Candidate questionnaires

Portrait of Adolfo Mondragon

Adolfo Mondragon

Candidate for City Council, 15th Ward

Adolfo Mondragon

Candidate for City Council, 15th Ward

Portrait of Adolfo Mondragon

Education: *William H. Seward School, Chicago, IL, 1988, Diploma *Marie S. Curie High School, Chicago, IL, 1992, Diploma *Yale, New Haven, CT, 1996, B.A. in Political Science *University of Chicago Law School, Chicago, IL, 2001, J.D.

Occupation: Attorney

Home: Chicago

Age: Not answered

Past Political/Civic Experience: Not answered

Website: http://www.mondragon4alderman.com

Candidates running for City Council, 15th 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.

Needed more time to answer this question. In short, the borrowing was not justified. Moreover, the City's recalcitrant response to the investigation was shameful. Going forward, there has to be a pragmatic approach of both spending cuts and modest tax increases.


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 four pension plans are badly underfunded and reform and improved funding are needed to solve the crisis. First, the City needs to create either a new Defined Contribution plan or a new Defined Benefit plan with a less-costly tier of retirement benefits for both new and current employees because the present plans provide benefits that are far more generous and costly than those available in the private sector and because the City cannot afford to continue to incur these costs. The key is prospective implementation of a second-tier of benefits for current active employees as well as new employees because prospective implementation for only new Chicago employees would mean relatively little in current savings to Chicago and very little in reduced pension costs over the next several years under the current funding policy of the City. Our courts, however, will have the final say on that issue. Second, the City needs to increase annual funding of the pensions in accordance with actuarial standards to the level of the annual required contribution instead of in accordance to some notion of what the City can afford to pay. Any increased contributions necessary to attain the annual required contribution should be shared by the City and employees. These steps may be painful medicine, but it's in no one's interest to do nothing and let the pension funds run out of money.


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 support proposals to include TIF spending in overall city budgets; to measure the performance of TIF districts and projects; to hold developers accountable for providing agreed-upon benefits by including provisions in subsidy contracts that call for repayment of subsidies if targets are not met; to take more steps towards greater transparency; and to close districts once they fulfill their initial redevelopment plan. I would also support a TIF Surplus Ordinance requiring non-committed money in TIF districts that had revenues of more than $1 million to be part of a surplus that could be used to help out the Chicago Public Schools and to shore up the City pensions. I do not support expansion or extension of TIF districts because TIFs consume too much money--$450 to 500 million a year. Much of that money could be better spent to pay to educate our children and to care for the marginalized residents of our City. I do not support the $55 million allotment of TIF funds to buy land for a Marriot Hotel and DePaul basketball arena because the City should have used the Michael Reese site—which the City already purchased for $91 million using TIF dollars—for that project.


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 needed more time to answer this question.


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.

There should be just one, well-funded inspector general with oversight of both City Hall and of the City Council, who has subpoena powers enforceable in court and the ability to act on anonymous tips.


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 needed more time to answer this question.


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 new 15th Ward is one of the City's most marginalized wards and is in dire need of employment opportunities. I would pursue both traditional and non-traditional approaches to attract more employers to the new 15th Ward, including but not limited to the following. I would invest menu money in upgrading the ward's infrastructure to ease the flow of people and goods along the commercial thoroughfares, like the stretch of 47th Street between Ashland and Kedzie. I would support development of the industrial corridors located in the adjacent wards, such as the Stockyards Industrial Park. I would encourage contractors with job sites anywhere in the City to meet the requirements of the McLaughlin Ordinance by hiring residents of the ward. I would develop relationships with corporations, schools, government agencies, and NGOs that could train residents for the workforce. I would try to lure Grameen America, the microfinance organization founded by Nobel Peace Prize recipient Muhammad Yunus, to the ward to provide microloans, savings programs, financial education, and credit programs to the women of the 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 support the City Council's vote to increase the minimum wage in several steps to $13 an hour by 2019 because it's a pragmatic and long overdue measure to protect the workers at the lowest rung of the socio-economic ladder, which includes many of the residents of Chicago's 15th Ward. According to the Economic Policy Institute, even after the 41 percent increase in the federal minimum wage from $5.15 in 2006 to $7.25 in 2009, the minimum wage in 2009 was still 7.8 percent less than its $8.25 value in 1967 (in 2011 dollars). After two years of inflation, the minimum wage in 2011 was 12.1 percent below the 1967 level. Consequently, this gradual set of increases to the minimum wage will provide much needed purchasing power to Chicago residents who already live in a city with the highest cost of living in the Midwest and with a cost of living 20% higher than the state average. I don't dismiss lightly conservative concerns of the possible detrimental impacts an increase in the minimum wage may have on unemployment and inflation rates. That is why I don't support an immediate increase of the minimum wage to $15 an hour as such a measure may prove too much, too soon for the local economy.


