Candidate questionnaires

Portrait of William D. Burns

William D. Burns

Candidate for City Council, 4th Ward

William D. Burns

Candidate for City Council, 4th Ward

Portrait of William D. Burns

Education: University of Chicago B.A. University of Chicago M.A.

Occupation: Not answered

Home: Chicago

Age: Not answered

Past Political/Civic Experience: Not answered


Candidates running for City Council, 4th 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.

Since the Great Recession, the City of Chicago has faced a reckoning with the bills for spending in previous years. The good news is that the City has turned and faced many of its fiscal challenges. A bill to reduce the City's pension liabilities in the Municipal and Labor funds is law. The structural deficit the City faced in 2011 was 654.8 million and the 2015 budget is expected to have a deficit of 297 million. We have begun to align spending with available revenue. We must continue to find efficiencies where possible, but we must protect investments in public safety, neighborhood development, and human services. We also need Washington and Springfield to do their fair share to support cities.

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.

Unfortunately the solution to reducing Chicago's unfunded fire and police pension liability will require shared sacrifice – reasonable changes to benefits from our employees, and finding a dedicated revenue stream to fund the systems in out years. Reductions in benefits and revenue decisions should be negotiated between police, fire, and the City of Chicago, as were the changes to the Municipal and Labor pension funds.

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 believe that transparency and accountability are key watchwords for the City's TIF program. TIF projects should be projects that would not otherwise occur without public investment, but at a time when the federal government and Springfield are failing to invest in infrastructure projects, they are critical for economic development in underserved areas. But that means that TIF projects should be focused in neighborhoods outside of the Central Business District (CBD). Moreover, if the public is investing in TIF development deals, then the public should have the right to a return on the investment. TIF projects should meet or exceed Chicago's minority and woman owned business participation goals. TIF funded projects should also include neighborhood hiring and goals for minority and woman employees. All TIF districts should have metrics for development goals and be periodically reviewed to ensure that TIF projects meet the goals set. TIF has served a vital role in economic development projects in my ward at 47th and Cottage Grove (Shops and Lofts), 51st and Lake Park Avenue (City Hyde Park), and Harper Court. TIF funding will also be used to build a new 38th Street at King Drive to serve Oakwood Shores and the planned Mariano's development. TIF is part of the financing of a new park district field house at 36th and Cottage Grove. I am fairly certain that without TIF that none of these projects would have occurred. I supported the use of TIF for the McCormick Place/DePaul Arena land acquisition because McCormick Place is one of the key economic engines for Chicago and Illinois. Building more hotel rooms and space for shows will allow McCormick Place to compete with other convention centers like Las Vegas and Orlando.

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 think there are many great ideas offered by the Tribune Editorial Board to move Chicago forward. I am big believer in investing in human capital. Early childhood education, better neighborhood schools, and improving public safety are critical. I also believe that cities thrive when they innovate – that's why the Digital Lab at Goose Island, 1871, and the Chicago Innovation Exchange are so important. These, and other tech and entrepreneurial centers, will create the businesses and jobs of Chicago's future – guaranteeing our city's viability and vitality. We must also recognize that Chicago thrives because of a strong working class. The tourism, retail, restaurant, and medical sectors depend on unskilled and semi-skilled labor. Increasing the minimum wage has a direct impact on those workers by increasing their incomes. Higher wages for lower income workers reduces public aid expenditures and makes it easier for lower income workers to live in the city. Finally, Chicago must also deal with the ramifications of its painful history of racism and discrimination, because many of our social problems stem from racial segregation and the intense concentration of low income Chicagoans to discrete neighborhoods. Rewriting the affordable requirements ordinance (ARO) is an essential tool to build more affordable housing in communities of opportunity.

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 Office of the Legislative Inspector General should be abolished and its function merged into the Executive Inspector General's office. As the only alderman to serve on the Mayor's Ethics Reform Task Force, I can tell the Tribune Editorial Board that the Council has strengthened several provisions of the Ethics Ordinance including gift ban, statements of economic interest, and procedures for adjudicating ethics violations.

