Candidate for City Council, 47th Ward
Education: B.A. Religion and Philosophy - Missouri Valley College MPA Public Administration - Illinois Institute of Technology M.Sc. Threat and Response Management - University of Chicago M.A. Social Service Administration - University of Chicago - (exp. 2015) US State Department Scholar - 2009
Occupation: Alderman of 47th Ward
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.
The underlying issue with all financial matters impacting the City of Chicago is the lack of a healthy tension between the executive and legislative branches in City government. In December of 2013, the City Council passed legislation to create an independent budget office for City Council, the City Council Office of Financial Analysis (COFA). I was one of the lead sponsors of the legislation and spent a better part of my first term pushing for this major reform. The purpose of this office is to provide independent analyses of all proposed major public policy proposals introduced by the Mayor or Aldermen, public/private partnerships, asset leases, the annual budget, and the City's financial condition – including long-term debt. The simple truth is, in order to address the financial recklessness of the past more borrowing in the short term was needed. Some bond funds were used to settle legal judgments and some debt was refinanced with a scoop and toss strategy. This is not good public policy. However, the fact remains that the City has been settling many of the decades-old Jon Burge torture cases. Scoop and toss as a refinancing tool is not sound policy. Unfortunately, the City did not have much choice. Debt payments were set to escalate over two years. The escalation and increase in payments was so great that when coupled with the pension obligations (if there is no pension reform) and projected deficits, the cuts to City services and the increases in property taxes would have had catastrophic impact on Chicagoans. The City has also been climbing out of a financial mess created by selling off assets like the parking meters to plug budget deficits between FY2000-2010. The only way to settle these lawsuits without using bond money would require more cuts to City service. I don't like this aspect of the borrowing package but we are playing with the hand we were dealt and absent any new revenue, the borrowing prevented massive service cuts. While we are making tough decisions (some very painful), we cannot deal with problems built up over decades in just four years. The good news is, we are putting money back into the rainy day fund, adding funding to services, and constantly implementing service efficiencies to keep costs down. Had COFA been in place over the last decade, City Council could have relied on the COFA director to provide expert opinion and advice on the City's long-term debt, the use of bond funds, and sound policy and management practices to ensure bond funds are used properly and worked with City Council to ensure better oversight over taxpayer funds. Instead, previous administrations were able to leverage an unwillingness to make tough decisions to increase the City's debt load to pay for services instead of using the funds to make long-term investments in infrastructure. I am committed to reforming City Hall in ways which ensure City Council has more oversight over the budget and financial matters.
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 police and fire pension crisis is a statewide issue. Nearly every municipality in the State of Illinois and their corresponding pension funds for police and fire are facing crises of catastrophic proportions. Public safety personnel (across Illinois) have paid into a pension system – and depend on their pensions for retirement security as most do not qualify for Social Security benefits. Chicago pension systems for police and fire are quickly spiraling out of control; in order to SAVE pensions for the men and women of the Chicago Police Department and Chicago Fire Department, Chicago must work with suburban and downstate municipalities to reform (identify cost savings) for current employees and retirees AND identify revenue to increase payments into the pension systems. But let me be clear, if there is no solution in Springfield, the City of Chicago will have to raise property taxes, cut services, or some combination of both. Here are specific ideas: -The State of Illinois should enact a progressive income tax and allocate additional revenue for pension payments through the Local Government Distributive Fund. The additional funds should be allocated to dedicated accounts to be used for pension payments. -Increase employee contributions -Eliminate compounded COLAs for applicable pension funds -Identify reforms to healthcare plans – focus on wellness for current employees and retirees
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.
