Candidate questionnaires

Portrait of Patrick J. O'Connor

Patrick J. O'Connor

Candidate for City Council, 40th Ward

Patrick J. O'Connor

Candidate for City Council, 40th Ward

Portrait of Patrick J. O'Connor

Education: Mather High School, Loyola University, Loyola Law School

Occupation: Alderman, 40th Ward; attorney

Home: Chicago

Age: Not answered

Past Political/Civic Experience: Not answered


Candidates running for City Council, 40th 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 feel this borrowing was justified, though not ideal. The City, like every big city, borrows money to do its business. It could not function without borrowing. This particular type of borrowing was, at the time, new to cities and as it turns out, not fully understood. The City of Chicago faced severe economic challenges brought on by a worldwide economic depression that saw an end to state and federal dollars and a sharp decline in revenue. There are, however, steps that we can take to offset some of the debt. For example, I support efforts to terminate the fraudulent deals and recoup monies lost through renegotiation and possibly litigation of the nearly $800 million in profits from the interest swap arrangements where it appears that banks and industry professionals misrepresented risks and provided inadequate information in order to secure these agreements, thus violating rules that require banks to deal fairly and not engage in unfair practices. I believe in a comprehensive approach, one that is balanced. I favor an approach that does not rely solely on tax and fee increases but also looks to spending reforms and cuts and a budget that looks to tax increases as a last resort.

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 have made some progress through new collective bargaining agreements with our workforce which I have been personally involved in and which the Committee I chair on Workforce Development & Audit has worked on but the services we have achieved, while significant, do not solve our problem. I support the timetable set up to meet the City's obligations provided in the report provided by the Mayor's Commission to Strengthen Chicago's Pension Funds. I also support honoring our obligation to maintain a program of affordable health care for City retirees. The entire pension reform issue is now before the courts. We are bound to follow the decision of the court. We obviously need to take some action, but it is preferable to see what Springfield does so we can more readily determine how much remains to be done to fill in the gap.

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 majority of TIF expenditures for my ward has been for public capital projects and, more recently, for the expansion of the emergency room at Swedish Covenant Hospital and the creation of a Women's Health Center there. I support TIF use. I support the changes made to the use of TIF that we have enacted since the Mayor formed the TIF Task Force. Excess TIF funds have been surplussed back into the budget each year for the past three years. Much of what is being termed as excess are pledged or dedicated to existing or completed projects. While the arena will carry the name of DePaul, their schedule is less than one-third of the year. It will be available for non-university/community use for a great deal of the time. It will create jobs in construction and some full-time equivalents after and bring us ticket and sales taxes far into the future. Yes, I support the use.

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 feel the 12 point plan - "12 ways to heal a city" is a good blueprint and the points I would specifically champion would be the GED Chicago Program; and the expansion of programs such as SAFE Chicago, innovation House and City in a Garden. It is worth noting that Chicago has had great success with its program to sell for minimal fees (usually $1) vacant land to not for profits for redevelopment. Several success stories can be found throughout Chicago. Carried out over the City with foundation, corporate and other private and public funding sources, these type of out of the box non-traditional programs are the direction the City needs to move. I helped start the Peterson Avenue Garden project in our ward. We have several community gardens as a result with individual growing plots. Where a vacant school can legitimately be sold and repurposed it should be, but where it cannot, using some schools for community centers would be a laudable goal.

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 one Inspector General to oversee the Mayor and the City Council. It is also important to remember that the Cook County State's Attorney, Illinois Attorney General and US Attorney also have investigative authority and power over all elected and public officials. I believe Mr. Ferguson should be given the authority. I have supported this since running for Congress when the Mayor left to become Chief of Staff many years ago. My ordinance would have created a selection board and the Inspector General would have been picked by and responsive to that board and not to either the Mayor's office or the Council.

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 been involved in public education my entire time in public office. I have enjoyed the confidence and respect of both the people who run the Board of Education and representatives of all the collective bargaining units that work with CPS. I have worked in Springfield on School Reform and participated in drafting the laws that created LSCs. I was an LSC chair at Hawthorne Scholastic Academy and my five children attended public school. As you've already noted, academically the schools have made progress, and it should continue with the longer school day, full day kindergarten, and universal pre-school, all of which I support. I also support the longer school year. Financially, the State imposed deadlines for pension contributions have imperiled school finances. Chicagoans pay 9% of pension contributions through the Board's piece, 7% of the teachers' contribution through the pension pick-up and for the rest of the State's teachers through their income tax payments. Consideration should be given to overhauling both teacher pension plans in this State, perhaps merging both, or find a better distribution formula. There is no one key to improving public education. The early childhood component, longer days, and longer school year are in the right direction but earlier intervention for non-performing students needs to be stepped up. Continuing to find ways to maintain and improve education outcomes is a pressing issue, particularly finding ways to address and track the dropout rate in CPS schools. I chaired the Council's Committee on Education for many years and have always supported quality schools and education. I believe quality school options are an essential recognition that one school type does not serve all children. Having been recognized recently for being positively involved in the Alternative School Network, these alternative schools and expanded school choices recognize that all CPS options are not adequate. I was an early supporter of an elected school board having introduced an ordinance and resolution advocating for it when I was first elected. During my time in the Council, I have observed things that have made me question that position. First, what is the model that is being proposed? How many members? Paid or unpaid? With staff or without? Also, at large or single member districts? The current population is well over 90% Black and Brown students. Single member districts complying with one-man, one-vote requirements would create a board that might not, and probably would not, approach being anywhere near representative of the student body or workforce. CPS should make decisions relating to charters based upon performance and track record, not upon an ideal number of schools. Our best hope for better school funding lies in a better funding formula at State level with additional revenue coming from the State or with increased revenue from income tax at State or City levels with concomitant property tax relief, but the likelihood is slim. The school's tax to the current cap every year so better finances and increased revenue in meaningful measure will require State involvement.

