Candidate questionnaires

Portrait of Bita Buenrostro

Bita Buenrostro

Candidate for City Council, 2nd Ward

Bita Buenrostro

Candidate for City Council, 2nd Ward

Portrait of Bita Buenrostro

Education: Bachelor of Arts in Political Science, North Park University

Occupation: Executive for Local Restaurant Corporation

Home: Chicago

Age: Not answered

Past Political/Civic Experience: Not answered

Website: http://www.bitanow.com


Responses to the Chicago Tribune's questionnaire

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.

I am not in favor of long-term borrowing to pay short-term operating expenses. This is equivalent to taking out a second mortgage to pay for groceries and gasoline. Running a household like this is not sensible, and neither is running a city government. I would I would have voted against this had I been on city council. However, I do not believe that we only have the options of spending cuts or tax increases. We have opportunities for new and enhanced revenue stream that are not tax increases. One option is a Chicago-based casino. Studies show that a casino could bring up to $1.2 billion in initial fees from licenses and an ongoing revenue of $270 million per year. We have to review all proposals closely to ensure that the finished product is safe and meets the needs of the city and neighbors, but it is an option that we should investigate. As a city we do not do a good enough job of collecting revenue that is due and owed to us. I support proposals by the Federation of Labor to restore the previous levels of city auditors and boiler inspectors. I would also consider a one-time revenue boost through an amnesty program that would reduce penalties on old debt owed to the city such as old parking tickets. This has worked well for Chicago and for other government entities in the past. In addition, we can look at excess TIF Funds. In the case of a dire budgetary emergency, excess TIF funds should be used for general revenue purposes. Alderman Reilly has authored a proposal that would amend the TIF statute for more flexibility. This could help to appropriately fund our pension obligations.


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.

Lawrence Msall, President of the Civic Federation, is quoted in the Chicago Tribune asking "What happens if we don't get pension reform? Where will they come up with the $550 Million?" I agree that this "ticking time bomb" is the most important financial challenge that our city faces. The State of Illinois has taken legislative action to force our city to prepare for its financial obligations. As the spouse of a union Chicago Police Officer, I clearly understand the pension situation. Pensions must be there, in full, for city workers. For our city workers and their families, I want to help find the best way to ensure that Chicago's pension fund is funded at a reasonable level. Revenue will have to come from multiple sources, please see my previous answer for funding ideas. Pensions for new employees are a different situation. COLAs for new employees should be more closely tied to the rate of inflation, similar to Social Security payments. New employees should be expected to contribute more to their health insurance. Our city should strive for a sustainable pension plan for new employees. All changes to pensions and pension plans must include organized labor "at the table."


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.

More Transparency. Our taxpayers deserve to know where money is spent, how developers are selected, and how projects are chosen. In times of dire financial emergency, we should be able to sweep excess TIF funds into general revenue. I generally agree with Ald. Reilly's proposal to amend our TIF statute for more flexibility and to ensure that TIFs are shut down when they have achieved their stated, measurable goals. I also am happy to see that our city is beginning to return unspent TIF money back to the districts. I am generally against additional TIFs. If we must create them then they should be linked to measurable, specific goals. When those goals are met, the TIF should be disbanded. The city has done this sporadically in recent years. Though, according to plans, Marriott and DePaul will use the area for much more than basketball, and it will be an economic engine for the south loop area, I do not think that a TIF was the best solution. A TIF is taxpayers' money, and I feel that Marriott and DePaul are both strong, private organizations that are capable funding the project without taxpayer assistance.


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 reuse of the shuttered public school buildings for public purposes, including GED Chicago. Our city has vacant buildings in the heart of our communities, and we can re-open them for another purpose. This could possibly be a project for the Mayor's infrastructure trust. GED Chicago is a project that I would embrace and champion. Our city recently took steps to significantly reduce the cost of higher education at City Colleges of Chicago. The same offer should be made to GED Chicago graduates. ===== In addition, I believe that tax reform at the state level will benefit all of us. Press, including The Chicago Tribune, have reacted with cautious support for Rauner's plans. Rauner has proposed stabilizing the state tax code for businesses by simplifying it and by removing exceptions for special interests and removing 'corporate welfare.' He has also proposed a gradual lowering of the personal income tax with a recovery of revenue by broadening the sales tax base to include services. If implemented carefully, I agree with this plan. I think that stable tax rates for businesses and for individuals will not only help our state, in turn, they will make Chicago a more attractive place to do business.


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.

My Ethics: I will start by ensuring that MY ward office, my behavior, and my activities are beyond reproach with regard to ethics. My votes, my fund allocation, and my committee work will be transparent and available to members of the community and t


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?

