Candidate questionnaires

Portrait of Richard A. Wooten

Richard A. Wooten

Candidate for City Council, 6th Ward

Richard A. Wooten

Candidate for City Council, 6th Ward

Portrait of Richard A. Wooten

Education: Bachelor of Arts degree, Law Enforcement Management

Occupation: Chicago Police Officer

Home: Chicago

Age: Not answered

Past Political/Civic Experience: Not answered


Candidates running for City Council, 6th 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 am not in favor of long-term borrowing to pay short term operating expenses. This practice has been compared to the equivalent of taking out a second mortgage to pay for groceries. This is not a sensible way for the City of Chicago to do business. Had I been in the City Council, I would have voted against this practice. I do not believe, however, that the solution to the problem is an either/or of spending cuts or tax increases. There are opportunities for new and enhanced revenue streams that are not tax increases. One new revenue stream I would consider is a Chicago based casino. Studies show that a Chicago based casino could bring in up to $1.2 billion in fees from new casino licenses. Once up and running, estimates are that tax revenue from the additional gaming could be nearly $270 million annually. Had this casino been operational since the beginning of the Emanuel Administration, we would have had $2 billion plus in additional revenue-more than enough to meet the pension balloon payments mandated by the Illinois legislature. I know that additional revenue from gaming is no panacea and is not the cure to all of our ills. It is not my first choice. But it is revenue we are leaving on the table. In my view, if the choice is a significant property tax increase or additional gaming revenue, it is a no-brainer. I believe my constituents feel the same way. Other enhanced revenue streams are also available. I would also consider a one-time revenue boost through an amnesty program that would reduce or eliminate the penalties on old debt owed to the City of Chicago, such as parking tickets more than three years old. This type of amnesty program has worked well for one-time revenue infusions for other government entities such as the State of Illinois. As a city, we also do not do a good enough job of collecting revenue that is due and owing. Therefore, I also support proposals by the Federation of Labor to restore the previous levels of city auditors and boiler inspectors. Another worthwhile proposal comes from Laborers Local 101 to allow small businesses the option of having city sanitation workers pick up their trash carts at a cost of up to $75.00 month. This proposal , according to this study, could generate nearly $4 million or more annually at little or no additional cost to the city. In addition, there are the excess TIF Funds. In the case of a dire budgetary emergency, excess TIF funds should be used for general revenue purposes.

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.

I am not optimistic about the legality of pension changes without the agreement of organized labor. Illinois courts have ruled that similar changes in pensions at other levels of government are unconstitutional. See previous answer about revenue sources to help the city pay for the pension balloon payments required by Illinois legislation. Pensions for new employees are a different situation. COLA's for new employees should be more closely tied to the rate of inflation, in the same manner as Social Security payments. New employees should also be expected to contribute more to their health care insurance. All changes to pensions of existing workers must have organized labor at the table to ensure both constitutionality and as little strife in the work place as possible.

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.

First, more transparency. More sunlight needs to be shined on where the money is spent, how developers are selected in individual wards, and how projects are chosen. Second, in times of dire budgetary emergencies, excess TIF funds should be swept into general revenue. Third, when TIFs are created, there should be specific goals in mind. Once those goals are obtained, the TIF should be disbanded, as the City has done sporadically in recent years. Parts of five TIF districts touch the new 2nd ward; in each instance the TIF district touches a few blocks in the ward, primarily along the geographic edges. There is no TIF district in the central area of the ward. If there is to be expansions of TIF in the 2nd ward that is the area it would focus on. On balance, I favored the allotment of TIF money for the DePaul basketball arena. In the long-run, it appears to have the potential to be an economic engine in the south loop area. There was a need for hotel rooms closer to McCormick Place and the arena will be used for much more than basketball, according to plans.

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.

The two best ideas from "12 ways to heal a city" are to re-open closed schools for another purpose and GED Chicago. It makes no sense, fiscally or otherwise, to keep fifty plus school buildings vacant in the heart of our communities. When open, these schools in many cases were the heart and soul of the community. Re-opening them for another purpose will restore the spirit in many of these communities and help keep at-risk youth off the street. This could perhaps be a project for the Mayor's infrastructure trust. GED Chicago is a project that I would embrace and champion. Adults in poverty will simply never be able to obtain a good-paying job and extricate themselves without at least a basic education. A GED is a first step. The City recently took steps to make an education from City Colleges of Chicago free or more affordable to some students. The same should be done for GED Chicago.

