Candidate questionnaires

Portrait of Brian Hopkins

Brian Hopkins

Candidate for City Council, 2nd Ward

Brian Hopkins

Candidate for City Council, 2nd Ward

Portrait of Brian Hopkins

Education: Governor's State University (Graduate Work) University of Illinois at Springfield (B.S., Political Science) Moraine Valley Community College (General Education) Chicago Christian School; Carl Sandburg High School

Occupation: Chief of Staff, Cook County Commissioner John Daley

Home: Chicago

Age: Not answered

Past Political/Civic Experience: Not answered

Website: http://www.hopkinsforchicago.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 do not believe that Chicago's borrowing was fully justified, nor were the other financial mechanisms used to generate new revenue. I don't support interest rate swaps or speculation within public financing – gambling with public money is irresponsible and should be avoided. When it comes down to how to responsibly invest city finances, I believe that the less speculation-based investing, the better off we will be. If interest rates change favorably, the city can always refinance. In fact, the city would be better off refunding and refinancing - this offers a long-term responsible solution to manage interest rate variations. Public money managers should seek to minimize risk – not be tempted to take risks based on the advice of consultants who are often acting in their own interests. Other municipalities have gotten into deep financial holes as a result of high risk speculative decisions. The City of Chicago should adhere to a low-risk investment policy and avoid being taken in by financial advisers who are selling instruments that are not in the long term interests of the taxpayers. In order to improve the City's bond rating, I would look to balance the budget by reductions in spending. I do not support increasing property taxes.


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.

I support continued negotiations with employee unions and trustees of the four public pension funds for city employees to arrive at a long term solution to the unfunded pension liability. A long term solution must include a combination of increased employee contributions, alternative funding sources for adequate employer contributions that do not rely on increased property taxes, limitations on annual cost of living adjustments, and increasing the retirement age.


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.

With more than $1.7 billion in unused TIF funds, I believe that this funding can go a long way towards reinvestment in programs that would better benefit our neighborhoods. As Alderman, I will introduce an ordinance that places a sunset provision on TIF projects to reallocate TIF funds to fund other neighborhood programs, and to reallocate funds from TIF projects that were never completed or cancelled. Given public calls to reallocate TIF funding back to schools and education, it would be worth prioritizing reallocating money to after school programs, arts and music programs, and other extracurricular activities that are at risk of further funding cuts. As for the South Loop TIF to build a hotel and event center, Chicago is fortunate to have McCormick Place – America's largest convention center in the nation – minutes away from the cities' destination hotels and from the Magnificent Mile. It serves as a significant draw for national and international meetings and expositions – and generates significant tax revenue for the city. Building a new hotel closer to McCormick Place offers the city an opportunity to draw additional revenue from the cities' convention and tourism industry, as the hotel will be positioned to offer premium rates for the convenience of its proximity to the convention center. The addition of the events center provides the city with an additional venue for entertainment opportunities centrally located to the largest draw for tourists, further increasing revenue generation. With an estimated economic impact of $250 million, the new hotel and event center is a sound public investment that will spark further private investment in the surrounding neighborhood, and will bring in substantial amounts of revenue from visitors to Chicago.


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.

The Exploiting Chicago's Greatest Resource and Oases in the Jobs Deserts proposals are wonderful programs that will help revitalize and incentivize new job creation and new industry all across the city – especially in areas where the commercial or industrial space is available for use or renovation. I am supportive of the Sister Neighborhoods program and City in a Garden initiatives as well. What makes Chicago unique is the loyalty that residents feel towards their neighborhoods. Implemented properly, these programs can help tie communities together through idea sharing, education, neighborhood transformation – and through all of these things, will help neighbors to further cement their ties to their blocks, and the people living there. I joined the Lakefront Improvement Committee after watching the transformative effect of the museum campus and Millennium Park. Those major projects helped transform downtown into a place where people wanted to live and work; brought in tourism that generates revenue for the city; gives people a recreational destination, and adds to civic pride through beautification. We must continue that momentum, while also addressing safety issues along Lake Shore Drive – one of the most dangerous and congested strips of road in Chicago. I also support community-based after school programs for youth. Art On Sedgwick, a new local initiative in the Second Ward, is a program I am proud to support. It will provide a supervised and supportive structure for children from diverse backgrounds to work together in a positive, creative environment. This initiative is not tied to a school or government agency, but to caring people in the neighborhood who have a vision for bringing the community closer together, and helping adolescents choose a path to success as they grow into young adults.


