Candidate for City Council, 2nd Ward
Education: BA Communications, BA Political Science, University of Utah, 1997. JD Northwestern University School of Law, 2003
Age: Not answered
Past Political/Civic Experience: Not answered
Q: Last year, the Chicago Tribune's investigative series "Broken Bonds" reported that, since 2000, Chicago had issued long-term bonds to spend nearly $10 billion, much of it for short-term operating expenses. Hundreds of millions of dollars went to delay bond payments by refinancing old debts, a tactic known as "scoop and toss" that extends payments far into the future. Was this borrowing justified? Going forward, how should City Hall change its finances to pay down existing debts and provide services? Will you argue primarily for cuts in spending or for tax increases? Please be specific.
No. The borrowing was not justified. Bond deals of that size are not inherently problematic when they are used for large-scale infrastructure projects that cannot be financed in real-time. But, borrowing and bonding for everyday expenses is not sound fiscal policy. Your series details bond deals that were used to pay for such basic materials as trash cans, flower boxes and bags for dog waste. I think a better option, in most instances, would have been to do without. I also believe this issue speaks to a larger question about the role of the City Council in approving budgets and bond deals. I fully support the recent creation of an Independent Budget Office for the City Council, and I support it being run and staffed with financial professionals who have extensive experience in managing, drafting and understanding the types of complex financial deals drafted by the big banks we are negotiating with. It's my hope that we can avoid a repeat of this kind of spend-now-pay-later city financing with an office that will give the Council the tools and resources it needs to be an effective steward of public money. Also, with an Independent Budget Office, the Council will be better prepared to fulfill their role as a legislative check and balance on the executive. In the end, the Council may agree with the Mayor's budget priorities and borrowing proposals, but preparing the Council to ask the right questions could lead to better, more fully vetted outcomes. Robust debate sometimes has a way of getting to the best solution or improving deals where others may not have spotted room for improvement. The Council must have the tools to ask questions and push back on behalf of Chicago taxpayers. While I'm very interested in ensuring that all unnecessary or wasteful spending is scrubbed from the city budget, going forward we must be prepared to talk about tax increases that make sense in a 21st century economy. While I believe that the City Council should ultimately have a serious debate about all potential streams of revenue, including virtually every proposal floated by Aldermen and the Mayor over the last few years, I think real revenue reform should begin in Springfield. In my opinion, the place to start looking for revenue is with a sales tax on services. Right now, nearly half of the Illinois economy is exempt from sales tax. As the service sector continues to expand we continue to fail to take advantage of those changing economic conditions. Simply put, Illinois and Chicago have a tax base that's far too narrow and it makes no economic sense. The City Inspector General has estimated that a sales tax on services could raise approximately $450 million per year annually for the City of Chicago from its 2.25% share of the state sales tax. That revenue would go a very long way in fixing our current fiscal mess and in funding our pension obligations.
Q: Chicago will face a substantial increase in contributions to its police and fire pension funds in 2016. Chicago's unfunded pension liability amounts to about $7,000 for each resident of the city. How should the city solve its pension crisis? Please be specific about pension changes, spending cuts or revenue increases you would support.
As noted above, I support an expansion of the sales tax to include an array of currently untaxed services from manicures to lawn care and cleaning services. I think this is the right first step to finding the revenue to fulfill our pension obligations and begin paying down our bond debt. Recently, Aldermen have floated suggestions for everything from borrowing against TIF funds and a LaSalle Street tax, to a congestion and/or commuter tax – basically anything to avoid increases in the property tax. I think the Council and the Mayor ought to start by holding hearings to delve into the political viability and financial impact of any or all of these ideas. I think the solution probably lies in some combination of revenue sources and I would prefer to see us take a holistic approach and undertake an in-depth examination of all our options at once rather than continue to nickel and dime taxpayers with incremental short-term solutions, like bad bond deals or parking meter privatization deals, that only exacerbate the problem in the long-run. Additionally, I think we should be discussing the option of a casino in Chicago which would generate not only direct revenue, but also create jobs and spin-off revenue in the form of increased sales tax receipts and from spending by tourists who shop, dine, drink and stay in Chicago restaurants and hotels.