My approach to allocating 47th Ward TIF funds is very simple --direct TIF dollars to neighborhood schools, parks, libraries, and public infrastructure. Why? By investing public dollars in schools, parks, and public infrastructure, economic development will always follow. The result: great schools, rising property values, new businesses, jobs, and a thriving community. To that end, since 2011, my office has allocated over $44 million in 47th Ward TIF dollars for the following projects: •Lake View High School $2 million for STEM Program •Coonley Elementary $16.5 million for new addition •McPherson Elementary $400k for new outdoor campus •Kerry Wood Cubs Field $1.25 million for first IHSA baseball stadium •Clark Park $3.5 million for soccer field, site remediation, etc. •Clark Park Boat House $1.25 million •Welles Park $1.33 million for park renovations •Lawrence Avenue Streetscape $13 million the Lawrence Avenue Streetscape •Sulzer Regional Library $5 million for renovations •Divvy stations $100k •Green Alley Construction $227k I plan on using the balance of the years remaining in 47th Ward TIF districts for investments to Lake View High School, Amundsen High School, McPherson Elementary, Waters Elementary, Revere Park, Chase Park, Welles Park, and in other public institutions/infrastructure. All 47th Ward TIF districts should be retired at the end of their terms (as required by TIF enabling legislation). I also believe that TIFs should be scrubbed every year and the balance of those funds should be declared surplus and returned to original taxing bodies. Currently, Mayor Emanuel has issued an executive order which requires an annual surplus. I plan on introducing legislation to codify and expand the executive order – the legislation will codify language which ensures all TIF dollars not committed to projects and debt are declared surplus on annual basis. In 2013, I passed the TIF Accountability Ordinance with Ald. Michele Smith, Ald. Pat Dowell, and others. This legislation requires the City to publish all the promises made by developers and private entities to the City in exchange for City incentives. The TIF Accountability Ordinance requires those promises to be published online and requires the City to verify the results of the promises. By creating a transparency and audit requirement, TIFs are less likely to be abused. Simply put, the ordinance will help ensure bad deals are never repeated, allow the City to claw-back funds when promises are not kept, and ensure honest actors can continue to access city incentive programs. In sum, my approach to using TIF funds has been fundamentally different. I promised to direct TIF funds to parks, schools, libraries, and public infrastructure. And over $40 million in TIF funding went to public projects in the 47th ward. As a result, new businesses are opening in the ward, new jobs are coming online, and property values are increasing. In my second term, I will continue to direct TIF funds to neighborhood schools to complete my vision for a neighborhood K-12 system.
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 support all the ideas put forward in "12 ways to heal a city." But one effort not listed is the creation of neighborhood K-12 school systems across the City of Chicago. I have been working on this issue in the 47th Ward for nearly four years. Why? For families with means and portability, the suburbs become the destination for those seeking to flee the stress of selective enrollment admissions and testing. Fleeing families seek out the suburbs in search of K-12 systems – these systems offer more stability and equity. Kids go to school with their siblings, neighbors and friends from K-12. Kids can still be tracked or take accelerated or AP programs in high school. But they don't have to earn perfect grades from first grade through eighth grade, and test with perfect scores to gain admission to a good high school. In the suburbs, everyone goes to neighborhood elementary schools. And after graduating from elementary school or middle school, everyone goes to the neighborhood high school. This stability removes years of stress on families and students – and families get this for one tax bill. The equation in suburbs around the country is simple. Build a community around K-12 school systems and people will move to the community. Big cities have ignored this equation and have instead relied on a failed calculus relying on school choice, competition, and pitting schools against one another. The truth is, all families want the same thing – rich or not – families want solid schools from K-12. It is time we give families in the City what is sought after in the suburbs. My idea for healing the city is to move away from school choice and selective enrollment and work towards building community around our neighborhood elementary schools and high schools. We need to move beyond clumping the best of the best students in ten high schools and work towards providing more resources to neighborhood schools and make schools the focal point for all community and economic development. In the 47th Ward, GROW47 is working. There is no reason why a similar effort could not be scaled across the City.
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 am one of the lead sponsors of an ordinance to give oversight over City Council to the City of Chicago's Inspector General. I have been working with my colleagues to build a coalition around the legislation. Now we need a hearing. I remain hopeful that our proposed reforms will be heard prior in the near future. I believe Chicago should explore public financing of aldermanic and mayoral campaigns.
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?
