Candidate questionnaires

Portrait of Stacey Pfingsten

Stacey Pfingsten

Candidate for City Council, 2nd Ward

Stacey Pfingsten

Candidate for City Council, 2nd Ward

Portrait of Stacey Pfingsten

Education: Bachelor of Arts, major in graphic design, and minor in Business Administration, Eastern Illinois University Masters of Historic Preservation, School of the Art Institute of Chicago

Occupation: Candidate for 2nd Ward Alderman

Home: Chicago

Age: Not answered

Past Political/Civic Experience: Not answered


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.

No, borrowing to pay for day to day operating expenses is completely unjustified. Our city is in a deep fiscal hardship, and unfortunately, in some way, either through fees or tax increases, everyone will have to share the burden, but reform and cutting wasteful spending has to be a key part of that. The old ways of financing our city are continuing and we have to finally put a stop to it. I will argue for both cuts in spending and for tax increases but I am not in favor of a property tax increase. It is unfair for just property owners to have to shoulder the burden and better if it is a small percent shared by many. I like the idea of a small, local, city income tax that many cities have in Michigan, Indiana and New York. Taxes are never popular but just a .5 percent city income tax on a median salary of $40,000 is $200 a year per person about the price of a latte a week to get us back on the financial track.

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.

First let's start with pension reform here in Chicago as well as Springfield. It is the result of decades of failure on the part of city leaders to meet longstanding fiscal obligations. It represents a failure to make timely, regular and full payments into the city's 7 pension funds. And it is a failure arising from mismanagement and corruption in the oversight of those funds. This crisis requires new and independent thinking. I believe we need to protect our retirees, and also protect the future of our city. I am interested in pursuing reforms that include capping the amount high dollar pensioners receive at a certain (lower) salary amount. For example, 80% of 100,000 is still $80,000. A potential revenue source to cover pensions could be TIF surplus.

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 am 100% in support of real TIF reform, let's get back to the idea of why TIFs were created in the first place. TIF reform requires independent leadership. Lately, they are being used as a form of corporate welfare. At this time I don't see a reason to expand TIF in the 2nd ward. TIFs were created to spur economic development in the areas that need it most. They are not to help large, private corporations build hotels or private schools to build arenas.

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.

I thought all of the 12 ideas selected were really interesting. The environmentalist in me is drawn to the "Schools as Tools" concept of reviving and reusing the closed school buildings and repurposing them as neighborhood centers. In many of these neighborhoods, their schools were their "community" centers therefore it is fitting to retrofit for after-school programs, mentoring, training centers, GED classes. If I could add one thing to it, I would use part for homeless shelters for teens only. On average almost 2,000 a night in our city have no place to go. I know Night Ministry has recently started a pilot of teen shelters, and they would make a great partner. The idea of "Exploiting Chicago's greatest resource" submitted by Debra Shore Commissioner of MWRDC is something I would also champion and hope we are able to lure industries to take advantage of that great resource to power their plant facilities or start hydroponic farming. "City in a Garden" speaks to my roots of growing up on a farm and gathering vegetables from the garden each summer. I want children in our city to have greater access to fresh vegetables and to have that experience of learning to grow your own food source more inexpensive than the stores and ideal for the neighborhoods in food deserts. My own idea: A light-green manufacturing center making trays for the school lunch program, solar paneling and or other recycled products. Too many green alternative products are being made overseas. This will create local jobs and support our schools.

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.

Aldermen do need oversight, so an inspector general's office should exist. The office has never been given the resources or the authority to do its job, therefore resulting in a waste of both talent and taxpayer money. If the inspector general's office is given both an addition of resources, staffing and the authority to truly monitor aldermen, then I am for it.

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?

