Candidate for City Council, 17th Ward
Education: Education: LOYOLA UNIVERSITY CHICAGO - Master of Arts in Urban Government, Chicago Studies Program Project Management Certificate and School of Business Administration Executive Education Program. HAROLD WASHINGTON COLLEGE - Intergovernmental Executive Development Program Certificate of Completion. WESTERN ILLINOIS UNIVERSITY - Bachelor of Business in Accounting and Operations Management. SIMEON VOCATIONAL HIGH SCHOOL.
Occupation: Assistant to the Commissioner of the Cook County Board of Review
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.
This past spring, Moody's gave Chicago the lowest rating of any major city except Detroit, based primarily on massive pension liabilities and the need to increase taxes. Not only does this mean higher interest rates to borrow, it continues to tarnish Chicago's reputation for fiscal responsibility, as do the "Broken Bonds, privatization and other "fixes" that not only fail to address the intended short-term goal, but continue to compound future liabilities with those from the past and present. Balancing the city's budget requires a mix of expenditure reductions and new revenue that does not unduly dip into the pockets of, or diminish services to, the average Chicagoan. Since municipal wages, pensions and healthcare costs account for 80 percent of the city expenditures, we must aggressively identify and cut waste, fraud and unnecessary layers/entities in the bureaucracy. We need to ensure the city's wage structures are comparable to the market rate. Instead of burdening residents with ever-mounting fees and fines, we should be focusing on delinquent landlords and irresponsible financial businesses. Their negligence requires costly public intervention (e.g., police, maintenance, administrative oversight) and negatively impacts the environment for local economic development. We cannot assure Chicago is a world-class city by diverting finite public-private funds into projects that benefit downtown tourism, rather than revitalizing the vibrant neighborhoods for which the city is equally known. Vacant land, abandoned industrial sites, historic venues and cultural attractions exist in the very areas of the city that need development (and TIF monies) most. They often generate less tax revenue but require more public resources. The city has a woeful record for marketing these areas to companies that pay a living wage. Doing so could expand the city's tax venues from the companies occupying unutilized property, their local employees and other businesses that could prosper as a result. Chicago cannot afford to limit its financial perspective to squeezing more blood from the local turnip. Instead of paying out millions to sabotage construction of the South Suburban Airport, the city should be wholeheartedly supporting this enormous opportunity. The FAA says that 10 airports the size of O'Hare are needed by 2020 nationally. If Chicago is to remain its reputation as the transportation hub of the nation, then we must be able to capture the increase in air travel instead of diverting it to other hubs such as St. Louis, Denver, and Dallas-Ft. Worth. We have lost hundreds of jobs to Indianapolis and Cincinnati, because there wasn't room at O'Hare and Midway for companies to expand. Virgin Airlines thwarted for 10 years from operating at O'Hare, because of the stranglehold United and American Airlines have on the airport as a duopoly. The inaugural phase of the SSA will create 15,000 direct and indirect jobs at every skill level. Many of these jobs will have a direct economic impact on South Side communities. When people work, they spend money, which generates more revenue for the city. Policies that shrink the city's workforce decrease revenue. The current policies are unsustainable.
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.
My understanding is that these public servants contribute a percent of every paycheck to their pension plan and receive less than half of the Social Security for which they might otherwise be eligible. The city must fulfill its legal obligation to supplement those funds, as well as health and other contractual benefits. I agree with those in the trenches who point to the free pass given the state's government officials, some of whom draw multiple pensions. They should be required to live with whatever modifications they propose for first responders, teachers and other government workers. Indeed, their willingness to forgo partial – or even entire – pensions could help make money available for underfunded plans. Given the severe underfunding of pensions for public servants overall, theoretical advocacy for dedicated revenue streams has faced many obstacles in reality. We cannot continue relying on measures that place the burden of "reform" on the shoulders of those most negatively impacted by cutbacks and higher taxes. We need "big picture" thinking about how to do deal with shortfalls in a more comprehensive, long-term manner. One such approach would be City Hall's support of the South Suburban Airport, for reasons mentioned above in Q.1. Another would be our lawmaker's support for the "Robin Hood Tax" of less than 0.05 percent on Wall Street transactions. Experts say it could generate hundreds of billions of dollars each year for the nation's education, housing, infrastructure and other needs of local governments – without negatively affecting the financial situations or consumer activity of average Americans. This would be an effective way to ensure accountability from financial organizations that caused – yet continue to profit from – our economic woes.
