Candidate questionnaires

Portrait of Leslie Hairston

Leslie Hairston

Candidate for City Council, 5th Ward

Leslie Hairston

Candidate for City Council, 5th Ward

Portrait of Leslie Hairston

Education: Loyola University School of Law, JD; University of Bordeaux-University of Iowa Arcachon, France, Introduction to The American Business Environment summer program; University of Wisconsin-Madison, BA. Licenses to practice law in the State of Illinois and Federal Court in Northern, Central and Southern Districts of Illinois

Occupation: Alderman of the 5th Ward

Home: Chicago

Age: Not answered

Past Political/Civic Experience: Not answered


Candidates running for City Council, 5th 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.

I oppose such short-term fixes, which have caught up to us after years of the same. I have also opposed "nickel & dime" sources of revenue that disproportionately burden working families (e.g., red light fines, parking fees/fines, redundant Park District funding) or dependence on privatization that undermines living wage jobs. Many corporations do not pay their fair share of taxes – some because they are woefully delinquent, others due to undeserved incentives. Privatization is another "fix" that has diverted potential revenues from the city, while filling the coffers of private firms with little accountability for their actions. In the future, money from any asset leases should be tied to deficit reduction. I believe we should examine the structural and management causes for budget shortfalls, developing mechanisms for long-term solutions that do not deplete our assets. City administrations seem to operate under the assumption that certain neighborhoods are beyond revitalization and that it is more cost-effective to fight shrinking tax bases with social service programs than to increase the number of residents making a decent wage. Instead of spending millions of dollars to undermine the South Suburban Airport, the city should be supporting this huge economic engine for generating revenue from both corporate and individual taxpayers. Unfortunately, the major challenge is that 80 percent of expenditures go toward salaries. This is why we need to look at new long-term sources of revenue, besides fees and fines that burden one group of taxpayers over another.

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.

As I suggested earlier, we need to look for "big picture" sources of revenue, one of which would certainly be the South Suburban Airport. We should also look into the huge (and often multiple) pensions given many of the lawmakers who can't find sufficient funds for on-the ground public servants. Obviously we must also continue to look at fair ways to restructure future pension plans, with input from police representatives.

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 allocation process definitely needs more transparency, fair distribution, oversight, and adherence to the original intention. Rather than address "blighted" areas, the program has been concentrated in downtown areas at the expense of neighborhoods that truly need to stimulate development. Aldermen know what's happening in their ward, but should be apprised of TIFs in other wards as well. Both the city council and public need to be in on determining how the money is actually spent, as well as helping prioritize how many TIF districts we need and where. The council's Progressive Caucus, of which I am a member, has been fighting to reform the allocation process for some $50 million in "surplus" TIF funds. I have already implemented TIFs in my ward – considered among the city's most appropriate and successful. We had community meetings to determine who we wanted to use our TIF funds. I worked to attract businesses to support the TIF. Unfortunately, some funds were diverted toward constructing a school in another ward. The school was needed, but the allocation completely disregarded our community's efforts and needs. The alderman who created the TIF for a specific ward should have the final determination over how the monies get spent. As to the Marriott and DePaul projects, I believe it is up to the alderman and constituents of that ward to decide how to spend the TIF funds.

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.

Jobs. Good jobs. More good jobs. It amazes me that we do not deal with how most of the ills cited in the Tribune editorial can be tied to low, shrinking or stagnant wages for the middle and working classes. So many studies have shown the connection between ability to earn a decent income and access to the education, skills, opportunities, and life-style that enables people to be societal contributors. I recently read "Summer Jobs Reduce Violent Crime Among Disadvantaged Youths," about research done right here in Chicago. It reinforces what those of us on the ground already know. This is why I find it unconscionable that every government official in Illinois wouldn't support the South Suburban Airport. The FAA says that 10 airports the size of O'Hare are needed by 2020. If Chicago is to remain the transportation hub of the nation, then we must be able to capture the increase in air travel instead of diverting it to other hubs such as St. Louis, Denver, and Dallas-Ft. Worth. We have lost hundreds of jobs to Indianapolis and Cincinnati, because there wasn't room at O'Hare and Midway for companies to expand. The inaugural phase of the SSA will create 15,000 direct and indirect jobs at every skill level. Many of these jobs will have a direct economic impact on South Side communities. When people work, they spend money, which generates more revenue for the city. They are more committed to staying in school, learning a trade, staying out of trouble and engaging positively with their communities. As a side note, I began implementing eight years ago some of the suggestions now listed by the Tribune for healing the city, such as "innovation houses" where vacant scattered site residences are rehabbed into homes for young people, turning vacant buildings into art/housing centers and establishing living quarters that incorporate social services. I initiated hydroponic farming on 71st Street and career-mentoring programs at ward schools. I have also been working to grow small businesses in South Shore in partnership with corporations and hosted "on the table" events with community organizations.

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.