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 Chicago Public Schools (CPS) suffers because of the on-going crisis in education funding at the state level. For too many years the portion of funding for public schools in Illinois that comes from the state has consistently ranked at 49 of the 50 states. The lack of state support creates additional budgetary pressures for CPS. It should also be noted that the State of Illinois is solely responsible for the downstate Teachers Retirement System (TRS) and consistently underfunds the Chicago Teachers Pension Fund (CTPF). Even if the State restored its full contribution to CTPF and CPS, the Chicago Teachers Union will also need to agree to pension reform plan that would include a reduction in pension benefits for current annuitants. In the Fourth Ward, public schools are improving. Level Three schools have moved to Level Two and in some cases to Level One. The driver in all of these schools has been the principal. Principals who understand how to motivate their teachers, and leverage community assets do well. I rely on my principals to ask me how I can help advocate for resources from CPS and the private sector for the school. I support a longer school day and year. CPS must create more high quality open enrollment schools. Not every parent can afford private schools. Not every child can test into a selective enrollment school and not every neighborhood has a good school. Therefore, charter schools have to be part of the mix of school options. Mayoral control of the Chicago Public Schools is a double-edged sword. The right mayor, vested with those powers, can be a singular force for improving teaching and learning and serves a singular point of accountability. But there is an incongruity in that CPS is the only school district in the state where the mayor has control of the public school system as compared to every other school district in the state where a democratically elected school board controls the public schools. I am open to supporting a hybrid system of government where the mayor would appoint some members of the school board and the public could elect a number as well. I do think that if we want to increase democratic participation in public education that we would do well to revisit the purpose and role of the Local School Council (LSC). How can LSCs be strengthened? What additional powers could be devolved to principals and LSCs? Finally, I would like to know what data or reports exist on school system governance models and education outcomes. Do elected school boards lead to better education outcomes than mayoral control systems?

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?

Business people want predictability and a partner from the government – not an impediment. My office makes it a priority to attract development by leveraging the office to ensure that the ward receives the retail and residential amenities that residents have sought. I have attended the International Conference of Shopping Centers (ICSC) convention and events. When entrepreneurs seek to open businesses in my ward, I meet with them as quickly as possible. If I make a commitment to support a project, I keep my word. I also inform developers when potential retailers are counter to community values or hurtful to long existing businesses. In short, I'm a straight shooter, and I have found that business people appreciate understanding exactly where they may stand with the community and my office. Working with community development corporations, institutional partners and special service areas (SSAs) we have invested in placemaking, beautification, neighborhood festivals, and enhanced cleaning services to make commercial corridors more attractive. We've also held developers accountable. We've ensured that new residential developments include affordable housing. We've made sure that commercial development has included community input and hired workers from the community. We believe that good community partnership is good business.

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.

Working Chicagoans deserve a raise. They've waited for action in Springfield. They've waited for action in Washington. And while they've waited, wages have remained stagnant and the cost of living continues to increase. They've waited long enough. I was very proud to join 43 of my colleagues to vote on a minimum wage for the City of Chicago that gives 400,000 workers a raise and puts $800 million back into our local economy. The ordinance to raise the minimum wage will fairly compensate work in a responsible way. In addition to a minimum wage of $13 per hour by the year 2019, the tip credit is increased from $4.95 per hour to $5.95 per hour, and once the minimum wage and tip credit levels are reached these levels will be adjusted annually for inflation. The minimum wage level is phased in accordance with pending legislation in Springfield to make it easier for businesses to comply. Many of the current state exemptions to the minimum wage – including youth between 16 and 18, the training wage, and wages for disabled workers have been retained. The substitute ordinance now includes domestic workers who have frequently been exempted from many labor law protections. The ordinance also provides strong remedies for employees whose wages are stolen by their employers. Simply put, it puts more money in the pockets of those who need it most in a way that won't stifle the growth of businesses that are just now recovering from the Great Recession. For the last few decades, national policies that have sought to grow the economy from the top down have failed. Money that finds its way to the top has a tendency to stay there. It's not used for groceries, for gas or for other basic amenities that hourly workers currently struggle to buy. Growing an economy from the bottom up gives folks a fighting chance. But just as important, growing an economy from the bottom up strengthens demand goods and service which helps to create more business, more jobs and more money that goes back into the local economy. Raising Chicago's minimum wage is a critical first step in growing our local middle class. I will continue to fight for other measures that will also benefit working Chicagoans like expanding the Earned Income Tax Credit and urging Springfield to adopt a graduated income tax.