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 the mission of the Office of Legislative Inspective General. Regardless of where LIG is housed and where the authority is derived, the Office needs total independence and autonomy from City Council to perform its job – and I support providing the OLIG with the authority to conduct investigations into alderman and their staff. The State's Attorney Public Integrity Unit is performing a similar task and should be given additional funding to carry on the tasks of the job – so long as those additional oversight bodies do not conflict with any existing enforcement mechanisms within other governmental agencies. For example, the State's Attorney Public Integrity can receive anonymous complaints, while the OLIG does not, and if the OLIG were to start taking anonymous complaints, I can foresee a dilution of the effectiveness of the office, as it will likely be used as a political power play tool. Other ideas to strengthen government ethics in Chicago: • I support enacting a city program to assist people filing FOIA requests to help narrow down the scope of the request and get the information that they need. Most of what is requested can be found online, but it can be cumbersome to actually find that information – especially with more and more data being available every day. It makes sorting that data set challenging. • As Alderman, I will use my website to explain why I took a vote for or against each ordinance. • I support further reduction of Shakman exemption positions across all city departments. • If elected, I will impose a higher standard of ethics for my staff to abide by in my 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?

I am encouraged that CPS graduation rates have improved, and that more students are on track to graduate. It suggests that some of the policy changes and leadership has helped to turn the system around relative to student achievement. It is too soon to say or assess whether the school closures had a positive or negative impact on increased student achievement. Certainly, I cannot express the same encouragement on the state of CPS's finances. Using future money to pay for today's budget is an unsustainable budget gimmick, and follows a mismanagement pattern that has gotten so many public pension funds into trouble. It's wrong to appropriate future funds to fix the budget missteps today. To ensure that CPS doesn't get into financial trouble in the short or long-term, I think the best solution is advocating the state legislature to overhaul the state education funding formula in such a way that does not draw additional revenue from property tax increases. I support a hybrid Elected School Board, in which voters choose the members of the Board, while the mayor would appoint the Board President. This system increases accountability to the mayor and the administration, but also to the voters, ensuring that voters' interest keeps CPS moving in the right direction. With the mayor's discretion to appoint the Board President, it ensures that the mayor remains accountable for the state of the public schools. Having multiple parties accountable to each other will ensure that the best interests of students and staff are preserved and prioritized. Keys to improving public education in Chicago include a longer school day and a longer school year, reducing classroom size, stronger teacher retention efforts, and incentives to recruit and retain new teachers. One way we can recruit new teachers for CPS is by developing a program modeled after Teach for America. Recent college graduates would join the program for four years, giving them classroom experience. Upon completion of the four year program, a Teach for Chicago educator could be given the option to stay within CPS or to 'graduate' from the program and move on. As for the charter school issue, Chicago should reform the process by which charter organizations are authorized. We could eliminate the State Charter School Commission's involvement in chartering within CPS, and delegate authority to the Chicago Board of Education. A tiered system of assessment should be enacted, wherein charter organizations with multiple schools within CPS should be assessed and evaluated with higher scrutiny towards the overall performance of its schools to ensure the organization is delivering a higher quality education. Organizations with schools elsewhere in the US seeking to charter the first school within CPS would have to provide substantial evidence that their program works to provide a higher quality education. Parent groups seeking to open a charter in their neighborhood would have to have sufficient buy-in from the entire neighborhood, to ensure that the community has a long-term interest in seeing the school flourish.


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?

