Candidate questionnaires

Placeholder for Toni L. Foulkes

Toni L. Foulkes

Candidate for City Council, 16th Ward

Toni L. Foulkes

Candidate for City Council, 16th Ward

Placeholder for Toni L. Foulkes

Education: Bachelor of Applied Arts and Merchandising-Intercontinental University (London, England Atlanta, GA.)N

Occupation: Alderman-15th Ward

Home: Chicago

Age: Not answered

Past Political/Civic Experience: Not answered


Candidates running for City Council, 16th 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 often used 'scoop and toss' method of extending bond payments to pay for short-term expenses and other bond-related debt pushes our obligations down the road, creating an uncertain municipal financing future for years to come. Basically, I do not believe that this was the right approach, and this borrowing is hard to justify. Today the city is facing a difficult challenge with respect to its finances; however, it should not continue to only use private financing when issuing government bonds at lower interest rates remains an option. I joined with several of m City Council colleagues by voting against the multi-billion "scoop and toss" bond issue. Why? Primarily because I feel it inadvisable to reduce our bond payments over the short-term in exchange for paying higher, potentially more onerous rates in the future. Most likely, we will have to balance some moderate spending cuts, while using innovative approaches to generate new city revenues for today and tomorrow. I do not agree with the using of scarce public funds - - when our public schools are in financial crisis, and with growing citywide infrastructure needs looming before us - - to finance the new DePaul arena and entertainment complex in the South Loop. DePaul University is a private institution of higher education with a healthy endowment and strong alumni network of local leaders. In today's uncertain economic environment, the city of Chicago simply cannot justify spending $55 million of public taxpayer money to underwrite a privately-held venture like the DePaul project, while public schools and health clinics which served many Chicago families who depended upon their programs are closed due to a paucity of city resources. As another alternative, I would propose consideration of fees, and or taxes that are assessed according to users on a 'pro-rated consumption basis. As an example, the city of Chicago could institute a commuter tax for suburbanites who use Chicago roads and services. Perhaps a small fee could be assessed to suburban residents who avail themselves of our cultural offerings at Grant Park, Millennium Park, Navy Pier, Soldier Field and McCormick Place.

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.

Chicago's pension crisis did not develop in a short period of time, and it will not be resolved overnight. The city can begin to solve its pension crisis through a variety of suggested options: taking a measured approach to incrementally increasing spending on pensions until sufficient funding levels are established is one approach. First and foremost, we should avoid taking any additional pension holidays. That's what helped create this difficult situation in the first place. In addition, we should seriously strive to avoid shifting funds around, proverbially in a misguided attempt to hold off the future 'rainy day'. It's pouring now, and we need to aggressively research and use common-sense, financially viable approaches designed to reclaim a firm financial footing - - without removing existing benefits from current retirees and employees. The city made a deal with these workers. They kept up their end of the bargain by providing the required number of years of public service to the City of Chicago. Now, we must continue to honor our fiscal commitments to them as well. As difficult as this may be considered by those against new fees, we may need to consider a small levy on financial transactions, which can be utilized to retire a portion of the pension debt, while providing needed funds for our pension obligations. Using this approach, we could potentially significantly raise much-needed revenue, avoid reducing the economic health of the city's consumers and at the same time ensuring that our retired and existing workforce will reap the benefits of the money they have faithfully contributed, for their years of dedicated service when the time comes.

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.

