Candidate for City Council, 10th Ward
Education: Susan holds her Masters in counseling and her Bachelors in liberal arts.
Occupation: Counselor for Chicago Public Schools
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.
Unfortunately, leaders in City Hall have kicked the can down the road on finding solutions to our service needs across the city, leading to the loss of public schools, libraries, parks and other civic institutions. At the same time, money has been vacuumed up from residents to support projects that don't help working families in Chicago. Instead of saddling future Chicagoans, our children and grandchildren with fallout of this borrowing strategy, we need to utilize tools in our municipal tool kit – community benefit agreements, community oriented TIFs, and a La Salle Street Tax – to increases revenues and resources to move Chicago forward.
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.
Hard working residents have given their time, effort and in some cases their lives to serving the city of Chicago. We have an obligation to find resources to meet the agreed upon obligations to fund these pensions, otherwise will not have only turned our back on current and retired workers, but made these occupations less valued by potential applicants. We firmly believe that the Lasalle street tax would help close the gap on these contributions.
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 most pressing need is to turn TIF oversight back over to the people – I support adding to city ordinances a requirement that all TIF request over 15 million must go to voter referendum for approval. We should also include an environmental impact and equity tool in analyzing development proposals connected to TIF. TIF resources should be used to make enhancements to the quality of life of the 10th ward, such as investments in schools, creating family supporting jobs with living wages and to produce community benefits. TIF funds should be re-invested into community projects that expand access to jobs, housing, transit and food resources. The Marriott Hotel or DePaul basketball arena projects are unnecessary projects that only serve limited groups of consumers. There are dozens of communities throughout the city, especially the far south-east side, in more need of community reinvestment. The Marriott Corporation and DePaul University are financially solvent and not in dire need of city tax dollars.
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.
I strongly advocate for the re-opening of closed public schools. As the Tribune stated, "these buildings and their land have the potential to make a significant contribution to residents' quality of life, community vitality, city competitiveness and the regional economy." I cannot agree more. We should use these schools as a catalyst for community revival. In addition to this, I would use these spaces to enhance training for workers. Holding GED classes at such locations would help lift residents out of poverty and into the workforce. Using such locations and other vacant lots as community gardens will also drastically reduce food shortages that plague much of the 10th ward. Lastly, by expanding the "U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, I would expand the "SAFE Children" to all neighborhood schools. I will also advocate a worker/housing cooperative model to rebuilding underserved neighborhoods. By partnering light industry, household manufacturing and housing into centers for revitalization we can create affordable, walk-able and growing neighborhoods for Chicago residents.
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 continue to invest resources in maintaining open, transparent and accessible government that people can believe in and trust. Expanding our system of ombudsmen and inspector generals will insure that the interests of city residents remain the top priority for elected officials.
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 closure of schools, largely in low income, black and Latino neighborhoods have deprived our most important residents – children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren – of the most important civic resource we can give to them. The decisions of the Board of Education on closures has hurt students, parents, teachers and the neighborhoods they call home. The most challenging thing of course is the way the city has directed critical financial resources. Instead of funding the education of students, as well as properly paying our hard working teachers, they have siphoned tax dollars to developers and wealthy special interests with no concern for families. The key to improving education is investing in our communities, with living wage jobs, community centers, and affordable, accessible housing. Children with heat in their homes, learn better; children with access to safe spaces, develop better, and children who don't worry about where to sleep at night study better. Children with strong teachers, who are supported by their administration and board of education will undoubtedly thrive. If they stumble, there should be ample wrap-around services to keep them afloat. Participatory democracy is a key to building community involvement and trust. We must have an elected school board to bring trust, respect and support back to Chicago Public Schools. If the longer school day and year produces better outcomes and has equal or better resources, yes. However based on the damaging cuts to our schools recently, it seems very unlikely we will have those resources. We should always prioritize public schools, not schools driven by profit, testing, unproven standards, and exclusion of special needs. We should invest in schools with restorative justice practices, not zero-tolerance and punitive discipline policies. At Jane Addams we created "restorative justice" practices through our program "Bully Patrol." We empowered students, we let them make decisions and gave them a voice. Rather than quickly suspend or expel a student, we spoke with them. Charter schools that use punitive measures result in the overcrowding of traditional public schools, perpetuating the "stacking the chips" against our most vulnerable. The best way to fix our gap is stop the corporate handouts through "tax breaks" and TIF welfare that drain our schools of needy resources to grow and educate great families and neighborhoods.