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 Council should absolutely have an inspector general. The creation of the office of legislative inspector general, however, appears to have been not well thought out. I am for eventually having one inspector general in charge of investigations of every city agency, department, or elected office. Arbitrarily eliminating the office of legislative inspector general opens the city to more costly litigation. If we are going to eliminate that office, which eventually I would support, it should be done in a legal, orderly, well-thought manner.

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 am for an elected school board but as a compromise I would favor a hybrid elected school board with half the board being elected, and the other half appointed by the Mayor. I realize either of these changes would require a change in the state law. The census primarily dictated the number of schools required to be closed. It made no fiscal sense to keep schools open that were only half-full due to residents moving to the suburbs or elsewhere in the city. I am for expansion of charter schools in a well-thought out manner. Parents need additional choices on where to send their children for a quality education. My assessment of CPS' academic performance is that we have seen much needed and welcome improvement but we have much farther to go. I am in favor of the longer school day and year and also in favor of full-day kindergarten. These are part of the solution to continue improving education. Other components are continued wide spread access to pre-school, commitment to lower teacher-student ratios, and attracting and keeping the best teachers.

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 do not believe that the TIF districts that touch the Sixth Ward have been fully or correctly utilized. I would attempt to use the TIFs to lure light manufacturing and other small businesses to the ward. I would attempt to bring a quality hospitality company (Hyatt, Holiday Inn, etc.) near the Dan Ryan. I would consider holding job fairs for Sixth Ward residents as other Aldermen do in other parts of the city.

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 would have voted for the minimum wage increase proposal recently passed by the City Council. Adults should not be in poverty if they are working full-time. I am concerned about the effect on small businesses, but the raises take place over five years and by then the state and federal government should enact minimum wage increases that are close to the City of Chicago. I would explore finding a way to help small businesses severely affected by the lower wages paid by other geographic areas.

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

I do not believe the Lucas Museum of Narrative Art should be built at the proposed location on Chicago's lakefront. The Friends of the Parks are an outstanding civic group with whom I find myself in agreement. They are doing what they believe is correct in filing their lawsuit and I wholeheartedly support their efforts to stand on their principles. The ordinance declaring a free and open lakefront was written that way for a reason. As a Police Officer, I believe the law is the law.

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?

As a Chicago police officer for twenty one years, I have strong feelings on this issue. From my point of view, the Chicago Police Department has been a force for good in neighborhoods across the city. Crime, even violent crime, is down dramatically over ten or twenty years ago. While this cannot be attributed solely to the police department, they deserve a fair amount of the credit. Cold statistics, however, are no comfort to those who live in neighborhoods still plagued by murder and mayhem. It seems plain that we need more officers, in part to ensure that shifting officers out of "safe" neighborhoods to those at risk doesn't create more neighborhoods at risk. We also need a return to having "beat officers" in the truest sense of the word. Officers need to be deployed in ways that they bond closer with the communities they are supposed to protect. Finally, in addition to more officers overall, we need a more diverse police department. Sadly, we still live in a society where race matters. If the leadership of the department had the option to deploy more officers into neighborhoods that look more like those they are protecting, it may go a long way to easing tension. More officers are not the only answer. Vastly improving neighborhood schools, dramatically ramping up after school activities and a comprehensive approach to bring good jobs at good wages are also central components to further reducing violent crime.

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

I would have voted 'No' had I been in the City Council at the time. There are major questions about the implementation of this program, from the location of the cameras, to the speeding up of yellow caution lights. I cannot support something that contributes to the danger and unsafe behavior of a motorist driving behavior.

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

No. Such gimmicks have not worked well in other areas of government. The unintended consequences of the "Cutback Amendment" for example have not been entirely positive (consolidation of power among a few leaders, the growth of influence of lobbyists, etc.). These types of gimmick reforms rarely live up to their billing and accomplish their stated goals.

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

Bringing more good jobs at good wages is my highest priority. Further reducing violent crime and good jobs are what I hear about the most from my residents. Working hard to improve the neighborhood schools is another big concern.

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

My wife tells me that I'm like putty in the hands of the grandchildren. But I just think they know who to come to for results.

City Council, 6th Ward