Candidate for City Council, 5th Ward
Education: MA – Northeastern Illinois University in Inner City Studies; BS Tuskegee University in Construction Management
Occupation: Aromatherapist and Life Coach
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.
The solution is not to cut expenses or raise taxes. All lawmakers and city officials need to truly understand budget development and execution. There is a need to reign in and prioritize spending. But this is hard work and few politicians are going to have the time, commitment or the will to make the tough decisions. To ask if these bond spending was justified is Monday morning quarterbacking. I can fully understand why these decisions were made. Bold, but short sighted efforts were made to meet the needs of the citizens and build Chicago into a world class city. What done is done. Now we must have a plan to lower the future obligation with disciplined fiscal plan to manage costs and build additional streams of revenue from selling assets that are not serving the immediate needs of the citizens to be interactive and transparent. Most of the time spending cuts are done with a machete versus a scalpel. Tax increases usually hurt those who are less able to absorb the additional expense. Let's be disciplined and creative and look for other ways to pay off the Bonds. Chicago has buildings, land, and other assets that can be sold in a transparent fashion to close some of the budget gaps.
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.
There needs to be a coming together of all the parties. It seems to be whenever they get together to solve this problem the other group disagrees. This is a problem that will continue whether it is addressed or not if pursued in the same fashion.
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 think TIFs can be great tools to spur economic development in underserved areas. However, the definition of what underserved means may need to be examined & the porting of increment funds out of the service area should be transparent and limited. TIFs were set up to fund urban renewal projects in primarily underserved areas, but have been used to also discount projects for entities that are clearly not small or neighborhood businesses. I support use of the existing TIFs in the 5th Ward. However, there has been some community concern over the TIF in Hyde Park to support the development of the University of Chicago. I likely would not expand any TIF until I had an opportunity to examine the potential impact with consultants & conducted town hall meetings to gage my community's concerns. In reference to the Marriott Hotel and the DePaul arena, if their specific TIFs can generate $55 million and they want it, I am fine with it in general. Based on the number of jobs created and the ancillary supportive services allowed with the funding it may be successful. I do not consider Marriott a small business, it is an international corporation. I am not a big proponent of porting increment funds from destitute communities, with limited possibilities for growth, to make a distant neighborhood better. I would view funding for large corporations based on how great the impact to a community would be. Some neighborhoods need hotels. I would like to see TIFs be used for their original intent of improving the quality of life and services for fueling neighborhood development.
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.
The ideas I would champion are those that combine entrepreneurship with positive self sufficiency. The projects I liked best were the GED, Innovation Houses, Schools as Tools & City in a Garden. Since I've run a community development corporation, I know one of the biggest challenges has been not only bringing the employers to neighborhoods, but also having a mass number of job ready employees from within the neighborhood. That's why I like the GED project. Innovation Houses and Schools as Tools are great because they are utilizing many resources that already exist to begin working with individuals who can feel proud about contributing to something positive in their neighborhood, be they a mentor or mentee. In light of the fact I do aromatherapy, I am a big fan of community gardens. Being a Tuskegee University Alum, I always look at Booker T. Washington's plan in founding and growing Tuskegee Institute. A plan centered on agriculture, forestry, veterinary needs, and building technologies, using tools and materials from the earth for meeting needs and becoming progressive. 20 months ago, another business owner asked me if I would allow an artist to fix up a space to test his business concept during artist month (October). I agreed. In the interim, I also worked with the artist and made myself available for him as a mentor. It took some time, but his business is now beginning to grow. So here's my proposal: Make Room to Groom. This program would be focused on giving people the tools to become self sufficient. It would encompass 10 hours of class time to work on etiquette, life skills development, meditation techniques, and entrepreneurial tools for success. In exchange for the teachings, participants must volunteer 10 hours a week in a business to learn, in a school to prepare for the GED, or in a community beautification program.
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 keep the office of legislative inspector general. Aldermen (and their staff) are representatives of constituencies, but they are still expected to adhere to the laws that govern every citizen and also those rules established to maintain high ethics in government. No public servant should receive more scrutiny, neither should they be allowed to abuse the power of their office to be above any laws. Laws are applicable to all citizens. Theoretically, we would expect an elected public servant to exhibit a level of ethical decorum which should be exemplary, but unfortunately that is not always the case. Municipalities use checks and balances to help maintain order, I see the office of legislative inspector general as such an office. My ideas are not novel concepts: learn the rules and practice them; if in doubt, ask the question(s).
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 a product of public schools and believe in public education. If the numbers stated here are accurate, it's good news for all in the city of Chicago. One of the keys to improving public education in this city is to allow an elected school board. The school board should be more representative of the city's constituency and demographic. CPS should not expand the number of charter schools right now. I am supportive of a longer school day and year if it can be effectively negotiated. Maybe there should be more coordination with libraries, park districts, and city colleges on shared resources to help children and families, provide safe spaces, and partnering from education based corporations and neighborhood organizations. One way CPS can close the budget gap is to enlist more people to volunteer from within communities in various capacities. Another possible solution is to generate revenue from the recently closed schools in a transparent way to benefit the neighborhoods they are in. Schools need truant officers, I see too many kids moving around the streets unsupervised during school hours when they NEED to be in school.
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?
