Candidate questionnaires

Portrait of Shajan M. Kuriakose

Shajan M. Kuriakose

Candidate for City Council, 50th Ward

Shajan M. Kuriakose

Candidate for City Council, 50th Ward

Portrait of Shajan M. Kuriakose

Education: Bachelors in Business Administration Robert Morris University, Chicago, Illinois

Occupation: Business Consultant

Home: Chicago

Age: Not answered

Past Political/Civic Experience: Not answered


Candidates running for City Council, 50th 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.

The city of Chicago needs to stop the budget gimmicks and start making real decisions on how to fix the budget. The City of Chicago cannot fix its budget only through higher taxes and fees. The city must explore all possible ways to generate revenue. As Alderman, one of my top priorities will be to help businesses grow and create quality, high paying jobs. This will provide a new and long term source of revenue that we can build on without raising taxes on residents who can least afford it. Additionally, I will work with other elected officials and community leaders to explore the creation of additional landmarks to boost our local economy, which would in turn create jobs and new revenue for the City of Chicago. One suggestion is the idea of a resort style hotel casino in the City of Chicago. If executed correctly, it would create thousands of jobs and serve as a large, long term revenue source that we will be able to use to improve vital public services and meet our pension and other long-term debt obligations. As such, while there are serious discussions to be had about spending cuts and tax increases, the City must find new revenue streams to help pay down existing debts and provide services.

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.

In terms of making changes to the actual pension system, I believe the courts need to decide what is constitutional and what is not. At this moment, without knowing that, the city is at a bypass. With that being said, we need to find new revenue to pay towards pension. Here are a few actions I would take to help spur economic development to increase revenue for the 50th Ward and the City of Chicago: - I will work hard to support existing incubators/accelerators (tech, medical, and so forth) and help create more as they will enable entrepreneurs to start businesses, which would eventually lead to the creation of jobs and new revenue for the City of Chicago. - I will work with other elected officials and community leaders to explore the creation of additional landmarks to boost our local economy, which would in turn create jobs and new revenue for the City of Chicago. One suggestion is the idea of a resort style hotel casino in the City of Chicago. If executed correctly, it would create thousands of jobs and serve as a large, long term revenue source that we will be able to use to meet our pension and other long-term debt obligations. - Capitalize on Chicago's unique regional strength by increasing tourism through more neighborhood and cultural events. - Clearing out the red tape so that businesses can open faster will create a more vibrant economy that contributes more revenue to the city without having to raises taxes or fees. It is currently too hard to open a business in the city of Chicago. Again, new revenue streams must be found to help solve the pension crisis, provide vital services, and to ensure the City meets its other financial obligations.

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 TIF process is opaque and definitely needs to be overhauled. The excess money in the TIF should be split between providing additional funding for education and to paying down the pension payments. By spending money on those two areas, we will be investing in our future at both a city level and individual level. I strongly believe further examination needs to be done on the building of the new Marriott Hotel and DePaul Basketball Arena in order to fully grasp if the investment will actually lead to the necessary revenues for this project to be worthwhile.

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.

First and foremost, the "A new Plan of Chicago" is a phenomenal mechanism by the Tribune Editorial Board to gain input from City of Chicago residents themselves on how to tackle our challenges. Although I support a number of the proposals outlined in the "12 ways to heal a city", two of the ideas stood out at me, mainly due to the fact that my focus is determining ways to generate new revenue streams for the 50th Ward and the City of Chicago. The "Mutual of Chicago" proposal exemplifies my vision for supporting existing incubators/accelerators and helping to create more. Because of my background in the banking industry, I have worked with entrepreneurs and small business owners directly to help them create quality, high paying jobs. As a result, I have seen firsthand how one business starting or growing has a multiplier effect on a neighborhood. There is no question that the statistics/data backs this proposal up. Crain's business states that for every manufacturing job, approximately 2.2 other jobs are created. If 4-5 manufacturing companies were to open in each of our jobs-starved neighborhoods, the "Mutual of Chicago" initiative could be responsible for singlehandedly turning those neighborhoods around. I strongly believe that the "Oases in the jobs desert" proposal would go hand in hand with the "Mutual of Chicago" proposal given their similar overarching theme of helping to create and grow businesses. Finally, I strongly believe in the "Sister Neighborhoods" proposal as it is a different type of incubator. It gives people the opportunity to help one another in different ways. Equally important, it also provides the time and space for people with different backgrounds to better understand each other and that will ultimately lead to a better 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.

It was an affront to the residents of the City of Chicago when the city council took power away from the inspector general. The inspector general should absolutely have the right to properly investigate alderman and their staff. The inspector general should be able to investigate anonymous complaints and start investigations his/her own without need for a filed complaint.