Chicago is faced with numerous challenges - - primarily encouraging economic growth in blighted, decaying, often underperforming parts of south side neighborhoods that I represent, which sorely need redevelopment. Improving these areas sometimes requires public investment to reduce extra costs/risk that private development faces. TIF is one such development tool. The city has leveraged tens of millions in TIF funds over the last several years. That's good. However, many already financially stable neighborhoods such as the Loop, River North and other such areas have benefitted from TIF spending and project support, the areas which need it the most - - and for which the initial legislation was created, still need the economic stimulus benefits that TIFs have successfully created. My suggestions for improving TIF designations:  Enhanced Transparency in TIF District Creation & Expenditures - TIF District Oversight: The overall goals of the TIF program are both simple and laudable. TIFs are primarily designed to serve as the city's chief apparatus for bringing new and expanding existing economic development and enhance infrastructure investment to neighborhoods that couldn't otherwise attract them. Many of Chicago's wealthier neighborhoods have benefitted greatly from an abundance of TIF largesse. I would create a TIF Advisory Committee for each TIF in my Ward and a public member to represent the advisory committee to the City. Establishing this advisory committee would serve as a TIF oversight authority, comprised of local officials, community residents, leaders and young people to review TIF proposals, expenditures and strategic projects for the maximum benefit of those communities, businesses and individuals who need this infusion of capital resources the most.  Leveraging Excess TIF District Funds for Innovative Uses: Under the TIF law, funds can be shared between adjacent TIFs for specific redevelopment projects. Let's explore the targeted annual transfer of a percentage of TIF funds from the financially prosperous TIFS, to their neighboring areas still struggling for renewal. I strongly advocate for developing clear, transparent standards for new TIF districts. Establishing clear goals for utilization of TIF funds within specific districts is critical. I support mandated sunset provisions for these districts, once their useful lifespan has been reached. TIF districts have an important role in the city's future, but they are not the only tool in our economic development toolkit.  Limiting the Use of Public TIF Funds for Private Project Investment: Generally, I don't support using TIF funds for the Marriott Hotel and DePaul Basketball Arena. I advocate limiting public investment of city resources for proposed private projects, unless there is a designated revolving fund established to support specific city education, social service and/or quality of life enhancements - - to restore funding for art, music and physical education classes, (many have been cut due to budget restraints) in our public schools, or re-opening some closed city health clinics. TIF subsidies are funded by city taxpayers - - at-risk children, working families, local small and emerging businesses and vulnerable seniors deserve their fair share in this great city.

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 Chicago Tribune has, as many other governmental, civic, religious and community organizations, agencies and leaders, media and everyday residents have done over the last four decades, skillfully and comprehensively outlined a litany of issues and challenges facing today's urban Chicago metropolis. The in-depth series, 'Twelve Way to Heal a City' is the latest incarnation of these efforts aimed at providing for continued sustainability of this great city. Congratulations on your insightful and thought-provoking analysis of what's happened, how we got here, and what we collectively need to do to secure a firm future. After consideration of the interesting, innovative and creative, common-sense as well as some, although well-meaning - slightly questionable proposals, programs, initiatives and potential solutions highlighted in this Chicago Tribune series, it appears that the City of Chicago, like many metropolitan centers across the U.S., is obviously facing a multiplicity of economic, social, educational and public safety challenges. One thing however, stood out and provides the basis for my answer to which solutions would I champion. And that is simply this - - that whichever solutions those who care passionately about the long-term future and viability of Chicago propose, we must ALL start today, moving from talk, research and analysis to committed, compassionate and yes, sustained action! We must ALL work to ensure that all children in Chicago receive a world-class education that will prepare them to succeed in college and careers for rich and fulfilling lives in a vibrant and prosperous Midwestern city...We must ALL endeavor to keep our communities safe, secure and moving forward, led by our Police and Fire Departments, working WITH the communities in which they serve...Local businesses and corporations, large and small must EACH 'Continue to Commit to Chicago', and bravely venture across the city with new or expanded existing facilities, permanent jobs, employees and community support in ALL city neighborhoods, not just those which are well-known, ideally located and well-serviced...EVERY working individual/family must be fairly compensated for the work they produce...and surely the greatest minds in this city can find a REASONABLE & SHARED way to honor the pension commitments of their government retirees and employees, allowing the City, County, State and the Federal Government officials and elected leaders to find realistic ways to work TOGETHER to keep the economic, social engines of cities like Chicago alive and strong...When you think about the fact that so many interested Chicagoans cared enough to read, assess and respond to calls for innovative ideas to save and serve Chicago both today and in the future - - I'd have to say that if we can MAINTAIN that STRENGTH OF COMMUNITY INVOLVEMENT and this same RESILIENT SPIRIT, that is both willing to take a collective STAND for HOPE, ACTION and CHANGE, I'd say that the future of the City of Chicago will be a bright one indeed! Working together, we simply cannot lose!

