Candidate questionnaires

Portrait of Rey Colón

Rey Colón

Candidate for City Council, 35th Ward

Rey Colón

Candidate for City Council, 35th Ward

Portrait of Rey Colón

Education: Columbia College 1982-84 Roosevelt University 1984-86

Occupation: Alderman

Home: Chicago

Age: Not answered

Past Political/Civic Experience: Not answered


Candidates running for City Council, 35th 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.

Delaying debt service payments and extending the burden for Chicago's children and their children to pay-off in the future is a troubling trend. The only justification for "scoop and toss" borrowing is the great public demand for current day-to-day city services and our institutional inability to cut services or reduce their cost in a meaningful way. We must develop a strategy to end the practice of borrowing for operations through the refunding bonds, but living within our means also involves managing the expectations of taxpayers. This is something few elected officials are willing or able to do because it requires telling people something they don't want to hear. Our system of government is expensive compared to the private sector. We pay a premium on the services we deliver and there is no political will to disappoint constituents by cutting services, raising taxes, or privatizing city functions even if it means more efficiencies. Every administration has found or created a new can to kick down the road.

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 reforms made in 2014 for the City's Municipal and Laborers' pension funds is a small, yet good first step towards addressing our pension crisis. Time and money have now run out in reforming the City's Police and Fire pension funds. In this next term, we will be confronted with this monumental challenge and forced to make the tough decisions that will include making further city budget reductions, targeting potential tax and fee increases and eliminating corporate loopholes; all without jeopardizing our local economy. Specific reforms must be worked out collaboratively between Chicago's elected leaders and State legislators to ensure that these funds are stabilized without cutting essential services or putting an unreasonable financial burden on taxpayers.

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 Tax Increment Financing (TIF) program has more transparency than ever before and is closely scrutinized by the public, media and other interested parties. I have no plans to create, expand or extend any TIF districts in the 35th Ward. I did however request that all proceeds for the Irving Park TIF be dedicated to the land acquisition and construction of a new Independence Park Library which has been operating from an inferior, rental facility for over a century. I am proud of the TIF allotments used in the 35th Ward during my tenure to leverage economic growth and investment in the area. The TIF deal to buy land for a Marriott Hotel and DePaul basketball arena has to be compared with projections of economic growth those projects will bring to the City. It is my opinion that the projects will create jobs, generate revenue and pay for themselves over time.

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.

Some of the proposed ideas are similar to ones that I am working on in different forms or scale. For example the idea of; "Improving Chicago without relying on more state and local dollars that don't exist" by selling or donating city-owned land. I collaborated with the Metropolitan Planning Council MPC to facilitate a series of public "Imagineering" meetings; the Corridor Development Initiative (CDI). This participatory planning process allowed residents to explore the development of the city-owned Emmett Street Parking Lot at 2630 N. Emmett Street and the Logan Square CTA Blue Line station at Kedzie and Milwaukee Avenue. The input gathered is being incorporated into an RFP to create affordable housing, commercial options, open space, arts and entertainment venues. I am committed to leading by example in eliminating the city's inventory of property in my ward using it for the public's benefit. Another example is the Mindful Living Garden, which overlaps with the "City in a Garden" concept of transferring the ownership the city lot to NeighborSpace for an urban garden. I served on the Committee to establish a process for repurposing the closed public schools and support the idea of their reuse as community centers. I have no doubt that the City and CPS would be open to retrofitting some of these buildings. It will require the organizing of local community based organizations and the support foundations, corporations and other funders. The Sister Cities concept is interesting and I believe the ward remap also creates that opportunity. I have lost all of Humboldt Park and a significant part of Logan Square while gaining the Hermosa and Albany Park communities. I have put successful Park Advisory Councils in contact with others who were not as organized or starting off. The sharing of resources and assistance from neighborhoods that are currently flourishing with other that are in need is one that I am also willing to pursue.

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 city inspector general should have the authority to investigate City employees and elected officials including the aldermen and staff. We only need one Inspector General. Offer rewards for information leading to the arrest, conviction and/or termination of City employees and officials who knowingly and unlawfully violate the ethics ordinance.

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 significant improvements in Chicago Public Schools should be supported and continue. Improved graduation rates means a stronger future work force which we will need to be competitive. Based on low enrollment and the City's population loss, the school closings were inevitable and a decision that someone would have had to make eventually. It is also an example of the amount of public pressure involved when reforms have to be made. Financially, CPS is still living beyond it's means. Finding ways to increase parental involvement in their child's education is key to the improvement of our local schools. I support the longer school day and year. The decision to expand or reduce charter schools should be based on the academic performance of the applicant. Investment in out traditional schools is crucial, but should not prevent the healthy competition or parental choice of a quality charter school. We should explore piloting the opening charter schools with a sliding scale fee structure.