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 order for our children to receive a proper education, we need to work to eliminate barriers that inhibit their success. It is important we have elected representation on the Board of Education advocating for students and communities to ensure that schools are adequately funded. I will work to create a collaborative student centered learning environment. Curriculum has catered towards preparing students for standardized tests that do not correctly assess students' knowledge and teachers' abilities. Instead of standardized testing, curriculum should be giving teachers the opportunity to provide lessons that develop critical thinking skills. Students are led to believe their score is their identity. That is just not right. With the closing of the schools on the south and west sides, there has been a number of students who have gotten lost in the process. It is imperative that adequate resources are allocated to all schools to ensure our children get a proper education, are safe, and have opportunities for career training. Charter schools are negatively impacting our neighborhood schools. It has been found that, when a charter school is in close proximity of an existing neighborhood school, enrollment and funding for the neighborhood school decreases. In many situations, e.g., Kelly High School (Brighton Park), students return in the middle of the school year and public school teachers are expected to meet the state standards with very little funding and resources. It has been revealed that charter schools have the ability to indiscriminately include or exclude students which interrupts and negatively impacts their learning and growth. In terms of Funding, I advocate for the elimination of corporate loopholes, Reforming TIFs (Tax Incremental Financing), and restoring the revenues they divert to the city and school district. Additionally, I will work hard to achieve new revenue streams such as the ideas I have laid out in my answer to question #2.

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?

Given my business background and the opportunity that exists for economic development in the 50th Ward, one of my top priorities, as Alderman, will be to attract businesses to our community. I would attract employers to the 50th Ward by explaining to them my vision for economic development. This vision includes necessary and requested investments in infrastructure, the creation of public-private partnerships, well thought out plan for tourism and community events, and a dedicated staff for business constituent services and outreach. Most importantly, I would create a business advisory committee of established business professionals who would provide the vital input necessary to help me understand, in addition to my own work experience as a small business owner and in the banking industry, what businesses are looking for.

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 increase in the minimum wage. We need to make sure our residents have the ability to sustain themselves and the minimum wage was just too low for that. On the other hand, we need to work with small businesses to ensure that the increase in the minimum wage does not adversely affect them. I advocate to cutting red tape so that businesses can operate smoother. Also, I call on Cook County to lower the sales tax rate so that all businesses can sell their goods at lower prices so as to compete more with businesses in the surrounding area.

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

I am in support of the Lucas Museum of Narrative Art. If it is done right through an open and collaborative process, then the museum could be a major tourist attraction. This would help to create jobs and new revenue for the city.

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 support adequate staffing levels to ensure that our police have the resources they need and are put in the best position to deliver the quality services to residents they have been delivering for years. The city needs to hire more police and stop overworking its already overworked police. Furthermore we need to make sure we are not diverting too many police from low crime to high crime areas. This leave the city susceptible to crime becoming a bigger problem than it already is.

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

The City's traffic light camera have not improved safety and instead have just nickel and dimed its citizens in a new way. The city must find a better and more sustainable way to increase revenue rather than gimmicks like the Chicago traffic light camera program.

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

At this time, given the crucial discussions of spending cuts, tax increases, etc., it is extremely important that each community have a representative at City Hall who best understands the needs of their neighborhoods. That said, I support further examination with respect to the number of aldermen in the City Council in terms of what would yield the most efficient and effective city government for our residents.

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

The greatest concern I hear from residents is that services are not being administered as well as they could be in the 50th ward. The most important job of an Alderman is constituent services and improving them would be my top priority. My other priorities are as follows: a. Economic Development: I will work with community stakeholders to create a comprehensive economic development plan that will center on helping our businesses grow as that will create quality, high paying jobs for our residents and provide more resources for our community to utilize to help meet the goals of our other priorities. A key component of this is facilitating opportunities for businesses to learn about the very resourceful grants/programs that are available from the state, county, and municipal levels of government. b. Safety: Working to make sure our families are able to learn, work, and/or reside in a safe environment could not be more important to me. I will work with our residents, local organizations, and the police district to ensure that we are doing all we can to make our streets safe. That includes, possibly more than any other item, making sure the brave men and women serving our communities as police officers have the resources they need. I am passionate about this issue because, if our community is safe, there is nothing we can't achieve. c. Services: As Alderman, I will work tirelessly to make sure our residents are receiving all of the services the City of Chicago is responsible for and provides on a daily basis. I strongly believe my role as a public servant is to continuously look for ways to make the lives of our working families a little bit easier every day. One way I will work hard to accomplish that is to make sure my office provides those constituent services in a timely fashion and/or helps when any issues with those services arise. I initiated this commitment already by calling in potholes and other infrastructure issues as I am walking door to door and hear about these issues from residents. d. Education: The globally competitive nature of today's world has made education more important than ever. Our children deserve to receive a quality education that both make it possible for them to pursue their passions and be financially independent. I will work hard to make sure first and foremost; our teachers have the resources they need. I will also facilitate a partnership with schools, businesses, and nonprofits so our students can experience their passions. Furthermore I will continually examine ways to obtain additional funding for our schools.

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

Being South Indian American, most people do not know that I am Catholic (born and raised) by religion. There are actually more than 19 million Indian Catholics worldwide. Given this fact and my religious background, I have been able to connect with all communities of the 50th Ward and explain my vision to grow our neighborhoods as one community.