Candidate for City Council, 1st Ward
Education: J.D. from Illinois Institute of Technology Chicago Kent College of Law B.S. from DePaul University College of Commerce Regina Dominican High School
Occupation: Small Business Owner, Attorney, President of Shaw Legal Services, Ltd.
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.
Financing short term operating expenses from bond proceeds is bad policy. We need to fix the structural problems in Chicago's budget, and the sooner the better. I certainly believe that we need to continually scrutinize the budget for wasteful spending, and to cut programs that are not accomplishing their purpose. That is an ongoing task for the City Council, regardless of the state of the budget. However, it is wishful thinking to believe that we can solve our budget issues and still plan for the future and provide quality city services without increasing revenues. I favor looking at broadening the tax base before increasing any tax rates. Broadening the tax base would distribute the burden of paying for government operations more fairly, while still protecting those who are least able to pay. In that regard, I am particularly opposed to increasing the property tax. Property taxes are not based on immediate ability to pay, and in my neighborhood a property tax increase would have a disproportionate impact on long time homeowners. I also believe that TIFs are overused and no longer achieve the intended goal of providing a short term loss of revenue in favor of greater revenue gains later. We need to question every TIF and make sure that the property tax generated in TIFs goes to fund government services if there is no clear evidence that the TIF is eliminating blight.
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 funding crisis is the result of years of neglecting to make the proper pension payments. I think it is very important to remember this fact as we talk about reforms. City workers and retirees held up their end of the bargain: they put in the hours and they made their contribution. Another important factor to consider is that pensions are long term liabilities. The solution must also be long term. Any attempt to fully fund pensions in a short time frame would be too disruptive to the City's economy and impose too big of a burden on taxpayers. However, the pensions are severely underfunded and this requires a solution that fairly spreads the pain. The primary problem is lack of revenue. I favor looking at broadening the tax base as a way to spread the burden fairly. I think we need a full review of tax credits and incentives we have offered to see if they are just giveaways to favored businesses or if they are truly justified because the City gains more than it loses. I am undecided on the so-called LaSalle Street tax on financial transactions such as trades on the Board of Trade. I would like to hear what economists say about the proposal.
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.
TIFs are intended to be a revenue generator in the long term. The idea is that local governments, mostly the school district, gives up property tax revenue in a blighted area for a set period of time to pay for development and other economic incentives. When the TIF expires, in theory the local governments end up seeing much larger tax revenue because the area is no longer blighted. It hasn't worked that way in Chicago, and it's time for a serious examination of TIFs in the City. Schools and other government services should not be starved of revenue if there is no realistic chance of increased revenue after the period of the TIF. Moreover, TIFs now routinely get their life extended, which means that property is pretty much taken off the local government's tax roll and those tax dollars are funneled into the hands of developers. Every TIF should be examined to see if the original purpose is being pursued. If the TIF is not eliminating blight, then the taxes collected on property in that TIF should be directed back to the rightful taxing district. I am skeptical of the plan for a DePaul basketball arena and hotel. The current Hyatt hotel in the McCormick Place area is not at full occupancy, so it's hard to see how a new hotel is needed. Moreover, the McPier Authority should be upfront about the reason for building a DePaul arena. They are hoping to use it to book additional trade shows, not because basketball will be played there. The project should be evaluated on those terms, and not sold to voters on false premises.
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.
All twelve ideas are intriguing and should be explored. I am particularly interested in the "Hubs and STEMS" idea, which links small business incubators to high schools and college Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math programs. As a small business owner and an attorney who represents small businesses, I see the power of new ideas to create opportunity all the time. I think the City should be doing everything possible to give our young people a chance to put their ideas into action, and the Hubs and STEMS idea sounds like a great vehicle to make that happen. Another idea that I am working on currently, is a manufacturing incubator program to revitalize manufacturing and also bring manufacturing jobs back to Chicago. In my Ward, we have the fortune of having light manufacturing corridors. This is part of my plan to increase revenue, create solid middle class jobs, and broaden the tax base.
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 support an independent and fully funded legislative inspector general. He or she should have the power to fully investigate aldermen and their staff. I served on the Cook County Board of Ethics. Advocating for a strong and independent ethics office is more than just lip service. It's something I have practiced as a Commissioner on the Cook County Board of Ethics and strongly believe is important and it's something I have seen firsthand that it works.
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 applaud CPS for the improvement in graduation rates. We have to recognize and give credit when our government does something right, and in this case the tracking program is working. However, CPS continues to be mired in a financial morass. While there are always places to save money, as with the City budget I believe that fundamentally CPS requires more revenue as well. I also believe that charter schools in Chicago have done all they can do in terms of innovation, and there is little justification to continue expanding charters. A small number of charter schools can be excellent laboratories to try new educational techniques and offer specialized types of education, but right now 1 in 5 schools is a charter. Study after study have shown that charters perform, on the whole, no better or no worse than traditional public schools – despite the selection bias that even open enrollment charter schools enjoy. I do see the further expansion of charter schools as a way of improving outcomes. I support an elected School Board.
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?
