Candidate for City Council, 5th Ward
Education: I have a B.A. in Political Science, an M.P.A., a J.D. from Fordham University School of Law and an LLM (Tax) from John Marshall Law School
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 City of Chicago must get its financial house in order. We must have a long term strategy to deal with the issuance of bonds and the repayment of the debt these bonds represent. Simply refinancing the debt does not make financial sense in most cases. The longer the issue of the City's deficits goes on, the lower our bond rating will be and the higher our interest costs. I favor a combined strategy of implementing savings where possible from streamlining and consolidating services, eliminating unneeded services, and growing the tax base in Chicago.
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 pension crisis does not just affect Chicago but many other municipalities and governmental units including the State of Illinois. There must be a unified solution which provides a mix of funds. I hope that the Illinois Supreme Court soon decides the pending case. I think that all stakeholders, including the unions, must come to the table prepared to negotiate to solve the crisis. Difficult decisions lie ahead for the next city council and the mayor. I, as an Alderman, intend to work hard to make the decisions that will lay the groundwork for our future. I do not want to see our assets sold off. I will not just vote NO on any sale of assets but I will vote against the budget if monies from the sale of a city owned asset are being used to meet current obligations. My opponent, the current 5th ward Alderman, voted for a budget that used a major portion of the monies from the sale of the parking meter revenue stream to meet current obligations.
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.
At the current time I do not support the creation of any additional TIFs in my district. I think the excess monies should be used for schools and projects within the community in which the revenues were generated. I certainly will not be using monies from either TIF/special project funds or my Aldermanic menu money to rent 100 parking spaces for 6 months to give to the people who live in the coops and condos along the lake in Hyde Park. In 2010 the current Alderman, my opponent, claimed she only used $54,000.00 to rent these 100 parking spaces for 6 months and gave them away for free to her supporters, although my calculations showed that it was $75,000.00.
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.
It was a very interesting series and I appreciated the opportunity you afforded citizens to think about the possibilities of the future. Friends of mine, Gia Interlandi, Del Bloom and Jens Ludwig had their opinions published. I submitted a piece on the creation of social justice metric by which prosecutors would be evaluated. I volunteer for Cabrini Green Legal Aid and staffed a help desk for the Office of the State Appellate Defender. Too often, I see young people who are arrested and while still in jail, unable to pay their bond, are offered the deal that if they plead guilty to a felony they will just get "time served" and the case will be over. These young people, anxious to leave jail, are worried that their children will be taken from them, that they will lose a job, say yes and thereby ruin their whole lives. The prosecutor gets a more impressive felony conviction rate. This does not represent the interest of The People. This must change and the way that we do this is by changing the way prosecutors are evaluated
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.
We should authorize an independent office to investigate Alderman and their staffs. The Inspector General should not have to notify anyone that they are under investigation until such time as it is appropriate in the legal process and the Inspector General should not have to get permission or receive special funding to continue any investigation into Aldermanic or mayoral misdeeds.
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?
For our children to reach their full potential and compete in the global marketplace, we need to provide them with good public schools, safe streets, and decent economic opportunities. Our children need and deserve schools that are properly funded, and that is something we are all working towards. Unfortunately, increased funding on the immediate horizon is unlikely, which means we need to make the best possible use of available resources. We must prioritize those programs that have already been identified as making a significant difference in children's educational futures, such as early education. I will look for better ways to target our investment in these areas. I will also create an Absence Hotline so that my office can be informed about students with excessive absences. We will then follow up with these children's families to ascertain the problem and offer whatever assistance may be possible. Just as importantly, we need a city where the potential of our children is not cut short by a bullet or thwarted by fear and deprivation. Safety is a common concern for all residents of our ward and my office will work closely with the police and community groups to address this issue. I will set up regular communication and meetings with school authorities, parent and community groups, and the police so that we can identify and address important issues in a timely and effective manner. I favor a longer school day and a longer school year. Charter schools are more problematic for me, as I want to say that we should fix the public school system because our public schools helped to make our country great. Yet, my constituents tell me that they want their children to go to charter schools because they are seen as better. I do think that we must get honest facts about the performance of charter schools and we, as a society, must commit to creating world class schools.
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?
