Candidate for City Council, 5th Ward
Education: BA in Sociology, University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign (2003); MPP in Urban Policy, Harris School for Public Policy at the University of Chicago (2013)
Occupation: Post-Graduate Urban Fellow at the University of Chicago Harris School for Public Policy
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 greatly appreciate the Tribune's investigation into Chicago's bonds and as a resident and taxpayer, am troubled by these bond deals. Our city needs to be more transparent with taxpayers about its budget constraints so aldermen and residents can make better decisions about revenues and expenditures. We must eliminate waste and inefficiency so that we can implement revenue policies that minimize burden on taxpayers while ensuring effective City services. Although my background is not in finance, it seems completely inappropriate to pay for operating expenses with long-term bonds. At minimum, Chicago is overly reliant on using general obligation bonds, especially limited-tax ones and what we need is a review of potential revenue streams. I think it's smart to keep an eye on states with legalized and taxed cannabis (Colorado, Washington, etc) as a potential model for Illinois. In the short-term, I would continue to use taxable GOBs to buy time-- with the understanding that it's expensive but temporary. I'd then review the city's raw assets--buildings, land, etc--to see what makes sense to sell off. Further, the city should take a look at how to reform TIFs to make sure that we aren't losing revenue there. In areas where there are inefficiencies, I would recommend looking at freezing or cutting spending.
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 should exhaust all available options for increasing funding to meet our pension and long-term debt obligations before exploring higher taxes and fees. If we must seek new revenue, I would support a proposal to tax those earning more than $1 million per year while giving Chicago's middle class families the financial relief they need. For any policy decision, however, I would work consult with experts in the field and work with Chicago residents to shape strategies amenable to all sides. I believe a more inclusive and public process for problem solving the city's pension crisis is in the best interest of the city.
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.
TIFs can be a vital tool for spurring development in my own ward, which has areas desperately in need of new investment. TIFs should be used only for deserving projects that are most likely to benefit the community. I am cautiously optimistic that the Marriott and DePaul TIF deal will in the long run end up as a net benefit to our city. The deal has been thoroughly scrutinized, and although it does carry some risk, it appears to be a quality public-private partnership. To improve the TIF process, the city should increase its transparency. I would like Chicagoan residents to be able to clearly understand how projects are selected, who decides what developers and contractors will be used, and who benefits from the TIF projects? We must ensure the tool isn't used in a way that ultimately displaces poor residents from the neighborhood. I would like to see an analysis by someone who has modeled all the tax consequences of TIF and can demonstrate that it doesn't negatively impact public services in the long run. This information should be made public.
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 loved reading the "12 Ways to Heal a City," and am inspired by many of the ideas in the Plan of Chicago editorial. These big ideas require much planning, collaboration and creativity--similar to work I've been doing in Gary, Indiana for the past three years. I believe it's possible to execute all 12 strategies given enough time and resources. In the near future, we should try to implement programs with low-costs or that are revenue generating. Of the ideas proposed, I would strongly advocate for: 1. Schools as Community Centers. 2. Sister Neighborhoods 3. Innovation Houses 4. Urban Farms 5. Oases in jobs desert 6. Hubs and STEMS
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 the office should be funded at a level that allows the IG to complete their work. We need more accountability in city government – not less.
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?
Public education must be a top priority for Chicago. While we have seen many improvements, there is still much work to do. The district should prioritize getting its finances in order - looking for cost-savings where available and coming up with a legislative plan to increase funding for public education. We should be building quality partnerships with outside organizations with expertise in education and strengthening our school leaders. I believe the district would benefit from leadership development of principals--research has shown that schools in impoverished neighborhoods can be turned around with strong leadership. Investing in high-quality leadership training and professional development is crucial. I would also like to see a selective enrollment school added to the South Side to help meet the high demand for SE schools. CPS must also evaluate its current paper-based systems and textbooks. Since the 2006 fiscal year, CPS has spent $76.8 million on textbooks for students in grades kindergarten through 12th grade. The staggering budget deficit could be drastically reduced if CPS adopts an eLearning model. Many works of literature, including those commonly used in high school English classes, are already available electronically for free. Currently, well-known textbook publishers such as McGraw-Hill and Pearson have made traditional high school texts available for $14.99 or less; some chapters for certain texts are free. While there will be initial start-up costs for the schools to buy the readers, over time the schools will save money. It is estimated that if high schools used e-books 20 percent of the time rather than paper textbooks costing $150 each, they would save $3.6 million. Such savings would enable CPS to spend the money on other vital resources for children. Many CPS families cannot give their children regular access to today's technology. Nationwide, less than 50% of low income students have access to broadband. With the CPS eLearning Initiative, these children will have the tools and learn the skills they need to be competitive in today's society. Using technology will also help teachers use innovative methods to better engage students. Today's youth also find technology devices fun and using them in classrooms helps instill a love of learning in students. A study by the Mikva Challenge Education Council found that 69% of CPS students think they would learn better using technology compared to just textbooks. Besides the ability to use other modes of teaching like video, digital textbooks allow for personalized learning, adapting to the needs of individual students and evolving as the student progresses. According to a recent survey commissioned by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, "few teachers believe traditional textbooks can engage today's digital natives and prepare them for success." Technology often leads to better outcomes and CPS' dismal graduation rates indicate Chicago needs to implement programs that will increase success. In 2011, only 57.5 percent of 31,708 Chicago public schoolchildren graduated from high school within 5 years. With a CPS eLearning Initiative, students will develop crucial skills for today's job market.