As a small business owner, I know that the way to attract business is to create the opportunity for a business to make money, not to bribe it. It's simple economics. If a company which locates in the First Ward can make $2 instead of $1.50 because the 1st Ward has good transportation infrastructure, is wired for tech and manufacturing companies, has safe and attractive streets that make talented employees want to live and work here rather than someplace else, that business will locate in the 1st Ward, even without government incentives. We are fortunate that there is a thriving entertainment and dining district in the 1st Ward, and that many entrepreneurs live in the ward and want to start businesses here. We also have significant manufacturing corridors that are already bustling and present great opportunities for further growth for the ward and the City. I am currently working with local manufacturers, businesses, leaders, and various officials to create an innovative incubator program for manufacturing and high skilled labor training. We need new ideas and new solutions to create revenue. The biggest complaints I hear from small business owners in this Ward are about public safety and that Alderman Moreno is not engaged with the community. As alderman, a top priority will be public safety. I fought against Alderman Moreno over the closing of the 13th and 19th District Police Stations (two of three police district stations closed in the entire City). Slowly – too slowly – Alderman Moreno now realizes that a police presence in the area is necessary. As alderman, I will put a high priority on reopening the police station and on increasing an effective police presence in the Ward to fight and prevent crime. I will also deal with all businesses evenhandedly. There is no reason that an alderman should favor one business over another because of personal connections or favors the business does. I will work with small business to cut red tape, to respond to their legitimate business needs, and to fairly deliver services because I understand their needs as a small business owner.
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 ordinance increasing the minimum wage. Anyone who works full time should make enough to avoid poverty. It's a pretty simple statement, and one that should not be controversial. The arguments against the minimum wage are essentially that it leads to a decrease of jobs. At some point, this is undoubtedly true. A minimum wage of $100/hr would not work. But at the wage level we are talking about, the consensus seems to be that the job loss would be minimal. I have to compare that job loss to the increase in well being of a minimum wage worker. I am sensitive to the needs of small business, as a small business owner myself, but I see that the increase itself will overall improve business by providing a badly needed boost in demand, and the increased economic activity will offset some if not all the job loss. Also, we need to start bringing jobs into the City and provide the support necessary to create jobs that pay well above minimum wage and provide a solid and stable middle class living. There is currently a great shortage in skilled labor both locally and nationally. We should tap into this shortage and make it part of the long range plan to increase revenue and the tax base.
Q: Should the Lucas Museum of Narrative Art be built at the proposed location on Chicago's lakefront? Please explain.
One reason Chicago is such an amazing city is our well preserved lakefront. We are fortunate that Daniel Burnham had the foresight to preserve this treasure for all Chicago residents. Any major new attraction that will be sited on the lakefront deserves closer scrutiny than other projects. I would want to be assured that all other options have been considered before I can support the Lucas Museum of Narrative Art on the lakefront. The site of the former Michael Reese Hospital is available, and in need of redevelopment. I do not know if that site is feasible for the Lucas Museum, but I think the City should explore that option further. The Museum would surely be an important Chicago attraction, and we will be lucky to host it. But I need more information before signing off on the current site.
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 am running for alderman of the 1st Ward in very large part because I am concerned about public safety in my neighborhood and in the City. In 2011, Alderman Moreno supported a plan to close the 13th and 19th District Police Stations in the 1st Ward. The closing of the 13th District police station on Wood Street in particular meant longer response times for police calls and less police presence in our community. It was unfathomable to me that Alderman Moreno would support such an idea. I organized the community in a truly grass roots cause to save the 13th District Police Station. In my work with the community on this important issue, I discovered through research, hard work, and the work of the volunteers that the 13th and 19th District Police Stations not only did not need to be closed, but that they could not be closed without severely affecting public safety and police officer safety. I presented these facts and studies to Alderman Moreno, to Mayor Emanuel directly, and to Superintendent McCarthy. I organized 4 rallies, collected over 4000 signatures in less than 6 weeks, and galvanized people who had never done anything like this before. I forced the Superintendent to conduct a town hall meeting where we organized nearly 1000 people to be there. This year, Alderman Moreno seems to understand that it was a mistake to close the 13th District. However, the residents of the 1st Ward cannot rely on the alderman to do the right thing only when his re-election is threatened. This is especially true when it comes to a basic city service like police protection. There is no one thing that will reduce crime in a city like Chicago, and I favor a multi-prong approach that looks at social services, education, and job creation in addition to having police officers on the beat. However, police beats are essential to safe neighborhoods and any alderman who fails to see that does not deserve re-election
Q: Do you support Chicago's traffic light camera program? Please explain.
There is a basic mistrust of traffic light and speeding cameras by the residents of Chicago because it has never been clear that the program is about safety rather than revenue. I think we have to be clear in our budgeting and in the placement of the cameras that the program is not about revenue. Our budget should not be balanced on projected increases in traffic fines by cameras, and the decision on placing cameras cannot be based on the revenue that the camera may produce.
Q: Should Chicago reduce the number of aldermen in the City Council?
Whether the Chicago City Council has 50 or 25 alderman is less important than whether the aldermen are committed to serving their residents and be independent of the administration. As alderman I will make decisions based solely on the best interests of the residents of the 1st Ward. I will be accessible and evenhanded in dealing with the residents and businesses located in the 1st Ward. Fulfilling those commitments is the most important reform to the City Council I can make.
Q: What is your highest priority for improving your ward? What is the greatest concern you hear from residents of your ward?
My number one priority is public safety. I will fight to increase the number of police patrols on the street. I will work with the police and community groups to build trust of the police, and to enhance pro-active policing so that the police prevent crimes from happening rather than simply catch criminals after the act. I am also committed to improving our schools. I am concerned about the number of school closures and the negative effect those closures will have on the education of our children. I also want to make sure that our students not only graduate, but graduate ready to face the challenges of the world in a global economy.
Q: Please tell us something about yourself that would surprise us.
When I went to Kindergarten, I did not speak any English. It was not my first language, even though I was born in the United States. I went to a public elementary school and was assigned a speech therapist by the school to learn English. I learned it so well and so quickly that by first grade I was winning spelling contests and by fourth grade I was enrolled in an experimental speed reading course because I exhibited high reading comprehension. I credit my family, teachers, and the resources provided for me by my public elementary school. I am where I am today because of those resources.