Candidate for City Council, 38th ward
Education: Bachelor of Arts in Criminal Justice with a double major in Political Science from the University of Illinois at Chicago 1989 Chicago Police Academy-Metro Class 1991
Occupation: Police Sergeant-Cook County Forest Preserve Police
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.
The "Broken Bonds" investigative series sheds light on another aspect of how the City has put itself in financial peril. The story highlights numerous examples of taking on long term debt to finance short term budget needs. This "scoop and toss" tactic is clearly not a viable long term best practice for financial planning. This type of borrowing should be limited to capital improvements or to finance projects with the prospects of generating long term revenue. New sources of revenue need to be identified along with eliminating wasteful spending. The Video Gaming Act was enacted in July 2009, authorizing the placement of up to five video gaming terminals in licensed retail establishments, truck stops, veteran and fraternal establishments. Chicago has placed a ban on allowing this type of gaming. Chicago residents are going to neighboring suburbs or across state lines to spend their entertainment dollars on video gaming. Reversing the ban would create a new source of revenue and benefit local business with increased patronage. The TIF program needs to be reevaluated. The amount of money held in reserve by the TIF program should be capped and any surplus allocated back to our schools, parks, and libraries. The City Council needs to have more oversight of this program and control of the revenue it generates. Additional revenue sources, such as the LaSalle Street Tax and the elimination of corporate loopholes, are viable options to help pay down existing debt and provide services.
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.
I oppose any legislation or proposal that would diminish the guaranteed benefits promised to current retirees and those currently contributing to their plans. Any proposed changes to the pension system should affect only new hires. Retirees, who spent their careers in public service, planned their lives and retirements based on the guarantees they were given by their employers. Retirees and current employees had their contributions to the pension plan automatically deducted from their paychecks and were never afforded a "pension holiday" to skip these payments. Additionally, retirees receiving a government pension who also worked other jobs paying into Social Security are subject to the Windfall Provision Act greatly reducing any benefits they are entitled to. Public sector and union employees have been unfairly characterized as greedy and not deserving of the benefits they were promised as part of their compensation package when accepting employment. As I stated earlier, new sources of revenue need to be identified along with eliminating wasteful spending. The Video Gaming Act was enacted in July 2009, authorizing the placement of up to five video gaming terminals in licensed retail establishments, truck stops, veteran and fraternal establishments. Chicago has placed a ban on allowing this type of gaming. Chicago residents are going to neighboring suburbs or across state lines to spend their entertainment dollars on video gaming. Reversing the ban would create a new source of revenue and benefit local business with increased patronage.
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.
The TIF program needs to be reevaluated. The amount of money held in reserve by the TIF program should be capped and the surplus could help pay off the city's obligations. The City Council needs to have more oversight of this program and control of the revenue it generates. A recent analysis of the TIF program by the Civic Lab estimated the city had $1.7 billion in its TIF reserves. I would support a moratorium on new TIF districts until an audit was conducted and reforms initiated that ensure that the program details are transparent and that the funds are managed effectively. I do not support the $55 million allotment of TIF funds to buy land for a Marriott Hotel and DePaul basketball arena. The spirit of this program is to spur economic development in blighted areas by providing financing to existing or new businesses in the area. I believe there are businesses and institutions in more dire need of these funds in areas more blighted than the South Loop.
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.
I am an advocate of more after school programs to help working parents while having our children in a structured learning environment so I would champion the following suggestion; "Howard Parker of Lake Zurich suggests free after-school programs for all K-12 children in "the arts, homework assistance, nutrition, career counseling, technical skills, physical and mental health, and life skills." These programs would be staffed by volunteers-including retirees-who would receive modest stipends, teachers and specialists. We wonder whether Chicago foundations could help organize and bankroll such a program as part of their civic mission." Another suggestion comes from Steven Fischer who "suggests building and expanding vocational-technical training. No matter how computer-advanced the world becomes, it will still need people who can fix things". The Tribune puts forth and I agree that we could "revive recently closed public schools as community centers....we support this idea because these buildings already exist and have been community magnets." These shuttered schools now serving as community centers responsive to the needs of the surrounding neighborhood could transform the lives of many Chicagoans.