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.

I co-sponsored, along with several City Council colleagues, an ordinance designed to give the Inspector General a budget, including limited police powers, general oversight over City Council, as well as limited subpoena powers for both the City Council and the Mayor's office. The City Council should maintain a well-funded, independent office of legislative inspector general, with the ability to investigate both the legislative and executive branches of city government.

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'm pleased that the schools in Chicago have continued to show academic improvements, but the job is hardly complete. The complexities of the state education funding formula, and the financial funding inequities between the City of Chicago and other areas of the state continue to negatively impact those the education system was designed to help - - our children. This will hardly help us build the next generation of strong residents and active civic leaders. As I indicated previously, TIF resources are often stripped away from property tax revenues, which thereby contribute to our persistent underfunding dilemma. This should be rectified by removing less TIF dollars from these revenues. I support an elected school board. The average everyday citizen, also known as the voters should have the opportunity to have their voices heard. After all, these are their children. In addition, Chicago is the only municipality in Illinois without an elected board. The massive school closings authorized by the appointed CPS school board were divisive, devastating to the affected communities and highly unpopular among city residents who expressed outrage, disbelief and a staunch, overwhelming opposition – yet the schools were closed anyway. The bitter after-effects still linger today in many neighborhoods, and the purported financial savings appear minimal at best. Yes, I believe that the longer school day and year offer the best opportunity for the students living in the City of Chicago. I also believe this expanded school time is best focused on core learning as opposed to more testing and recreational activities. In elementary and secondary education, our primary goal should be to ensure that all Chicago students graduate from high school prepared to succeed in college and careers. Today, our dropout rate is still unacceptably high. We can and must do better. NO – I join my constituents in their overwhelming and oft-stated belief that CPS should not further expand the number of charter schools. Once again, charter schools remove the voice of the voter, who are tax-paying residents living in the city, from the public discourse. First and foremost, the voters have significantly less oversight control over charter schools than over traditional public schools, which means that the all-important answerability is no longer there. Further, there is still no unquestionably quantifiable evidence that charter schools produce better educational results than our traditional public schools. Interrelated with the TIF discussion is the very real fact that for every tax dollar that goes to fund privately-owned and operated schools is a sorely needed dollar that is no longer available to support our under-financed public school system. We should also consider giving unused or excess TIF resources back to the public school system. This would go a long way to help CPS begin to close its massive budget gap.

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?

Since I've been Alderman, promoting and expanding economic development has been one of my key priorities -- no easy feat in my moderate-income southwest side communities, where preconceived negative perceptions often overwhelm actual reality. However, I have a firm belief that economic development initiatives are inextricably tied to improvements in public safety. If residents, existing and potential business owners and others don't feel safe in a neighborhood area, they will not come. While I am proud to report that we have successfully worked with community residents, CAPS, Block Clubs and neighborhood organizations and made significant progress in this area, thanks to the excellent cooperation and work of the 7th & 8th Police Districts, challenges remain. A prime example of this persistent residual fear and negative crime perceptions is last weekend's tragic and unfortunate killing of 15-year-old honor student, good kid and Johnson Academy sophomore Demario Bailey, who was walking on 63rd Street with his twin brother to a Saturday afternoon basketball game at their school - - not far from the proposed new Whole Foods market at 63rd & Halsted. Another example is the 'crash and grab' incident at the EZ Pawn on South Western Avenue. The business was devastated in the robbery, but community responses were less than sympathetic - - and why? Because the community made it clear that they did not want it in the first place. I listen to my community and work to accede to their wishes. It's a delicate balancing act. I work hard to bring new infrastructure improvements to the ward to make the area more attractive to residents, existing and potential business owners and employers. My staff and I talk to our businesses about their city service needs, and make sure that they receive them. Finally, I emphasize a mix of using various city and state resources, TIF funds and other support to bring jobs and opportunity to my ward.