Q: What changes should be made in the city's use of tax increment financing? Would you support expansion or extension of TIF districts in your ward? How should excess TIF funds be spent? Do you support the $55 million allotment of TIF funds to buy land for a Marriott Hotel and DePaul basketball arena? Please explain.
I believe we have to get back to the original intention of TIF legislation, which was to help "blighted" communities rebuild. I would also support the use of TIF dollars on the edges of better off communities that border blighted communities in the hopes that such planned linkage could spur continued spin-off economic growth into communities that need it. The Second Ward is made up of largely wealthy communities that are well-positioned to make development and job creation work through investment of their own wealth. I would be in support of some use of TIF dollars in the Second Ward in select development situations, notably the old Finkl Steel site which is about to be demolished. However, given the relative wealth of the Second Ward, I would be careful about supporting TIFs. As for spending excess TIF funds I think ultimately, TIF dollars should be spent to spur economic growth. It's true that TIFs help spur important economic development and job creation, often at a cost to our schools. However, the question for me is basically, do you spend $100 million to spur economic development which creates jobs and spin-off economic development and impact? Or, do you spend $100 million to close a budget gap that will still be there the next year? It's a close question, but I think any time you can put people to work and inject a long-term economic stimulus into the city that's the better bet. In the end, putting people to work will, hopefully over time, stabilize schools and neighborhoods and reduce crime. To me, it's really a question of long-term investment with long-term benefits or short-term investment with short-term benefits. I think the better use of taxpayer dollars is the long-term strategy in most cases. That said, I would not have supported the DePaul stadium proposal for two reasons, it was not located in a "blighted" community and the funding was going to a non-profit private school that would not have generated much tax revenue to pay Chicagoans back for their investment. I would have taken a closer look at the revised ordinance regarding Marriott hotel because the hotel would generate tax revenue. Of course, this kind of development is not just about public dollars supporting private interests as it's often made out to be. It's about whether or not the deal would get done without the use of public money. Investment of those public dollars will create thousands of construction jobs and thousands of permanent jobs post-construction. As I said above, I think the primary use of TIF dollars must be for economic development and job creation. I did not see good numbers reported for what the long-term economic benefit of the stadium and hotel complex would be to Chicago. I cannot say one way or another whether I would have voted for it without that analysis. It's my hope that an Independent Budget Office, advising the Council, would be in a position to provide those kinds of answers to Aldermen.
Q: The Tribune Editorial Board recently offered "12 ways to heal a city" — the best ideas among more than 1,000 suggestions from readers on how to craft "A new Plan of Chicago." These proposals are available at chicagotribune.com/plan. Please tell us which ideas you would champion. We invite you to offer additional ideas for dealing with Chicago's challenges.
I love this question! I was very inspired by the series. My answer is all of them. But, I think it all starts with the "Schools as Tools" suggestion. I think it's critical that we find a good use for those 50 shuttered schools as soon as possible. And, I would like to add a slight twist to the 12 suggestions. What if we took the "Schools as Tools" idea and put it into action, then ran the other 11 ideas out of a shuttered school? In other words, what if those other shuttered schools became an office space/community center for people to work on the other 11 ideas in those neighborhoods where schools were closed? It seems to me that with people working on such great ideas as Sister Neighborhoods, the SAFE Children program, Innovation Houses, urban farming plans, and the kids and careers program – all from the same office space – connections would be made and leveraged just by sharing the space. Those connections in turn would yield huge benefits to neighborhoods and Chicago as a whole. Also, in the Second Ward, I'm particularly interested in the sister neighborhoods program. First, I'd like to start a project for sister neighborhoods within the ward because neighbors have taught me there's a lot to learn from each other in running a neighborhood organization or a local chamber of commerce. The Second Ward meanders through parts of 11 neighborhoods (depending on definition), Streeterville, River North, Gold Coast, Old Town, Lincoln Park, Wicker Park, Bucktown, Ukrainian Village, East Village, Pulaski Park and Noble Square. Each neighborhood has something it can teach the others. And, all Second Ward neighborhoods have strong neighborhood traditions and organizations that I think would be willing to share best practices and lessons learned with struggling neighborhoods outside the ward. For example, Wicker Park and Bucktown have a particularly strong Chamber of Commerce that I think could share some best practices with other neighborhoods. And, Streeterville's neighborhood group is one of the strongest and most cohesive in the city. I think, if asked, they would be willing to help other neighborhoods grow the kind of strong neighborhood organization it takes to influence elected officials and impact their neighborhoods for the better. As Alderman, I would happily work with my colleagues to connect neighborhoods with the hope of improving the entire city.
