Candidate for City Council, 10th Ward
Education: Wabash College, Economics
Occupation: Full-time 10th Ward Alderman
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 issuance of long-term bonds are intended to help cities and other government bodies provide for important infrastructure projects including buildings like libraries and police stations as well as structures including bridges and roadways. These high priced items could rarely be paid for immediately but tend to have a long life expectancy which justifies long term borrowing similar to a home mortgage. There is a significant need to complete these projects as they play a basic and critical role in the everyday functioning and success of our residents and entire City. As a result, some of these types of projects come with significant price tags. However, I am generally not in favor using bond monies for items outside this scope. The City should have a more detailed review and reporting of bond transactions. I believe the Chicago Infrastructure Trust (CIT) can provide an alternative means to fund these much needed infrastructure projects while protecting the City's taxpayers.
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.
The city needs to identify new revenue streams and cut waste and redundancies to make funding available for our city's workers' pensions. One specific example is the proposed Chicago casino. A downtown casino could generate some $200 million annually for Chicago alone. While I understand the concerns with gambling in Chicago, other Illinois municipalities and states have gambling, have generated millions in additional revenue, and have not experienced the problems often associated with gambling. As the 10th Ward is adjacent to the state of Indiana and the Hammond, Indiana casino, I have seen first-hand the benefits a casino can provide. The revenues, employment, and ancillary economic impact are quite evident and significant. I also see more cooperative procurement opportunities among governmental entities such as the City of Chicago, the Park District, CTA and Cook County for similar needed goods and services. If government entities can enter additional agreements together, they will have purchasing power to drive down costs and get the best deal for our tax dollars. While new revenue streams and tightening the city's fiscal belt are necessary, they will not solve this problem alone. Both the workers and management must come to the table to find a reasonable compromise to the pension program moving forward. Both sides need to address legislation that could increase contributions made by current employees and restructure benefits for new employees in the future.
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.
Some ward offices have existing community advisory boards to review TIF projects. I have advisory boards to gather input and advice on how to spend TIF monies but also to serve as a sounding board for other business proposals. I would like a see a non-partisan board of non-governmental workers at a citywide level who review all TIF proposals regardless of TIF district. That board would be responsible for publishing a public fiscal analysis before the TIF project is voted on in City Council. I believe that this will add transparency to a program that the public is already weary of. I would support expansion or extension of TIF districts in my ward as necessary. The 10th Ward contains many "blighted areas" that are being revitalized as we see in the Lakeside project. This funding source is helpful tool to provide the resources necessary to get the ward back on track. However, TIF dollars cannot be spent irresponsibly. TIF's intent is to encourage job creation and economic development in "blighted areas" and we need a transparent process to ensure that is how funding is utilized. The city also needs to use excess funds responsibly. Currently, excess TIF funding is used to help balance the City's operational budget. We need to break the dependency of the TIF surplus to serve as a structural component of the city's budget. I do support the arena plan near McCormick Place. It will serve as an economic engine within the city and especially on the Southside where we are in desperate need for jobs and economic growth. The long-term benefit of the plan will greatly outweigh the short-term investment and will keep an iconic anchor, DePaul basketball, in the city.
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 would champion the following proposals. GED Chicago – The need for GED is growing in demand as the job market becomes more competitive. I would also add that in Chicago, and throughout almost every neighborhood, English as a Second Language (ESL) programs are similarly popular and in demand. As the Alderman of a low income and majority minority ward, I have worked with the City Colleges to expand opportunities for both of these programs throughout the ward. This includes identifying sites that are convenient, affordable, and accessible. The potential earning of a GED certificate being thwarted by the lack of $120 to pay for the testing fee can be disheartening and forever block an individual's opportunity for successful employment. I support large business providing funding for GED testing. Such businesses are often times the direct beneficiaries of employees earning a GED certificate. Sister Neighborhoods – Chicago remains segregated at many levels including racial, financial, and religious. The opportunity to simply expose residents, businesses, and others to different areas of the City can be inspiring. A stunning number of youth, including teenagers, have not experienced some of our City's most popular attractions like Willis Tower, Navy Pier, or Millennium Park. That basic lack of experience speaks volumes to lost opportunities. Partnering various people from one community with another allows for tremendous opportunities and exposure to "other worlds". General information sharing, best practices, cultural highlights, and business advice can prove to be extremely valuable. We can all learn from others. Exploiting Chicago's Greatest Resource – Commissioner Shore and I have spoken on this matter as MWRD facilities are located in the industrial 10th Ward and nearby. What a great and relatively simple opportunity to be responsible to our environment, save money, and enhance economic development. Using MWRD treated water for industrial uses, either existing or new, offers an innovative way to spur such development. I would also like to investigate the opportunity for hydropower from the water that is treated and eventually discharged from MWRD facilities.