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?
The best way to create jobs is to invest in small businesses and community oriented efforts – think infrastructure improvements, building sustainability, investments in trade skills Chicago needs to move forward – that give residents a sense of value and connect to the neighborhoods they live in. The best way to attract employers is better schools that produce strong graduates; willing to stay here and build lives and families. Hiring local residents is a lynchpin to my platform.. The 10th ward is full of skilled workers who would be able to compete at the local and city level. I would promote economic development through working with small businesses. Lastly, the 10th ward is one of the few spots on the lakefront that is largely undeveloped. The new Lakeside development must require a "Community Benefits Agreement" if it is to move forward. This CBA would ensure that local residents are employed and that the actual residents of the ward benefit from the large development project. Furthermore, bringing green industry to the calumet corridor will provide economic relief and a burgeoning industry.
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 increasing the minimum wage as quickly as possible, so as to improve the economic situation for working families in Chicago. Exemptions should be made for small businesses, but for larger ones, slower increases hurt working people.
Q: Should the Lucas Museum of Narrative Art be built at the proposed location on Chicago's lakefront? Please explain.
We should invest our civic resources into the educational institutions we already have - public schools, public libraries and public museums. It is not a sound use of resources to give money to private institutions not committed to serving ALL of Chicago.
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?
Additional civic resources, such as ombudspersons and civilian review will go a long way towards establishing better policing and better communities. What neighborhood residents need is the commitment of resources to rebuilding their communities - good schools, family-supporting jobs and investments in transportation and housing. I have worked tirelessly as an educator to give every single resident of my district the chance to succeed. Creating after school programs such as my "Safe-Kids" program would take students off the streets and into community centers. These personal investments in individuals and communities are a necessary component of improving public safety. Having ample resources for our communities would drastically decrease crime. Stopping poverty is the biggest catalyst to crime rate reduction.
Q: Do you support Chicago's traffic light camera program? Please explain.
No – Rather than ticket residents into poverty, balancing the budget on ordinary residents, and creating further surveillance, we need to expand the quality and depth of our public transit.
Q: Should Chicago reduce the number of aldermen in the City Council?
No - democracy works best when we each person is given the chance to influence political bodies. Fewer alderman means fewer chances to have your voice heard. This is inherently part of the problem and something I would seek to address once in office. By establishing "issues committees", block captains and community advocacy groups, residents will become more engaged. We need more people involved in city government, not less.
Q: What is your highest priority for improving your ward? What is the greatest concern you hear from residents of your ward?
Stopping crime and increasing safety is a major priority. Creating family supporting jobs and directing civic resources into our communities is the most important policy I will accomplish. Revitalizing our neighborhoods, schools and infrastructure is a necessity. Turning the calumet corridor and lake-front into catalysts of economic development will be imperative to the 10th ward's survival. Stopping Petcoke and other hazardous environmental substances is something that needs to happen on day one. Thankfully, many residents are also interested in improving the lives of their communities using the same strategies.
Q: Please tell us something about yourself that would surprise us.
I work in the same elementary school I attended as a child; Jane Addams elementary. In addition, all four of my children have graduated from Jane Addams as well. I started in Chicago Public Schools as a volunteer in my children's classrooms. After working with children I realized I wanted to do it full time. My first job was as a lunch lady in Chicago Public Schools. After my children were old enough, I returned to college to complete my undergraduate degree and Masters in counseling. Balancing a full-time job, four children, and college was challenging. However, it taught me a lot of lessons on facing adversity and achieving your goals.