Across America, education reformers trumpet market-based school reforms targeted at individual schools. Schools are forced to compete with one another for students and resources. Conversely, suburban districts grow communities by building K-12 systems. Free market principals ensure some win and some lose; but schools aren't businesses and shouldn't be set up to lose. And when free market principles are applied to individual schools, reformers ignore what families intuitively seek out when they move to the suburbs – stability and equity. There are no selective enrollment tests. There is no stress surrounding getting into a good high school. Instead, children develop their academic and extra-curricular interests more naturally and every child has access to the same resources. Equity creates stability and stability nets everyone higher property values and strong economic development. Creating neighborhood K-12 systems across Chicago begins with you and me. And it begins with shaping our perception of neighborhood schools. Everyone has to get involved—parents, homeowners, renters, business owners, etc. It doesn't matter if you have children. We must move away from the idea that there are only ten great high schools in Chicago. Many people believe the only way their child will get into the right college is to get into a selective enrollment high school. This logic is absurd, especially when nearly 18,000 students apply for 3,200 spots, and high schools across the city are sending students to great colleges. When we clump the students with the best test scores and the best grades in a few schools, we create a market for seats. This market drives extra resources to selective enrollment schools and unfairly pits neighborhood schools against selective enrollment schools. And each year we reinforce this market. Finally, government (across all levels) must do its part. 1.CPS should support and provide resources to communities as they organize around their neighborhood schools e.g. support neighborhood school fairs. 2.The City of Chicago must make neighborhood schools the starting point for all economic development. We need to fundamentally change our philosophy that economic development drives economic development. While school choice may be a permanent fixture in the education reform movement, one thing is clear: charter schools perform only 0.02 standard deviations better than neighborhood schools. In simpler terms, it's like a baseball team trading a .250 hitter for a .252 hitter and then claiming to have won the pennant. These results are hardly a mandate for more charter schools. 3.Illinois needs a progressive income tax. Illinois is one of the few states with a regressive income tax. At the federal level, we need to move away from the Race to the Top. Schools are not businesses (and by the way, most businesses fail) and should not be pit against one another. Fund all schools because they are our community anchors – not because they won a race.
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?
When I took office, the City was still reeling from the impacts of the Great Recession. Hundreds of storefronts were vacant and many residents were struggling to find work. I made it a priority to work with community organizations, chambers of commerce, and residents to jump-start economic development by seeking out major projects. The first success came with securing the Lycee Francais campus on the vacant Ravenswood Hospital site (vacant since early 2000s). In 2015, Lycee Francais will open a new $32 million campus in the heart of Ravenswood. Next, my office focused on Lawrence Avenue. My office allocated $13 million in TIF funding for the design and implementation of the Lawrence Avenue Streetscape. The streetscape's goal was to connect the retail feel of Lincoln Ave from Lincoln Square to Andersonville on Clark via Lawrence Avenue. Once designed, my office worked for nearly two years to secure and advance over $50 million in economic development at Ravenswood Station. The project includes a new Mariano's, LA Fitness, and 150 units of transit-oriented housing which includes affordable housing. This project alone created over 600 jobs and millions in new property and sales taxes. Other notable economic development projects include: the Chicago Fire Soccer Center, and allocating and advancing 47th Ward TIF funds to neighborhood schools, parks, libraries, and public infrastructure. Just as important, most empty storefronts on Lincoln, Damen, Wilson, and Montrose are now filled. And for the first time in many years, businesses are seeking out Western, Irving Park and Ashland. I believe our strong partnerships with our local chambers of commerce and community organizations have accelerated our efforts to attract and retain businesses. We work together with an all-hands on deck manner – and the strategy is paying off. In sum, in just under four years, my office has secured and advanced over a quarter of a billion dollars in economic development in my ward. These projects have resulted in the creation of over 1000 jobs, new property and sales tax revenue, new forms of public transit (over 20 Divvy stations), the City's first neighborhood greenway, and more affordable housing. Four years later and after a lot of hard work, the 47th ward is thriving.
