Candidate questionnaires

Portrait of Alonso Zaragoza

Alonso Zaragoza

Candidate for City Council, 36th Ward

Alonso Zaragoza

Candidate for City Council, 36th Ward

Portrait of Alonso Zaragoza

Education: Bachelor's degree in Accounting from UIC. Master's degree in Library & Information Science from Dominican University.

Occupation: Reference Librarian

Home: Chicago

Age: Not answered

Past Political/Civic Experience: Not answered

Website: http://www.ward36.com


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.

Long-term bonds are meant to be used for lasting public works not short term projects. This type of borrowing was not justified. The City of Chicago needs to start paying off its debt instead of letting that debt accumulate interest and leaving that burden for future generations of Chicagoans to deal with. The City Council must be more frugal with taxpayer money. We must pay off our financial obligations but can't just cut our way through this debt. To pay our debt and provide necessary city services, I believe that the Mayor and City Council owe it to Chicagoans to come up with additional revenue streams that will not put a larger financial burden on Chicagoans, especially on those that can least afford it. Increased taxes are possible solutions after all additional revenue streams have been considered. Ideas for additional revenue streams that I would consider are reforming the TIF system, creating a Chicago owned casino, speeding up the progress of the Peotone airport, a carefully structured commuter tax, a financial transaction tax, and recouping taxpayer money that was lost during CPS' interest rate swap arrangements. We can also look at the possibility of bringing in revenue from suburbanites that park their vehicles on Chicago streets overnight, similar to the tickets that Chicagoans get when we park our vehicles in any of the suburbs overnight.


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.

The City of Chicago has the contractual and moral obligation to properly fund the police and fire (and other) pension funds. The City needs to make its expected actuarial required contribution (ARC) payments as is now required by law. Increased benefit costs to police officers fire fighters and investments proceeds will not alone solve the problem. Pension changes that I support would affect new hires but benefits for retirees and current employees should not change. The City needs to find additional sources of revenues and direct them towards the massive pension debt that Chicago leadership has created for itself. TIF money can be used to help shore up the pension funds as can revenue that is created by building a casino in Chicago and the Peotone airport. A carefully structured commuter tax, a financial transaction tax, and recouping taxpayer money that was lost during CPS' interest rate swap arrangements brings in additional revenue that can help alleviate the pension problem. If these solutions are not enough, as a last resort, we will need to raise taxes to make sure that Chicago pays off its obligations and continues to function.


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 TIF system needs reform. We need a complete audit and accounting of Chicago's TIF program. The program is not transparent enough and the City should o a better job of letting taxpayers know where their money is going to and have input on the process. The responsibility of informing taxpayers about how a TIF functions belongs to the City, not to activists like Tom Tresser. Excess TIF money should be returned to the libraries, schools, parks, and other local units of governments that need the lost tax revenue to operate properly. TIF money should also be used primarily in communities that are truly blighted to create economic opportunities all over Chicago, not just downtown. We should also guarantee that jobs created with TIF money go towards Chicagoans and not suburban residents. I would not support expansions of TIF districts in my ward. I certainly do not support the use of TIF money for Marriott or Depaul.


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.

Brian Brady, of the Mikva Challenge, had one of the best ideas from the 12 Ways To Heal a City proposals. Chicago needs to engage its youth and allow them to have more input in local government. The idea of having youth leadership councils in every ward would fill a void in many neighborhoods for students that want to participate in the democratic process. It would create a youth leadership pipeline that will help increase youth voter turnout and increase total voter turnout and civic participation in general. One idea that I have been considering would fall into various categories in the 12 Ways to Heal a City proposal. The breaking of the parking meter contract. The parking meter has been a bane to residents and businesses in my Ward and throughout the city. In my neighborhood, it costs $5 to buy a torta and a drink for lunch but almost $3 extra to park in front of the restaurant. That drives many residents towards Elmwood Park for a casual meal or to a restaurant with free parking. What If the City of Chicago decided to change the fine for failure to pay the parking meter from $60 to $5? Chicagoans would have the option of either paying the high hourly rate that the parking meter company charges or the flat $5 Chicago parking ticket online when they get home. The parking meter contract does not require the City to have a set fine for the parking tickets only to enforce a fine and residents in mass could make the decision to pay the city ticket instead of the meters. This would cause the parking meter company millions in revenue and make them seek a fair renegotiation of the contract.