Q: Should the City Council keep or abolish the office of legislative inspector general? Should the city inspector general be given the authority to investigate aldermen and their staff members? Do you have other ideas to improve government ethics in Chicago? Please explain.
Recently there has been much debate over the role of the Legislative Inspector General and his or her powers to independently investigate Aldermen. Some Alderman, and the Mayor, have suggested that the role of Legislative IG be eliminated and power to police alderman shifted to the city's Inspector General Joe Ferguson. Initially I opposed this ordinance because I worried about the executive branch's ability to appoint someone responsible for investigating the Council. However, upon closer examination, I believe the ordinance strikes the right balance between legislative and executive power to appoint and remove the Inspector General. More importantly, I support the new ordinance which I think gives the IG real authority and power to investigate the City Council for illegal and unethical practices. It provides authority for the IG to initiate his own complaints, guarantees a base level budget that cannot be withdrawn by the Council or the Mayor for political reasons, provides Aldermen with two appointments on the five-member selection committee that would choose any future inspector general and keeps in place provisions in the original ordinance which provide that the IG may be removed prior to the expiration of a four-year term only "for cause" and subject to a hearing convened by the City Council, and a vote by the majority of the full council to remove the IG. I do have ideas for additional reforms. As I talk with voters, I have been saddened by their deep distrust of city government. And, what feels to me like a persistent cynicism. Leaders cannot govern effectively and efficiently without support from those they serve. I was troubled by Legislative Inspector General Faisal Khan's recent report which concluded that City Council employees were doing political work on the taxpayer's dime. IG Khan also asserted that in some cases, he did not have sufficient information to even determine whether employees were doing political work on city time because Aldermen refused to keep time sheets and adequate records. I believe in accountability and transparency. And, I also believe that sunlight is the greatest disinfectant. Having come from a law firm where I spent 10 years accounting for my time in six-minute increments, I think it's the least we can do for taxpayers to give them a sense of how we spend our time working for them. In my office, we will lead by example – my staff will be required to keep time sheets and they will be turned over to the Inspector General and the public whenever we are asked to provide them. Additionally, as Alderman, I plan to disclose each and every meeting I take in my official capacity along with the subject matter. Chicagoans pay the Council's salaries. They have the right to know how Aldermen and their staffs are working to serve them. Also, for government to work well, I need Second Ward voters to believe in my office, and my leadership, so I will make it as easy for them to do that as I possibly can.
Q: The Chicago Public Schools system has seen significant improvements in freshmen on track and high school graduation rates. CPS has also closed dozens of schools, used fiscal 2016 revenue to balance its 2015 budget and faces a roughly $700 million pension payment in 2016. Please give us your assessment of the academic and financial performance of the city's public schools. What is the key to improving public education in the city? Should members of the Board of Education be elected by the public or continue to be appointed by the mayor? Do you support the longer school day and year? Should CPS expand or reduce the number of charter schools? How should CPS close its significant budget gap?