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 had the honor to serve on the Minimum Wage Working Group (MWWG). Our recommendation for a $13/hr minimum wage for the City of Chicago was recently adopted by City Council. I voted YES on the ordinance to create a $13/hr Chicago minimum wage (by 2019) . I am also proud that MWWG included recommendations that I strongly believe in. They include: -The passage of a City of Chicago Paid Sick Leave Ordinance -The passage of a progressive income tax for the State of Illinois -The expansion of the State of Illinois earned income tax credit to include single fathers -Increased enforcement of wage theft by the State of Illinois I ran for alderman with an emphasis on passing citywide legislation focused on city hall reforms and social justice. And, 3.5 years later, I am proud to say I've passed ten major pieces of citywide legislation. The passage of the Chicago Minimum Wage Ordinance follows my other legislative efforts focused on social justice and worker rights. Legislative initiatives include: •Amending the Human Rights Ordinance to prevent employment discrimination by adding credit history as a protected class •Passage one of the strongest anti-wage theft ordinances in the country •Passage of the debt collection license, requiring debt collectors to obtain a city license •Passage of the SRO moratorium and SRO Preservation Ordinance which preserves single room occupancy housing for our City's most vulnerable •Passage of the Chicago Sweat Free Procurement Ordinance which ensures the City procures garments and uniforms from suppliers free of child and slave labor
Q: Should the Lucas Museum of Narrative Art be built at the proposed location on Chicago's lakefront? Please explain.
I am not convinced that the Lucas Museum of Narrative Art should be built on Chicago's lakefront. I have serious concerns about eroding the Lakefront Protection Ordinance, especially when we do not have any details about the proposed museum, content, exhibits, etc. There are too many questions, more information needs to be made public. The Lakefront Protection Ordinance is sacred to all Chicagoans. I haven't heard or seen anything yet that would lead me to believe we should amend the ordinance and build on Chicago's lakefront.
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?
My team and I stay in close contact with our police commanders and other officers in the 19th and 20th District. My office has worked to establish neighborhood block clubs, neighborhood watches, and worked with community organizations and chambers to increase community awareness of emerging public safety issues. Linking community groups and chambers of commerce with the police and maintaining good lines of communication is critical to maintaining public safety. We also keep residents informed on crime events and give them information as quickly as possible so they can take proper precautions. Additionally, we provide tip sheets and safety information on our website for people to use as they nee. To combat the violence across the City, we need help from the state and federal government. No other city in the country confiscates more illegal weapons than Chicago. We need to make it tougher to purchase guns and have stricter laws to prevent straw purchases. From a policy perspective, I proposed requiring gun liability insurance as a condition of gun ownership in a Chicago Tribune op-ed titled, "Insure Guns to Ensure We Save Lives."
Q: Do you support Chicago's traffic light camera program? Please explain.
I voted NO on the speed cameras and do not support the red light camera program.
Q: Should Chicago reduce the number of aldermen in the City Council?
I am on the record as being in support of reducing the size of City Council.
Q: What is your highest priority for improving your ward? What is the greatest concern you hear from residents of your ward?
My all-in is the completion of a neighborhood K-12 in my community. People move to my community for elementary schools, but move to the suburbs for high schools when their children reach the sixth or seventh grade (sometimes much earlier). Why? Families and students are living in a pressure-cooker. If you live in Tier 3 or 4 of the CPS Tier system, your child has to get straight A's and test in the 95-99% percentile to be admitted into a selective enrollment high school. For many families, the stress is just too much and they move to the suburbs. What do they get in the suburbs? Suburbs make schools the starting point for everything they do. Property values, economic development, and community sustainability is tied to the school districts. One tax bill nets a family an entire K-12 system. This means there is no stress about getting into the right high school to get into the right college as everyone goes to the same high school. There is more stability and equity for all kids. And this allows kids to be kids and families to live with some peace. To combat the suburban outflow, and in response to the concerns I hear over and over again,I launched GROW47. The goal: give families in the City what they seek out in the suburbs -- a neighborhood K-12 system. In the next four years, my primary goal is work with my community to raise money, identify and allocate additional resources (aldermanic menu, TIF funds, CPS capital funds, and State funds), and change the perception of our neighborhood high schools. My plan is to get everyone involved with our neighborhood schools --parents, homeowners, renters, and business owners to change school perception, identify additional resources for our schools, and build community around our neighborhood high schools. Simply put, replicate a proven model in the 47th Ward. A second major concern is the CTA's elimination of the #11 Lincoln Avenue Bus. My office fought to save the #11 bus in 2012 and have continued the fight over the last two years. We continue to work with community stakeholders and I will continue to fight for the return of the #11 bus for as long as it takes.
Q: Please tell us something about yourself that would surprise us.
I have a book set for publication on December 30, 2014. The book is titled: "Emergency Management and Social Intelligence: A Comprehensive All-Hazards Approach." And I am getting married on December 20, 2014. :)