Recent studies have shown that neighborhood schools are out performing charter schools which is a positive sign. I will advocate on behalf of an Elected School Board, a board accountable to taxpayers and parents on making decisions and overlooking contracts and pension issues. Currently our state aid per pupil is going to pay off the bond debt for building new schools, we obviously need more oversight and the clout contracts still continue to pay for way overpriced consultants. It was recently exposed that CPS was using auction rate bonds instead of municipal bonds for operating and new school construction. Using auction-rate bonds is like gambling, it is not a fixed rate and depends on market trends. As a result CPS lost $100 million dollars. We cannot continue to put our schools and our city's future at risk. The idea of a longer school day sounds great in theory but from what I've learned it has caused problems in school programing and the extra time is not being utilized efficiently and not adequately funded. We should focus on having a quality day no matter what the length, and give our teachers and staffs the resources to do so. I am for a moratorium on charter school expansion. The city has closed enough neighborhood schools in favor of charters. Neighborhood schools and charter schools should be held to the same standard and need to be accountable and transparent with their spending and they should have a board similar to a local school council for oversight. Diverting resources away from neighborhood schools will not improve outcomes for our city's children.

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?

Other aldermen have had success requiring large projects to hire from their wards, and I will take the same approach. I plan to have job fairs comprised of employers in the 2nd ward, where local residents will have the opportunity to gain employment. On our website, we will have a list of vacant properties ready for a new local business. We will do whatever we can to aid them in the process and promote their new business. We will also be happy to hold pop up satellite offices throughout the 2nd ward to highlight business. Neighborhood groups will be encouraged to advocate for businesses that they believe they need. My experience in the ward office tells me that bringing the community together makes us stronger.

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 fully support the $13 minimum wage increase and feel this was long overdue. I actually favor a $15 increase as by the time it is fully realized, it will already be outdated. I would however like to see a larger increase in tipped workers, a dollar increase is unacceptable. While earning both of my degrees I relied on jobs in the service industry and depending on the night it was feast or famine. That is where a larger increase in could help a server not choose between groceries and medications.

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

The Lucas Museum of Narrative Arts should not be built on the already overcrowded museum campus. Besides that, it is in violation of the Lakefront ordinance. This museum concept could spur economic growth in other areas of the city such as the south and west sides aching for development. Another idea would be for it to be the main anchor attraction of the long awaited redevelopment of the vacant Old Post office site. This site, with a little imagination that I know the Lucas empire has, could be the perfect positioning for a museum. There is ample room for parking inside and it is also within a block of the El. The facade provides space for interesting and creative advertising for the museum. I also liked Blair Kamin's idea of building down by the McCormick Place Marshalling Yards near Bronzeville.

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?

Public safety city-wide could be improved with more police on the street. I don't feel an ever-increasing overtime budget of $100 million is sustainable. The new 2nd ward in general is comprised of safe neighborhoods but no neighborhood is immune to acts of crime. I'd like to see more residents involved in safety of their communities every day not only when an issue arises. I think CAPS could be more effective by changing their programming so it's not always a slide-show of stats in a church basement but bringing in engaging speakers, seminars on street safety or self-protection. In my role as Director of Constituent Services and Outreach, the 18th District and I have partnered in promoting positive loitering and forming focus groups on problematic corners. Residents that feel like they are truly a part of something will continue to stay active.

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

No. These traffic and red light cameras are a money making scheme rolled out in the guise of pedestrian safety. This latest instance where it was uncovered that 77,000 tickets were wrongly issued due to shortening the timing of the yellow lights just reaffirms my position of these cameras - they are exploitative. The monies should returned in order to restore our residents' faith in this technology and our government.

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

Yes. I like the idea of a more compact and working council of 25 Alderman. We are one of the largest councils in the nation. A small council may allow for greater debate and lead to greater results in policies enacted. I don't think the cost savings is huge but if we are looking to cut waste then all should be on the table included City Council. Now with smaller ward populations and more services on the grid a smaller council may make sense.

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 is running a communicative, transparent and accountable office. We need long term planning in place for growth throughout the ward. Encroaching development also raises concerns, and with that, congestion issues. All these issues point to the need for thoughtful, long term planning in conjunction with neighborhood groups, not haphazardly approved projects.

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

I used to be a graphic designer for a living. I'm a Helvetica woman: clean lines, simple design, much like how I plan to run my ward office - clear and simple for everyone. Also, I grew up in a very small town, Crescent City, IL and graduated high school in a class of 20 people.