Candidate questionnaires

Placeholder for Deborah Graham

Deborah Graham

Candidate for City Council, 29th Ward

Deborah Graham

Candidate for City Council, 29th Ward

Placeholder for Deborah Graham

Education: BA Robert Morris University Business Admin

Occupation: Alderman, 29th Ward

Home: Chicago

Age: Not answered

Past Political/Civic Experience: Not answered

Candidates running for City Council, 29th Ward

Responses to the Chicago Tribune's questionnaire

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.

In some instances, restructuring debt can be a tool to save the city money over the long term. However, the spending practices that created long-term budget shortfalls in Chicago cannot continue unchecked. The solution to our debt problems will likely require some painful sacrifices, and require both creative revenue-generating measures and cuts of non-essential services. What is clear is that we cannot continue to accumulate debt if the city is to maintain a strong economic and jobs climate going forward.

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.

First and foremost, the city cannot afford to miss pension payments or delay them without addressing the problem. The city will be forced to make difficult revenue decisions going forward, and properly funding our pension obligations will require creative sources of revenue. Of critical importance will be responsible budgeting to protect core services—for example, by increasing our vigilance with regards to TIF funds to ensure that public agencies are not drained of operating resources.

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 TIFs should be used as a narrow tool to spur development in specific cases, and not a catch-all means of funding growth in the city. That said, the TIF program has a place as part of a greater menu of development initiatives. I believe that TIF funding has an important role to play in addressing blight in struggling communities, including some in my ward, or to attract businesses that can serve as an anchor for larger development, as in the case of the Mariano's grocery store potentially coming to North Ave. which is in the early stages of development in my ward. TIF funds should be used judiciously, but do have a place in strengthening neighborhood economies.

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 Please tell us which ideas you would champion. We invite you to offer additional ideas for dealing with Chicago's challenges.

I am always enthusiastic about the idea for public-private partnerships that benefit the city without placing additional burden on the taxpayers, and many of these plans would make excellent use of such arrangements. I am particularly impressed by the "GED Chicago" plan described, which would emulate the private practices of the McDonald's corporation to provide educational opportunity to any Chicago resident who needs it. Concepts like the "Innovation Houses" or urban farm proposals that involve the transfer of vacant lots also speak to an interesting opportunity. While the Austin community in my ward has not been wracked by vacant property and foreclosure to the extent of some other communities on the south and west sides, empty properties remain a problem in the ward and pose economic and social challenges. I've been personally involved in my ward with helping to market some vacant properties into the hands of local business owners who could present a clear plan to put the land to productive use and grow jobs in the ward. Solutions like that—which solicits community involvement on a hyper-local level, and facilitates the transition of a potentially dangerous eyesore into a community-building opportunity—represent some of the best places for an aldermen like myself to improve their wards.

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.

An inspector general should be independent and funded adequately to serve as a strong watchdog and advocate for the taxpayer. Some controversy has surrounded the office of the legislative inspector general, but for me the most important question is how watchdog services can be provided most effectively and efficiently by the city. If the two offices can be rolled together to eliminate duplication of services while remaining independent, I would support such a change.

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?

My ward endured the trauma of multiple school closings, which I opposed. The closings left families and neighborhoods feeling disenfranchised and forgotten. Schools should be a rallying point for neighborhoods, which is why I could support shifting to a hybrid school board providing for the election of some board members. That said, I am proud of many achievements of our school system. I supported the longer school day, and was proud to bring two International Baccalaureate (IB) and two STEM academies to my ward. The graduate rates referenced are encouraging. Going forward, I think it is important to protect any gains for students by ensuring stable education funding. This means both diverting city resources to education through programs like a TIF surplus, and advocating at the state level for a funding formula and funding level that do not shortchange Chicago schools.

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?

One of the most important roles of an alderman is to serve as a liaison between the local business community and the City, to ensure businesses have an advocate to cut through red tape. One of the projects I'm most excited about is the new Mariano's grocery store coming to North Avenue in my ward. I am proud to work with developers to find a location that suited their needs, and to secure input from the community and assistance for the developers throughout the planning process. Of course, major employers like Mariano's are only one piece of the larger picture employment in the ward, and I've been proud to work with businesses of all sizes. I was particularly proud to help a local daycare expand its facility by facilitating the transfer of the title of an adjacent vacant lot to the daycare's owner, turning blight on the neighborhood into an expanded small business able to add local small business jobs.

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 support it. People working full time deserve to be able to make a living wage. I'm particularly concerned with the impact of the minimum wage on women, who represent more than half of all minimum wage workers.

Q: Should the Lucas Museum of Narrative Art be built at the proposed location on Chicago's lakefront? Please explain.

The city's lakefront is a precious resource that should be protected, and I am hesitant to throw my support behind any project that will add even more development to an already-cluttered lakefront. I also question whether the museum could do more good placed in a neighborhood, in a location where it could serve to revitalizes surrounding commercial area. The plan for the museum continues to develop, but at this time I still have many unanswered questions about the proposal.

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?

When I go door-to-door or hold ward nights, crime is one of the number one issues constituents ask me about. I have been an active at CAPS meetings in my ward, and have worked with CPD to give a voice to community concerns and demand specific action when pockets of crime develop in our neighborhoods. I've also worked to address the crime associated with vacant lots, working to transfer city-owned vacant property in my ward to productive private use in the community and working with the CTU and others to ensure vacant properties near schools are secured by personnel to safeguard school children from crime. I will continue to advocate for more police, and for the continue transfer of CPD personnel from desk jobs to the streets. Our police cannot be constantly asked to do "more with less"—addressing the crime that affects my ward and our city cannot happen without adequate resources.

Q: Do you support Chicago's traffic light camera program? Please explain.

I do think that traffic light cameras have a legitimate role as a means of improving safety and accident prevention. However, recent investigation by this newspaper gives me pause as to the implementation of the program and raises questions as to whether the locations of cameras have been thoroughly vetted. I would not support more cameras at this time without further traffic studies to identify where cameras will provide the most legitimate safety benefits. Traffic light cameras are NOT meant to be a revenue grab, and any cameras should provide a tangible safety benefit to drivers, bikers and pedestrians.

Q: Should Chicago reduce the number of aldermen in the City Council?

The role of an alderman is above all hyper-local—it is our job to know the problems of our wards block-by-block, and to serve as sort of a "neighbor-in-chief", giving every constituent a direct route to the administration so that citizen concerns do not fall through the cracks. Reducing the size of the City Council will reduce the effectiveness of the alderman.

Q: What is your highest priority for improving your ward? What is the greatest concern you hear from residents of your ward?

At every stop on my campaign, I talk about three things: bringing good jobs and redevelopment, building strong schools for our children, and solving the problem of crime in our neighborhoods. Separating these problems out in a ward like mine is neither possible nor productive—any answer to one of these issues requires addressing the other two in a meaningful way. My highest priority is to increase the access to real opportunity for the people of my ward. Every resident deserves the chance to earn a living wage, pursue academic and personal development, and live a life free of the daily specter of violent crime.

Q: Please tell us something about yourself that would surprise us.

Many are surprised to learn that earlier in my life, I escaped a violent relationship with my children and found myself homeless. I believe the experience gave me a unique strength and perspective, and more importantly a first-hand insight into the particular struggles of young women in our community.