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.
The City Council should merge the office of the legislative inspector general whose mission is to investigate allegations of misconduct by members and employees of the City Council with the city inspector general who is responsible for investigating all of city government. Recent reports from the legislative inspector general of office employees doing political work on city time prove the need for continued oversight of the City Council and its employees. From a budgetary standpoint, a merger would eliminate the duplication of services while providing additional resources to the city inspector general who has a staff to investigate complaints as opposed to the legislative inspector general who conducts his own investigations. Campaign financing laws need to be revised to limit the influence of special interest groups on our elected officials.
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 am the father of two children in the Chicago Public School system, a son in third grade and a daughter in second grade. I have seen firsthand the challenges that teachers face while trying to educate our children. Additionally, while campaigning door to door, I have spoken with many CTU members about overcrowded classrooms, behavioral issues and the lack of resources and support from the CPS Board. I stand behind the CTU's mission to ensure that publicly funded education in Chicago responds appropriately to the needs of each stakeholder: students, educators, and parents. Most teachers I have spoken to cite increased parental involvement as a key component in improving student performance. While there is no substitute to parental involvement, the reality is, in many families the parent or parents work long hours to support their families, finding little time to be as involved as they would like I am a proponent of the expansion of the pre-kindergarten program and an advocate of more after school programs to help working parents while having our children in a structured learning environment.. I believe that there should be an elected School Board. I oppose the funding and expansion of charter schools. Charter schools have siphoned funds away from traditional public schools resulting in budget shortfalls. At the same time, several analyses have shown that these schools have underperformed in comparison to CPS. Furthermore, these schools are employing individuals not afforded the rights and protections of a union. The amount of money held in reserve by the TIF program needs to be capped and the surplus could be allocated back to our schools, parks, and libraries to fund budget gaps. Additional revenue sources, such as the LaSalle Street Tax and the elimination of corporate loopholes, are viable options to fund budget shortfalls and operating costs.
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?
People want to reside in an area that is properly policed and well maintained by a ward office that responds quickly to requests for city services. New business owners are attracted to a customer base that feels safe while venturing out to their local businesses. Addressing the first two needs will help attract and keep business in the area. The first year of a business is generally critical to their long-term success as they develop their customer base. The City needs to streamline the process of licensing and permitting and offer some tax credits to allow these new businesses the opportunity to grow. The 38th ward neighbors several suburbs which offer free parking for their businesses and the city needs to develop a plan to provide more free parking in order for our businesses to compete.
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 City Council vote to increase the minimum wage to $13 an hour. The cost of living in the City has continued to rise while the minimum wage remained stagnant. Studies show this increase will strengthen the economy while improving the lives of families. A worker previously working two jobs to make ends meet may be able to work one job or fewer hours at a second job with the increased wage, creating a more balanced situation and having more time to spend with family. The viewpoint that minimum wage jobs are meant to be only entry level jobs is no longer valid when so many college graduates are unsuccessful in securing employment in their field of training and forced to accept these "entry level" positions.
Q: Should the Lucas Museum of Narrative Art be built at the proposed location on Chicago's lakefront? Please explain.
The Lucas Museum of Narrative Art is slated for construction on two Chicago Park District parking lots just south of Soldier Field. While a parking lot may be easier to convert back to open space and does not restrict the view of the lakefront, this land has already been developed. The area is already set aside for museums and can be accessed by the public. The land would be leased with Lucas financing construction and operating costs. Adding another destination point for tourists and residents without having to assume large financial obligations is a win for 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?
