Candidate for City Council, 37th Ward
Education: Civil Rights and academic opportunities have been cornerstones of Emma Mitts's life. That's why she was one of the first African Americans to integrate her high school in Arkansas. Emma has since taken classes at University of Arkansas and has attended Triton College.
Occupation: Alderman, City of Chicago
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.
I believe that we need to responsibly put our fiscal house in order. As such, I believe that we need to begin to wholly pay off the bond obligations we have so that we can stop paying interest and begin to restore the quality services that we continue to cut. I am open to new sources of revenue but we need to make sure that these new revenues do not kill jobs in our communities.
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.
We need to address pension reform with all parties at the table. The recent court decisions have made it clear that this is the only way to move forward. In order to meet our obligations, I am open to new sources of revenue. However, I caution against more one-time fixes to this problem. Instead, I look forward to a larger discussion on how we can continue to expand the number of taxpayers instead of punishing working families.
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 that TIFs are an important part of economic development in our communities. I think that they can lead to a more beautiful and more fruitful city. However, I think that they are ripe for reform. We need to be focusing TIFs on the areas that need them most; on the areas that need new economic development. We need to use TIFs to incentivize companies to build new infrastructure in Chicago and hire new Chicago employees. I want the City Council to play a more central role in how we achieve these goals as it will make the process more transparent and give citizens the accountability they deserve.
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.
There were a number of great ideas that would help our city keep moving forward. "Schools as Tools" would prepare students and other community members to compete for jobs, is a large part of the equation to revitalizing Chicago's West Side. Though we did not have any schools close in the 37th Ward, this proposal would be great citywide. Increasing the amount of time that our young people spend learning, either in the classroom or obtaining new skills, will improve our local school system. When schools improve, so do the surrounding neighborhoods. "GED Chicago" would help us attract more employers to this city and it would give people the skills needed to compete for better jobs. There are a number of working families who want the opportunity to do more and expand their educational horizons. A program such as this would increase the community's access to information and job opportunities. "Oases in the Job Desert" would greatly benefit the 37th Ward. Ever since first being elected, I have made it one of my top priorities to continually bring in new business that create new jobs. In the past term we have brought in a number of new retailers that have hired locally and brought key economic development opportunities. Incentivizing new businesses, particularly manufacturing and high tech jobs, will open up new opportunities to our residents.
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.
Chicago's residents deserve a City Council that is held responsible for their actions. I believe we need one inspector general, whose goals, job description, and scope are known by Aldermen. I believe that most City employees and elected officials are good, hardworking people. I believe that Chicago's reputation is often blown out of proportion. We should focus more on how to have a more transparent government that people know is working for them.
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 believe that the public school system as a whole has been moving in the right direction in recent years. We have seen an increase in high school graduates from CPS and more students, particularly minority students, are going to college. I am not pro-charter or anti-union but I am definitely pro-student. I believe schools need to be a refuge for students, especially those from low-income communities. A new school, regardless of if its charter or neighborhood or STEM is a great thing for the community. I am in favor of a longer school day and a longer school year because they limit chances for children to commit crimes and increase a child's opportunity to learn. I am in favor of the mayoral appointed school board because it keeps politics out of our children's education. I am unsure that an elected school board would solve our problems with education and there are a number of questions that would need to be answered. I am unsure that someone elected to represent the 37th Ward would have our best interests at heart.
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?
The 37th Ward has brought in new retail and businesses consistently for last 4 years. We have worked closely with potential employers to provide quality economic incentives that entice them to locate to the West Side. Citywide, we need to continue the emphasis on high-tech jobs but also train our students in these new high-tech fields so that they will continue to work and live in Chicago. I believe in taking a hands-on approach to helping our local businesses. When the CTA needed a vendor to make seats for the new fleet of busses, I brought Freedman Seating to the attention of CTA President Forrest Claypool. The result was an $8 million contract that allowed Freedman to expand its operations and hire new workers.
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 raising the minimum wage and I was proud to sponsor and vote in favor of the Mayor's plan to raise the minimum wage to $13 per hour by 2019. Our working families need a raise so that they can afford to give their children more opportunities. I was proud to serve on the minimum task force that came up with the hire minimum wage. I believe a fair next step would be looking at how we make it easier for businesses to employ these workers at the higher minimum wage. Creating tax incentives for companies who hire locally or create new jobs at the higher minimum wage is key to incentivizing new employment opportunities.
Q: Should the Lucas Museum of Narrative Art be built at the proposed location on Chicago's lakefront? Please explain.
The Lucas Museum will be a great asset for the City but it should be located off of the Lakefront. Our city has a lot to offer, but we keep prioritizing building tourist attractions along the lake. The Lucas Museum has an opportunity to be a world-class attraction that acts as a catalyst for economic development. The Loop/Lakefront does not need anymore economic development. I hope the Lucas Museum ends up in a part of the city where neighbors want it and local businesses appreciate it.
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?
As Alderman, I have worked to build a strong network of Block Clubs, build a better CAPS presence in our ward, supported after-school activities, and created summer internship programs that keep youth off the street. These programs have been successful but our success is capped if we cannot stop the flow of illegal guns into our community. Comprehensive and broad gun control measures are needed to accompany these local programs to limit violence in our City.
Q: Do you support Chicago's traffic light camera program? Please explain.
I believe that the Red Light Camera program is in need of serious reform. Aldermen were told that the program was based on a need for increased safety near schools and parks. Instead, those who can least afford to be ticketed are becoming the bulk of the ticket payers. Each part of the city has its own needs and concerns, but I have been a vocal proponent of wholly reforming the red light program.
Q: Should Chicago reduce the number of aldermen in the City Council?
Our city keeps trying to reduce the quality of the services it provides. Reducing the number of Aldermen will negatively affect the quality and number of constituent services that the city provides.
Q: What is your highest priority for improving your ward? What is the greatest concern you hear from residents of your ward?
I believe in providing our children with a quality education, keeping them safe, and providing opportunities for the children to do better than we have done. The 37th Ward has seen its fair share of problems but we constantly rise to the occasion to build new schools, attract new employers, and provide the services necessary to improving our community. I have been dedicated to these ideals since first being elected and I am just as committed to my community today.
Q: Please tell us something about yourself that would surprise us.
I give away over 1,000 turkeys every Thanksgiving.