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?

Promoting economic development in the ward is not a single activity. It requires multiple approaches from different levels to attract investment. Public infrastructure improvements to leverage private investment, creating historic landmark districts, establishing partnerships with artists and businesses, starting a farmer's market, establishing annual festivals, launching a campaign to change the image of an area, fighting crime, improving schools, attracting new academic institutions, supporting existing small businesses and creating a business-friendly environment for all potential employers are all components which have helped to create the climate of economic growth in my ward. I have identified existing amenities and things that people value in the ward and worked to build upon them. The alderman must function like a business partner and expeditor to ensure that time and money is not wasted due to the slow pace and red tape in government. The alderman must take people's business plans and ideas seriously. Two out of ten people who come to see you about a potential business may be the only ones to succeed, but you must continue to keep an open mind and help them get through what can often be a difficult process. When Revolution Brewing was looking for early investors, I supported their Small Business Improvement Fund SBIF, assured their bank that I would support their license, assisted with zoning, amended the Planned Manufacturing District PMD and basically did whatever needed to be done for business to occur. Two years before Longman & Eagle opened, the owners came to see me about a Beauty bar (Martinis & Manicures) concept. It died. They later came back with the restaurant, whiskey bar, bed & breakfast concept that now has a Michelin Star and has received national recognition. As with L&E, once a local business is successful, many will look for opportunities to start another one. Local businesses tend to hire local and national chains usually want a local face, but the alderman can also influence even greater participation. When Sears Holdings proposed the possibility of Chicago's first Olive Garden going to Addison and the Kennedy Expressway, I held community meetings and asked them to commit to local hiring. Today, a significant number of their 200 employees live within walking distance including their hostess. The 35th Ward has been fortunate to welcome many new businesses and art venues like: Tour de Fat, Milwaukee Avenue Arts Festival, the Logan Square Farmer's Market, Boulevard Music Fest, Revolution Brewing, Cole's, A Day in Avondale, Logan Square Studio, Longman & Eagle, Yusho, Logan Theater Renovation, Comfort Station Restoration, First Ascent (Chicago's Largest Climbing Wall is in process), Intelligentsia Coffee, Webster Wine Bar, Chicago Diner, Olive Garden, Northeastern University's El Centro Campus and other developments that have boosted the local economy.

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 it. While the increase is challenging for local businesses, it is gradual through 2019. I believe local businesses who hire local will see that revenue return with local spending. The ordinance also provides a buffer for family-owned business. In my conversations with employers, those with narrow profit margins expressed frustration and consider it a great challenge. Others were concerned that wages would mushroom and that employees already making $13 will expect $15. No one told me they would be forced to close.

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

The right to build on the lakefront and who gets to decide will always be a source of controversy in Chicago that will only be determined in court. If it gets thrown out, then I see it as a missed, economic development opportunity. If allowed, I would be more concerned with the size and look of the project. The development of Soldier's Field for example was a mistake in my opinion. The retrofit of a futuristic concept on top of the historically significant structure is hideous. I am not an architect, but would prefer a more attractive and architecturally compatible structure than what is currently being proposed for the Lucas 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?

The disinvestment in the CAPS program has interrupted the regularity of monthly communication between residents and beat officers. Bi-monthly beat meetings change the momentum of resident involvement and only the committed few participate every other month. My office and I participate in the local beat meetings and encourage residents who contact my office with safety concerns to attend. We maintain high communication with police districts and communicate all reported concerns and issues. Crime in the 35th Ward has gone down significantly since I've taken office. I have organized several community meetings with the District Commander and beat officers to encourage communication and invite residents to form a positive relationship with law enforcement. When major incidents occur, we organize outdoor roll calls with police and residents to bring attention to the matter and make each event a teachable moment in working together for safety. Over time we have had success in involving residents without citizenship status by having them come to our office for services, encouraging them to report crime when they see it and participate in preventive activities with their neighbors. This is especially necessary in areas where crimes occur, but there are few to no calls for service. The performance of the Chicago Police Department is secondary to having an organized block. I promote having annual "Block Parties" on every street in the ward. While the event is only 1-day a year, the entry-level organizing process provides opportunities for local engagement and builds relationships among neighbors that may not occur naturally. We encourage residents to learn the names of the children on their block. I have seen improved local relationships lead to other empowered activities like clean-ups, requesting speed humps, residential-zoned parking, collective garage sales, etc. Public safety is higher when relationships are strong on a block. Police and local officials are always more responsive when local residents are organized. It is my ongoing goal to increase resident involvement on every block in the ward.

