Candidate questionnaires

Portrait of Keiana Barrett

Keiana Barrett

Candidate for City Council, 7th Ward

Keiana Barrett

Candidate for City Council, 7th Ward

Portrait of Keiana Barrett

Education: Masters in Human Services - Spertus College, Chicago, IL BS - Communications, Illinois State University, Bloomington/Normal, IL

Occupation: Director of Strategy - Office of Family and Community Engagement, CPS

Home: Chicago

Age: Not answered

Past Political/Civic Experience: Not answered


Candidates running for City Council, 7th 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.

As Alderman, I would research and propose a slate of creative revenue raisers/money savers that are progressive and do not saddle the working class with additional taxes. For example, selling naming rights to city properties; Chicago casino; Lake Michigan ferries and Chicago river taxis; smart-gridding garbage pickup and other city services; extend certain taxing districts (i.e. The McPier taxing district only covers downtown, but in truth Lake View and Lincoln Park benefit so they should be included.) For far too long, the funding of present-day good causes has been used as a justification for incurring additional expensive debt; the long-term costs of which have been grossly underrepresented. I do not doubt that many of the funds raised through municipal bond offerings (including taxable bonds) went towards programming that deserved funding. The point of contention I wish to raise is how they should be funded, keeping in mind that, sooner or later, a fiscal day of reckoning will come to pass and is now on our doorstep. That being said, a hybrid of spending cuts and tax increases on luxury commodities should be fully considered; both guided by increased transparency in government spending and findings from thorough cost/benefit analyses. Looking forward, we must chart a different course, relying on better data as the basis for our decision-making. We must recognize the importance of economic development, but not use its potential as the basis for paying for basic city services on credit. Moreover, our sub-par bond ratings are an enormous hindrance to economic development and are a direct result of our inability to solve the fiscal crisis.

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.

In the City of Chicago, we are faced with the inescapable reality that the majority of our pension systems for public sector employees are in peril; in turn creating retirement insecurities, coupled with community instability. These men and women, many of which are our parents, relatives and neighbors, have worked hard and provided valuable service to our communities, are now in jeopardy of losing their dutifully earned retirement benefits . Decreased retirement income can lead to increased home foreclosures, diminished commerce for local businesses, unhealthy lifestyles and a range of other negative impacts for middle class families. While the need for pension reform is volleyed between the state and the city, the real debate must center on sustainable and systematic change – by way of reinvestment. We need to identify new revenue streams, audit the performance of individual pension investments, and create more equitable funding formulas. Special hearings should be held to review the viability of a 'La Salle Street Tax' and commuter tax, before they are casually dismissed as being labeled ill-suited for this crisis. Additionally, we can no longer afford short-term patch work to remedy the systematic flaws in our current taxation system. We need a graduated income tax at the state level to replace the current flat tax rate. By doing so, the city could possibly realize $11 to $12 million in additional revenue.

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.

According to the City of Chicago website, "Under state law, areas proposed for TIF designation must possess numerous blighting factors to be eligible."( TIF's have enormous potential to spur on economic development in blighted areas. However, the opacity associated with the process is unacceptable. Moreover, projects that are vaguely associated with economic development (South Shore International High School comes to mind) have received huge amounts of TIF funds. TIF funds are intended to provide a catalyst for economic development, and providing funding for public schools simply does not explicitly satisfy those criteria. As part of a broader agenda of simplifying the system, we must make the TIF process more transparent and qualifying projects meet a clearly outlined but rigorous criteria. In the 7th Ward, the majority of the TIF districts are shared with neighboring wards, which is why I am a very strong proponent of greater transparency and a standardized process for planning, implementation and fund allocation. For example, this year was the inaugural year for Cook County property owners to formally learn whether they reside in a TIF district, and if so, how much money is being directed to the TIF. This same level of transparency would also be expanded to the findings and proposed reforms made by the city's TIF Taskforce; affording increase public discretion as to how surpluses are justly distributed to current District schools that warrant investment. As it pertains to the 7th Ward, I support the expansion and extension of TIF districts, as long as there is a thorough audit of the derivative programs that are designed to further stimulate small business growth and economic investments. While I do not believe that using TIF funds to create a DePaul arena would have been appropriate (it is a non-profit college), the overwhelming support of the City Council in passing the Marriott Marquis allocation offers a clear indication that it meets the TIF eligibility criteria. I tend to agree that spurring on the development of an enterprise that will hopefully lead to job creation and commerce through TIF funds stays true to the original intent of the program.

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.