• Reducing the cost of doing businesses in Chicago for small businesses. Streamlined licensing and inspections. Revisions of city code to bring it up to 21st century standards and to help incorporate new business models and strategies. A great example of this is the city recently approving zoning for vertical farming, but the permit, inspection, and licensing process doesn't match the need for this new business. • Work with retailers in the ward to sell local apparel. Chicago has a young, growing design and apparel industry, and finding ways to encourage retailers on the Magnificent Mile or along other retail corridors in the 2nd to sell locally created products will keep more money in the community, while supporting our local entrepreneurs. • Chicago does not have a Small Business Ombudsman – as alderman, I would create an office within the City Council to help small business owners navigate through the bureaucratic process. Many aldermanic offices fill this role for constituents, and there are 50 ways to get something done in Chicago. A central office for this would allow small business owners and constituents alike – with an added benefit that this central location would help identify inefficiencies in the bureaucratic process. • Expand government partnerships between the County and City. Both government bodies would benefit from expanded partnerships. Sharing financial resources to promote economic development will allow the city to be synergistic with the county. Similarly, partnering with the County would lessen the cost of economic development, as the partnership agreement may reveal duplicative programs by both levels of government. • Expanding 1871 technology incubator programs across the city. The Chicagoland area has several sites that could support and allow startup businesses to thrive. This type of program will help the city attract young professionals seeking out a space for a tech start-up, and will provide young entrepreneurs with an alternative to Silicon Valley. The existing partnership with the University of Illinois should be encouraged, so recent graduates will choose to begin their careers in Chicago. The city has existing infrastructure in shuttered manufacturing centers that could be converted into shared work spaces for tech, manufacturing, or other industries.


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 an increase in the minimum wage, but I think that $13/hour is too much of a burden on small business owners. There is speculation that current employees may see their hours cut back as a result of the $13 per hour mandate – and that will result in a net reduction for some wage earners at the end of the day. Working fewer hours will result in a lower net income, thereby defeating the purpose of the minimum wage increase. I voted yes on the 2014 minimum wage referendum to support raising the IL minimum wage, and believe that the state legislature should pass a bill that establishes a uniform minimum wage for Illinois. Multiple rates across jurisdictions is confusing and unfair.


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

Yes. It would be a great revenue generator for the city, as it will be an international attraction and will expand the portfolio, attractiveness, and green space of Chicago's museum campus. The proposal's emphasis on green space is highlighted with the inclusion of below-grade parking, thereby allowing for more public park space along the lakefront. I would also support demolition of the underused East Lakeside building at McCormick place to reclaim additional green space.


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 have been a longtime participant in CAPS and the Court Advocate program. I believe strongly in the power of both. As alderman I would encourage expanded neighborhood involvement and would use my office to promote residents to volunteer for these programs. It gives a voice to neighbors to address specific block safety concerns and helps develop relationships with beat officers who patrol their immediate area. During my time with the Streeterville Organization of Active Residents, I was involved in the community response to a sudden increase in Multiple Offender Incidents (MOPs). We reached out to neighbors through CAPS and other channels, and established a network for local high rise buildings in the areas most affected to communicate with law enforcement, and each other. This resulted in the ability for law enforcement to respond more rapidly to incidents, and help contain large, unruly groups. The Chicago Police are better able to protect the residents of a community when acting in partnership with community leaders.


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

I think the program needs to be overhauled and redesigned with safety in mind – rather than revenue generation. There are too many red light and speed cameras installed all across the city, and these cameras are often in places where traffic or pedestrian accident rates are very low. To redesign the program, an appropriate traffic study should be performed with collision data to help assess where speed cameras should be placed, and there should be a specific criteria to determine which intersections are given red light cameras. Turning right on red violations should be removed from enforcement. With the hefty fines, questions about the integrity of the program, and the concerns with the placement in areas where traffic incidents have been historically lower than other areas of the city, the program has lost its credibility. It needs to be reformed to regain a measure of trust, and motorists would be more likely to support the traffic light camera program if it used a lighter touch with regard to enforcement.


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

Yes – I will support an ordinance to reduce the city council to 25 Alderman. The staffing resources for an alderman should be commensurate with the service demand – whether for one alderman or for 50. One alderman could serve a larger constituency if the resources are allocated appropriately.


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

The top priorities for residents of the Second Ward are neighborhood safety, holding the line on property taxes, and improving the school system. I share these priorities, and as Alderman I pledge to devote my time to according to the expectations of my constituents. In addition to these key policy priorities, the residents of the Second Ward have a high expectation of the level of services provided by their aldermanic office. Repairing and improving the infrastructure, fixing the streets and sidewalks, dealing with graffiti and rodent control, trash removal and recycling, and other basic elements of city life will be given full attention by my office in a manner that will exceed the expectations of my constituents.


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

In high school and college, I played harmonica in a blues band.