Candidate for City Council, 31st Ward
Education: Not answered
Occupation: Full-time 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.
This sort of borrowing was not justified. More than that, it was fiscally irresponsible. It was simply a method of delaying the inevitable – the fact that a combination of budget cuts and tax increases had to occur. We need new solutions to solve the city's current budget crisis. This includes looking into TIF reform; the fact that scarce taxpayer dollars are being diverted with the overuse of TIFs means that I cannot in good conscience ask taxpayers to pay more before dealing with this issue. Additionally, I will work with the Assessor to develop ways to go after tax cheats, including those that may be fraudulently claiming vacancy relief on commercial property throughout the city. These tax cheats ultimately end up costing honest citizens more in taxes, which is an unfair situation. I am also in support of other revenue ideas, including exploring the idea of a Commuter Tax, as long as it does not increase the burden on the working and middle class families of the 31st Ward. I also fully support a shift to a progressive income tax (Fair Tax) at the state level.
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 workers (retired and current) did not cause the pension problem; poor decision making did. We must fix the problem and make the system solvent for the future. I am committed to working with the representatives of the public employees to develop a revenue solution to solve Chicago's unfunded pension liability. I'm interested in exploring the revenue options discussed in the previous question as a way to raise revenues to deal with the city's pension crisis.
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.
We absolutely need TIF reform. I think it is unconscionable to ask working and middle class taxpayers to pay more in property taxes, when we have tax dollars sitting in funds that are not being used for their intended purposes. If there are major surpluses in certain funds, we should consider reverting the money back to the school district and taxing bodies that are currently starved for funds. We also need more accountability for those that receive TIF funds. I am in favor of the DePaul arena – this development will ultimately bring more tourists and economic development to an area of the city that needs it, resulting in more tax money for the city in the long run.
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.
While all of the ideas mentioned have merit, I particularly like the "It Takes a City" idea. We need to figure out more and better ways to get parents more involved in their children's education at our schools. This project, which would provide a caseworker working part-time with small groups of families, not only appears to have a proven track record of success, it will also cost us less taxpayer dollars in the future as it will mean more productive members of society and less crime and incarceration. I wholeheartedly support expanding the program. I also want to continue to promote public education in my ward, as when we have good schools, we end up with good outcomes and more productive members of society. I have already brought over $140 million in capital improvements for the schools in my ward. Improving school infrastructure will continue to be a major priority of mine, both for the 31st Ward and the city as a whole.
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.
Ethics protections are important in a city with a background like Chicago. We need a robust inspector general with powers to investigate aldermen and staff. With that said, I'm not sure that the legislative inspector general is doing the job, and there is some evidence that he has "gone rogue" and is simply using the office to promote his own agenda. I think that we need to explore the idea of instead giving the city inspector general the power to investigate aldermen and their staff members. I am always open to new ideas of ways to improve ethics and honesty in city government.
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?
The key to improving public education in the city is supporting reforms that are supported by the people on the front lines – teachers. That means advocating for smaller class sizes alongside the Chicago Teachers Union. It also means working to get more money to improve our public schools, as I mentioned in question 4. It also means exploring an elected school board, an idea I am open to but I first want to see more information about how it has been implemented in other cities. While I do support the longer school day and year, we also need a better school day – with less standardized tests, and more wraparound services, including counselors, nurses and other professionals to help the teachers do their job. I am not against the expansion of charter schools, but I do want to make sure that they are not expanded at the expense of public schools, have proper oversight, are held to the same standard as public schools, and are promoted as an alternative rather than a replacement for public schools. The CPS needs to work to close its budget gap with the same revenue methods that I have recommended above – namely TIF reforms and other new revenue measures that will raise more revenue without putting the burden on the working and middle class citizens of the 31st Ward and the city
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?
Economic development will continue to be a major priority of mine in the 31st Ward. In the last 4 years, I have brought over 2200 new jobs to the ward. I have a proven track record of bringing more businesses to the ward. Whether it's a new T-Mobile store, Chase Bank, or a new high-tech data center in the former Macy's warehouse that will bring 1000 new jobs to the community, I have been and will continue to fight for jobs and economic development in the 31st Ward. Also, I try to get a commitment from all the new employers that move into the 31st Ward and receive assistance of the city, including TIF dollars, to require them to hire a proportion of residents directly from the ward. This is common sense – if we're giving employers tax incentives to locate in the ward, we should require them to hire local taxpayers for the jobs.
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.
Yes, I wholeheartedly support the increase in the minimum wage, and I voted for it. Working class Chicagoans are suffering, and especially with the loss of good paying manufacturing jobs, many can only find work in minimum wage retail positions. Anything we can do to help low wage workers put a little more money in their pocket will not only help them, it will help our local economy and tax base as a whole, as studies have shown that the additional dollars earned are typically spent right away.
Q: Should the Lucas Museum of Narrative Art be built at the proposed location on Chicago's lakefront? Please explain.
This is a complex issue. I am mostly opposed to the idea, as I believe in Montgomery Ward's mantra that Chicago's lakefront should be "forever clear and free." However, I like the idea of the Lucas museum coming to Chicago, including all of the tourism and attention it will bring. I can think of some sites in the 31st Ward that would be great for the museum.
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 take public safety issues very seriously. Keeping the community safe is a top priority of mine. I lead an annual anti-violence march and regularly attend neighborhood police roll calls to show a united force against crime. I work very closely with the police districts in my ward to make sure the officers have what they need to fight crime. I am a major supporter of the CAPS program as well, as I feel that we need to work directly with law-abiding community residents to locate trouble spots and do what we can to fight crime. In my tenure on the city council, I have also been a frequent supporter of first responder's issues, advocating for more front-line police staffing and also supporting the most recent contract. The latest crime statistics in the 31st Ward have shown that these efforts to work with the police to help fight crime have been working – crime is down 27% in the ward over last year.
Q: Do you support Chicago's traffic light camera program? Please explain.
Traffic cameras are a controversial issue. I believe they have been put in for the right reasons – improving traffic safety. However, there is a perception that they are simply being used to raise revenue for the city. I would like to gather comments from residents of my ward about the cameras, and if a majority supports removing or changing the program, that is what I will support.
Q: Should Chicago reduce the number of aldermen in the City Council?
I believe that in a representative democracy, everyone should have the chance to meet personally with his or her elected representatives. I have always strived to be an alderman that is open and available to his constituents. Even with my availability, ward nights every week, etc., time constraints mean that I can't meet with everyone. who wants to meet with me. I am against reducing the number of aldermen, because larger wards would make it even harder for constituents to meet personally and voice concerns with their aldermen.
Q: What is your highest priority for improving your ward? What is the greatest concern you hear from residents of your ward?
My highest priority for improving the 31st Ward relates to the most common concern I hear from residents: providing good city services. People are frustrated when streets are filled with potholes, trees don't get trimmed on time, and light poles are rusting away. I try to respond to these service requests as quickly as possible, and I continually support hiring more front-line workers and more funding for city services so we can provide what is necessary in the "city that works." I will continue to make city services and public safety in the 31st Ward my top priority.
Q: Please tell us something about yourself that would surprise us.
I love being a good listener. It's a quality that I feel is too often lacking. I enjoy listening to constituents and their issues, getting their input, and thus being able to serve them better.