Candidate questionnaires

Portrait of Rafael Yañez

Rafael Yañez

Candidate for City Council, 15th Ward

Rafael Yañez

Candidate for City Council, 15th Ward

Portrait of Rafael Yañez

Education: Attended City Colleges of Chicago until his transfer to the Law Enforcement Administration Bachelors program and Public Safety Management masters program at Calumet College of St. Joseph, and a Doctorate in Education from Argosy University.

Occupation: Crime Prevention Specialist, Chicago Police Department

Home: Chicago

Age: Not answered

Past Political/Civic Experience: Not answered


Candidates running for City Council, 15th 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 believe both increases to pay debt service and constraining budgets need to be evaluated. My priority is to ensure that residents of the 15th ward are able to receive services that are badly needed in our community. The closing of a mental health facility in the 15th ward may have looked good on paper somewhere but the net effect is a greater burden on other frontline people to deal with the outcome. Now the police, teachers and sometimes EMT's must accommodate people for these much needed services on top of their already stressed work load. As alderman I would have to ask myself if these savings were true. One consideration is whether there is money to pay pension obligations and my understanding from budget experts is that there is, and that we have 5 years in which to make adjustments before that becomes a problem. The debt piles up in that interim but we are at least not in immediate danger of default on pension and other obligations. The City's budget is juggled to conceal the reality of the debt problem and, no doubt, the beneficiaries of contracts, bonds, etc. Before deciding on how to solve the debt problem, we need a realistic picture of what the debt is. The city needs to consider renegotiating debts only if the long-term costs are not pushed down the road. If a short-term cost is realized in order to prevent escalating debt in the future that needs to be seriously considered. The law that opened the questionable borrowing, as revealed in "Broken Bonds", by the city needs revision to curtail this activity in the future. Tax increases are now an inevitability regardless of the size of any contemplated cuts. Cuts to service that actually result in another service being "overtaxed" elsewhere does not make sense financially or in terms of the impact on actual people. Lastly, the simple fact is that for every dollar corporations, investment firms, developers and the like are exempt from paying, the public must pay a dollar or go without the services that dollar would finance. TIFs are just one example of this, there are multi-billion dollar federal tax credits the city is using to help (let's be frank) political contributors get business. Is the City, with its highly leveraged projects, acting as business managers for corporations? We need to look closely to see whether all borrowing, tax crediting, bond issuance etc. is necessary for people and neighborhoods and cut out what is benefiting only the contractors. If revenues need to be raised we should first consider various luxury taxes, i.e., on home sales with value of $1Million and over, fees on transactions in excess of $500,000 and so forth.

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 unfettered development in areas of the city that is now experiencing overdevelopment needs to stop immediately, particularly in the downtown (which is a glittering testament to municipal spending). That money and that revenue stream needs to return to all taxing bodies. There needs to be a moratorium on renewing TIFs that have outlived their usefulness. Strict guidelines, stricter than the states current weak standards, need to be imposed by the city on any TIF that is not actively producing a clear benefit to the community in which it resides or to the city at large. It is inevitable that the courts will rule that changes in contracts, including pension provisions, are unconstitutional. Attempts in reductions of pension benefits will result in overtaxing other services in order to accommodate reductions to the cost in benefits. It is in effect another way of kicking the can down the road. If a pensioner cannot receive benefits they helped to pay for then they will utilize other public services in order to meet their needs, not wants, needs. That is inhumane and does not make fiscal sense. The City will need to raise taxes in order to pay off the bond misadventures the City and the Board of Education have engaged in so it does not seem unreasonable to dedicate a portion of that to reducing the pension liability. I'm certain, once elected, there will be other solutions that may present themselves and my ideas are admittedly a start on a long road to meeting the needs of hard working people and realizing some semblance of fiscal solvency.

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.

I would not support expansion or extension until my staff and I have had a chance to evaluate their status and viability and I've had sufficient input from community residents. TIF surplus should be returned to the appropriate taxing bodies. I do not support the allotment of $55 million in funds for Marriot and DePaul. DePaul University and the City has failed to provide an adequate case, whether financial, educational or otherwise, as to why this commitment of public funds would be of benefit to the residents of the city of Chicago. New information from credible sources indicates that this project's initial cost estimates have been understated and they've not even broken ground yet.

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 applaud the Tribunes efforts in taking leadership in addressing the city's problems. I'm a strong advocate of participatory democracy and believe its important to use any means available in soliciting ideas from those most affected by our actions as alderman- the constituents. While "crowd-sourcing" for ideas and input can be done well in many contexts my primary focus is the 15th ward and its residents. I'm concerned that in the impulse to adopt novel technology some leadership may lose sight of the fundamental issues that residents in the 15th ward face on a daily basis. I will certainly entertain the proposals the Tribune sought out but always with a reality check by my constituency and its tech savvy youth. This is also an opportunity to engage in on the ground participatory processes with an "augmentation" in the use of technology. Of particular interest are the ideas put forth regarding green technology and development. We have a number of such strong efforts occurring in Back of the Yards (Now a hub for green initiatives) and Englewood (Growing Home).

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 office should be abolished and authority extended to the city inspector general. The City Inspector General should given the authority to investigate alderman and their staff so long as the IG remains independent of the Mayor. I believe the better strategy is to understand first hand what the problems are before venturing and speculating about what new measures are needed. In order for citizens to have confidence in government they need to know that people in government are held as accountable as they are in their jobs. Many of the actions we believe to be improper are carried out with impunity, because no law makes them illegal unless quid pro quo is established and that is not easy. We were promised openness in government by this administration. If so we need to clear the logjam in the Freedom of Information office and cease the frivolous denial of access under FOIA.

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?