I commend the Chicago Tribune on creating a canvass that afforded community stakeholders the opportunity to paint a gallery of portraits of community renewal and urban (re)development. I submitted (and you published) a piece regarding the importance of all community partners (parents, educators, neighbors, law enforcement, clergy, businesses and public officials) collectively working in tandem to safeguard and engage our youth, particularly over the summer, when they are most vulnerable. Additionally, following along with my goal of simplifying Chicago's fiscal situation, I am very interested in the Ebay Chicago proposal. In addition, the idea of repurposing vacant school buildings outlined in the Schools As Tools proposal shows great promise. This is particularly inspiring because it will directly compensate for the loss of a natural community stakeholder associated with the school closures. The City in a Garden proposal is extremely interesting. Many cities such as Detroit have experimented with the idea of urban agriculture, and while the concept is still in a nascent stage, any proposal geared at making cities greener and more sustainable will always be worth exploring. Finally, the Oasis in the jobs desert is extremely promising, provided the implementation plan includes strict eligibility guidelines.

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 public's trust in all levels of government is at or near historic lows. The Chicago City Council is no exception. In order to ensure a vibrant representative democracy, it is imperative that we have a strong system of transparency, accountability, and ethics enforcement. While well intentioned, the Office of Legislative Inspector has been ineffective; therefore a wiser use of tax payer dollars would be to grant the Inspector General the authority to investigate alderman and their staff. As a former staffer to an Alderman, it is critically important for all parties to comply with requests for information in order to ensure we are being good stewards of the public trust. Another way we can improve government ethics in Chicago is to make it more participatory on a local level. Aldermanic offices are embedded in the community, and they must function within them. Those that choose to operate as if they are islands are depriving themselves of a critical check on their actions and authority: the people. By engaging and empowering my constituents, I look forward to consistent accountability structures independent of the IG's office.

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?

As Alderman, I would strongly support and solicit community input and consistently work to educate my community on legislative proposals and potential impacts. Therefore, I support an elected school board that would further democratize our city government and provide increased sensitivity and accountability to the diverse communities and citizens that make-up the city, as long as the process can be structured in a way that would ensure full and informed participation by the community. Likewise, we must restore the integrity of real community engagement, as it pertains to district initiatives and policies. All public meetings and hearings should be a setting for meaningful discourse that will serve to shape District policies. The recent school closures have left an indelible imprint on many communities/families across the city. While we cannot reverse those decisions, we can work to ensure that the repurposing of the shuttered building are in alignment with a strategic land use plan for each community. According to a recent study, reported in the Chicago Tribune, "charter schools have failed to improve Chicago's school system and perform less ably than comparable traditional schools." As an employee of CPS and as a mother of children within the CPS system, I am a strong advocate of strengthening our neighborhood schools. Some charter schools have produced positive outcomes, but many have underperformed. Yet, by decentralizing authority and accountability, we don't have a full picture of their results. In addition, charter schools fail to function as community stakeholders in the way neighborhood schools can. In this same vein, we must seriously examine the volume of standardized tests our students currently face. Testing should never trump teaching and training. As long as some schools have limited to no technology and other key grooming resources, these tests are not standard because the playing field is not even for all students. We must also develop a more dynamic means of identifying what teacher quality and student achievement truly means. Relying on norm referenced tests that historically bias against minority and low SES students as a means of evaluating teacher quality is as simplistic as it is ineffective. Instead of focusing student performance on standardized tests, we should focus on student performance in class. Raising "standards" in the absence of adequate resources and supports is simply not a viable means of truly improving the lives of students, let alone gauging teacher quality. This is not to say that screening tools can't provide valuable insights about student development, in the same way that a medical diagnostic test can inform a doctor what treatment to employ. The above statement also applies to the Common Core. The Common Core attempts to create a universal set of ambitious benchmarks that will allow reliable comparisons across states and nations. However, as far as I'm concerned, until we secure the floor, we shouldn't be so preoccupied with the ceiling. Moreover, the added standardized testing burden on students is unacceptable, and the rollout has been far too fast.

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 business corridors (75th, 79th, 83rd, 95th and Exchange Avenue) should be declared 'Empowerment Zones', which would allow the areas to tout tax incentives, designated to stimulate the economy and investment. This caliber of economic courtship is desperately needed in order for the epic Lakeside Development project, along US 41, to fully take shape with a mutually agreed upon Community Benefits Agreement (CBA). As referenced in an aforementioned response, we need to ensure our workforce development plan includes vocation/trade/apprenticeship programs, along with job preparedness training, which will net a talented and highly trained hiring pool of 7th Ward residents for employees to select from. To date, I have hosted workforce development workshops with area faith-based institutions. Additionally, during Spring and Summer breaks, I sponsored business corridors clean-up and beautification projects, including area youth. Also, I have partnered with the area Chamber of Commerce and other local community groups to draft and launch an economic development survey for the community.

