Candidate for City Council, 19th 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.
1. The "Broken Bonds" article indicates that $4.77B of the $9.8B the city received in bond revenue from 2001 to 2012 went to short-term operating expenses. Some of those expenses (e.g., spare parts for its fleet of cars, dump trucks, street sweepers and other vehicles) were probably justifiable. Curtailing spending should take priority over increasing taxes. Chicago's population is just now beginning to increase after its remarkable reduction between 2000 and 2010 (-6.9%). Growing the tax base will require Chicago to continue to attract, and keep, employers from relocating to the suburbs. As the Tribune's article made clear, there is a paucity of hard-decision making. While libraries, schools, and police and fire stations may visibly and physically reflect taxpayers' dollars-at-work, City Hall's investment in its services should focus on human capital: more and better trained police, fire, and specialized municipal employees. City services should not be privatized where doing so does not clearly save the City money. City assets should not be sold. A City income tax or commuter tax will simply drive business and residents away. Discretionary spending should be severely curtailed or eliminated while large sums of unfunded pension obligations exist. A period of austerity should be considered until pension funds are deemed solvent.
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.
2. Pre-existing pension obligations must be honored. Police and firefighter funds - those of our first responders - may be further supported by shifting new municipal work and laborer funds to a 401(k) or other defined-contribution system. Further, all incoming City employees should be placed on 401(k) or other defined-contribution system. The City must consider charging fees for city services for which it is not currently charging such as excess/bulk garbage pick up and electronics recycling. All residents must convert to metered water fees and pay for what is used.
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.
3. Tax increment financing's ("TIF") fundamental purpose is to remedy blighted Chicago areas through infrastructure and other business friendly improvements. Even a cursory review of the City Clerk's database on TIF activity reveals very large expenditures in City areas which would not be considered blighted by anyone's standards. I would not support expansion of TIF financing in the 19th Ward as TIFs can indirectly drain funds from local schools and parks. Existing TIF funds in the 19th Ward should be used for infrastructure improvements such as parking. Excess TIF funds should be directed back to the original taxing body or used to hire additional police officers. The City's decision to essentially let taxpayers subsidize a Marriott Hotel and the DePaul arena without a revenue sharing arrangement was misguided.
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.
4. Of the intriguing Tribune series "12 ways to Heal a City," the one challenge I would champion most would be the support for at-risk parents and children. Restoring a fractured family unit and the core values that emanate from an intact family will generate returns to society far in excess of the $1,200/child annual expense. Teaching parents to teach their children and become involved in every aspect of their young lives will create a new generation of community - and a new city - wherein violence is reduced, education is valued, the work ethic restored, and the American dream realized. Our City would benefit in so many ways if we simply lent our support to fledgling family units and nurtured them to transform into generational prosperity, conquering poverty and promoting self reliance and independence.
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.
5. City Council should keep and strengthen the Office of Legislative Inspector General ("OLIG"). Ald. O'Connor's move to neutralize the OLIG after its probe into Mayor Emanuel's council floor leader is an indication that something may be amiss. Further, the number of complaints the OLIG receives - 57 in seven months, per the office's semi-annual report - justifies its oversight. While the OLIG should be allowed to consequentially investigate Aldermen and their staff, the OLIG's ability to do so should be tempered against the Aldermen's necessity to perform their duties. I would welcome an inspector general who has the authority to investigate campaign financing without a signed complaint and would vote to fully fund that office.
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?
6. While the Chicago Public School ("CPS") system has made strides since former U.S. Education Secretary William Bennett famously derided it in 1987, it still has work to do. Its graduation rate of 65.4% is well short of the national average (80%, per America's Promise Alliance), and its students' average composite ACT score (18) is also short of the national average (21) and the Illinois average (20.7). What CPS must continue to do is improve, to the extent it can, student attendance and recognize the importance of parental involvement in education. The length of the school day and duration of the school year should be determined from a consensus committee of educators, administrators, and parents motivated solely by a desire to improve the educational experience and outcome of CPS students. I firmly believe that the school board should be elected by and thereby answerable to the citizens of Chicago. I support a moratorium on the expansion of Charter Schools. The CPS system should not reduce promised pension benefits to current employees who contributed to that fund but must not continue to promise unsustainable benefits to new hires.
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?
7. Improving the 19th Ward's infrastructure and improving the commercial environment is the key to attracting employers to the 19th Ward. The lack of parking is a major issue along our commercial corridors. Every effort should be made to increase available parking for the entire corridor with existing TIF money. I have identified several areas with business owners where this is possible and urgently necessary. Changing current laws to allow table service of beer and wine in dry areas of our Ward is long overdue. In canvassing the Ward, I have found that support for this change is nearly universal. Allowing the table service of beer and wine would attract a host of new restaurants, and the jobs they bring, to the 19th Ward. I do not advocate allowing additional bars or liquor stores in the Ward. I have reached out to many business owners and realized that the primary impediment to business expansion if the lack of parking. Many feel that this was a key contributing factor to Panera Bread's recent decision to close its Beverly location. The cumbersome permitting process for new businesses must be streamlined and facilitated, and not obstructed, by all involved City departments.
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.
8. I support raising the minimum wage but would not support a higher minimum wage in Chicago over its neighboring communities. I would have liked to have seen the Aldermen representing "border" Wards form a powerful, vocal coalition to oppose the ordinance and protect business districts in those Wards.
Q: Should the Lucas Museum of Narrative Art be built at the proposed location on Chicago's lakefront? Please explain.
9. No. The museum is in conflict with the concept of an open and accessible lakefront. An alternative site should be sought.
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?
Public safety would be improved if we restored the full complement of patrol officers to each district. We need both a responding and deterrent police force so that residents will feel safer when away from their homes and more secure within their homes with rapid response times. For years, I have consistently increased awareness of crime in my community by publishing crime incidents in a neighborhood email alert list and on social media. This not only increases awareness but promotes communication between neighbors and the police. Neighbors feel more connected, alert, and responsive to suspicious incidents when they are informed with facts. I am an advocate of beat integrity, especially in border Wards, as a patrol car diverted from a border Ward leaves a large area without a deterrent.
Q: Do you support Chicago's traffic light camera program? Please explain.
I consider the traffic light program as an additional tax on citizens and mostly a financial boon to the contracted company that operates the cameras.
Q: Should Chicago reduce the number of aldermen in the City Council?
Chicago should adjust the number of Aldermen based on census data. In 2010 the City lost ~ 200,000 residents which should have resulted in a reduction of the number of Aldermen by four.
Q: What is your highest priority for improving your ward? What is the greatest concern you hear from residents of your ward?
My highest priority for improving the Ward would be rejuvenating our commercial corridors. The run down vacancies are a daily, painful reminder of stagnation. With innovative ideas and sensible infrastructure improvements we can rebound and reap the fiscal benefits of a thriving business district. Residents of the Ward have shared with me their desire to spend their money locally and restore our community to a thriving dynamic, local retail district.
Q: Please tell us something about yourself that would surprise us.
My first job, in 1973, was washing sweaty towels from a local tennis club. I laundered over 50 towels/day and saved enough money by July of that Summer to buy a new bike. It was a lifelong lesson in time management, commitment, saving and budgeting.