As I think we are all aware, the academic performance of the city's schools certainly needs improvement. But, I am heartened by the good work CPS and Chicago teachers have done with the "on track" program referenced in your question to improve high school graduation rates. As for the "key" to improving public education in the city, I think that's a complex question that cannot be addressed within your 500 word limit. There is no one answer and nobody has a silver bullet. Indeed, I think the solution to the extent there is just one, is getting the city as a whole to work better. We have to pay working parents a living wage so they can feed, clothe and put roofs over their kids' heads after working an honest 40-hour week. We have to do that because working three jobs to take care of the basics keeps parents out of the lives of their children and forces kids to raise themselves without adequate supervision or guidance. We have to work on creating real economic opportunity in the parts of our city where schools are failing so that the 92% of young black men who are currently unemployed have a job to go to after school and something to do with their time that gives them a little hope and an alternative to choosing crime. We have to admit to ourselves that not everybody is college-bound and that's okay, because our economy needs bus drivers, plumbers, carpenters and other laborers who make the city run. And, for those kids who are not college bound, we must have alternatives in high school that let them know we care about them too, like extensive vocational training. We have to change the way we look at CPS and a child educated in that system – too often we simply do not believe in them. That failure to believe is, in and of itself, inherently destructive and has lasting impacts on the psychology of a child who is aware that her school, and her neighborhood, are viewed as "failing." Language matters. I am supportive of a hybrid-type school board that is both elected and appointed, with a majority of the seats being elected, at-large, by the people of Chicago. I support a longer school day and school year. CPS should "reduce" the number of charters only inasmuch as they are non-performing. A failing charter school should be closed. No exceptions. A failure is a failure. I would also support a moratorium on charter school expansion until we can properly assess, through an apples to apples comparison, whether they are actually delivering on the promise of a "better" education. The data on this point appears to be mixed at best. CPS could begin to close its budget gap with state and local dollars from revenue raised by a sales tax on services as discussed above
Q: How would you attract more employers to your ward? How would you encourage employers to hire local residents? What have you done to promote economic development in your ward?
As Alderman, economic development and job creation will be priorities of mine. The Second Ward is uniquely positioned to create jobs and generate significant economic activity in two ways: First, it is a ward with important cultural and economic significance to Chicago. It is home to renowned Chicago arts institutions such as Lookingglass and Royal George Theater, along with the Museum of Contemporary Art. It has fabulous Chicago restaurants and hotels located in its boundaries like Michelin-rated Schwa in Wicker Park, and The Drake. The ward's shopping destinations include Water Tower on the east as well as funky locally-owned boutiques on the west. Its Bucktown boundary is one block south of the new 606 Chicago, which will not just rival New York's High Line, it will put it to shame. And, because of its proximity to the 606, it is getting a new high-rise boutique hotel at the corners of North, Milwaukee and Damen that will bring tourism to western neighborhoods in the ward. Its eastern border is Oak Street Beach, making it the gateway to Chicago's lakefront. These are only a few of its highlights. It is a ward that could be leveraged, with my leadership, to advance the Mayor's aggressive, but doable, tourism goals, which I support both for their job creation potential and also as a source of desperately needed revenue. I would work diligently and aggressively with hotels, restaurants, labor, the Mayor's office, Choose Chicago and neighboring colleagues to promote tourism and plans to move tourists beyond downtown and into our neighborhoods. The Second Ward provides a unique opportunity to do that across a broad spectrum of Chicago's neighborhoods spanning from the Lakefront almost to Western Avenue. Second, the Second Ward is home to potentially the largest Northside development opportunity the City has seen in decades – the redevelopment of the Finkl Steel land in the Clybourn Planned Manufacturing District. As Alderman, I would have significant influence over the direction of that development. I pledge to use it to influence, in whatever ways possible, the creation of jobs and promotion of sound labor practices and principles by developers who build on that land. The redevelopment of that Planned Manufacturing District holds the promise and possibility of a massive jobs program, not just because of the development inside the PMD, but also for the necessary transportation and infrastructure improvements I believe we would need surrounding it.
Q: Do you support or oppose the City Council vote to increase the minimum wage in several steps to $13 an hour by 2019? Please explain.
I wholeheartedly support the City Council's vote to increase the minimum wage to $13 for both moral and economic reasons. First, it is simply wrong for people to work more than 40 hours a week and still be unable to provide the basic necessities of food, clothing, shelter and healthcare for their families. If a person in this country is willing to work an honest day they should be appropriately compensated. Additionally, the cost of living in Chicago is far greater than the cost of living in the rest of Illinois. It does not make sense to have a minimum wage that's one-size-fits-all. Second, despite loud criticisms from some in the business community, raising the minimum wage is good for the economy and good for business. Mayor Emanuel's minimum wage working group concluded that there would be some impact to business but that the impact would be small and the anticipated $800 million in economic stimulus directed back into the community would blunt or reverse potential job loss. As an economic proposition, this point seems obvious to me. Studies show that people who make under about $40,000 spend all of their take-home pay. An increase in the minimum wage deploys that money right back into the economy immediately. In both San Francisco and San Jose increases in the city's minimum wage led to growth in private employment during the same period as the increase. In fact, in San Jose, the leisure and hospitality industry sector experienced a net increase of 4,000 jobs, in part because of the stimulus derived from that city's minimum wage increase. Simply put, if you put more money in people's pockets, they spend it. More people spending more money creates a stronger economy that benefits all of Chicago. We all do well when we all do well.