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

No. I support the plan for an alternate site at the McCormick Place Marshalling Yards because it at once keeps the Lucas Museum near the lakefront and prevents overcrowding on a portion of the lakefront that is already packed with large buildings. It's a win-win. Moreover, there are several added benefits to locating the Lucas Museum at the alternate site. First, the alternate site is easier to reach by public transportation and by cars than the current location. Second, the alternate site would be more economically transformative than the chosen site because it would generate development in the adjacent neighborhood of Bronzeville. Third, the alternative site can revitalize the near Southside by linking the Museum Campus to its north with the Science and Industry Museum and the University of Chicago campus to its south.


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 needed more time to answer this question. There is statistical evidence suggesting that reducing recidivism by providing employment training, supportive service, and educational programming to diversion candidates and returning citizens lowers crime rates and improves public safety. These solutions, however, are best tackled at the state and county level because those entities run the jail and prison system. In terms of local policing methods, as a civil libertarian and criminal defense attorney, I am against the implementation of a "broken windows" policy because it results in over-policing and mass incarceration for relatively minor offenses that disproportionately target poor, black and Hispanic residents. The death of Eric Garner in New York City epitomizes the failures of the "broken windows" theory. A better approach may be to give community oriented policing a second chance. This time, however, the City should bolster the program with foot patrols and home visits


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

Before I can support Chicago's Traffic Light Camera program, the City must satisfactorily address several key issues. First, the City must implement measures that will guarantee motorists their due process right to receive adequate notice before the City changes the rules of play. The City must never again surreptitiously lower the 3-second threshold or the trigger speed of 15 mph. The public's confidence in the program is contingent on fair enforcement of the law and the City's gross missteps have convinced many that the program's primary aim is to raise revenue instead of to improve safety. Second, the City must stop shifting the burden of proof at administrative hearings. As a threshold matter, the City must present testimony from an employee abreast of the working conditions at the time of the alleged violations of the traffic lights at issue to rule out the kind of malfunctions that caused the spikes of tickets at 800 West Fullerton and 6200 North Lincoln Avenue. It need not be the employee that calibrated or repaired the traffic light, but someone with overall knowledge of the working conditions even if it's based on second-hand information. The $100 fine for a red-light ticket is a hefty cost for most motorists and, therefore, it's important that motorists who take time to challenge their ticket get a fair hearing with a presumption of innocence. Third, the City must re-evaluate every intersection where a camera is installed in an attempt to drastically reduce if not eliminate the rear-end crashes that negate the camera-attributed benefits of decreased right-angle crashes. The camera program is not worth keeping if it has no overall benefit to public safety.


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

Yes. Chicago aldermen represent far less constituents than their counterparts in New York City, Los Angeles, Houston, Phoenix, Philadelphia, San Antonio, Dallas, and San Jose. According to the Better Government Association, Chicago alderman represent approximately 57,000 constituents while council members in New York City represent approximately 164,000 constituents and council members in Los Angeles represent approximately 250,000 constituents. Consequently, reducing the number of alderman in the City of Chicago would be a reasonable manner of streamlining government. Accordingly, I would support an effort to reduce the City Council by half. This measure would save the City 2.7 million dollars in aldermanic salaries, 4.4 million dollars in salaries for aldermanic aides, and 1.8 million dollars in discretional expense accounts for alderman. On top of those savings, consolidating wards would also cut in half offices of ward superintendents. These savings would not solve the City's financial problems, but they would be a step in the right direction.


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

The 15th Ward is comprised of 3 distinct communities. Brighton Park is a lower middle class, Latino neighborhood. West Englewood is an urban poor, African-American neighborhood. Back of the Yards is an immigrant, working-poor neighborhood. The problems in each neighborhood have slightly different dynamics, but the one thing they all have in common is that these neighborhoods are marginalized communities. Residents of the ward are concerned with a number of issues, but they are most concerned with the education of their children, the high unemployment they suffer, and the violent crime that is a part of their daily life. These issues, of course, are interconnected. Without a good education, one cannot get a good job, and without a good job, one is susceptible to committing crimes or being the victim of crimes. It is a vicious cycle akin to that which the Nobel-Laureate Gunnar Myrdal wrote about in the American Dilemma so many years ago. As Myrdal, I believe that the key to breaking out of the vicious cycle is education. I can attest to this because I grew up in a working poor family in the Back of the Yards and was able to overcome poverty though educational success. But, unlike others, I did not use my education as a ticket out of the neighborhood. I used it to give back. Education reform is a long-term endeavor. It's a difficult issue to tackle, but it will be my priority to raise the standards in the 15th Ward so that posterity can break out of the vicious cycle and enjoy the American Creed.


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

Although I have struggled with weight my whole life, I became an avid runner four years ago. I try to run 10 to 15 miles a week and have completed 2 Chicago Marathons and over 10 half marathons since 2010.