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?

I have worked this issue for some time. Maintaining the integrity of Industrial Corridors and keeping residential development at bay in these areas or allowing compatible developments is a good start. I brought in a Target store and required a local job fair before going out to the public in general. I have worked in Andersonville to limit national chains, and recruiting local or new independent businesses is also a good way to preserve the existing shopping/eating district and bring in new contributors. I went out and interviewed store owners to replace the closed Dominick's stores and passed an ordinance to allow expanded liquor sales in response to marketing suggestions by store retailers. Ultimately, Tony's has located in the area. I have helped employers stay and expand or locate in our ward by convening appropriate City personnel and community stakeholders to resolve issues or concerns. Temple Steel's re-commitment to our ward is one example, and I have worked with S&C Electric on the border of my ward to help and be responsive to their surrounding City infrastructure. I have helped bring a Half Acre Brewery expansion to Bowmanville by working with the company and the community at large to fully discuss issues and then making a decision. These are just a few examples.

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 supported and worked for its passage. I do not believe the State was poised or would have done so this current year. After working on the issue for over 8 months we achieved a voting consensus and brought it to the floor for a vote.

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

While I am not a fan of the design I have seen, I think the choice in the lakefront was either there or it was not coming. I do not believe we had the choice to locate it elsewhere and still have it built here. While an essentially movie themed museum is not the same as the other institutions that make up the Museum Campus, some of the most interesting museums I have visited are not like the more traditional museums on the campus. Ultimately, the museum will create jobs and tax revenue and will probably see more traffic than other structures on the campus.

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?

Start with the fact that my ward includes the lowest crime police district in the City. Our department at the Nato Summit and for the recent demonstrations has shown a professionalism that is superb. Individually, mistakes still occur as evidenced by the settlements the Council approves at every meeting, but the community patrol partnership is expanding and providing results. Our neighborhood is very involved in crime prevention and has a very low tolerance for quality of life crimes which helps prevent bigger issues. I have supported programs such as CeaseFire and Safety Net to help address gun violence as well as support for before and after school programs. I have always supported and believe in youth sports and Park District programs being made available and affordable as alternatives for at risk youth. Education and job creation are at the root of solving the rising crime issue. The Chicago Police Department has done a wonderful job with public safety when faced with situations such as the G8 Summit and recent protests but there is always room for improvement with how to address gang related shootings. This is not just a police but a societal issue. I meet with the police commanders of my ward regularly, and I have them attend my Town Hall meetings so as to meet and update residents. I support CAPS and had the first CAPS District in my ward at the 24th District.

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

Yes. It has not produced the revenue windfall that was predicted, but in our community, dangerous intersections have been made safer and less and less red light notices are generated by these intersections. New programs can always have growing pains, but we just need to be willing to continue to refine them.

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

I do not believe reducing the number of Aldermen in Chicago is a solution to anything. Chicago is a unique city and its system of government is also unique. It is one of the reasons "it works". While Chicago is currently facing financial issues it is not alone and this is in part due to the worldwide economic crisis of the mid-2000's. The current number of Aldermen and system of government is what allows our neighborhoods to flourish and stay strong and it protects our diversity and numerous voices. A reduction in the number of Aldermen means larger wards approaching State or Congressional district sizes. How much better do those bodies function than the City Council?

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

My priorities are economic development and jobs, budget and finance, and education finance and reform. I believe all of these are inter-related. I have focused on infrastructure improvements to my schools and parks. Major additions at several schools include Mather High School, Kilmer, Hayt, Peterson, Clinton, Jamieson, and capital projects at Budlong, Chappell, Amundsen High School and Sullivan High School have been completed with more to come. I have renewed or built the playground equipment in 8 of my parks and have added park space through acquisition including a 20-acre nature preserve which I am currently working on. I continue to work on workforce issues through the Committee I chair, the Committee on Workforce Development and Audit, and also on projects such as the Wrigley Field expansion project which is scheduled to provide over one-half billion union jobs over the next five years with no public monies involved. Maintaining and improving the local economy is probably the highest priority in the ward in my opinion. Walkable, inviting, arterial streets bordering stable, residential streets result therefrom. Constituent concerns vary geographically and tend to be local in nature.

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

In high school, college and law school, I drove a three-wheel Harley with a suicide shift on the tank, which burned 50-weight oil and had a passenger seat carved in the trunk. Today I drive a scooter. And . . . 3 of my 5 children played 4 years of college hockey and neither my wife nor I can skate. And . . . I am a member of the 16 inch Softball Hall of Fame. And . . . while serving as counsel to the United States Lifesaving Association, we created a National Safety Week and met President Reagan at the White House to give him the inaugural award for the week.