Improvement: I do believe that we are on the "right track" with our new school ranking system and our recent attention to limited-enrollment versus traditional-enrollment schools. Both CPS and CTU agree as well. I also know from personal experience,


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?

I am an executive with a corporation that runs a restaurant in our 2nd Ward. We have done our best to hire local people and to pay them well. I know that the tourism and hospitality industry is one large employer in the eastern portion of the 2nd Ward, and I would promote tourism and Chicago. The ward is diverse, it touches a manufacturing area (PMD) along the River. The Finkl Steel site, along with some other real estate there presents a great opportunity for the economic growth of our 2nd Ward. I will work with residents and with developers to ensure that the use of that site is an economic benefit to our ward. On the western side of our ward, Ukrainian Village is truly 'a village.' We have many small businesses including art galleries, hair salons, and neighborhood grocery stores. I will work to streamline licensing for these small businesses. Since the first year of life for a small business determines whether it survives or not, I will propose a plan to defer some licensing fees for 1st-year businesses. Our ward office will be active in licensing issues to minimize delays. I will work with businesses and residents to ensure thoughtful zoning that leads to economic growth. 2nd ward residents walk, bike, and use public transit. Transportation enables commercial growth by helping employees and helping patrons get to where they need to go, whether it is to a job in the 2nd Ward or to an office in the loop. I generally support Public Transportation, and will consider requesting CTA to restore the #11 Lincoln Bus route. I will also ensure that our 2nd ward residents have access to Job Fairs. Since vacant storefronts are good for no one, I will compile an inventory of vacant stores to help prospective merchants and small businesses find the best possible location. I intend to work directly with the Wicker Park and Bucktown Chamber of Commerce, Magnificent Mile Association, and the Chicago Loop Alliance to help our businesses be a strong part of our community. A thriving small-business community will not only bring jobs, but it will help to beautify our ward.


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.

Chicago is a leader. We are clearly leading Illinois, and our nation to ensure that working people are treated fairly by their employers. Full-time working adults should not be in poverty. I know that wages must be balanced with the needs of a business. With the increase being gradual over time, companies will have time to plan for it and can find innovative ways to meet basic needs of their employees. I would have voted for the minimum wage increase proposal that was recently passed by our City Council. I support a gradual increase in the minimum wage.


Q: Should the Lucas Museum of Narrative Art be built at the proposed location on Chicago's lakefront? Please explain.

Friends of the Parks is an outstanding civic group, and I often agree with them. I am happy to see them representing the interest of many Chicagoans. Their current action brings thoughtful discussion to a decision that appears to have been made quickly, behind closed doors. I applaud them for voicing their concerns on behalf of their membership. Yet I find myself, on balance, believing that the resulting benefit will outweigh the downside. Chicago is a great tourist destination. I feel that having a museum will help to inspire a young generation of creative children and artists. I think that many have a misconception that the Lucas Museum is the "Star Wars" museum. It is, instead, intended to be a museum dedicated to multiple forms of narrative art, including illustration, photography, motion pictures, digital art and art of other media. We can be proud of our world-class museums, and the Lucas Museum will add to our cultural attractions. It will bring tourism dollars and help to support our city's strong hospitality industry. I am aware that some do not like the so-called "blob" architecture, and that some have suggested using the Michael Reese site instead of the Museum Campus site. I am also aware that tailgating may be made inconvenient for Bears' games. We also have challenges with some historic limitations on the use of that land, and some, including the Chicago Tribune, say that our lakefront land should not be used. I wouldn't want a condominium tower or hotel on the lakefront, but I do think that a public-use museum, dedicated to the arts, with huge amounts of green space is an acceptable way to allocate our precious lakefront land. I believe that the proposed site will be the most convenient for tourists and residents by being near the "Museum Campus." I feel that future generations of Chicagoans will be proud of the Lucas Museum on the 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?