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?
Impoverished communities often fail the "market analysis" test that businesses use to determine whether to invest in a neighborhood. Depressed housing prices, higher unemployment and lower incomes frequently deter private companies from setting up shop in poorer areas. By executing an alternative market analysis, I hope to provide investors a more accurate picture of the economic opportunities in the 5th Ward. My first task in office would be to complete a Community Asset Mapping project to identify all of the resources in the community - health services, pharmacies, shops, schools, etc. After mapping that data, we'll be able to see exactly how far residents have to travel to reach certain types of businesses (groceries, for example, in South Shore). This type of analysis will show us where our "holes" are - in terms of what's needed in the community. Working with residents, I'd come up with a plan to target specific businesses to fill those holes. My priority is to support local businesses and also bring in new ones. There is a desperate need for a grocery store in South Shore. For new developments, I'd like to look at enacting local hiring ordinances to ensure local residents are getting the jobs in their neighborhoods. In Gary, we're working on several jobs initiatives involving business incubators, workforce development training in the steel and trucking industries, and working with ex-offenders to deconstruct the many abandoned homes.
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.
Absolutely support. Further, I believe we should research how to raise it to at least $15 by 2019. Our economy has grown considerably since the recent financial crisis, but wages have not yet recovered. If we don't guarantee a livable wage for residents, they will eventually be at risk of requiring government support. Taxpayers should not be on the hook for companies that aren't willing to pay a fair wage to employees. Cities like Seattle were able to strike a deal for $15 because the Mayor made formed a committee made up of many employer and labor factions - small companies get 7 years, large companies get 3 years to transition. There is common ground that can be achieved between employers, workers and the public good but it's of utmost importance that this be an organized movement combined with strong political leadership.
Q: Should the Lucas Museum of Narrative Art be built at the proposed location on Chicago's lakefront? Please explain.
Yes. The Lucas Museum will be a tremendous asset to the City of Chicago and it makes sense to build the structure as part of the museum campus. This is an amazing opportunity to bring a world-class tourist attraction to our waterfront. It will generate hundreds of millions of dollars in economic activity and bring new visitors and investment to the surrounding museums and aquariums. Further, by enacting local hiring ordinances, we can increase opportunities for South Side residents through this huge private investment. By placing the museum on the city's South Side, we're bringing an investment of incalculable value to residents and increasing access and opportunities for our youth.
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 need to do more in the community to support the Chicago Police Department. Residents should be encouraged to use technology such as social media to document and report suspected criminal activity in their neighborhoods. As alderman, I would also host community meet and greets in each precinct of my ward so neighbors can get together and establish a network for sharing information and getting to know their beat patrol officers. A big concern in the 5th Ward is lack of transparency with the UChicago Police. While Chicago PD must report and publish its data, UCPD are exempt--meaning residents do not know who is being stopped, arrested, and targeted. This lack of transparency is creating major distrust between residents and police. I'm hopeful the University decides to release its data on policing. Relationships with residents and police are strained across the nation. It's time we build a new model of policing--one where residents and police work together collaboratively for the better of the city. I think implementing police trainings and professional development to better work with youth, women, rape victims, LGBTQ and homeless folks would go a long way to changing the current climate. To improve public safety, we must have more opportunities for youth. Schools should be looking at models of restorative justice for discipline, rather than punitive measures. The best way to reduce crime is to increase resources and opportunities in impoverished communities. In Gary, we target abandoned buildings as they are magnets for crime.
Q: Do you support Chicago's traffic light camera program? Please explain.
Yes, as long as the goal remains to promote public safety. We should keep a close eye on the implementation of these cameras and make sure they are always fairly monitored. I understand the burden of paying these hefty fines and why residents dislike them. The program should remain in place but the data collected should be made public for constituent oversight.
Q: Should Chicago reduce the number of aldermen in the City Council?
Chicago, while the 3rd largest city in the US, has the largest number of councilman. I think it's fair to investigate the costs and benefits of having this type of arrangement. With less alderman, you increase greater accountability of those elected officials. Many residents have no idea who their alderman is or what function they serve. With fifty aldermen, the danger is having too many disorganized aldermen to be an effective counterweight to the executive, resulting in the mayor always being the strongest political voice, and aldermen always having disproportionate interest/control over issues that are local to their ward. In this type of system, coalition-building is incredibly important. On the upside, the current arrangement allows for aldermen to really be connected to their constituents.
Q: What is your highest priority for improving your ward? What is the greatest concern you hear from residents of your ward?
The 5th Ward is quite uneven resource-wise. In speaking with thousands of residents, I've learned that Hyde Parkers care very much about overdevelopment of the neighborhood and ensuring we keep high standards of safety and security. In the South Shore, Woodlawn and Grand Crossing neighborhoods, concerns are dramatically different: gun crime; job training; access to healthy foods; blighted vacant buildings and access to quality public schools are what my constituents care about. I will advocate for all of Chicago's youth. As a board member of the Illinois Safe Schools Alliance for six years, I know that youth must be partners in shaping their own futures and the future of the city. I believe passionately that great schools are the anchors of our communities and also a primary mechanism for improving neighborhoods. I envision a 5th Ward with the best public schools in the City of Chicago.
Q: Please tell us something about yourself that would surprise us.
I was a softball pitcher who played competitive fastpitch from ages 6-18. My fastest clocked speed was 57 mph, which, from a 40-foot mound, translates to an 86 mph fastball in baseball.