Candidate for City Council, 35th Ward
Education: BA in Political Science, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, May 2011 Whitney M. Young Magnet High School
Occupation: Family Support Network Organizer with the Illinois Coalition for Immigrant and Refugee Rights until November 2014, left to pursue candidacy
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.
It was fiscally irresponsible to refinance old debts with a "scoop and toss" tactic. As Alderman, I will only support fiscally responsible policies that prioritize essential city services, while paying down existing debts. I will advocate for sensible reforms to our Tax Increment Financing system, to ensure more of our property tax dollars are turned over to our city's taxing bodies. I will not support raising property taxes, nor will I support new regressive taxes that dig deeper in to regular Chicagoans' pockets. I will also advocate for a "fair tax" in Illinois, to generate new revenue and lift the tax burden off of Chicago's working families. I also support a commuter tax, to ensure that everyone who benefits from our infrastructure and services contributes to Chicago's bottom line; and I support the proposed "LaSalle Street Tax."
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.
It was Chicago's elected leaders, not our public workers, who failed to keep up with pension contributions. I support reasonable reforms that will eliminate double-dipping and other egregious abuses of our pension system. I will advocate for new sources of revenue that will protect Chicago's working families; this includes: a commuter tax, a LaSalle Street Tax, and a "fair tax." I will not support an increase in property taxes or new regressive taxes on Chicago's residents.
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 our Tax Increment Financing system is broken. I support reforming our TIF system to ensure TIF districts are only created in truly blighted areas, and that surplus TIF dollars are readily turned over to our city's taxing bodies, like our public schools. I did not support the $55 million allotment of TIF funds to buy land for a Marriott Hotel and the DePaul basketball arena. I believe private businesses and institutions should not seek handouts from the government, particularly when they are fiscally solvent. When my alma mater - the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign - sought to build a recreation center it did so by imposing new fees on the student body. I believe DePaul University - with it's high price tag for an undergraduate degree - could have afforded to build it's own arena and Marriott Hotel can afford to expand it's own business.
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 enjoyed all "12 ways to heal a city." One of the ideas - that of shuttered schools as community centers - mirrors my own proposal to create more community schools. A community school is a place where families can access services - including ESL classes, enrichment programs, tutoring, and healthcare - after regular school hours. I will work with local neighborhood organizations and CPS to create more community schools in my ward. I am also in favor of creating community gardens on vacant lots. Community gardens are an excellent teaching tool and an excellent way to deliver fresh produce to Chicago's families while utilizing vacant lots. Subsidizing the cost of the GED exam is also an excellent idea. As a former congressional caseworker I saw how the cost of applications and exams often created barriers for regular Chicagoans to advance.
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.
I believe the City Council should not only keep the office of legislative inspector general, but should expand the power of the LIG so that there is more oversight over aldermen and their staff. I also support new regulations on the use of aldermanic expense accounts, and new campaign finance regulations that will help eliminate pay-to-play politics in Chicago; i.e. no contributions for a set period of time by developers seeking zoning changes, or seeking TIF funds.
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?
The future of CPS is an issue of national importance. Chicago's children deserve a world-class education and fully-funded public schools. I believe CPS is currently not meeting the challenge of providing our children with the education they deserve, and I believe the current spate of charter school proliferation, sold as a reform effort, is too mired in pay-to-play politics and financial motives that do not place our children first. Instead of subjecting our children to so-called education reform efforts that enter uncharted territory, I advocate for adopting the best practices established by the world's most successful school systems; this includes: smaller class sizes, increased funding, less bureaucracy and more local control, wraparound services that help address the socioeconomic barriers to education, less emphasis on test prep, and a rich curriculum that offers our students opportunities to engage in music, art, and foreign languages. As a strong proponent of democracy, I believe it is time that the Chicago Public Schools join the vast majority of municipalities (94%) with elected school boards. An elected school board with help eliminate the rotating cast of characters that have governed our failing schools, and give parents and taxpayers a real voice in our schools. I support the longer school day and year, but feel that the benefits are negated by incessant test prep. I believe CPS should close its significant budget gap by receiving property tax dollars that are currently siphoned off by our TIF system, and cutting back of central office expenses.