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

I am not opposed to the proposed location of the Lucas Museum of Narrative Art. Obviously, the museum must meet the requirements of the Lakefront Protection Ordinance. I do have concerns about the proposed design of the museum, and would like to learn more information about the improvement in green space for the Museum Campus. Additionally, a plan to move people around the Museum Campus and getting them to the site needs to be developed.

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?

Most crimes are committed by young people. Young people need supervised activities like mentoring, after school programs, and employment. The Crime Lab at the University of Chicago has shown, empirically, that these interventions have demonstrable impact on reducing criminality in young people. Second we need involved police officers who are willing to get out of their cars and interact with the public. Third, we need everyday people to call 911. There are times when constituents complain about a drug house or other illicit activity, but the police have no calls for service. Calls for service highlight to police supervisors that there are problem areas for that require additional police resources. Fourth, the community and alderman have to go after bad property owners and businesses in the ward. Working with a community development corporation and block clubs I was able to revoke the licenses of a liquor store that featured prostitution, drug dealing, and gun crimes. Apartment building owners and property management companies must be held accountable for the behavior of their tenants. Tenants who commit crimes have to be evicted by their landlords. I have met with apartment building owners in response to community concerns about tenants and security. On a monthly basis apartment building owners, CHA, and the Chicago Police Department meet with my office to share information on problem tenants and intelligence on gang activity.

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

The traffic light camera program has been mired in scandal, given the charges pending against Redflex and former CDOT staff. The data that some red lights had faster yellow lights than recommended by USDOT is troubling. These are problems that can be fixed. Previously issued tickets can be examined. I think the administration must do everything in its power to restore confidence in the fairness of the program. The honest truth is the red light camera revenue is an important component of the city's revenue stream and opponents to the program have not identified an alternative source of revenue.

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

If Chicago reduced the number of aldermen in the City Council, then the entire structure of city government would need to change. Currently, aldermen possess executive and legislative power in their wards. Aldermen make decisions every day on zoning, resource allocation, land disposition, and permitting. There is also the cultural relationship that Chicagoans have with the aldermanic office. Constituents demand the opportunity to spend time with their alderman – to see the tree that needs to be trimmed, the street that should be repaved, or a stop sign that should be installed. Aldermen are expected to weigh in on parks, schools, and, where applicable, public housing. The current demands and decisions required of the office suggest that a large council with smallish constituencies is necessary. If, however, the office of alderman were to become largely a legislative/oversight function then the council could become smaller with larger constituencies. But I would offer a word of support for the current system. In the neighborhoods, City Hall might as well be on a different planet. For some constituents their voices carry no weight with a utility company ready to cut off their service, an indifferent government bureaucrat, or a bank ready to foreclose on their home. The alderman, in a city of nearly three million, can advocate for the everyday person and the needs of the community. I suppose that's why I like what I do so much. You become, if you are willing, part of the warp and woof of the city itself.

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

The Fourth Ward is one of the most diverse wards in Chicago. Blacks, whites, Asians, Latinos, straight, LGBT, poor, middle class, and wealthy all live cheek by jowl. My highest priority is to build a community from the basis of our great diversity. Communities are built through amenities like parks, shopping, housing, streetscapes which bring people together and encourage usage by all members of the polity. The greatest concern I hear from residents of my ward their desire for the services and amenities is just as valid as the needs as the CBD. My focus is keeping our ward vibrant and competitive, while making sure that long term stakeholders and new residents consider our ward a great place to live, work, and raise a family.

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

I frequently ride Divvy bikes.