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.
TIF's should be used only for its original purpose – to help depressed neighborhoods. Both the City Council and the public should play a larger role in deciding how TIF money is spent. City administrations have diverted much of these funds to central-city areas least in need of such assistance. Given my extensive background in urban planning, I would use TIF funds appropriately and cost-effectively to benefit some of the many underdeveloped areas of the 17th Ward. I believe the proposed Marriott/DePaul project represents precisely the misuse of TIF funds that has gone on far too long. It benefits well-heeled entities, while imposing on local residents structures that do not respond to their requests or needs.
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.
The Tribune's "A New Plan for Chicago" editorial focuses on violent crime, schools that produce young people unprepared for the workplace, lack of blue-collar jobs and need for responsible "pillars" (e.g., parents, pastors) of the community. I agree that addressing these factors must be central to any approach to revitalizing our city. To me as an urban planner, the problem is in the eyes of planners who see wastelands instead of communities and are blind to the many assets there. Chicago can only move forward holistically, by supporting every neighborhood's ownership of what's at stake. As a long-time community activist, I know there are numerous parts of my ward where residents have little control, whether it's over their schools, official response to crime, access to quality jobs, or what happens to abandoned/vacant property. They get moved around like chess pieces by some outside "expert" swooping in or a bureaucrat sitting at a desk with no clue about their lives. Still, I witness every day the enormous talent and commitment ward residents have to make the best of their situation. They know what works and what doesn't, what they need and what resources they already have to build upon. My plan for the 17th Ward would be the same as for the city -- centered on its constituents. Instead of giving money to ward "pillars" to implement somebody else's programs, the city should be finding ways to support grassroots resources that local people respect and have found to be effective. Instead of stripping neighborhood schools of familiar teachers and/or students, we should reinforce that institution's role as an anchor offering local residents a place of stability, as well as positive activities for young people. My plan would incorporate opportunities from throughout Chicagoland. Currently, the city's idea of education preparedness is providing disadvantaged students to fill low-wage jobs. The school system has virtually eliminated or made inaccessible the apprentice and trade training opportunities that can lead to good lives without a college degree. Imagine if the city, our colleges, businesses, community organizations and the like collaborated on projecting and qualifying people for the myriad level of opportunities available during and after completion of the South Suburban Airport or the many trades that were once offered in our vocational schools—locksmithing, tailoring, carpentry, dry cleaning, electrician, etc. Crime goes down and students respect schools more when people envision a meaningful outcome (as opposed to simply keeping them off the streets or jail). Case in point, University of Pennsylvania criminologist Sara Heller, recently looked at 13 high violence schools in Chicago, encompassing 1,634 students who worked summer jobs in 2012. Almost all of the students in the study were minorities and poor. Of those who worked 15-25 hours per week, for eight weeks at minimum wage, arrests for violent crime decreased 43 percent. Most significant was that Heller's study found the largest decreases in violent crime rates lasted months after the jobs programs ended.
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.
From what I understand, this office is underfinanced and has so far uncovered possible issues that do not involve monies or other problems justifying the IG's continuation. City Hall, on the other hand, routinely enters into deals involving cronies, conflicts of interest or questionable rationales that involve thousands of taxpayer dollars. Staff can be hired or assigned regardless of their experience or knowledge of Chicago. That's where I would begin to improve oversight, transparency and accountability, possibly through an independent inspector recommended and approved by the City Council. I also believe we should implement public financing for municipal campaigns.