There are many vacant lots and abandoned buildings on Stony Island from 64th Street through 71st Street in the 5th ward, in fact, more than when I ran against the incumbent last time. The same is true for 71st Street from Stony Island to Exchange. The current Alderman, my opponent, does not have a business council and does not have any plan for creating or growing businesses in our ward. In reality, by obtaining approval for the city to take over Jeffrey Plaza, she has just put the future of 18 up and running businesses in jeopardy. If she had planned to create an economic wasteland she could not be doing a better job. Stony Island Avenue has the potential to be a powerful economic engine for the community. Every day, up to 60,000 cars drive along this major artery, making the Starbucks at 71st Street and the Save-A-Lot at 71st Street the highest-grossing locations in the Chicago for their respective companies. This street should be prime commercial real estate, and my first order of business as Alderman will be to bring stores and jobs to this underserved area. I have a business advisory council which will be expanded when I am elected and we will focus on bringing new business to the ward and working with existing businesses to expand them. I will also seek a commitment to have a certain percentage of payroll going to 5th ward residents. I don't want 5th warders to only be employed in the lowest paying jobs. I continually work with the small businesses in the ward to get them opportunities to provide goods and services to the University of Chicago and to other businesses. Whenever there are activities or organizations or events with which I am involved I always go for a vendor in the 5th ward. I have promoted Small Business Saturday and this year, asked the 1200 recipients of my newsletters to spend a portion of their Christmas money in the ward. I have started a small business selling custom dog coats, "Woofinistas: Make Every Dog a Fashionista". Our dog coats are proudly made in the 5th ward and our manufacturer employs felons. The coats are sold at the Union League Club of Chicago.
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 minimum wage increase just passed by the city council.
Q: Should the Lucas Museum of Narrative Art be built at the proposed location on Chicago's lakefront? Please explain.
The Lucas Museum as it is currently designed should not be built at the current proposed location.
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?
We need a city where the potential of our children is not cut short by a bullet or thwarted by fear and deprivation. Seniors should not be afraid to go to the store, nor out to dinner at night. Safety is a common concern for all residents of our ward and my office will work closely with the police and community groups to address this issue. I will set up regular communication and meetings with school authorities, parent and community groups, and the police so that we can identify and address important issues in a timely and effective manner. My office will be monitoring the CAPS meetings and making sure that relevant information is exchanged among all the beats.
Q: Do you support Chicago's traffic light camera program? Please explain.
The entire red light program must be reviewed to determine its effectiveness. Are there few accidents where there are cameras? Is this just a money making scheme? Is this a fair way to bring revenue into the City of Chicago? Unlike my opponent I won't be caught out there speeding and then complaining that they caught me. The "I didn't know" alderman.
Q: Should Chicago reduce the number of aldermen in the City Council?
I think that the number of Alderman could be reduced but I would couple that reduction with the creation of an independent body that would draw the redistricting maps. If there were a 50% reduction in the number of wards I would not want to see an 2nd ward that was bookended, so the independent body would be required to use area ratios.
Q: What is your highest priority for improving your ward? What is the greatest concern you hear from residents of your ward?
Our 5th Ward has lost its identity. As home to one of America's finest educational institutions and a melting pot of ethnicities and cultures, we long had a reputation as the city's "check and balance" voice. Sadly, that has dissolved over the past 16 years. We must regain our independent, free-thinking spirit and return to our role as the voice of Chicago's conscience. For decades, our own 5th Ward Alderman Leon Despres spoke up for the values that we in the 5th Ward hold dear: economic and social equality. Lately that independent voice of conscience has given way to grandstanding theatrics and a lack of bravery. The absence of that voice has left us with a city council that mandates where we buy puppies and what fruit or veggies we put in paper bags to take home, but is incapable of addressing the serious issues confronting our city. We need to face the hard facts. We need to do something about the fact that our children are being murdered while they play. We need to bring jobs and opportunities to our community. We need to fix the lack of access to services in neighborhoods. We need to create ways to evaluate prosecutors and to give youthful offenders effective second chances to become productive citizens. To move forward, the 5th Ward needs an alderman who is fiscally responsible. Not every problem can be solved by "throwing money at it," and Chicago residents can ill afford another property tax increase. Nor can every crime be stopped by doubling the mandatory sentences. All programs and options must be evaluated so that we can find the most effective and cost efficient options. The 5th Ward also needs an alderman who is responsible to the community. This means listening to your voices and suggestions, responding to your problems, and working cooperatively with city agencies to provide services and results for all 5th Ward residents. It's a big job – and I'm ready to start now.
Q: Please tell us something about yourself that would surprise us.
I have an impressive set of initials after my name, B.A., M.P.A., J.D., LLM (Tax) but the next set that I want is C.B.A., Certified Balloon Artist. Years ago when I was a treasurer for a parents association I realized that we were spending money on balloon decorations that could have gone to scholarships. I went to the classes offered at national balloon shows and have taken private classes. Whenever I am involved in a benefit I provide the centerpieces and decorations and thereby see that more of the money raised goes to the charitable purpose.