Candidate for City Council, 40th Ward
Education: DePaul University, Chicago, Masters in Education California State University, B.A. Social Work
Occupation: CPS Teacher. Middle School Math and Science
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 budget process needs to be overhauled. I fully support Alderman Ameya Pawar's attempt to install an Independent Budget Office to first analyze the Mayor's proposed budget impact and then take it a step further – to provide a clear, independent analysis on the performance of awarded contracts. We need a baseline of accountability and we do not have that now. The question asking me to choose between cuts in spending or tax increases represents a false choice. The city's budget priorities, as most voters see them, do not reflect average residents' priorities – good schools, safer streets, living wages, and a more livable city overall. That said, I would argue against any further privatization that robs our city of vital revenue streams, like the parking meters, red light and speed cameras, where the profits are handed over to private corporations and not folded back into the city's coffers. In addition to budget priorities, we need to take a long hard look at our tax system. Using regressive fees and fines that nickel and dime residents at every turn is unfair and short-sighted. We need not just a serious discussion, but also serious action taken, to increase our revenues. A fair, graduated income tax would be a good start. If you make more, you pay more. Only 9 states have a flat rate tax for good reason. It is at its core an unfair system.
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.
It is unfortunate that the City created our current underfunded pension liability by taking nearly a decade of pension holidays. But let's be clear – the workers paid their share, the city did not. I prefer a financial transaction tax to shore up the pension funds. It would be unconscionable to ask workers to foot the bill when it was elected officials that spent workers' pension funds elsewhere.
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.
If the TIF system continues, it must return to its original intent: to bolster job creation and increase city services to the neighborhoods that are in greatest need. In order to support or not the TIF districts in the 40th Ward, I would need a performance assessment of the projects funded through TIFs. For instance, did the project deliver on the number of jobs it was to create? Do those jobs still exist and are they paying living wages to the workers? Is there direct value to residents in these projects, or does the real value accrue to corporate profit margins? Again, I fully support an Independent Budget Office to evaluate the entire City budget, including TIFs. I oppose using TIFs for Marriott which reported $192 million in profits last year, up from $179 million the year before. This $55 million expenditure does not pass the "if then" test – if no TIF, then the project would not have been realized. Marriott does not need $55 million from Chicago's hard-working residents to build another for-profit hotel and an unnecessary basketball arena for a private school.
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.
Too funny! That story is behind your pay wall so I can't respond.
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.
Possibly more than any other city in the nation, Chicago needs a strong, fully armed legislative inspector general to root out corruption. But we got just the opposite this past summer. In July 2014, my opponent, Pat O'Connor, led the charge to strip the legislative inspector general of his already limited powers shortly after that same legislative inspector general opened an investigation of Mr. O'Connor. That is shameful. Chicagoans deserve better than this. I hope this vote makes voters take a long hard look at who they're voting for on February 24, 2015. The City Council must have an inspector general to root out pay-to-play politics and corruption. All of us pay a very high price for this corruption, not only in the immediate costs of waste and fraud but also in the destruction of our civic souls. Chicago's political corruption is turning off our next generation of municipal leaders. Apathy and distrust are slowly replacing civic pride. This worries me for our city's future.
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?
The keys to improving Chicago public education are smaller class sizes, cut standardized testing which is depriving students of a well-rounded education, and an elected school board. Parents, students, teachers, administrators and staff – the people most knowledgeable about education -- have no say in how our schools are run. That needs to change. The 1995 Amendatory Act which authorized mayoral control of our schools needs to be repealed. The main problem I see CPS repeat time and time again is new top-down directives, no meaningful performance assessment of those directives, scrap the directives, create new top-down directives. It's a cycle repeated every two to three years and follows no best practices of which I am aware. I support a moratorium on charter schools. Privatizing our city assets – schools included – is wrong-headed. We should strengthen and protect our assets, not sell them off. In terms of CPS's financial performance, I would like to address that as the next alderman of the 40th Ward but currently CPS, like CTA and CHA, are not under the aegis of the Council. That too must change. As it is, residents cannot hold their elected aldermen accountable for the very things they want most – good schools, good transportation and good housing.
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 would help community-based small businesses, including manufacturing, get up and stay up by a judicious use of TIFs that holds recipients to strict accountability for creating livable wage jobs for local residents. Major corporations do not need TIF assistance in most cases. This use of TIFs will keep 40th Ward's identity and charm intact – a community of unique small businesses -- boutiques, entertainment and specialized services.
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 a $15 minimum wage now for corporations earning $50 million or more, and a gradual step up to $15 an hour for smaller businesses.
Q: Should the Lucas Museum of Narrative Art be built at the proposed location on Chicago's lakefront? Please explain.
I have not discussed this with 40th Ward residents.
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?
To improve safety, we must tackle poverty head-on. As an after-school volunteer tutor and coach, I know how life-changing one-on-one instruction and healthy, active and meaningful after-school programs can be for students and families. I would support these types of initiatives as Alderman of the 40th Ward and for the city as a whole. At the same time, we need a fully-staffed police detail. Then we must develop deeply-rooted community policing so our officers know us, and we know them.
Q: Do you support Chicago's traffic light camera program? Please explain.
No. I do not see why the city couldn't purchase the equipment and then run the program, keeping this vital revenue stream for our city coffers. If that were the case, then local elected officials could control where a few red light cameras are truly needed in their ward for safety reasons. As it is now, it appears that where and how many red light cameras are installed is decided based on their ability to increase corporate profits.
Q: Should Chicago reduce the number of aldermen in the City Council?
The number of aldermen is less relevant than is its need for an Independent Budget Office and an Inspector General with full powers to root out corruption and malfeasance. Also, the Council should first be held accountable to residents for what residents want – good schools, good transportation and good housing. To do that, I support bringing CPS, CTA and CHA into City Council oversight.
Q: What is your highest priority for improving your ward? What is the greatest concern you hear from residents of your ward?
Civic engagement is my highest priority. Ward residents overwhelmingly want an Alderman who votes in a way that reflects their community values – a representative that puts their concerns before corporate profit. They want an independent voice in the City Council that focuses on improving the quality of life for all of the city, and their ward.
Q: Please tell us something about yourself that would surprise us.
I won a car on a game show when I was in college. It was a powder blue Buick Opel.