Candidate for City Council, 43rd Ward
Education: BA, History, University of Illinois JD, Loyola University of Chicago School of Law
Occupation: attorney; not currently employed
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.
Unfortunately, I have witnessed first hand that spending money is often easier than making the hard political decisions not to spend it. One of the actions that motivated me to run for office was the expenditure of $20million on a controversial school project that did not comply with CPS's own Facilities Master Plan. This plan resulted from a poorly run, emotional process that did not fully examine the shortcomings of all of the solutions available. I believed that this expenditure was actually not a good result for our neighborhood or for the kids at the school. We need to look at legislation and expenditures in the budget very closely and be willing to raise questions about expenditures that are not imperative to keep our city functioning, and question whether they are actually a good concept in the first place. Those decisions to reduce spending should take place over increasing taxes, though new sources of revenue should be explored (e.g. excess garbage pickup, certain materials recycling, metered water fees, etc.) and carefully implemented, if at all. Excessive taxation without reducing the amount of expenditures will eliminate the City's ability to attract and keep employers. Although cumbersome, we should consider referenda to approve bond issues for expenditures that do not involve revenue generating projects, and should consider reductions to Aldermanic menu money. I do not think that Chicagoans can tolerate any increases to property taxes, but I do think that we should consider moves like selling off excess city owned property, at assessed values (that doesn't always happen), and perhaps consider novel ideas like taxes on vehicles entering Lincoln Park, especially from outside the city. While we love our free zoo and beaches, ironically the congestion caused by these lakefront attractions is not helping local businesses. Businesses in the areas surrounding the zoo and the lakefront, at least in Lincoln Park, are struggling, despite the traffic gridlock that surrounds it. Reducing congestion will actually help these businesses and/or revenue generated by these attractions could help the city's finances.
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.
The upcoming Supreme Court opinion on pensions puts everything in a state of flux. If affirmed, realistically there are limited options on restructuring pension obligations. So "Spahn and Sain, and pray for Rain." Public pensions need to transition to defined contribution systems going forward in order to ensure their long term solvency. The last thing we want is for pension systems to go broke. Unsustainable benefits for some and not befits to any. The missteps made decades ago by not funding pensions are catching up to us now, and the lack of willpower to prevent such disasters requires a system that avoids the involvement of lawmakers in the management of funds. My revenue ideas above apply here.
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.
TIFs can be useful tools for helping blighted areas of the city that would not otherwise be developed. The whole process, though, needs to be transparent and incorporated into the regular city budget. Some TIF expenditures have not been held to the highest levels of scrutiny. Using TIFs for parts of the city that are not blighted squanders the opportunity to work in conjunction with private entities to invest in our city where there is profit to be made, and also siphons tax dollars from city operation expenses toward capital expenditures, leaving operations unfairly under funded. not think that using TIF funds for private schools or hotels makes sense, especially if it is in an area of the city that would otherwise attract investment, which I believe it is. DePaul is a great asset to our city and our community and would greatly improve its profile with a contiguous basketball stadium, but I'd prefer to see it closer to the main campus, and perhaps in a neighborhood that actually qualified for TIF funds.
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 am particularly interested in the ideas that involve our youth and summer jobs. Clearly there are far too many young people without structure during the summers. I think that engaging our young people to interact in the summers in projects to get experience in business and help improve local businesses is a great idea. Business centers set up in the closed school buildings in the summers where students could help local residents for free with computer issues, or be deployed into the field to help a business set up social media, and another set of students could be deployed to do gardening, demolition and rehab work, with some experimental design work in landscaping.
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.
The City Council should keep the office of legislative inspector general, and should fund this office adequately and give this office the authority to investigate all aldermen and their staff members on all credible accusations of ethics violations. I have always believed that if you are doing nothing wrong, you have nothing to hide. The number of complaints the Office received in 2014 underscores the need for oversight.
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?
