Candidate questionnaires

Portrait of Deborah L. Mell

Deborah L. Mell

Candidate for City Council, 33rd Ward

Deborah L. Mell

Candidate for City Council, 33rd Ward

Portrait of Deborah L. Mell

Education: B.A. Cornell College A.A California Culinary Academy

Occupation: Alderman

Home: Chicago

Age: Not answered

Past Political/Civic Experience: Not answered

Website: http://www.debmell.org

Candidates running for City Council, 33rd 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.

For years the city has meet it's operating expenses by using shortsighted measures. The glaring example of this is the parking meter deal, using reserve funds to pay for operating expenses does not support a thriving 21st century city. Continuing to look for ways to be more efficient, reducing our structural deficit and saving for the future are some of the ways we need to support our financial viability. Any plan for short-term revenue needs to be thoroughly vetted through the city council and an independent source. I supported the creation of the COFA to make sure we do not enter into more risky financial solutions.


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 State Representative I voted for pension reform. We cannot continue to ignore the problem and kick the can down the road. Municipal employees do not pay into social security and therefore it is imperative their retirement is secured. By making changes to our pensions going forward, for example by adjusting the COLA, we can ensure our employees will have a pension. Doing nothing is not an option because it will ensure the insolvency of our pension systems.


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.

I am committed to TIF reform and transparency, making sure 33rd ward residents are informed and have an important role in the spending of our TIF funds is vital. In the 2013 budget I returned over 9 million dollars in TIF surplus. However, TIF can play an important role. In my ward we plan to use TIF to create a much-needed green space for APMA, Hibbard and Edison schools.


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.

Where I found the all the ideas compelling, I really liked the idea of sister neighborhoods. What happens in one part of the city effects us all. We need to do a better job of viewing the city as a whole, if education suffers in one area it impacts job growth in another area. I've been collaborating with aldermen all over the city to create solutions and share ideas.


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.

Aldermen should not have their own inspector general. There should be one IG for all. We need to be more pro active in educating and ensuring ethical behavior. As a state rep I introduced legislation that would require a mandatory "classroom" class to be completed before opening a campaign committee.


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?

Education has always been a big priority for me, even when I was in Springfield. I am encouraged with the academic improvements that have been made at CPS, but realize that we need to continue to improve. The financial situation carries the threat of setting back the academic progress, but I believe the CPS leadership has implemented a series of belt tightening and performance improvement goals that seek to put us on a positive track. They key to improving our public schools is to work together. Parents need to be involved, teachers should be engaged and administrators should be responsive. There is nothing more important. I don't believe we need more politics in our schools and therefore do not believe there should be a solely elected school board. I would like to see a combination of elected and appointed. The Mayor who appoints the school board is elected and should be held accountable for the performance of our schools. I support the longer school day as it sets a higher standard for our students to prepare them to compete in the future global market place. CPS should open the schools it deems necessary based on the academic merits and to provide choice to students and parents, but I don't necessarily support opening more charter schools, I have been approached by companies who wanted to open schools in the 33rd but I have told them I would not support them as they would take resources from our improving neighborhood schools. We cannot shortchange our schools financially. It is critical to the city's long-term economic vitality. We need to make sure we continue to work together to find solutions to shore up our school funding. This is going to have to include solutions from Springfield in addition to smarter budget cuts and new sources of revenue.


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 are fortunate in the 33rd ward to have great businesses that hire locally. Bringing the business community together to set goals for local economic improvement is key to attracting businesses to the ward, this is exactly what I am doing. I am creating a ward plan to help new business understand our area and set up shop.


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.

Yes, I do support the City Council vote to increase minimum wage in several steps by 2019. Raising the minimum wage will have several benefits for families of all communities in Chicago. During a time that the cost of living continues to increase, the current minimum wage has low and middle-income residents struggling at the poverty line. Raising the current minimum wage will stimulate our local economy while help struggling families out of poverty and allowing families to provide better lives for their children.


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

Chicago already enjoys thriving tourism but we can do better. Bringing world-class attractions to our city only ensures a steady flow of tourism dollars.


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?

It is important for elected officials to strengthen their partnerships with city departments, such as Police and Fire to coordinate efforts to increase public safety. Preserving jobs for local law enforcement and community involvement is crucial to keeping crime down. I believe that increasing current community policing efforts and bringing resources to schools and parks to provide after school programs for the youth in the community can benefit keeping the crime to a minimum. While serving as alderman, I have attended CAPS meetings, neighborhood community meetings, and have been working with the local police to improve public safety in my ward. I am working with residents, the city and police to hold accountable absentee landlords that allow crime to fester in their buildings. This is one example of how the community can work with police to reduce crime.


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

Evidence shows red light cameras work to reduce traffic fatalities but it is crucial to constantly monitor the system to make sure it's working. It is also important to decommission existing cameras when appropriate.


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

The alderman's office is the main line of communication from residents to the city. I believe a reduction would harm city services.


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

The resident's of the 33rd Ward and I agree that the highest priority for improving the ward is strengthening neighborhood schools, building our local economy and improving public safety. The children from our community deserve the best education possible. Education lays the foundation of a child's development and is an investment for the future. Providing our children with a great education will provide a positive impact on our community's economic growth and public safety.


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

I have a lion tattoo.