Candidate for City Council, 9th Ward
Education: Corliss High School, Blackburn College
Occupation: Alderman, 9th 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.
We need to put Chicago on sound financial footing. Long-term, the best way to do that is to get Chicago's economic engines running full-tilt. Short-term, the City has been on the right path of making common-sense cuts, finding efficiencies, and asking taxpayers for a little more help. Without higher revenues, though, Chicago will be hard-pressed to pay down existing debts, fulfill its pension obligations, and provide the services its residents rely on. Scoop and toss and other budgetary maneuvers are last resorts to keep the lights on and the streets plowed. That's why I work so hard to bring business and jobs to my ward—so that in the future, we won't have to make those choices. In the meantime, I am open to evaluating any responsible options put forward.
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.
As above, the best solution to the pension crisis is increased revenue through economic development. We need to couple our efforts on that front with efforts aimed at finding sensible agreements with our public employee unions so that we don't find ourselves in this same position ever again.
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.
TIF is a program with a great deal of potential, and I believe a recent experience in my ward highlights the best way to use it. In the Pullman Park development, a Wal-Mart-anchored shopping center has created hundreds of new jobs for area residents. In addition a new factory—the first new manufacturing site for the south side in decades—will open that will house Method, a maker of environmentally-friendly home cleaning products headquartered in Europe. Not a dime of taxpayer money was given to Method. But in order to make the site viable, the City used TIF money to upgrade public infrastructure, and that's the kind of TIF project we should be looking for. When TIF is used to create Chicago jobs it is a smart investment.
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 have followed your "New Plan of Chicago" with interest. Of the ideas you've printed: 1. I strongly agree with repurposing schools for the benefit of the community. We've strengthened our schools and are building a new community recreation center. I am certain that every community has needs that can be met by adaptive reuse of the buildings. This should be a discussion grounded in each community and involving residents and other stakeholders. 5. We have done a great deal of housing in my ward – most of it revolving around adaptive reuse of existing structures. We've renovated nearly 40 foreclosed homes and sold them at affordable prices, and seen the transfer of the formerly troubled "Wheelworks" building into a neighborhood asset. While I am in support of new innovative housing, the most cost-effective is to get hold of and renovate (without federal funds if possible, as they trigger greater expense) the thousands of foreclosed and abandoned homes and buildings that still remain in our city. And of course we should diminish the need for housing for the poor by increasing the incomes of those at the bottom. 8. Here we are in total agreement. My ward in particular is blessed with the best road/water/rail infrastructure in the nation. We need to and I am building on those assets, helping to create a mixed use economy with industrial, manufacturing, and retail jobs (3,000 new jobs in the past seven years in my ward alone). This however takes real coordination with the City and State who must join us in investing and marketing communities outside the downtown and economic enterprises that include but are not limited to the high-tech sector. 9. Again, great agreement. We have successfully worked with the City to lure small and large businesses to our area. One thing I'd add is that we should also ensure that when we use TIF and other tools to lure businesses, they guarantee both hiring of Chicago residents and the payment of a living wage. That will increase the revenues to families which in turn will fuel our bottom line. 10. This is something we try to do all the time. We're a big city and too often kids who grow up in its far-flung neighborhoods have no idea what the possibilities for careers are – or how to attain them. Both mentoring and visibility is important. Career days shouldn't start in college but in high school and middle school. Programs like City of Learning are really important to young and middle school kids so that they can link their still-active curiosity about the world to career paths that are attainable. Internships for high school students are also critical so that they can get a broader view of the world.
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.
Ethics and oversight are keys to the effective operation of municipal government and to the public's trust that its representatives are doing their bidding and no one else's, and I support any good-faith effort to ensure such faith. The Legislative Inspector General is an office with real merit and real potential, but I think my colleagues and I need to examine ways to more clearly define its role. If we can't do that, we need to explore other options.
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?