I am thrilled for the successes that CPS has experienced with its students, at least according to the freshmen on track and graduation rates. Bravo. I am not thrilled with the emphasis on and amount of standardized testing that occurs in CPS. There should be an emphasis on best practices that emphasize play, creative thought and analysis. Also, CPS needs to continue to reach out to families to integrate them into CPS curricula. While I am encouraged by some of the good results that some charter schools have obtained, I would be more eager to hear what the differences are, and what charters have learned, about how to improve learning, and try to apply those lessons to traditional public schools than to continue to expand charters. I am not confident that charters' successes can be translated into success across all of CPS. I have heard conflicting reports about charters and their improvement of test scores, but have not heard as much about what is different in the curriculum. I agree with CPS's decision to hold steady on the number of charter schools for the moment. Charters should be held to the same standards as any traditional public school. I am in favor of a longer school day, but thought that it was unnecessary in some schools that are high performing and its responsible implementation with appropriate budgetary support needs to be maintained. Overall I am happy that the school day was brought up to national norms; I am at the very least happy that it helped restore midday recess to the school day which was lacking in too many schools across CPS. In order to close its substantial budget gap, CPS should follow its own Facilities Master Plan, first and foremost, solving as many problems as possible without spending money at all. I do not support a fully elected school board because I do not believe elected members will be in any better position than our elected officials in general to make the hard decisions that need to be made in our system, but do support at least a hybrid board, to give voice to the people inside the deliberations that impact a wide range of families.
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?
I would set up a development corporation to analyze demand and purchasing patterns in the ward. We have one of the highest leakage levels in the city, with one of the highest income levels, and yet our local retail is flat and suffering. We need to retain more spending in our own ward, and need to help business owners bridge the gap between the pre and post internet world more effectively. Solving traffic issues in our ward is one of the biggest challenges. I would also focus attention on beautification and celebration of the arts in our community to attract more businesses, as well as collaborating with existing businesses to improve their PR efforts and promote short term leases to fill existing storefronts. I would also urge the city to streamline the permit application process and help new businesses receive the credits for façades in as quick a manner as possible.
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 support a national living wage on the state and national level, but would support this increase if it contained an exemption for small businesses with fewer than 25 employees. Small locally owned businesses in our ward are suffering already and would not be able to stay in business with a higher minimum wage, and I'd also like to see lower wage jobs stay available for teens seeking summer work, which is important to keep them as useful and productive members of society.
Q: Should the Lucas Museum of Narrative Art be built at the proposed location on Chicago's lakefront? Please explain.
I fully support the Lucas Museum but disagree with the proposed location on the Lakefront. I am a strong defender of open space in Chicago, since as a city we enjoy far less open space per capita than many other major cities in the country, including New York City. I strongly encourage its construction at a site off the lakefront.
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?
Obviously the budget is an issue. We need to reinstitute police street patrols and beats must remain in tact. We see police in the parks ticketing dogs, and actually dogs are one of the ways we keep our neighborhoods safe. Police need to monitor areas around the CTA trains in our neighborhood which seems to be high crime areas in the ward. We also need a higher concentration of task force police on the lakefront during the summer. Also, we need to encourage lights on front porches around the ward and a responsiveness and relationship with local law enforcement officials.
Q: Do you support Chicago's traffic light camera program? Please explain.
I have never heard any complaints about the red light camera program in our ward, probably because we do not have red light cameras here – isn't that interesting? I cannot imagine our constituents would appreciate them in our neighborhood. If I were convinced that red light cameras actually improved safety, I might support them, but as far as I know, they are simply an inelegant method of collecting revenue in some of the areas of the city least able to afford it.
Q: Should Chicago reduce the number of aldermen in the City Council?
I'd be willing to support a reduction of the budgets, salary and pensions of Aldermen, but would prefer to keep the number of Aldermen in order to maintain control of decisions made in the ward. Fewer Aldermen would mean less familiarity with the issues in the ward, and that is one of the services I hope to restore to our ward: responsiveness and control in decision making process.
Q: What is your highest priority for improving your ward? What is the greatest concern you hear from residents of your ward?
Development and traffic/congestion. People are extremely concerned about the neighborhood becoming overbuilt and congested, and the decrease in the amount of open space. The reasons why they moved here are being threatened by large developments encroaching into pleasant residential neighborhoods. A close second is actually rats. Of course people are concerned about schools; people have mixed feelings about neighborhood versus selective enrollment schools, and many people want to see Lincoln Park High School's facility improved. Another major concern is stagnating retail.
Q: Please tell us something about yourself that would surprise us.
I am a Chicago native from Rogers Park whose grandfather was a trolley car driver. I attended Chicago Public Schools and developed a great fascination with the Civil Rights movement in the history program at the University of Illinois. I have a great fondness for our National Park System and the wonders it can do for the soul.