Candidate questionnaires

Portrait of Byron Sigcho

Byron Sigcho

Candidate for City Council, 25th Ward

Byron Sigcho

Candidate for City Council, 25th Ward

Portrait of Byron Sigcho

Education: PhD (expected), Policy Studies in Urban Education, University of Illinois at Chicago (2015) MA, Economics, University of Illinois at Chicago (2010) BA, BBA, Mathematics, Business Administration, Cumberland University (2006)

Occupation: Lead Instructor at the University of Illinois at Chicago, Center for Literacy

Home: Chicago

Age: Not answered

Past Political/Civic Experience: Not answered

Website: http://www.teamsigcho.org

Candidates running for City Council, 25th Ward


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.

On June 6th, 2013 I sent a letter to the Chicago Tribune Editorial Board to express my disappointment with its decision to endorse Juan Rangel and Martin Cabrera Jr., as CEO and chairman of UNO, respectively. The reasons behind that disappointment are now there for all to see. Organizations such as UNO were the ones who lobbied and benefited from long term borrowing to pay for short term expenses without appropriate accountability. This organization spent millions of public dollars to benefit contractors within its inner circle, and bond underwriters who, like in the case of Cabrera Jr., worked directly for the same organization. In the meantime, the city did not have enough funds to keep open fifty public schools in areas where they are most needed. The city argued for cuts while it kept spending in new construction through long term borrowing, but without any feasibility or impact studies. Borrowing public funds to invest in organizations that do not have any oversight while starving public institutions which do, it is simply inadequate public policy. The results, in the case of UNO alone, are clear: Open investigations for fraud and a deeply troubled educational system. We need to invest in critical services such as public schools, affordable housing, our health system, and cut public funding to private projects with little return to the public. Public dollars such as TIF funds and those being lost to "toxic" interest rate swaps should be invested in the purposes they were intended to fund.


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 will always be open to cutting unnecessary spending, but solving the pension situation will not be easy and will most likely take a combination of approaches. To come up with additional dollars, however, raising taxes should not be the first thing to look at. Instead, we must take a close look at current loop holes and moneys sitting around unspent. In terms of cuts, I would take a deep look at patronage hiring in City Hall and other city departments, and would work to eliminate unnecessary and redundant positions. In terms of revenue, one of the first things the city can do is to look at the money it has sitting without use, such as the estimated $1.5 billion dollars in the city wide Tax Increment Financing funds. Another possible source of revenue would be to renegotiate the toxic swaps city department and the board of education entered with certain banks. It is estimated that public schools alone lose millions through this risky financing mechanism.


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.

All programs need constant evaluation and oversight. The TIF, however, needs a complete audit and reevaluation. I understand what the benefits of well run, transparent economic development tool such as TIFs can do. However, in its current form, I would have to concur with those who have equated many of these TIFs to "political sludge funds". At the very least, control of TIFs should be shared with community residents, as opposed to leaving massive amounts of money to the discretion of a single politician.


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.

To heal a city we must first agree on where is it that we are hurting. New, exciting ideas are always welcome, but some of the most serious problems in Chicago have very simple explanations, such as the entrenched issues of poverty, racism and segregation that we have not been able to solve. Chicago is not short of ideas, we are doing a great job luring the "creative class" from all over the Midwest. What we need is the willingness to put our money where our mouth is, or simply admit that we are not willing to make the sacrifices it takes to deal with violence, poor schools, the affordability crisis and legitimacy crisis of the political structure. If we want to deal with schools, safety and jobs, as the premise of this questionnaire suggests, we must look at our priorities and agree on where is it that residents need support. For instance, if we think that lack of education among low income residents is a problem, why do we charge $120 to take the exam? And why, in the same breath, we give millions to sport arenas and corporations such a Hyatt to subsidize them. Another serious problem that needs addressing is the increasing cynicism and lack of confidence in the political system. We need to make politics more transparent through a stricter system of check and balances. City political process has been severely deformed by pay to play. Few incumbents represent 'pat to play' and old school politics than the incumbent IO am challenging, Danny Solis. The $5 million he has rise since first appointed by Mayor Daley could be used as a chronology of favors and projects that have taken place in the last 18 years. There, one natural solution to that is to remove corrupt leaders marshaling proposals that seldom benefit community people. From the list of 12 solutions, I would be very interested in exploring how we increase opportunities.


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.