Q: Should the Lucas Museum of Narrative Art be built at the proposed location on Chicago's lakefront? Please explain.
I do not support the Lucas Museum of Narrative Art being located in its proposed location on the lakefront. The lakefront was meant to be protected land set aside for Chicagoans, present and future to enjoy indefinitely. Additionally, I think there are other fantastic places to locate the museum that could have the additional impact of spurring much needed economic growth in parts of the city that need it most. For example, the old U.S. Steel site on the south side has tremendous potential to become a destination for travel and tourism. What if we tried to put both the Lucas Museum and the Obama presidential library there? What if we tried to leverage proximity of those locations to plans for the Big Marsh Park and Millennium Reserve so that the south side could develop its own tourism corridor known for outdoor activities and recreation – even during the winter? Even if it turns out to be unworkable, I worry that we regularly miss opportunities to leverage projects like the Lucas Museum and the Obama Library together to spur economic development and growth because the city seems to be lacking a long-term cohesive planning strategy that works to serve all Chicagoans, not just downtown.
Q: How can the city improve public safety? Please address the role and performance of the Chicago Police Department and the role of neighborhood residents in crime prevention. What have you done to improve public safety in your community?
No matter what no matter what neighborhood I'm speaking to in the Second Ward, I hear about voters' concern for safe and clean streets and the ability to enjoy their neighborhoods without fear. With only a couple of exceptions, we have the ability to do that throughout the Second Ward. But, crime in the rest of the city is still of paramount concern. As Alderman, I will work to connect communities to the officers who protect them in new and creative ways. Police do dangerous hard work and they are to be commended for it. But, sometimes I feel like the Chicago Police Department is a little too disconnected from the people who can help them get a beat on what's amiss in a neighborhood. I have attended numerous CAPs meetings in three out of the four police districts in the ward. I found those meetings and their structure to be a little frustrating. First, they are not well attended, and those who do attend are the same few people. Police dutifully report crime statistics for each beat and then everyone is sent home. But, what seemed missing to me was the critical component of information collection by the police. Since September 11, we have all become accustomed to the mantra "if you see something, say something." I think the same is true for neighborhood safety, but average Chicagoans are busy, so the Chicago Police Department ought to provide easy opportunities for this dialogue to occur. I think police should regularly and actively be soliciting feedback from citizens via social media organized by neighborhoods and by the CAPs program coming to us not by us going to them. I would like to see police department booths at street fairs, chamber meetings and neighborhood group and church events. I would like to see more foot and bike patrols and more opportunity for direct dialogue and interaction with police at the neighborhood level. As Alderman, I will invite CAPS representatives to be present in my office during ward nights so my constituents can speak with police while they are waiting to visit with me or staff. I will also invite CAPS representatives to join me at my pop-up offices in libraries and grocery stores. Police should be working as hard to collect information from the community as their Aldermen do. I will work with all four commanders who cover portions of the Second Ward to brainstorm creative ways to strengthen communication between neighbors and the CPD.
Q: Do you support Chicago's traffic light camera program? Please explain.
