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Cristina Pacione-Zayas: Community Is Family

Incoming Deputy Chief of Staff, for Chicago Mayor Brandon Johnson, on the equitable distribution of resources, inclusive leadership, and social responsibility

CHICAGO – Days after being elected mayor of Chicago in the April runoff election against Paul Vallas, Brandon Johnson named state Sen. Cristina Pacione-Zayas as his first deputy chief of staff.

Pacione-Zayas, widely recognized for her career-long efforts to promote educational equity, sat down with Hugo Balta, publisher of Illinois Latino News on the podcast, “3 Questions With…”. “I think one of the advantages that we have is that Mayor Johnson is a former educator,” Pacione-Zayas said. “What that will translate into is having some significant advocacy efforts around funding for our schools; ensuring more equitable distribution of resources.”

The incoming Deputy also shared her accomplishments in Springfield, as a state senator. Among them, her advocacy created the Early Childhood Access Consortium for Equity, which provides financial and wrap-around support for members of the incumbent early childhood workforce while earning degrees and credentials to improve the quality of early childhood services and programs. She led the Too Young to Test Act, which dismantles harmful testing procedures for young students in the state. Sen. Pacione-Zayas established the floor for economic eligibility for the Child Care Assistance Program to ensure that budgets are not balanced on the backs of families with limited economic resources.

Still, despite the large body of work during her tenure as state senator, Pacione-Zayas admits there is still more (work) left to be done because of institutions not “designed to have folks with my lived experiences, and other lived experiences, particularly people of color, people who grew up with limited economic resources to be at those decision making tables to really make government more humane, more of a system of care, and more people centered.”

The only child of two community organizers, Pacione-Zayas grew up in public housing on Chicago’s northwest side. Experience that helped shape her life’s work. “Community is family; we show up for each other,” she said when sharing how her parents work, including ensuring that families had their basic needs met, instilled in her a sense of social responsibility.


“3 Questions With…” is co-produced by the Latino News Network (LNN), an independent, multimedia digital news outlet with local newsrooms in the Northeast and Midwest, including IL Latino News  and CAN TV, Chicago’s hub for community centric news, hyperlocal stories and educational resources.

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