Candidate for City Council, 25th Ward
Education: Attended St. Mel's High School and the University of Illinois at Chicago.
Occupation: Alderman, City of Chicago 25th 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.
The City of Chicago is facing an unprecedented financial situation and because of that there are going to be tough decisions that have to be made. All options must remain on the table to ensure we can continue to provide essential services and uphold the standards we have set for our city. We should exhaust all available options to increase funding before cutting services or increasing taxes and fees. I support finding new, more efficient ways of providing services, as well as finding areas of waste that can be cut from the budget. I also support a progressive income tax at the state level and the elimination of corporate loopholes. The City of Chicago deserves to receive an appropriate amount of aid from the State of Illinois because of the economic boon Chicago provides in terms of bringing businesses and jobs and revenue to the state. I also believe that the wealthiest among us should be paying their fair share before we consider hitting middle and working class people with new 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.
As a city we are working to address this issue and we have achieved important breakthroughs with organized labor that are acceptable for taxpayers, employees, and government. What changes can be made is still a matter being decided by the Illinois Supreme Court. I await the court's decision and hope it can provide further guidance on the issue going forward.
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 have been a very helpful tool in the 25th Ward for improving infrastructure and schools and creating jobs. I was able to use TIF funds to help with an expansion of the neighborhood high school, Benito Juarez and for improvements at Whittier in Pilsen. We also used TIF funds in the Pilsen Industrial Corridor to bring over 3,000 new jobs to the area including many at the International Produce Market. I used TIF funding to help with the construction of a new library and field house for the Chinatown community. We also use TIF funding for infrastructure improvements including sidewalk repairs, green technology alley reconstructions, and improved lighting for public safety. I support the continuation of these TIF districts in the 25th ward to help benefit the local economy and schools. My goal is to redirect as many TIF funds as possible back into the community that is paying into the TIFs to minimize the surplus in those funds. I do believe that the arena and hotel will be beneficial to the citywide economy and could be a good use of funds.
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.
12 ways to heal a city has some great ideas. I particularly like the GED program you mention. I have also been working on a program for several years in the 25th Ward called the Chicago Peace Corps. The aim of the program is to connect people such as college and graduate level students to youth in the community for tutoring and mentoring services. I would also like to see basketball courts built adjacent to police districts to provide a safe place for kids to play in each community.
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 recently co-sponsored an ordinance that would shift the power of the legislative inspector general to the city inspector general.
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's schools are facing a number of challenges and one of the most difficult is the budget constraint that is making it difficult to provide all of the resources our children need to flourish. We must invest in our students and find innovative ways to make the budget work so that our kids are not getting shortchanged anywhere in their education. This includes investments in early childhood education, libraries, and other infrastructure. While I do support parents having options for their children, I do not support any charter schools opening in Pilsen. I am interested in the idea of a hybrid school board that would combine both elected and appointed members. I think this is important to ensure that there is adequate representation of the Latino community on the board as the city's Hispanic population continues to grow. I support the longer school day and I routinely advocate for more time in school and after school programming that gives our children more classroom learning as well as getting them off the streets. I believe that more classroom time is an investment in our children's reading, writing, math, and science skills. These are not just academic skills but life skills that amount to an investment in their future.
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 have been very successful in bringing jobs to the ward during my term as Alderman. Using TIF funding I was able to bring over 3,000 jobs to the Pilsen Industrial Corridor. I sit down with anyone interested in doing business in the ward and ask them to meet with union representatives to try to get local jobs for residents. The key to economic development is making the ward a place where people want to live, work, and play. We have opened major arts and cultural institutions, restaurants, and larger businesses such as the International Produce Market and the American Linen Company.
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 this increase to the minimum wage in Chicago because I support low-income workers and families.
Q: Should the Lucas Museum of Narrative Art be built at the proposed location on Chicago's lakefront? Please explain.
Yes, the site selection committee for this project spent months reviewing potential locations all around the City of Chicago and came to the conclusion that this was the best place for this museum. I agree with their assessment. In addition, this museum is a once in a lifetime opportunity to add a legacy institution to Chicago's lakefront. This project will be an investment in our city of hundreds of millions of dollars, bringing increased economic development, tourism opportunity and transportation infrastructure. These benefits are too important to Chicago's future to pass up.
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?
One of the best ways to improve public safety is to provide programming for our children after school and on the weekends that keeps them busy and engaged. I sponsored a local basketball program, ABC Pilsen Basketball, which focuses on the sport but also on school and teamwork. We need more programs like these to engage our children. In addition, we use infrastructure such as pod cameras in high traffic areas to deter crime. I also meet regularly with our police commanders and get reports on criminal activity. I have requested increased foot and bicycle patrols in all of the beats in my ward because I believe that the more police connect with the community face to face, the more effective they can be.
Q: Do you support Chicago's traffic light camera program? Please explain.
I believe that the goal of the traffic light camera program is to improve public safety and I certainly support that effort. I think we should ensure that the program is being fairly and appropriately run.
Q: Should Chicago reduce the number of aldermen in the City Council?
Aldermen are our residents' gateway to city services. More aldermen means better representation for our communities and greater accountability to the taxpayers. It seems clear to me that we, in the Hispanic community, need as much representation in our communities as possible and this would not save us a significant amount of money.
Q: What is your highest priority for improving your ward? What is the greatest concern you hear from residents of your ward?
There are three major concerns I hear about when talking to ward residents: schools and education, crime and safety, and job creation. Our neighborhoods still face major challenges. My top priorities have been and will continue to be focusing on economic development and job creation, quality education for our children and fighting crime in the community. I have also been a strong advocate for immigration rights throughout my career and believe we need to continue to seek solutions for the country's broken immigration system.
Q: Please tell us something about yourself that would surprise us.
I love salsa dancing.