reforms. The first is removing the loophole that allows for dark money to flood in through 501c(4) and 501c(6) non-profits. Unlike PACs, these nonprofits are allowed to keep their donors hidden. When non-profits behave like PACs they should be required to register and report like them. The second reform is public financing of elections through a small donor matching system. I would support SB 1424 if it is voted upon in the house.

What help, if any, are you receiving from your party and its leaders, including staff help, advice, legal assistance, money and resources? Be specific.

I am not bought, and I am not beholden. I answer to my future constituents. I have support from progressives and community leaders who are eager to have an elected official who has overcome challenges in her own life and has spent her entire career ensuring every other resident can also build a life. I have not received any support from the party.

If you are an incumbent, give an example of a time you worked across the aisle on an important issue.


If you are an incumbent, give at least one example of a time you did not vote with your party on a significant issue.


Do you support term limits? If so, will you commit to sponsoring legislation and/or lobbying your colleagues on behalf of a constitutional change?

I do not think legislators should have positions for life, but I have not seen any research that states term limits have a positive effect on legislation. Term limits are an admirable though misguided cause. Illinoisans are justified in being fed up with a gridlocked and corrupt political system. But, term limits are not an effective way of returning power to the voters. Term limits without real reforms benefit lobbyists and consultants more than average people. The better solution is to focus on making elections more fair. I support efforts to do so. Another key focus should be to promote the election of new voices and fresh ideas when possible. I am a lifelong advocate of vulnerable communities, an educator, and a second-generation union member. I will represent change and move us towards reform in our politics and our policies.

Do you support changes to the redistricting process? If so, will you commit to sponsoring legislation and/or lobbying your colleagues on behalf of a constitutional change?

I simply do not think an independent body without political partiality will exist for redistricting. We will get in a bigger political mess if we aim for this. I support and would rather focus on political reform through bringing in new voices in elected office, striving for campaign finance reform, etc.

Tell us a little about your family.

My very first memory is of my graduation from the Head Start preschool program for low-income children in Chicago. I proudly stood on stage, a great gap-toothed smile on my face and a gold paper crown on my head. My hair was in tight braids and I was wearing a scratchy polyester dress my mother had sewn on her used Singer sewing machine. At that moment, even though so many obstacles were in my way, I thought I could be anything I wanted. Success in life requires access to education, to resources, and, most importantly, to systems that will support us in getting there. I am a product of the Chicago Public Schools, a Catholic high school, and one of the first mosques in Chicago. My immigrant parents worked as a CTA ticket agent and a USPS postal clerk. These foundations fueled my ambition for equity, high quality, and accountability for all our residents — youth and adults.

Today, my husband and I have been able to Build a Life. We raised three children who are now building their own lives. Yousuf is a physician and I am an educator. Healthcare and Education- these are two key aspects of a strong society- and we are committed to ensuring every resident has them. Reverend Leslie Sanders says, "We may not be the same skin color, but you and I are the same kind." In this diverse country, we should have each other's back. But actually, some people, bolstered by our divisive President, Governor, and other leaders, are trying to keep us apart. They say I don't belong, you don't have what it takes, and he is scary. The silver lining in this contentious environment is that many of us are stepping up and speaking up. We are fighting for the values of our great nation- pluralism, liberty, and justice. We know we are stronger when we knock on doors side-by-side, and speak truth to power — together.

The perfect response to today's climate of divisiveness is electing a smart, charismatic, progressive, American Muslim woman with a hijab who has spent her career as a teacher, a businesswoman, and an advocate for all Americans. I will be a bridge between diverse communities so that together, we will all thrive as Americans. I never thought I would run for office - but my core values are equity, justice, and pluralism. My love for these values, my family and my country is compelling me to toss my scarf into the ring for Illinois State Representative of the 5th District. :)

Tell us something about you that might surprise us.

My favorite spot in the city may surprise you. I love being with people, but sometimes, you will find me on a single kayak in the middle of Lake Michigan (three seasons- not in winter!). 35th Street harbor has kayaks- and I take one out onto the Lake and look at my great city- from the south side all the way up north. It is a beautiful skyline, but the beauty hides the deep challenges we face. Our city needs to support every community- every resident must be able to build a life.

Candidates for Illinois House (5th district)