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, I will create a small business center in my ward service office. This small business center will help small business owners cut through government red tape, and connect them with commercial space and sources of funding in the ward. I will work closely with existing local chambers of commerce, and work to create or revive chambers of commerce along commercial corridors that are in need of some TLC. I will create a database of all available commercial and retail space in the 35th Ward and meet with small business owners and national retailers to sell the benefits of locating in my community. I will also solicit resumes from ward residents to create a database of the local labor market. These databases will be tools in my arsenal as I seek to strengthen my ward's commercial corridors. I will seek to tie the use of public funds or zoning changes to agreements that will result in more jobs for local residents. I also believe Logan Square - with it's easy access to O'Hare or downtown via the Blue Line, and it's eclectic mix or businesses and nightlife - has strong potential for a boutique hotel. I will work to attract the development of a boutique hotel in Logan Square.
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 applaud the City Council's vote to raise the minimum wage. However, I believe Chicago's working families deserve more than $13 an hour by 2019. If the minimum wage had kept pace with U.S. productivity it would have reached over $21 an hour today. $13 an hour by 2019 will keep families living paycheck to paycheck. I support an immediate increase to $15 an hour for workers at corporations grossing over $50 million a year, and a graduated increase to $15 an hour for small businesses.
Q: Should the Lucas Museum of Narrative Art be built at the proposed location on Chicago's lakefront? Please explain.
As a lifelong Star Wars fan I am so excited to have the Lucas Museum of Narrative Art build in Chicago. This museum will add to Chicago's museum campus and will grow our list of national attractions that make Chicago a world-class tourist destination. However, as the Lucas Museum will be build on public land, I will advocate for "free days" for Chicago residents. I believe it is only right that all Chicagoans, regardless of socioeconomic status, enjoy this attraction build on their public land.
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?
I believe Chicago must hire 1,000 additional police officers and ensure that these police officers are placed in beats that they patrol on a daily basis. Intimate knowledge of an area is key to successful policing. As a ward resident, I have attended CAPS meetings and have seen first hand how CAPS has not been prioritized by City Hall or my opponent. As Alderman, I will work with my residents, staff, and team of volunteers to increase CAPS participation. I will meet regularly with the district commanders in my ward, and I will maintain my own database of crime and problem buildings. As a Local School Council member, I also see the important role schools and parents must play in creating a safer Chicago. I will advocate and work to create more after school programs - i.e. my community schools initiative - and advocate for restorative justice policies that help address behavioral issues at their root cause.
Q: Do you support Chicago's traffic light camera program? Please explain.
No, I do not support Chicago's traffic light camera program. I believe recent studies bring in to question the safety of the traffic light camera program. I've knocked on thousands of doors in the 35th Ward, and my neighbors feel overwhelmingly that the traffic light camera program was a ploy to dig deeper in their pockets, under the guise of public safety. I believe City Hall's attempts to balance the budget with new regressive taxes and fines is unfair to Chicago's hardworking families, particularly when so many of our public dollars are doled out to private interests via our TIF system.
Q: Should Chicago reduce the number of aldermen in the City Council?
Yes, I will advocate for a reduction to 25 wards for the 2019 municipal election.
Q: What is your highest priority for improving your ward? What is the greatest concern you hear from residents of your ward?
I have knocked thousands of doors in the 35th Ward, and the greatest concern I hear from my residents is: the lack of city services, coupled with an unresponsive ward office. My highest priority as Alderman will be providing my residents with the robust constituent services and quality city services they deserve. As a former congressional caseworker I know constituent service isn't rocket science, it merely requires professional and compassionate staff that are committed to service. I will use a competitive process to hire my ward staff; and then ensure that they are identifying issues in the ward - the most dangerous potholes and trees - and helping resolve those issues in a timely manner. As previously stated, I will only support fiscally responsible policies that address our city's debt while providing quality city services. I will work to ensure that Chicago has the money it needs to cut down trees, fix potholes, address the rats in our alleys, and provide for our public safety and quality public schools.
Q: Please tell us something about yourself that would surprise us.
As Alderman, I will cut my salary by $35,000 and invest the savings in ward services. I will also advocate for a reduction in all aldermanic salaries, it may not make me popular with my colleagues, but I believe that this is an important step towards demonstrating that the city's elected leaders are serious about addressing our city's issues.