In order to attract more employers to my ward I would work closely with both chambers to: 1) identify retail/service gaps existing in the ward 2) identify the available space/land available for lease and/or purchase 3) do a needs assessment to serve as an impetus to potential matches for highest and best uses 4) do a human capital development needs assessment 5) establish training programs to help provide skill sets for retail/service industry 6) collaborate with the existing local chambers to market the community to interested retailers/ industry/ technologies. To promote economic development in the 5th Ward I co-founded the existing South Shore Chamber and have worked with them on programming, projects, and attempted to establish pilot programs to better our Special Service Area (SSA #42). Currently I serve as an advisory member for the reconstitution of the same SSA. I also provided the local chamber with a plan to utilize historic preservation to spur economic development. Out of that vision a partnership was formed with the Chicago Architectural Foundation in which a community driven coalition formed a docent council, created a historic tour, and engaged summer youth to create a tourism center. I also worked with the South Shore Chamber & other Illinois agencies planning to establish a "Main Street" corridor along 71st Street, a primary central business district in the neighborhood where I live. I am also working with Chicago's only high school that provides training in maritime careers. Last summer we acquired a donated vessel, formed a partnership with a marina, acquired a marina, & worked with the seascout program to assist in training the children interested in maritime careers.
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 the city council vote to increase the minimum wage, now. Chicago is quickly becoming a costly place to live, work and play. People who are ready, willing, and able to work should be able to cover basic expenses necessary to live and pursue some happiness. Part of spurring the economy requires having people who are in a position to spend money on goods and services. When I had hourly restaurant employees I always compensated them above the prevailing minimum wage. Working people need to earn a living wage in order to survive in this city.
Q: Should the Lucas Museum of Narrative Art be built at the proposed location on Chicago's lakefront? Please explain.
I am a lover of greenspace and the lakefront, which are among the reasons I moved to the Jackson Park Highlands in 1997 and remain in South Shore. My first response to this question was a resounding NO, as I am firm on cities maintaining green-spaces. However, upon further reflection, I think it would be a bold and dynamic move to build the Lucas Museum along the lakefront. Since the 5th Ward is on the lakefront and home to a few museums, I must liken this to the creation and utilization of the Museum of Science and Industry (MSI). It was a world class facility built to meet the needs of the Columbian Exposition & providing a gateway to the industrial revolution. In 1911 the building was used as a science museum and in 1933, MSI began as a new concept that became the first interactive museum in the world. The Lucas Museum is touting itself as the first Narrative museum in the world, and therefore, I believe it is worthy of further discussion. It will create much needed employment on the south side, in addition to the number of ancillary businesses and services that would be economic generators around the museum's development. I see this as a cultural investment, an expansion of social diversity, and the opportunity for historical continuity in Chicago's heritage of encouraging knowledge, exploration and recognizing significant contributions. This is the kind of project I would actually like to see in the 5th Ward to help us utilize land and drive economic development. The Lucas Museum may keep Chicago in the lead as an international destination.
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 think the city should invest in a program to provide by shared cost or grant, the opportunity for building owners to have exterior security cameras. There is a blue light camera on the corner where I live. There are also cameras on the building where I live. We have cooperated with law enforcement officers upon request, to view footage from the building cameras. Police officers are beginning to wear personal cameras for recording of events which is good for both the public, the officers, and the city. Blue light cameras were a significant expense to tax payers and they can be monitored more closely to aid in rapid response to crimes. The physical presence of more police officers seems to have quelled the number of nuisance crimes in my neighborhood. The police and the community must work together for safety tools to be more effective. People generally do not trust the police and that can change by increased positive engagement.
Q: Do you support Chicago's traffic light camera program? Please explain.
No, I do not support Chicago's current red light camera program. The majority of the cameras are placed in Chicago's neighborhoods, there are equipment flaws, and there are little to no cameras in the loop. Further, there have been too many discrepancies in reference to the timing of the yellow light and the overall ability for the lights to function properly. In addition, studies have revealed that a longer yellow light prevents 40% more accidents. I can support a program based on increased safety with properly functioning equipment to minimize the level of reckless driving on our roadways. I can support placing cameras at locations based on creating greater safety. The current program appears to lack satisfactory transparency.
Q: Should Chicago reduce the number of aldermen in the City Council?
No, I do not think Chicago should reduce the number of alderman. An informed Alderman willing to be accessible is a valued asset to the City of Chicago. They are also the first line of engagement for residents to have a voice and serve as a pivotal point of information for making the quality of life better. There is much work to be done in Chicago and the balance of empowerment is necessary in order to advise the mayor, and to coordinate tasks with county, state, and federal representatives. An Alderman should be responsible and accountable to their constituency and often times the decisions of a mayor may not be in line with what area residence desire. The Alderman should be the equilibrium or equalizer in coordinating community desires with municipal goals by utilizing municipal resources for highest and best uses of their constituency.
Q: What is your highest priority for improving your ward? What is the greatest concern you hear from residents of your ward?
My highest priorities are economic development, job creation, and business attraction. The greatest concern I hear from residence is the lack of healthy, affordable foods and the lack of a trauma center located within the ward. Right now, a great portion of South Shore is a food desert. Other concerns are regarding crime, police profiling, and safety across the ward. Hyde Park has a growing parking concern from the recent economic development. A health concern is the lack of a trauma center to serve the southest side of Chicago. Though Comer Children's hospital has one, it is pediatric, which leaves many constituents without service.
Q: Please tell us something about yourself that would surprise us.
1) I started my first business when I was 27 years old. I did construction permit expediting in the Chicagoland Area for private and corporate clients. 2) When I had a KFC franchise, the team was the only existing African American franchisee in Chicago. 3) Currently, I do aromatherapy and developed 2 fragrances: Essence of South Shore and Lakeshore, which debuted at the 2011 South Shore Summer Festival. We sold out of both and the scents have been enjoyed by many people since then. We've also just created a fragrance that embodies the 5th Ward, stay tuned for it!