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.
I support keeping the inspector general's office and that office should have the autonomy to investigate alderman and their staff to root out fraud within government. Chicago has made great strides over the years to mitigate ethics violations as we saw with the recent release of the City from the Shakman decree. However, an independent authority such as the inspector general will add the necessary oversight to inspect governmental staff and programs to increase accountability and crackdown on fraud. In order to do so, I will support adequately funding the inspector general's office so it has the tools and resources available to accomplish this task.
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 have been positive and encouraging developments in the 10th Ward regarding our City's public education system. Henry Clay Elementary went from a Level 3 rated school to a Level 1+ rating which was released in a report by Chicago Public Schools in early December. Furthermore, Washington High School increased its graduation rate from 69% to 79%. While our education system still needs a lot of work, we are without question seeing significant improvements. I anticipate that the longer school day and school year, which I have and will continue to support, will have further impact on the success of our children's ability to learn. The after-school and summer programs are also vital to our children's educational needs and, perhaps equally important, to their safety. Many Chicago neighborhoods are faced with levels of crime that no child should encounter. We need to continue these programs and ensure they are properly funded so that all of Chicago's children have a safe alternative after school and during the summer to continue their education and keep them off the streets in a productive environment. While there are encouraging signs in the public school system, we still have teachers without the tools and resources they need in the classroom to help our kids succeed. We need to continue cutting government waste and provide additional revenue streams to increase education funding. The administrative costs of CPS also need to be assessed and reformed to cut redundancies and waste to put more money into the classroom. Chicago needs to take what was perceived as one of the worst education systems in the country and make it the best. This will bolster economic development, increase property values and attract companies that will open their doors in Chicago. And, most importantly, a top-tier education system will prepare a future workforce for the jobs being created in Chicago. I also support an elected School Board. With input from neighborhood teachers, parents and LSCs, I recognize that taxpayers need a larger voice in how our city's public education system is operated and how our classrooms are administered. The only way to do so is by giving voice to our neighborhoods that would be represented by that Board. Currently, I do not see significant data that suggests that charter schools are outperforming CPS neighborhood schools. As a result and based on community input, I have generally opposed charter schools and supported neighborhood schools. I would not call for an expansion or reduction in the number of charter schools at this time but will continue to monitor their progress.
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 first step to attracting employers to the 10th Ward is to know what opportunities exist and what needs exist. We have to be able to match the two. Our large amount of affordable land is a key benefit. Additionally, we have a well trained workforce, are close to major interstates, and have ample transportation infrastructure including rail and water. Working with local organizations including the chambers of commerce, development commissions, realtors, and City agencies allows for a comprehensive approach. The ability to attract more employers is extremely competitive throughout Chicago and especially in the 10th Ward with the neighboring suburbs and Indiana. However, in addition to what has already been stated, I regularly promote the various programs that can incentivize businesses to locate and/or expand here including TIFs, Enterprise Zones, Special Service Areas, and programs with the state of Illinois and our local utility companies. Business is about dollars and cents and one must provide an attractive overall financial package to successfully attract more businesses. While we generally have a well-trained workforce, there are many who are not. Additionally the world is so dynamic especially with respect to technology. Prospective employees need to be prepared to meet the market's demand. In order to get the workforce prepared for the jobs we create, my office helps constituents with basic issues including securing a GED, obtaining a driver's license, and addressing drug/alcohol issues. My office has conducted numerous job fairs and apprenticeship programs. We have also promoted enhancing ones skills by attending the City Colleges or the Steelworker for the Future Program at Prairie State College. When Ford Motor Company was preparing to expand operations at their assembly plant in the 10th Ward, my office promoted a job fair and application intake to ensure that workers from the ward were included in hiring process. We have worked with other large companies such as Asphalt Operating Services (AOS), Walgreens and Pete's Fresh Market to not only identify property in the ward for them to open their doors, but to hire workers from the ward. As we prepare for the construction of a new Mariano's grocery store and the first development on the former US Steel site (Lakeside), my office will once again work with management and constituents to hire locally including a job fair to be held in 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 voted for the $13 minimum wage increase passed by City Council at the end of 2014. Because the 10th Ward borders Indiana, we have competing economies and I felt pressure to oppose the measure. But working Chicagoans deserve to make a decent wage to give them the opportunity to work toward the American dream. I see far too many adults, heads of household, earning minimum wage while being expected to provide for their families. The current wages have not kept up with inflation and do not allow for families to survive. The increase in earnings will ultimately result in more spending in our neighborhoods. To me this was not a political vote but the difference between right and wrong and we owe it to Chicago workers.
Q: Should the Lucas Museum of Narrative Art be built at the proposed location on Chicago's lakefront? Please explain.