In 1995 amongst a suite of questionable legislative initiatives, such as mayoral control of schools, was consolidation of revenues for the Chicago Board of Education. When the economy was flush this legislative act hid many of inherent problems with removing those revenue streams from their needed targets. Now we find that the district has engaged in a number of deals, like the toxic bond swaps, that increase the burden on taxpayers while the district has still failed to adequately address obligations to the pensions. The City and the State need to revisit the consolidation of the Board of Education revenue stream and consider a configuration that serves pension obligations, serves educational needs, and addresses capital needs (in a sensible way) so taxpayers know what they're paying for and can be confident these financial issues are being appropriately addressed. The academic record, as the CPS leadership presents it is equally fraught with uneven achievements and massaging of data. The graduation rate improved via a systematic and disgraceful elimination by CPS of students who, because their learning and environmental problems remain unidentified, unaddressed, drop out, are repeatedly suspended, or expelled. It only makes school statistics look good. Also so much overlapping testing is occurring it raises questions as to the accuracy and viability of the type of improvements CPS is claiming. There has been much emphasis on "Mayoral Initiatives" in the Chicago Public Schools. This creates a climate where the community of the school is disregarded and the distance magnified between the reality inside a school and the bureaucrats looking at their computer screens downtown. Before mayoral control went into effect many schools were finding unique and creative ways to improve outcomes, real outcomes not just data points, with their students. Often principals and teachers were able to improve the school by just being allowed to do their jobs. The district needs to get out of the way of the school and its community and let people do their jobs with significantly less interference. We have now reached the point where the multilayered testing and data collection being requested and imposed is interfering with actual learning. The School Board should be elected. Accountability starts at the top of the Board of Education and the Chicago Public Schools. The Chicago Board of Education needs to issue a moratorium on charter schools. A comprehensive assessment and evaluation that needs to be rendered regarding the individual charters and, in what amounts to mini-districts, charter enterprises in terms of their overall performance, drop-out and push-out data, discipline policies, impact and engagement with their surrounding community. These measurements need not go overboard but there needs to be some parity between charters and regular schools if they are continually compared and most importantly in order to understand the true impact to students in both types of schools. The state needs to honor their supposed commitment to public education in Chicago. The TIF surplus needs to be returned to taxing bodies. The toxic bond swaps need to be re-negotiated.

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?

Improving the economic climate of the 15th ward will require action in a number of different ways. Working with residents, community leaders and organizations to examine and analyze the community assets our communities currently have (so as to avoid a deficit-model of thinking), making certain to support and promote the existing local business and entrepreneurial efforts, Look at creating incubators for businesses and services that currently don't exist for our communities. Also we need to increase the consumer power of the residents of the 15th ward by supporting initiatives that hold Big Box retailers accountable for the business they s

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.

We support the increase and in keeping with our concern for consumer power and increasing the tax base of the city we would like to see it raised to $15 dollars especially for big box retail employees. As is the case with the current ordinance small businesses would receive relief from the timetable that big box retailers would have to comply with.

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

No, in recent years there has been a veritable building boom on the lakefront downtown. Development in the central downtown area has been so intense for decades that traffic strategies are being developed to relieve traffic congestion through more taxes. Its time for downtown development to take a breather. Its time to focus on community-oriented development in Chicago's neighborhoods. Lastly we are reminded of Burnham's Plan, that the City agreed to, allowing our lakefront "to remain forever open, clear, and free"

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?

Just days ago the Crime Lab released findings which many of us in the 15th ward felt instinctively was a key facet in reducing crime. Providing jobs to young people through out the summer has a huge impact. Jobs programs that are well supported and well grounded during the entire year would be equally welcome in our communities. As always a necessary component in such programs is mentoring. I've worked professionally as a police officer for 11 years. The majority of that time has been geared towards CAPs and crime prevention. As an officer for the CPD I am a crime prevention specialist. As a police officer, I can say from experience that we won't get rid of crime simply by putting more officers on the streets, or by building stronger relationships of trust, accountability and collaboration between police officers and the community- though these are vital first steps. Crime runs rampant in communities that are lacking vital resources, investments and opportunities for community members. We need to invest in services like childhood day care and parental training, so our children get off to a good start. We need to invest more resources in public schools in general, and restorative justice and tutoring programs in particular. We need to invest in public mental health clinics and other counseling services, to help our community members in need. And most crucially, we need living wage jobs, affordable housing, and a strong social safety net so that working families can build stable, happy lives and neighborhoods.

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

The origins of this effort both the red light and the speed cameras have been clouded by controversy and potentially questionable transactions. The fines for marginal infractions on top of increased transportation costs (parking, rate hikes, and increased fines) make many people in the city as though they are being taxed to death or ultimately asked to leave the city. The City has turned our streets into toll roads. The shortened yellow light for example may bring revenue via fines, but it can also be an invitation to accidents. The City needs to scrap this troubled initiative and approach traffic safety with some common sense strategies that don't create a revenue boondoggle.

Q: Should Chicago reduce the number of aldermen in 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?

Public Safety has been identified as a primary concern by residents. This is a problem that binds together Englewood, Gage Park, Back of the Yards and Brighton Park. What is often missing in the community is the central figure, the alderman, that can leverage resources and community ties to confront this problem. These diverse communities can be brought together with an open and accessible stewardship by the alderman. Many community organizations, institutions, and leaders in these communities have worked to deal with Public Safety and we can unite these efforts in this newly drawn ward to have a strong impact by using the centrality of the office of alderman.

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

I first appeared in the Tribune when I was a sophomore at Juarez HS when the Trib did an article about a dancing club, Quebradita, he and his brother organized whose motto roughly translated "No drinking, respect all the rules, no competition all in fun."