As an officer of the court, I believe our judicial system has worked effectively in terms of aldermanic wrongdoers, as evidenced by the number convicted and imprisoned. That said, aldermen are only one part of a system that needs watching all the way around. It includes lobbyists, unions, businesses, and others who deal under the table at taxpayers' expense. I continue to believe the city would operate much more effectively with monitoring mechanisms at all levels of city business. One model is the Privatization Transparency and Accountability Ordinance I co-sponsored, which establishes a process to provide for public input and City Council review of any proposed City privatization plans. I think it should set a precedent for greater oversight, transparency and advance cost-benefit analysis from City Hall to the Council and throughout the municipal bureaucracy.

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 have very little confidence in CPS statistics. I think there is far too much emphasis on numbers than on the qualitative factors that shape students' ability to become productive citizens. CPS has cried broke for years, when it came to providing even the most basic resources or repairs for neighborhood schools. And yet it had no problem funding such upgrades for turnaround or charter schools. I have all types of educational "options" in my ward. I believe we should be focusing funds on neighborhood schools first and ensuring all – not just a select few – students receive a quality education. Chicago is the only city in Illinois without an elected school board. It also is one of the few cities in the nation without an elected school board. I circulated petitions for an elected board. However, I would consider a board with both elected and appointed members, with appointees being approved by the City Council. Board members should have education backgrounds, definitely the CEO.

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?

First, improve the public education system. Second, the city cannot simply focus on the downtown area. In my ward, I see potential in bringing in more national retailers, nurturing our growing base of small businesses and increasing opportunities related to tourism. I have discovered city officials steering quality businesses away from the South Side and encouraging low-end, dollar stores and fast-food franchises. I have worked with my chambers of commerce to identify trends, demographics and areas of value to potential businesses. I attracted quality enterprises by personally seeking them out and attending business conventions. The South and West Sides have vacant land and buildings and people anxious for employment. Aldermen should have support from the city in marketing our areas to potential employers.

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 co-sponsored the $15 minimum wage ordinance and supported the $13 minimum wage ordinance the City Council recently voted to approve. Low-wage jobs only feed the cycle of poverty. Taxpayers end up shouldering the cost of benefits, health care and social services not offered by major low-wage employers. A range of experts have long said the most effective and fair way to improve the overall economy is to increase the purchasing power of the majority of employable people.

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

Average Chicagoans regard the lakefront as their "Riviera." Gradually this once accessible amenity is being privatized with parking meters, the 31st St. Harbor and increased fees to use facilities. We should be very careful about what we allow to be built there, particularly whether it enhances the myriad outdoor activities enjoyed by most individuals and families. I do not think the Lucas Museum fits the bill.

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?

I have hosted "positive loitering" events, "take back our streets" marches, public forums with University of Chicago police officers, as well as conversations about how youth can respond positively to police. My office maintains an excellent relationship with ward district commanders, CAPS and beat officers.

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

No, it seems rife with manipulation and misapplication. It overly burdens average citizens, with little evidence that it improves safety.

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

Currently, each alderman represents about 50,000 people. Reducing the number of aldermen would mean more people to serve, with less money to cover their needs.

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

Economic Development: Get a grocery store to replace the city's only Dominick's that is still vacant a year after the grocer left Chicago. Through working with business leaders, my office has significantly revitalized the ward's commercial districts. We have attracted an array of previously unavailable services and flagship companies, some of which are expanding their presence in the ward. They include Staples, K&G Fashion Superstore, the city's first South Side drive-through Starbuck's, Jewel/Osco, Anna's Linens, and Save-A-Lot. The majority of managers and employees hired have been from the ward. I created a Special Services Area not only to ensure the upkeep of a commercial district, but also to hire the difficult to employ through the CARA program, which has a classroom component. I have had to think out of the box to create opportunities to attract a major grocer. Currently, I am involved with negotiations acquire Jeffrey Plaza, where the vacant store is located. Social Stabilization: The ward has a high number of affordable rental units, including the city's largest number of Section 8 properties that have attracted former public housing residents, but not the services previously available to them. This has resulted in constant turnover as people continue seeking to improve their living condition, impacting neighborhood schools and residents' ability to stay informed. I have monthly ward meetings, newsletters and as-needed town hall forums to keep people engaged. I have worked to stabilize areas by maintaining good schools as centers to keep families in the area, even if they move to a different residence. We are also vigilant about problem properties, ensuring that landlords meet their legal obligations, as well as that tenants understand their rights and responsibilities. Safety/Security: Our working-class residents have also been most affected by issues related to lack of job opportunities – particularly youth crime and nuisance behavior. My office has approached problem areas comprehensively in partnership with the police, businesses, community groups, block clubs, and schools, with whom we have partnered to expand after-school programs and sponsor positive activities for young people. Our efforts are paying off and we expect them to play an important role in the future. Quality of Life: I have fought for upgrades and continued accessibility to the ward's lakefront beaches, harbors, Jackson Park, the South Shore Cultural Center, and other amenities working families depend on for recreation, fitness and relaxation. We have hosted triathlons, marathons and music/culture fests that provided opportunities for youth employment, training and education.

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

I recently reprised my performance as Mother Ginger in a local production of "The Nutcracker."