Candidate questionnaires

Placeholder for Howard Brookins Jr.

Howard Brookins Jr.

Candidate for City Council, 21st Ward

Howard Brookins Jr.

Candidate for City Council, 21st Ward

Placeholder for Howard Brookins Jr.

Education: JD Northern Illinois University, BS and AAS Southern Illinois University-Carbondale.

Occupation: Alderman, 21st Ward

Home: Chicago

Age: Not answered

Past Political/Civic Experience: Not answered

Candidates running for City Council, 21st 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.

The calamitous loss of revenues from the Great Recession laid to waste decades of municipal planning and revenue projections and created pressure to continue to provide our residents with quality services while not overburdening taxpayers. City Council made the best decision possible with the information we were provided at the time. Obviously the Tribune's coverage concerns me, and I'll work with the administration and CPS to find more effective ways to budget for city services. Moving forward, our taxpayers deserve nothing less than complete and total transparency with the city budget.

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 have had productive conversations with taxpayers, employees, and city government about the best way to solve our unfunded pension liability. We are still awaiting further clarification from the supreme court on what changes are considered constitutional. Much of what we are considering relies upon this ruling. I will continue to seek effective solutions for this issue until we hear more from the court.

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 funds are an effective tool for bringing new development and jobs to wards like mine that need extra incentives for attracting new residents and businesses. We have people that are ready to work and must find a way to attract new jobs. I believe TIF funds should be prioritized for needier communities such as the 21st Ward before being used to support projects like the Marriott Hotel and DePaul basketball arena.

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.

Oases in the jobs desert I have proposed something similar to the administration, the Governor and the Governor elect. We should change the TIF rules to use TIF funds in non TIF districts. Those funds should be used in truly blighted areas – communities with high crime and high unemployment. When governments employ the broken window theory they tend to focus on arresting people for petty crimes, but they never seem to get around to fixing the windows.

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.

City Council should keep the office of legislative inspector general, and it should be better funded. Further, the City inspector general should review the budget, practices, rules and salaries of the legislative inspector general and his staff. This eliminates the appearance of retribution by aldermen, should the office not be funded at requested levels. This would put a check and balance on the office of the legislative inspector general.

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?

There isn't one key to improving education in big cities, no less Chicago. We need a comprehensive discussion on the best ways to support and improve education in our City. I support a longer school day. New schools should be considered on a case-by-case basis. Charter schools should be reformed or closed if they fail to properly educate our kids.

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 like to reform the TIF process to attract businesses that bring good paying jobs to the ward. I will push for rules that require TIF funds to be used in truly blighted areas and that new city business subsidies go to areas most in need. I also favor relaxing certain rules in targeted areas to stimulate development. One example is landscape requirements.

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.

Most definitely, I am a huge supporter of the measure and voted for it!

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

I prefer to bring projects such as this to areas that are more in need of an economic boost, including some areas in the 21st Ward. We should protect our waterfront as much as possible, but this is a very unique and high-quality project that will bring hundreds of millions of dollars in investments and revenues to the city.

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?

We must continue to bring neighborhood residents and local police together so they can share information and help develop a cohesive community policing strategy. We also need to hire more police officers and get them out on the streets. This isn't the only solution to the problem; I will work to make sure the community works with police to help support these new officers.

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

It depends on the location of the camera and whether or not it will help improve public safety. I opposed the red light camera because the studies suggested that they would trade side impact collisions for rear end collisions. I supported speeding cameras because of the cry from the public for people to slow down and the numerous requests for speed humps, stop signs, yield signs and traffic signals. I believed that speed cameras would help change behavior and in a non-discriminatory manner.

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

No. I am open to new ways for saving tax dollars, but my community needs effective representation that only comes from smaller wards. There will not be any significant savings and the size of a ward would become nearly be the size of a state senate district. The cost of elections would dramatically increase and representation would be diminished.

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

Jobs. Jobs. Jobs. Jobs.

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

I am actually rather shy.

City Council, 21st Ward