The office of the legislative inspector general should remain in order to investigate the alderman and their staff. We need serious consequences for those who betray the public's trust in the way of kickbacks and pay to play.


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?

As an educator and public education advocate, I give the lowest grades to CPS. I believe that they have completely failed in listening and understanding the concerns of the communities the Board is deeply affecting. There is a profound lack of trust in CPS in minority communities. Restoring trust and accountability for the public, therefore, is a must, which is why we need a democratically elected school board. Regarding pension payments, is unfortunate and ironic to see the politicians and leaders who got us into this mess by avoiding dealing with it retire with huge pensions, while regular folks who worked for the public under a written understanding are now being put against the wall to renounce their benefits. I opposed the school closings for many reasons, one of them being the support they provide to vulnerable children. The process of closing them down was also suspect, to a great extent, by the almost complete lack of confidence in the information and analysis provided by the board. Additionally, while schools closed, new charters opened, casting a shadow on whether the real reasons were those publicly stated. I believe that the establishment of an elected school board is one of the only ways to recuperate the public's confidence. The Incumbent, Danny Solis, has cynically told us that he is against a DESB for the same reasons the mayor is: it would be too political. We need to give the opportunities for people to choose the best possible representatives to the school board, after all is their children and their taxes they will be working with.


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?

We have been actively working with the city on Chicago on how to bring new jobs into the 25thward. Our district has been severely affected by deindustrialization. In the last few years, we have gad to make difficult choices that have cost us good paying jobs. That was the case with the Fisk coal plant, home to good paying jobs, but also the source of illness causing emissions. Our goal has been to work with a series of stakeholders, including the owners of the former Fisk plant, and have come up with a series of development proposals. At the center of the plan is the need to keep the areas zoned for industrial use and try to replace those jobs. Although I am bound by a confidentially agreement, I am confident that the site will be the site of many good paying jobs n the future. We also hold periodic meetings with employers with whom we have established relations to discuss jobs and other community benefits. One of the agreements with these employers is to reach out to our local organization to screen candidates and perhaps refer them to the appropriate services before they can work (40 % of people over 25 in Pilsner, for instance, do not have secondary education).


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 wholeheartedly support the raise to $13 an hour. It is ethically appropriate and economically helpful.


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

I do not think that the Lucas Museum should go in the lake front, one of Chicago's greatest assets and most beloved park. For over a hundred years, the public use of the lakefront has been the pride of Chicagoan and perhaps the most important planning decision in our city's history. I believe that it should remain public. We have shortages of green space in the city while empty lots abound in many communities. If the Lucas Museum is indeed an engine of economic development, then it needs to go where we can get a better value from what our community invested.


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?

We need a holistic approach to invest in our vulnerable and at-risk communities. We must strengthen and revamp community policing so that we regain trust with law enforcement. For example, police officers need to walk their beat to visibly build personal relationships. There needs to more accountability and a stronger relationship between students and local law enforcement through community-led sensitivity trainings. Along with Pilsen Alliance, we have advocated to keep schools open and kids off the street. We work to sponsor youth through paid internships and leadership experiences in our grassroots organization. I personally work to improve leadership and confidence skills in the youth of Chicago as a volunteer soccer coach with America SCORES.


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

I do not support the red light cameras. I believe it is a regressive to tax, putting a special burden on the poorest city residents. The red light camera deal has been questionable from the beginning. The contract was awarded in perverse circumstances, the yellow lights have been tampered with and thousands of people have mistakenly received tickets. We need to find better ways to pay for the city's expenses.


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

Given the history of the Chicago City council, it would seem that a smaller council would make sense. The problem is whether the more vulnerable parts of the city will receive the representation they need and deserve.


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

The biggest concern is to deal with the crisis of affordability in the neighborhood resulting in the displacement of more than 10,000 Latino residents in 10 years. Urban displacement and irrational planning is affecting thousands of residents of the ward, not only in Pilsen, but also in Chinatown and West Loop. It is not acceptable for the city to look at how low and moderate income people get kicked out of the city while we do nothing about it.


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

I arrived to the United States from Ecuador with nothing, not even the language. I came as a teenager with a soccer scholarship. I didn't speak English and was living in Alabama. Adaptation to the new culture was not easy in the South. Despite the obstacles, I persevered. I am now getting a PhD in education policy and getting ready to represent the people of 25th Ward.


City Council, 25th Ward