Candidate questionnaires

Portrait of Jen Kramer

Jen Kramer

Candidate for City Council, 43rd Ward

Jen Kramer

Candidate for City Council, 43rd Ward

Portrait of Jen Kramer

Education: Purdue University, BS, Class of 1993; Carmel High School, Class of 1988

Occupation: Director of Entertainment and Special Events, Navy Pier, Inc.

Home: Chicago

Age: Not answered

Past Political/Civic Experience: Not answered


Candidates running for City Council, 43rd 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.

It's a basic principle of accounting that you do not borrow money for short-term operating expenses. This spending was not justified and our city needs to face reality when it comes to budgeting: you can't spend money that isn't available. Before committing to spending cuts or tax increases, I believe we need a better picture of how city council functions. Unfortunately, the incumbent alderman voted against appointing a legislative Inspector General, and then skipped the vote in 2014 that stripped the same Inspector General from investigating aldermen's campaign finances. Your newspaper called it "the most revealing roll call" of 2014. We also must seek better support from the state and federal governments. Chicago is an important economic engine in the Midwest, and we do not receive state and federal assistance relative to our impact in the region.

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.

Much of what we do in the future with pensions will depend on the outcome of the court challenge against SB1. If it is ruled unconstitutional, our state's legislators will be forced to return to the drawing board and develop a consensus plan for pension reform – one that includes all stakeholders. I would like to see an agreement reached that won't face a challenge in court, and use that framework for pension reform here in Chicago.

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 do not support the expansion of TIF districts in my ward. My ward does not need to provide the type of tax incentives used in other parts of the city to attract businesses and residents. The issue here is not often a lack of development, but instead ensuring responsible development that does not adversely impact the community and diminish quality of life for local residents. My future colleagues in council should have resources to bring development to their wards, and TIF districts, when used responsibly, have been an important tool for accomplishing that goal. TIF money should be available for well thought-out public-private partnerships. DePaul is an important economic engine in the 43rd ward. They won't get a free pass from my office. But this deal seems to strike the right balance between their investment and the public's tax funding. I support this deal in its current form.

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.

Using closed schools as a community center sound excellent, but I would like to learn more about the potential costs of such a program. Offering free GED testing is a simple and practical idea, and not very costly. I would love to take the lead on promoting such a program, and would seek out corporate partners that rely on lower income workers to sponsor and help cover the costs. It would be best to first focus on the ideas that don't have a price tag or even generate revenue for the city, like the Sister Neighborhood program. Chicago is a city of neighborhoods; it's important that we help those neighborhoods succeed. Lincoln Park has had tremendous success regenerating itself from what was at one time a struggling community. The ideas and successes of our healthy and vibrant neighborhood should be shared to help others. If Chicago has unused assets and equipment, we should look to sell them to bring in needed funds and stop spending money on storage and maintenance. I also like the idea of linking kids with careers, and I have extensive experience with these types of public-private partnerships from my work at Navy Pier and the City of Chicago.

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 should definitely keep the office of legislative Inspector General. As I previously stated, the incumbent alderman opposed this office and then skipped the 2014 vote that prevented the IG from investigating aldermen's campaign finances. We should cut the size of city council. This would save us money that we can use to properly fund public safety and education, and also create a smaller and more accountable city council. Fewer aldermen would allow the public and media to more closely scrutinize the actions and legislative decisions of city council.

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?

The only way to keep our great families in this ward is by having high-quality public schools for our children. As much as I am for the democratic process, we have made amazing strides at CPS under mayoral control of the Chicago Board of Education. There are more STEM, International Baccalaureate and selective-enrollment schools than ever before, and the mayor's leadership should be commended. It's clear that mayoral control provides accountability and the flexibility to act accordingly. I do support the continued implementation of the longer school day and year. Chicago had one of the shortest school days in the country before the longer school day and we cannot expect to be a world class city without a world class education system. Charter schools play an important role in the educational fabric in Chicago. If these schools prove to be successful then I would support the expansion of the charter school program.

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?

It's critical that that the alderman work arm in arm with the local chambers of commerce and with the city's planning department. Establishing powerful relationships with local business owners in other neighborhoods is a good way to bring them into the neighborhood.

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 the increase in the minimum wage. Chicago has a high cost of living; people who work hard should be able to earn a livable wage.

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

Yes. I expect it to be a significant attraction for many years to come. It is a once in a lifetime opportunity that will bring hundreds of millions of dollars in tourism revenue and also help attract more visitors to surrounding museums.

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?

Based on my past experience working hand in hand with the Chicago Police Department, I know that communication and relationships between the police and residents are paramount. Working together and with creative community policing strategies, we can ensure a safer neighborhood.

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

I support them as a tool for ensuring public safety. We should not rely on them for revenue as hopefully they influence behavior and get people stop ignoring red lights. We need to look at the numbers and make sure the program is properly being run and people are not getting tickets they do not deserve.

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

Yes. It would reduce costs and allow the public and media to more closely scrutinize the actions of the remaining council members.

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

I want to live in a ward where residents don't feel the need to move away to find better schools and a safer environment. As alderman, I will work to get more police on the streets and improve our local public schools. The residents of my ward want an ethical and honest alderman that will make tough decision with their best interests in mind. Many residents I speak with are not sure that they are receiving that level of representation from the incumbent.

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

I am a proud supporter and board member of Special Olympics Chicago and have personally raised over $250,000 for the organization.