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 Council's decision to increase the minimum wage. I believe that other cities such as Seattle have proven that the provision of a living wage is a reasonable policy objective. In Chicago's case, I believe that doing so will have long-term benefits that come from freeing workers of the burdens of having to work several low-paying jobs just to make ends meet. These fringe benefits include health and educational outcomes. Moreover, in taking a leading stance by adopting such a proposal, we are projecting a strong image of Chicago on the national and international stage. Moreover, I have convened several meetings with some of the small businesses in the 7th Ward to make sure this form of wage equality will translate into pluses versus minuses towards their bottom line and overall growth strategy. Likewise, I am continuing to execute my workforce development plan which emphasizes the importance job readiness workshops and career development modules to foster a deep talent pool of 7th Ward residents ready to land good paying jobs (launch enterprising careers) which will enable them to provide for their families and reinvest in the community.

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

In its present proposed form, I do not support the Lucas Museum being built at the proposed location. We must think of opportunity costs when evaluating potential development projects. Prime lakefront property must be developed with an abundance of caution, particularly when dealing with a project of the Lucas Museum's scale. I recognize the fact that the project is in its infancy (and is facing legal challenges), but its present design needs to befittingly buttress our matchless Lakefront, along with creating a synergy between the other museums and other proposals on the table.

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?

Every community stakeholder plays a major role in public safety. As concerned neighbors, business owners, community leaders, school officials, clergy, public officials and members of law enforcement, we must work collectively to proactively safeguard our community. I am a firm believer that crime is present, when first-class educational options and livable wage jobs are absent. Therefore, we must invest in our neighborhood schools, so our children are prepared to compete in the classroom, college and in life. Likewise, we must ensure that we have a robust bank of job opportunities that will enable employees to provide for their families and reinvest back into their community. A recent Chicago Tribune report, revealed that the South Shore community has the third-highest number of Chicago Housing Authority Voucher Choice holders, yet the majority of these residents do not have access to the wrap-around transitional services they were promised; in turn adversely impacting the vitality of many economically insecure neighborhoods. Therefore, as Alderman I would introduce an ordinance which would require CHA to provide a comprehensive report on all voucher holders, along with a detailed action plan on how these individuals will be afforded training and other social services, along with their long-term relocation strategies. Additionally, I plan to develop a 'Community Bill of Rights' to combat trouble businesses and building owners/landlords, that are habitually exhibiting less than satisfactory neighborly relations and supporting illegal actions within and/or in-front of their premises. In an effort to address some of the current public safety challenges in the ward, I hosted an 8-week, free, youth mentoring and basketball program for teens ages 11-18. I have developed a 'Block Club Formation Tool-kit' to assist residents in establishing block clubs, adopting vacant lots, hosting community clean-ups, participating in CAPS meeting, developing phone trees and launching a 'Calls for Service' campaign.

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

In its current configuration and method of implementation, I am opposed to the traffic light camera program. Aside from the questionable contracting process, the traffic light camera program encapsulates the short-term fiscal fixes that have allowed us to avoid making truly hard decisions. Trying to squeeze revenue out of every possible alternative source (such as drivers) is as ineffective as it is irritating. Moreover, a traffic light ticket will have a far greater impact on a poor or working class family than a wealthy family. We also need to see evidence that the revenue garnered from the program is actually being used to support safety and youth programming, as initially outlined. In an expression of my concerns and that of my community, I have signed a pledge to initiate hearings and meetings on abolishing the cameras, along with the need for an integrated outreach/marketing campaign to ensure that working class families and those on fixed incomes, are not unduly victimized by this program.

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

Having served as the Chief of Staff for the 7th Ward, I have a keen sensitivity to the delivery of prompt, competent and reliable constituent services. Given the recent remap, the footprint of most wards has increased significantly, while the staff resources have remained steady and the calls for services have intensified. Therefore, I would be extremely pragmatic about reducing the number of city council members. As previously stated we must be considerate of the cost of cuts to service, accountability and accessible.

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

Reducing crime and providing meaningful and enriching alternatives for our youth is my highest priority, at present. Followed by education and economic development. Public Safety is the greatest concern I hear from my neighbors.

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

As a mother of a 2 year old and 10 year old, when I am not working and thoroughly processing every professional decision and public policy matter, I am the silliest kid of all. (that's our secret). LOL. I love to dance - as if no one is looking.