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 was and remain a major proponent in the 'Fight for Fifteen' to raise the minimum wage for hard-working individuals and families struggling to get by in today's economy. While I supported the City Council vote to raise wages to the $13 level in incremental steps over the next several years, families are hurting now, and with rising living costs – by the time these increases take effect, we could be facing the same situation again. Raising the minimum wage is real for me, as I worked for many years at a major local grocer, and while I progressed into a management position with further education, diligence and hard work, I understand first-hand the issues and the concerns associated with 'living on or near the fiscal edge'. The bottom line is that we must seek and support ways in which to support our front line workers in this city and across the country with the same dedication we give tax breaks and other incentives to wealthy corporations doing business in Chicago. The 'Fight for Fifteen' continues.

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

I definitely encourage and support the building of the Lucas Museum in Chicago. The grand plan of Chicago as envisioned by Daniel Burnham and later generations of planning and civic leaders foresaw the current issues about building on the lakefront, and made plans to protect this precious resource. Thanks to their passionate commitment and perseverance, the City of Chicago has one of the most open, unobstructed shorelines in the nation and indeed the world. The Lakefront Protection Ordinance prohibits further private development east of Lake Shore Drive and I support the intention and spirit of this legislation.

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?

Police manpower is a key issue facing the city. Simply put - - Chicago needs to hire more police officers to improve public safety. The city is on track to hire 500 new officers; however, current estimates indicate that it actually needs to hire at least 1,000 more police personnel, merely to keep pace with recent attrition due to retirement, and other workplace transitions within the department. In today's public safety environment, Chicago Police Department (CPD) resources should be redeployed to support the expansion neighborhood police officer patrols, who will walk, cycle or drive a beat and develop key relationships with neighborhood residents, who also have a key role in keeping our communities safer. The newly redesigned CPD website make anonymous reports easier for concerned residents to facilitate, but that does not absolve a united front of citizens from working with elected officials and others to make our neighborhoods safer. In recent years, there has been a heavier reliance on targeted rapid response units and mobile SWAT teams to combat crime. This is somewhat reactionary and does not address the root causes of criminal activity. Perhaps a more advisable, and successful approach would be to invest in training officers to work in specific areas, where they can become familiar faces, and really understand and get to know the people who live there. I've instituted enhanced communication and interaction between the community and our police districts, working closely with CAPS, which has yielded positive results. I, as Alderman personally attend the monthly COMSTAT meetings to keep informed about current public safety issues and potential problems from the very beginning. Currently, the City of Chicago spends an average $100 million per year on police officer overtime. I believe that these dollars would be better invested in people - - how? By hiring and training new officers. We risk severely compromising public safety in the future if we keep doing things the same old way. Consider that a persistent focus on using overtime can have detrimental effects on the capabilities, morale and effectiveness of the city's dedicated police force. An overworked police, experiencing a high rate of professional burnout only exacerbates the potential for ill-advised actions, reactions and decision-making skills. We certainly do not want, or need to unintentionally create the possibility of another Ferguson, Missouri in Chicago. An understaffed, overworked police force also tends to increase the city's legal liability, resulting in a continual stream of multi-million dollar settlement awards arising from bad decisions and operational procedures - - which Chicago cannot continue to afford.

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

As currently constructed, the traffic light camera program has a positive advantage, coupled with some very real negative consequences for Chicago residents. On one hand, it helps to promote the overall concept of public safety, which is always a good thing in a major urban metropolis like Chicago. Conversely, the traffic light camera program - - has yet to be proven as an unqualified success as a public safety measure, and was quickly pushed through the City Council with limited committee or Aldermanic review or program oversight. Further, this initiative is viewed with considerable suspicion and negatively by many Chicagoans as an inequitable revenue generator for the city, which drastically impacts low-and moderate income residents, while yielding significant contract dollars for the outsourced private companies running the program. The lack of transparency throughout the implementation process reinforces these perceptions. Until significant reforms are instituted in the traffic light camera program, it will continue to be considered a potential 'anti-Chicago consumer boondoggle' and viewed with mistrust by city residents. I stand for city program openness, transparency and accountability to those I represent.