The 38th ward is within the borders of the Chicago Police 16th District. This district also polices the 41st ward and portions of four other wards; 30, 36, 39 and 45. A comprehensive review needs to be conducted reevaluating the overall size of the district and the size of the beats within the district. Officers responding to emergency calls for service must traverse long distances at expedited speeds putting their safety and the public's safety at risk. Having to travel long distances to calls for service results in longer response times .Geographically smaller beats would alleviate these problems. Staffing levels must also be addressed. Staffing levels must not only keep up with attrition but also increased to ensure adequate police coverage. Proper staffing allows officers the opportunity to be proactive in their policing approach by having units available to patrol the streets identifying and investigating suspicious activity. The City must keep up staffing levels not only for patrol officers but also in the supervisory ranks. The Chicago Police Department must make sure to allocate resources to conduct promotional exams on a regular basis. The Department should not balance its budget and also claim to be at full staffing by eliminating positions that are essential to its operation but currently vacant. These supervisory positions need to be filled by qualified members of the force to insure the proper functioning of the department. As a 23 year veteran and a Sergeant of 14 years with the Cook County Forest Preserve Police I know that proper supervision is an important component in helping to the lower the number of lawsuits filed against the Department. The better the department is supervised and trained, the fewer the lawsuits, the more money that the Department has to hire officers and promote. Proper staffing levels along with manageable district and beat boundaries would ensure adequate police coverage across the city. As Alderman, I would advocate for the Department to conduct a comprehensive review of the size of its districts and the beats of which they are comprised. The City needs to allocate resources to the Police Department budget to allow it to conduct testing on a regular basis and have a constant pool of qualified candidates to choose from instead of having to work through a list several times before exhausting that list. The Department needs to be proactive in its approach to filling vacancies due to attrition, not reactive to being short staffed hundreds of officers before a new test is given. Other major U.S. cities, such as Los Angeles and New York, recruit and test on a regular basis to fill vacancies and Chicago should follow their example.
Q: Do you support Chicago's traffic light camera program? Please explain.
Chicago's traffic light program is despised by many for a number of reasons including the admission of bribery and kickback schemes surrounding the program. The shortness of its yellow lights generated 77,000 tickets and $8 million for the city in six months and overall the program generates approximately $60 million annually. This program needs a comprehensive review and monitoring to ensure that its original intent, to promote safe driving and reduce intersection related accidents, is adhered to. The City must make sure its vendors are not manipulating the system to increase revenue. No one wants to receive a ticket and pay a fine but the simple solution to avoid this is-stop at red lights.
Q: Should Chicago reduce the number of aldermen in the City Council?
I do not believe that Chicago should reduce the number of alderman in the City Council. Each of the 50 aldermen serves a ward that is geographically bigger with larger populations, average 54,000 residents, than many surrounding towns and villages. The alderman is responsible for ensuring that the City is responsive to the needs of their communities. A reduction would provide some cost savings but lead to less efficient delivery of city services and the potential for a City Council under even more influence by the mayor or special interests.
Q: What is your highest priority for improving your ward? What is the greatest concern you hear from residents of your ward?
Public safety and city services will be my main priorities if elected as Alderman of the 38th ward. Campaigning door to door, most residents cite these two areas as their greatest concerns. The 38th ward is within the borders of the Chicago Police 16th District. This district also polices the 41st ward and portions of four other wards; 30, 36, 39 and 45. A comprehensive review needs to be conducted reevaluating the overall size of the district and the size of the beats within the district. Officers responding to emergency calls for service must traverse long distances at expedited speeds putting their safety and the public's safety at risk. Having to travel long distances to calls for service results in longer response times .Geographically smaller beats would alleviate these problems. Staffing levels must also be addressed. Staffing levels must not only keep up with attrition but also increased to ensure adequate police coverage. Proper staffing allows officers the opportunity to be proactive in their policing approach by having units available to patrol the streets identifying and investigating suspicious activity. A well maintained community aids in keeping an area safe. Working street lights and trimmed trees allow residents to keep watch over their streets and be vigilant of suspicious activity. In order for officers to respond to calls for service, our streets must be free of obstructions such as potholes, snow or flood waters. The residents of the 38th ward pay some of the highest property taxes in the city and deserve prompt responses to requests for city services and from its police.
Q: Please tell us something about yourself that would surprise us.
My parents, along with my two sisters, emigrated here from Poland. I am the first person from either side of my family to be born in this country. Growing up in a household with Polish as my first language I continue to speak it fluently.