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 legislative inspector general should be abolished and the city inspector general should be given the power to investigate all alderman and their staff. The City Council should pass an ordinance that grants stronger authority to the city inspector general and allows him to scrutinize alderman and their staff and help regain the trust of taxpayers.


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 don't believe that Chicago Public Schools are performing at the level that taxpayers deserve. Chicago public Schools is not equitable funding all of our schools and this is hurting our performance. CPS needs to concentrate on strengthening existing public schools before they can open up additional schools including charter schools. Members of the Board of Education should be elected by voters and not appointed by the Mayor and meetings should be held at night or on weekends to allow for more community participation. I would support the longer school day If it was more structured and If CPS provided more funding to make sure that those longer hours are efficiently used and increase the performance of students. The number of charter schools should not be expanded. The charter schools that are already open are already creating connections to their community and should remain but additional charter schools shouldn't be opened.


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?

An Alderman has incredible influence in attracting employers to their ward. As Alderman, I will have a supportive staff that guides potential new business owners through the City's permit process. Our Ward office will also have computers available to ward residents with resume software installed and offer etiquette workshops so that ward residents will be prepared for job fairs and be more attractive to employers. I will personally be involved in the business community and will help create a chamber of commerce in the ward, something that is severely lacking. I will also let employers know that they are not going to be threatened by their new Alderman for failing to make political contributions or putting up campaign signs on windows, the way past aldermen have. I will also use available TIF money to attract businesses into our ward and to beautify our business districts.


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 vote to increase the minimum wage to $13 an hour. I do think that the $13 an hour level should be reached earlier than 2019. Many of the residents in my ward work for the minimum wage and deserve a decent living wage.


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 Art should be built but not on the current proposed location. If it needs to be built on the Lakefront, then it should be built further south of McCormick Place between 26th and 31st Street. That location would be better for visitors, possibly prevent a lawsuit, provide an economic boost to the Bronzeville neighborhood, and still have a beautiful view of the lake.


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?

The Chicago Police Department need to do better in my ward. We have seen an increase of violent crime in the Belmont-Cragin community and CPD needs to be more efficient to keep our streets safe. To ensure adequate police coverage across the city, I will advocate for the hiring of additional police officers spread across all the police districts. I will also propose the hiring of retired police officers (at a negotiated hourly rate) to perform routine administrative work within our districts, so that our patrolman can get out of the police stations and into the neighborhoods where they can do the most good. I would also strengthen the gutted C.A.P.S program and have meetings every month again instead of just once a month. The community needs an effective way to build a continuous working relationship with the police officers that serve their community. Residents provide much needed information for police to solve crimes but there is a serious lack of trust between the community and police and a stronger C.A.P.S. program can help rebuild that trust. I have been actively involved in crime prevention in my ward. As a life-long ward resident, I have been active in beat meetings and have hosted various community safety meetings at parks and local schools. Earlier this year, I helped organize a large safety meeting when a 15 year old ward resident was brutally assaulted on the way to school right near my house. At the meeting, I advocated reform of the Safe Passage program and spoke to CNN about the need for more local control of hiring of Safe Passage workers and the routes that they patrol.


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

I do not support the traffic light camera program. The program is designed to create revenue for the city not for safety. In my neighborhood, we have one camera on Grand and Central across from the 25th Police district that is hidden by several trees and light poles and not visible until after a car has crossed the intersection. If that camera was truly meant to slow drivers down, they would make the camera far more visible and posts warning signs at least a block prior to reaching the camera. There are far more viable alternatives to slowing drivers down that are not being used.


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

No we should not reduce the number of alderman in the City Council. Reducing the number of alderman will make it far harder to run for office and win an election. If the ward boundaries were doubled, a candidate would need to raise more special interest money and certainly be beholden to politicians with large political organizations to win. We need more independent leaders running for office not more rubberstamp aldermen.


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

My main priorities for improving my Ward are education and crime, municipal debt and financial responsibilities, privatization of taxpayer owned assets, and improving city services. The greatest concern that I have heard while canvassing my ward are the lack of basic city services like tree trimming and graffiti removal.


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

I am an avid reader of comic books and have an impressive collection of Golden Age comics in my collection.