While I am pleased that the Lucas Museum will be located in Chicago and add to our successful Museum Campus, I do have concerns about its impact on our lakefront. The construction will eliminate a parking area that is also used for various programs and activities. I lobbied and preferred that it be built in the 10th Ward, specifically Lakeside, where there are several hundred acres of undeveloped land. This site is along the lakefront, bisected by South Shore Drive, and would have served as a major anchor and catalyst for development for the economically challenged Southside.
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?
Chicagoans need a well-staffed and well trained police department. Over the past two years we have learned that being effective in rooting out crime is not necessarily about quantity but quality. By offering overtime to Chicago police officers, we are able to put experienced and qualified police officers on the streets. Allocating resources where needed, including getting officers out from behind desks and on the street and placing them in higher crime areas, is of great importance. Ensuring our officers are properly prepared for the ongoing and different challenges on the street requires regular training. The ability to obtain and utilize quality data is invaluable in identifying and predicting crime. CompStat and regular meetings should continue as they are a proven method of aiding police in reducing crime. The continued pursuit of various grant monies and formal and informal partnerships with other law enforcement agencies allows for CPD to more efficiently address problems. Police have done an admirable job in the 10th Ward community. Many of the officers who live in the ward choose to work here. That demonstrates their personal commitment to the neighborhood. Crime is a constant but is being reduced in the neighborhood. The historical data supports this. I and my office enjoy a close working relationship with most of the officers. Our attendance at various meetings including CAPS, our support of the police, and the need for the ward office and police to work closely together is essential for the ward's success in combating crime. In the 10th Ward, I and my entire office are supporters and actively involved with the CAPS program. This program fosters community involvement which is so valuable in assisting our Police and ultimately our communities. I have been an active participant in CAPS, and as the local elected official, have made these meetings more successful by providing the police and public with additional city information and services necessary to comprehensively address community issues. I and the entire 10th Ward office understand that there is not one solution to reducing crime. It must be a proactive, comprehensive approach that incorporates a variety of tools and programs. That is why in addition to intense involvement with CAPS, I have sponsored and support block clubs, block club training programs, phone trees, anti-violence marches, anti-graffiti mural efforts, jobs for youths, the local schools, YMCA, park programs, our anti-bullying program, and the chambers. Working together we can reach more people and holistically attack the problem.
Q: Do you support Chicago's traffic light camera program? Please explain.
I do support the traffic light program for safety-related purposes and less of a revenue generator. I view it as an extension of other traffic safety laws and ordinances such as the hands-free laws recently passed by the State to make our roads safer for pedestrians and other drivers. The traffic cameras will make it safer for the City's growing population of bicyclists, children who walk to school and other drivers. Prior to the introduction of the camera program my office has been attentive to speeding, and other potentially dangerous traffic conditions. As a result, we have and continue to be active in incorporating traffic calming measures including speed humps, stops signs, one way signs, speed limit signs, radar missions (enforcement-ticketing), and pavement markings. While the camera program has a revenue benefit, the objective is to prevent accidents and save lives on which no dollar value can be placed.
Q: Should Chicago reduce the number of aldermen in the City Council?
I am open to legislation that would reduce the number of alderman in City Council. However, I have a concern that a reduction of alderman would lead to a reduction in the ability of constituents to be properly represented including the provision of basic city services. Any legislation would have to alleviate that concern before I would support it.
Q: What is your highest priority for improving your ward? What is the greatest concern you hear from residents of your ward?
The most common complaints from 10th Ward constituents who call, visit the office, email, Facebook, or use 311 are the need for tree trimming and removal, as well as the repair of street lights. I have improved these services by working with the respective departments to provide the services and educate the public on how these services are provided. The 2015 budget recognizes the importance of tree trimming/removal and has increased funding to address this issue. I think this is very telling about the 10th Ward. I don't hear about high levels of crime or drug dealings that other Alderman on the Southside are constantly inundated with. This has proven out as the ward has experienced a reduction in crime over the years. I have a three-pronged approach to addressing ward improvements that blend together to make the 10th ward a better place: 1. Economic development – Bringing new businesses and jobs to our neighborhoods 2. Reducing crime – Safe streets mean more vibrant communities 3. Improving education – Quality education leads to job creation and workforce readiness, preparing our kids for their future.
Q: Please tell us something about yourself that would surprise us.
While I learned how to swim at Day Camp at the Chicago Park District, my dad refined my swimming skills as part of our fishing days. After long days of fishing with my dad, my twin brother and I were encouraged to "cool off" by swimming next to the boat as we returned to shore. We were often the topic of conversation as fishermen along the shore were surprised to see two young boys swimming alongside a boat returning from a day of fishing from US Steel.