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

This is an issue which has been advanced and considered by some to be a potential source of cost savings within the City of Chicago. There are also questions as to what is the motivation behind this Council reduction? In addition, exactly how would this measure be implemented? The prospective cost savings are debatable when one considers that fewer Aldermen would represent larger numbers of city residents (significantly more than the current average 56,000), with considerably fewer resources and staff), and yet would still be required and rightly expected by the populace to provide quality services. This could potentially require increased overall costs over the long-term to provide an effective level or programs, services and resources. Generally, some continue to wrongly believe that the job of Alderman in today's multi-faceted is somehow not a full time public service endeavor. Nothing could be further from the truth. The Progressive Reform Caucus, of which I am a member, has outlined proposals which, if adopted, would result in some Aldermanic reductions to 35, while advocating maintaining the Ward structure with realistic boundaries to maintain neighborhood viability. This would result in an Aldermanic responsibility for average constituency of about 72,000 residents, and with significant demographic changes of the horizon for the city's populace ---- which is fine as long as the Alderman can get the support in terms of adequate funding and resources for infrastructure, programs and services for the people who put them in office. We are, after all the voice of the people and the first line of defense for our constituents.

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

The answer to both of these pertinent questions is one and the same - - the interrelated issues of providing improved neighborhood public safety, which ultimately impacts education, influences economic development and job creation, therefore affecting the quality of life for local residents in my ward. Crime, the media-inspired and intensified perception of crime and the daily reality of shootings, gang problems, domestic violence and sex-trafficking to name a few keep many good communities locked in a desperate, constantly repetitive cycle of personal and neighborhood fear, civic disengagement, lowered educational success, property values and high levels of economic disinvestment.

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

As an activist Alderman who works hard for her constituents, my community service skills were severely strained in one memorable situation - - Chicago experienced a violent and damaging summer weather storm about three and a half years ago during my first term. A transformer had blown up in the ward (as well as other parts of the city), and most of my block in the 15th Ward was in the dark. Although my staff and I worked nearly around the clock to address our constituents concerns - - finding resources to combat the lack of air conditioning for seniors, electricity for medical equipment needed by residents with medical challenges and replacing the spoiling food of many families took top priority, it took an out-of-town electrical company contracted by the city, about three days to fully restore electrical service in parts of the Ward. By day two - most of the power had been restored in most of the ward, but my block - - the block that the Alderman lives on - - remained dark for three days! I slept on the floor - - for 3 days, and during that entire time, my neighbors and I did not have lights...But a wonderful thing happened during this weather-related disaster...we re-discovered the 'back-in-the-day' value of community cooperation and interaction. In some ways it was a wonderful 'throwback' to the days when neighbors congregated outside together, on porches and in backyards - - greeting each other by name, talking, laughing and commiserating about the universal circumstances shared by each household. Kids played in the street, without fear of violence, while parents and next-door neighbors alike watched out for one and all. Suddenly age, race and social and economic persuasion mattered not at all. We were just people in our Chicago community. I'd promised my neighbors that if lights were not on by the next 1-2 days, more direct action would be taken. Late one night the lighting company contractor put in the wrong wattage in about 20 houses on my side of the block – and the newly restored lights went out again. The trucks were pulling off, and I went into direct action! You would have been surprised to see me running down the streets - - shoeless, and in my robe and pajamas at 4 in the morning, to let them know that the transformers. I ran faster than I ever did and was waving and screaming. I was the only one in the street doing so. But guess what? I was able to get their attention. The lighting situation was rectified, and by 9 am that following morning, electricity was restored!

City Council, 16th Ward