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 do not believe the intent of "school choice" was ever to benefit students. Studies do not show charter schools as more effective, even in comparison to schools given far fewer resources. Charter schools have been overseen and awarded by city officials with conflicts of interest, to associates with no education background and to community groups now beholden to those officials. Charters have been used to weaken unions that can provide a counterweight to deep-pocketed private interests. In fact, the whole education "strategy" has shifted local control to outside administrators, used to divert attention away from the woeful underfunding of neighborhood schools and served as an excuse to divert money into privatized entities. Education observers know how adept the City can be at juggling statistics and managing messages. If there have been gains, I believe they are in spite – rather than because – of the current educational strategy. Citizen involvement is a cornerstone of my campaign. Citywide, parents complained about the sham community hearing process leading up to school closures, "turnarounds" and charters. Rather than a longer school day or year, they pleaded for smaller classes and basic resources (e.g., computers, books, properly maintained facilities). CPS found money to renovate reconstituted schools. Those schools should be returned to their neighborhood status with previous staffs. Money earmarked for charters should also be invested in neighborhood schools. Only then can we fairly assess the performance of those schools. I believe an elected school board would be more open, sensitive, transparent and accountable to the community. In terms of funding, please see Q.2.
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 a professional, I have worked on projects that require knowing how to market areas other people may perceive negatively. As an activist, I have worked with countless individuals and organizations committed to improving the ward. I would seek out quality employers and have them partner with the community to identify contiguous areas of vacant land suitable for development, incentives that could attract enterprises, agencies to ensure the right employment competencies and ways residents could support security and customer generation.
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.
Yes, I am glad the City Council voted to increase the minimum wage, though it should have been immediate and not pushed to 2019. I supported the $15 proposal, however, I believe wages should be tied to inflation. People need a living wage. Research has long indicated that increasing the minimum wage to at least $13 would be the fastest way to reduce poverty and its tremendous impact on costs related to crime, social services, healthcare, education achievement, potential tax revenues and overall economic growth. Also, studies show that increasing the minimum wage increases consumer spending, which in turn generates sales taxes, which help the bottom lines of businesses and local governing bodies.
Q: Should the Lucas Museum of Narrative Art be built at the proposed location on Chicago's lakefront? Please explain.
No. Like the new harbor at 31st St., this is another veiled privatization project that restricts public enjoyment of or access to our wonderful lakefront. I believe the project needed more community involvement before a site decision was made. What's the rush?
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?
The 17th Ward incorporates areas of the Englewood neighborhood with one of the city's highest crime rates and violent deaths. "Adequate" coverage there should reasonably mean greater police presence than in an area with lesser or more property-related activity. I also think "shifting" should be less short-term, with more focus on allocating officers to problem areas they can become familiar with and establish rapport with the community. I regularly collaborate with community groups and leaders seeking to improve relations with the police and increase resident vigilance regarding safety/security issues. Growing up in Englewood and living my latter years in Auburn Gresham, I think it is extremely critical that officers hired are representative of the community they serve. It is equally important to hire a superintendent who is representative of the majority being served. That person should be from Chicago, not someone from another state with no ties to Chicago.
Q: Do you support Chicago's traffic light camera program? Please explain.
No, in fact, I recently signed a pledge that I would advocate and vote for legislation abolishing the program. It has not reduced accidents, has been implemented in inappropriate areas, is fraught with mistakes and manipulation, and unfairly burdens working people with fines.
Q: Should Chicago reduce the number of aldermen in the City Council?
No, I do not believe the number of Alderman should be reduced.
Q: What is your highest priority for improving your ward? What is the greatest concern you hear from residents of your ward?
My priority will be to tackle traditionally neglected areas in the 17th Ward–from severe unemployment and school closings, foreclosed homes and abandoned buildings, to street and sidewalk improvements and tree trimming. I believe such challenges deserve the attention of a full-time alderman, whom I consider the "front line" for facilitating progress in Chicago neighborhoods. My focus: • An aldermanic office accessible, responsive, transparent, and accountable to constituents, with multiple communication platforms to provide residents information about programs and services of benefit • A strategic plan collectively developed by the community to determine priorities and goals for improving the ward's health at every level • A self-sufficient economy based on locally owned businesses, with support as needed from appropriate government and private resources • Equal opportunity for all young people to attend a quality public school • Maintaining beat-oriented CAPS and allocation of police resources to adequately address crime
Q: Please tell us something about yourself that would surprise us.
That I'm willing to take on three of the most powerful people in the city to ensure the 17th Ward gets the kind of elected representation it deserves. My near victory in 2011 is the reason that Rahm Emanuel, Terry Peterson and Fr. Michael Pfleger joined forces to convince Ald. Latasha Thomas not to seek re-election.