Honestly, I feel conflicted about the program. It has been tainted with so many side issues that I think the public's trust in the program has been completely undermined. The program has been riddled with problems ranging from corruption in the awarding of contracts, and demonstrable ticket spiking caused by faulty equipment and some human error, to studies that show the program is not improving safety. On the other hand, I think if you are driving and you break the law and the technology is proven enough to catch you, then you should get your ticket and pay it. Additionally, in the areas around schools and parks, it has changed my behavior. I got a couple of tickets myself and now I'm more aware, I slow down and I think other Chicagoans do too. That's why revenue estimates for the traffic light camera are falling short – people slowed down and safer driving is a good thing. I can see how the program is not working other instances though. At the corner of Ashland and Cortland, a major connector route for Second Ward commuters between Bucktown and Lincoln Park, drivers and I sit at the light and watch the camera flash repeatedly when none of us are moving. I have literally exchanged eye-rolls with fellow drivers over this. And, not surprisingly, that intersection is one that was identified in your paper as having experienced a significant number of "spikes" in the issuance of tickets. One thing is for certain, we owe it to taxpayers to promptly fix problems with the cameras so that law abiding Chicagoans do not get fined for faulty technology. At a minimum, the program needs serious reform and more robust monitoring if it's to continue.
Q: Should Chicago reduce the number of aldermen in the City Council?
Yes. I would support cutting the number of Alderman by 20 to 25 for a few reasons: First, I am a big believer in a strong legislative branch. I think having 50 Aldermen diffuses the potential for legislative strength and makes us more prone to having a "rubber stamp" City Council. Second, the boundaries of wards are becoming absurd. With each redistricting they are becoming more and more gerrymandered. For example, the Second Ward is more of a collection of blocks than neighborhoods. Such gerrymandering makes governing and keeping communities of interest together very difficult. It can also lead to ridiculous results in zoning, landmark protection and neighborhood development that vary on a block by block basis because of the meandering nature of a ward map. Third, with fewer aldermen, and larger wards, regional city planning among and between aldermanic offices could be more easily managed. We are not doing well with transportation and infrastructure planning and accounting for the long-term impact of development on neighborhoods and traffic patterns across ward boundaries. The larger the ward, the easier it would be to manage that impact and the easier it would be to coordinate and consider big planning projects with neighboring Aldermen. Fourth, with larger wards, Aldermen would be forced to represent people of very different socioeconomic backgrounds, races and ethnicities. I think this would be very good for Chicago. Right now, we have wards often drawn on the basis of race or ethnicity. Being forced to listen to different viewpoints in order to build a winning coalition within a ward would be a very good thing for the city. I do not think it's appropriate for legislators to choose their constituents, I think the reverse is more democratic and I think being forced to listen to and understand someone leads to better government.
Q: What is your highest priority for improving your ward? What is the greatest concern you hear from residents of your ward?
The two concerns I hear most about are crime and schools. And, this varies depending on where you are in the Second Ward. On the west side, where young families with school-age children are more plentiful, I frequently hear complaints from ward residents about their fear of sending their kids to neighborhood schools and their belief that they pay enough in taxes that their neighborhood school should be a good viable option for them should they choose to stay in the city. I also frequently hear that young families believe that if their kids are not able to get into a magnet school, then the only option for them is to leave the city for the suburbs. Because I believe that local schools are an essential building block of thriving neighborhoods and the key to keeping Chicago competitive well into the future, I will make them a top priority. I will work with neighborhood organizations, Second Ward families, Chambers of Commerce, teachers, and their union, to develop collaborative relationships intended to strengthen and improve neighborhood schools so they are viewed as options for families tempted to leave the city for suburban schools they believe to be better. Besides improving schools for the sake of improving schools, we cannot grow and thrive as a city unless we keep those families here and expand the tax base in the city. Without a growing tax base, we will just continue to tread water. As noted in my answer to question 10, I will use my office to build stronger more connected relationships between police and the people they serve. As Alderman, I will invite CAPS representatives to be present in my office during ward nights so my constituents can speak with police while they are waiting to visit with me or staff. I will also invite CAPS representatives to join me at my pop-up offices in libraries and grocery stores. I will work with all four commanders who cover portions of the Second Ward to brainstorm creative ways to strengthen communication between neighbors and the CPD with the hope of reducing crime by strengthening the dialogue between citizens and police.
Q: Please tell us something about yourself that would surprise us.
My favorite downtime activity is gardening. I love to design flower boxes! I also enjoy watching bulbs turn into flowering plants and seeds grow into fruits and vegetables. I think watching something grow is awe inspiring and helping it grow is relaxing.