Chicago Public Schools are moving in the right direction. In the 9th Ward, Gwendolyn Brooks College Prep, where I am on the LSC, is one of the standout institutions in the system. Recently, CPS recognized that fact: Brooks is to receive an Academic Center for 7th and 8th graders as well as 200 more seats for high schoolers. The 9th Ward is also home to four level one elementary schools and the Carver Military Academy, "the Jewel of the South Side." These schools are the lifeblood of their communities, and I hope to raise every school in my ward to their level. Doing so will require significant investments of time, money, and personnel, in addition to the involvement of parents and the community. In order to fund those investments, CPS needs to work with the CTU to find efficiencies, craft a common-sense labor agreement, and ensure future spending is focused on the most important priorities. I also believe that learning needs to start before kindergarten, and students need to be supported inside and outside of school until they leave for college and careers. A longer school day and year, with sound planning for how to use the extra time, can help reduce the gaps that minority children suffer. And to me, what's more important than charter or not is a different question: are the students learning or not? The label is less important than what's happening inside the building. My criteria for CPS leadership start with the basics: intelligence, humility, empathy, and the ability to get things done. I also want someone with depth and breadth of experience in education work and education leadership, with the ability to understand Chicago's unique problems and advantages, and who focuses on building coalitions with all stakeholders.
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?
One of the things I am proudest of is my work to attract employers to my ward. Pullman Park, a development on the site of the old Ryerson Steel plant, sat derelict and unproductive for years. But recently, through the efforts of my office in partnership with many other stakeholders, we have turned that land once again to productive use and brought hundreds of jobs. Wal-Mart there employs 400 people, 250 of whom are community residents. Method, an environmentally-friendly home cleaning products manufacturer, will soon open a factory there that will employ 100 people. Gotham Greens plans to build the world's largest rooftop farm on top of the Method plant, employing still more and providing fresh produce to the neighborhood. And Pullman Park is only the most high-profile of the successes my ward has had in terms of economic development. I believe that with continued focus, my ward can set a new pace for the South Side's economy.
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 voted in favor of the minimum wage increase. I don't believe the previous minimum wage provided a secure living for Chicago's many low-wage workers, and the increase is a reasonable compromise between the needs of the employed those of the employers.
Q: Should the Lucas Museum of Narrative Art be built at the proposed location on Chicago's lakefront? Please explain.
I'm not opposed to the Museum on the Lakefront, although it might have been better on the south lakefront on the old US Steel land, so it could attract folks to other places. The problem, is, of course a bit different – it's really the private investment issue. We get better decisions when government is the funder allowing public accountability and decision making. That was behind Jane Addam's thinking and Burnham's thinking about the lakefront 100 years ago and that thinking is valid today.
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 proud to be able to say that crime is down 15% in my ward compared to last year. This is a great achievement, and in large part a testament to the hard work of the officers and brass of the Chicago Police Department's 5th District, particularly Commander Larry Watson. The most important piece of this reduction has been the relationship-building the police have done with the community's residents. The police have done a remarkable job of building trust with the public, making themselves available to answer questions and respond to concerns. In turn, the public have placed more trust in the police, offering tips and calling in matters of concern. This kind of partnership is key to improving public safety.
Q: Do you support Chicago's traffic light camera program? Please explain.
This is a program in great need of reform. The cynicism of the population toward it is deserved. It is nothing more than a way to enhance revenues, not safety, and the fact that the City lowered the number of seconds to garner more income from unsuspecting motorists is a scandal.
Q: Should Chicago reduce the number of aldermen in the City Council?
No, having 50 aldermen allows people real contact with, access to, and accountability from their elected representatives.
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 is working with my constituents and all my ward's stakeholders to keep it moving forward. We've made great progress during my time in office—thousands of new jobs have come to the ward, and hundreds of millions of dollars have been invested in businesses, schools, and infrastructure. The Red Line extension to 130th Street is on its way to becoming a reality, which will provide unprecedented and much-needed access to economic opportunity for residents of my ward. It finally seems we are beginning to turn the tide on long years of neglect on the Far South Side, but the battle is from over. I will continue to push to make sure that my ward emerges stronger than ever from the latest economic malaise.
Q: Please tell us something about yourself that would surprise us.
I love to coach kids. I have three fish tanks in my office, one of which is salt-water. I love hunting with my brother. And I'm a 200-average bowler!