I am married to a decorated Chicago Police Officer of nineteen years. I know that our Chicago Police Department has been a force for good in neighborhoods across the city. Our police, in partnership with neighborhood groups and with residents have significantly reduced crime, even many types of violent crime, over the past two decades. A trusted force protects our families and respects the rights of everyone. Our police force continues to evolve to use the latest, best tactics, such as barring of chokeholds. Our police have started a task force to better address domestic violence calls and they and have recently increased the types of crimes that can be reported online. The are also protecting our transit infrastructure with minimally-disruptive explosive screenings. This type of innovation and flexible responsiveness should be encouraged and continued. While the statistics are encouraging, they are of little comfort to those in neighborhoods plagued by crime, and Garry McCarthy has publicly acknowledged that shootings have increased in the past few years. Almost everyone agrees that in urban areas, illegal firearms present a problem. I support efforts to ensure that firearm dealers act responsibly, perform valid background checks, prevent shill purchases, and are good members of their community. I feel at that "Universal Background Checks" should be required for purchases and stiff penalties should be imposed for failure to report theft or transfer of a firearm. Supporting legislation must occur at the state and national level. I feel that community involvement, including both residents and businesses can help to promote safety and security in our neighborhoods. Economic growth also helps to prevent crime. A boarded up storefront will never call the police, but a small business owner in that same location is likely to report criminal activity. I have started neighborhood watch programs, and I have provided almost 20,000 residents of the 2nd ward with window signs that tell criminals to stay away from this block, that "we call police." I have organized 'Positive Loitering' Events and I will help communities start "Block Watches." I will encourage our local citizens and business leaders to participate in mentoring programs at our local schools, churches, and community centers. I will also encourage citizens to attend CAPS meetings. Even with community involvement, tactical and outreach innovation, and supporting legislation, it is clear to me that we need more "beat cops". I feel we should have more police available, on staff, rather than paying almost $100 million per year (2014) in overtime costs. Police presence keeps our homes and families safe.


Q: Do you support Chicago's traffic light camera program? Please explain.

After speaking with residents in our ward, we know that people want the right to face their accusers. Overwhelmingly, we have heard negative reports about cameras. Recent reporting by The Chicago Tribune that repair staff "were directed to keep the systems operational rather than ensuring that the equipment function accurately," indicates that the camera system was used as a revenue generator rather than to promote safety. Some audits have led to questions about the initial placement of the cameras: whether they were placed into documented dangerous intersections. On the other hand, Red Light Cameras may increase safety and promote safer driving, especially around schools and high pedestrian areas. I would like to see an increase in the minimum yellow light time to a standard 4 seconds. I would like cameras to be "shut down" when roads are wet, slick, or under construction. I do not support an increase in the total number of cameras. I am happy to see that Xerox has worked with our city to make oversight of the program easier and I think that we should continue down this path. I think that where negligence has been clearly proven, the city should provide refunds to recipients of tickets. In short, I would return the program to its stated goal of safety, not revenue.


Q: Should Chicago reduce the number of aldermen in the City Council?

Our 2nd ward is, geographically, one of the most distributed wards in the city. To be a successful alderman of the 2nd Ward, I am currently planning the most efficient way to provide first-class service to five different diverse neighborhoods. Chicago is historically a city where the alderman manages city services for residents. Though modern technology such as 311 and the "Chicago Works" app can streamline city services and lower costs, many residents of the 2nd ward are not "tech-savvy" and will expect service from their alderman's office. I am not fundamentally opposed to a reduction in the number of alderman, and I will consider it, but based on my experience with our campaign and planning to provide service to nearly 60,000 residents, I feel that concentrating power and responsibility into fewer aldermen is not the best plan.


Q: What is your highest priority for improving your ward? What is the greatest concern you hear from residents of your ward?

I will work to support jobs and economic growth. Other improvements will come about due to zoning and management of city services. This will make our neighborhoods, safer, stronger, and more attractive for residents and for employers. ===Zoning=== As Alderman of the Second Ward, my largest zoning challenge in the next term will be to negotiate and help to plan the future of the Finkl Steel Site. I will have to work with neighbors, businesses, and investors to come to a solution that brings good jobs and economic growth to our area while ensuring that the occupants of the site remain good neighbors and that traffic is managed. ===Residents=== I spend a large portion of every day speaking with residents. Our ward is geographically and socially diverse. Still, I hear recurring themes; the largest day-to-day concern is that neighbors in our 2nd Ward receive a fair share of city services, especially regarding street maintenance rodent abatement, and police presence. Additional concerns include the $840+ million projected deficit and its effect on taxes and fees, and the need for jobs and economic growth.


Q: Please tell us something about yourself that would surprise us.

I am a proud, legal immigrant, and I have truly lived my "American Dream". I was born in Iran, during a time of tyranny and political turmoil. My father was executed. At the age of 9, the rest of my family escaped as political refugees to Sweden. When I was 19, I was offered a full scholarship to North Park University, here in Chicago. Arriving at O'Hare, with $30 in my pocket, I spoke little English and barely knew how to hail a taxicab. I completed my degree in Political Science while working hard in the restaurant business and making many friends. In 2004 I took the oath of citizenship to become an American citizen. In 2006 I married my husband Marcus. Every day, I marvel at the opportunities that Chicago and America have provided to me. I love my home here, and I will do everything I can to preserve and protect it for the citizens of our great city, Chicago.