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

Overall, I support the concept of using cameras for traffic enforcement. The scandals behind the red-light cameras don't take away from their usefulness in preventing motorist from eating red lights and improving driving behavior. On Fullerton and Kedzie for example, crashes and tickets were greatly reduced. The cameras were eventually moved. Speed cameras also regulate driving behavior, but quite frankly, some of the areas where they have been placed are clearly money-traps rather than an improvement in safety for children. They successfully slow down traffic and catch speeders where they exist, but I often struggle to visually see the relationship between the school and park they are supposed to be protecting. Having traffic enforcement cameras everywhere has become somewhat overwhelming, but in my opinion it improves needed traffic enforcement on our streets, frees up police to serve and protect instead of writing citations. The fact that cameras don't discriminate, profile or favor certain drivers is also a plus.

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

I welcome the opportunity to serve more residents. If the number of aldermen is reduced, there are certain trade-offs that people may have to consider. The alderman is the closest layer of government that everyday people have to communicate with and improve their quality of life. In Chicago, many people rely on their alderman to navigate through bureaucracy, create jobs, provide responsive services and represent their interests. Reducing the number of aldermen would mean fewer opportunities for new candidates to get elected. Depending on the number of staff, it could also mean longer response times for service. The ward-by-ward trash pick-up vs. the city-wide grid system is a good example. There is a reported financial savings, but the City is not cleaner. The quality, speed and flexibility of sanitation services have been diluted.

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

The new 35th Ward captures Hermosa, Logan Square, Avondale, Irving Park and Albany Park. Each community has its distinct challenges and opportunities. Responsive city services, improved public safety and representing the interests of the ward are the basic concerns that I hear about from residents. I believe it is necessary to go beyond those basic expectations and have a vision and goal for each neighborhood in writing when possible. Hermosa is a working-class area that is improving, but more must be done to organize and involve residents and businesses in keeping the area safe and clean. There are gang issues and the commercial area on Armitage needs to be revitalized. There is a high concentration of faith-based institutions in Hermosa that will be a great resource for me moving forward. I am working with the owners of Walt Disney's Birthplace at 2156 N. Tripp to restore the home, landmark it and leverage youth programs for the community. My goal is to promote the Disney family history in Hermosa to make it a future destination and tourist attraction. Logan Square and Avondale have become very popular in recent years. The growth in the local economy also presents a challenge of housing affordability. New development must leverage housing opportunities for our workforce. The MPC project I eluded to earlier in this questionnaire aims at doing just that. There are incidents of crime occurring in the Irving Park community that need to be addressed and more local organizing needed to address this. The new library project I mentioned is also an important need in this community. I find that Albany Park is in a similar place as Logan Square was 10-years ago. I worked with local groups to launch the first Annual World Fest to celebrate one of the most diverse communities in the country and am working on establishing a farmer's market, community gardens, investing in more cycling infrastructure. I have grown attached to the new areas of the ward and look forward to the opportunity to improve the quality of life and reaching the potential of each neighborhood by building on the foundation I have established.

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

My parents have been divorced for the past 45-years. After my older brother was killed in a drive-by shooting in 1979, my mother left Chicago, went to a community college in New York, earned a degree, and then moved back to Puerto Rico. Both parents have lived alone and never remarried. Two years ago, my mother started showing signs of Alzheimer's. Meanwhile in Chicago, I had been taking care of my father who for years has had Dementia. In order to balance caring for them and my job, I moved my mother from Puerto Rico and into my father's Chicago apartment so that I could care for them close to home in one location. What surprised me afterwards was something I never experienced; my parents getting along. Recently, my father's declining health made it necessary for him to go to a nursing home that specialized in his condition. My mother is not taking it well and goes to see him several times a week. Her current living arrangements will now need to change again. The role of alderman comes with making tough choices. Over time, you learn more about yourself by some of the decisions you make and the results that follow. The most difficult decisions I have had to make recently have nothing to do with my job and everything to do with my parents who have taken the center stage in my personal life. It may not surprise you because it is "common sense" that we all get old and must go through changes; but my personal struggle of figuring out the right thing to do is something that has caught me by surprise. The balancing act of my personal and professional life has reached a new level. My grandmother used to tell me; "Don't get old." Hopefully, this experience will help me figure out my own aging process and how to get old correctly if such a thing exists.

City Council, 35th Ward