Candidate for City Council, 27th Ward
Education: BS, Finance. DePaul University
Occupation: SVP/Small Business Lender
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.
1) The seeds of the fiscal problems that led to the city's use of so-called "scoop and toss" bonding practices were planted long before 2000. Chicago, like the state of Illinois, has for too long been living beyond its means. It was inevitable that both would have to resort to some sort of fiscal trickery. It has been said that when you find yourself in a hole, the first thing to do is stop digging. Both the city and state must go on a fiscal diet, gradually reducing the gap between revenues and expenditures. We can neither simply cut spending nor tax our way out of our current circumstance. The former would impose devastating hardship on people in need of government assistance, while the latter would devastate both the city and state economy. Rather, some mix of spending cuts and revenue enhancements will be required. No single cut or tax hike can be considered in a vacuum. Moreover, many city revenue options would require state approval. Therefore, I look forward to Governor Rauner's plan to restore fiscal sanity to state government, and the mix of spending cuts and tax/fee adjustments he proposes to the General Assembly. As some of both are likely to impact city finances, I would think it wise to factor them into any formulation of a solution to the city's own fiscal problems. In short, it is my view that all spending cuts and revenue options be on the table when the city and state seek to craft solutions to their particular problems. In the final analysis, Governor Rauner is correct when he suggests that both the city and state pursue growth in their perspective economies to soften the impact of any service cuts and reduce the need for additional tax or fee increases.
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.
2) See Answer 1.
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.
3) I would like to see a moratorium on the creation, expansion or extension of the TIF districts anywhere in Chicago until a complete forensic audit of the entire existing program has been performed and made public. If possible, I would suspend collection of TIF taxes and halt expenditure of already collected tax monies until its results are known. If not possible or practical, I would support creation of citizen led advisory boards for existing TIF districts to approve all future expenditures of TIF tax dollars. I expect that the question of "excess" TIF funds will be a major focus of any forensic audits, as will any "holds" or "commitments" of the $1.7 billion estimated to be in TIF accounts at present. Some "commitments" may need to be rescinded or litigated. Chicago needs a new form of grassroots community economic development that does not shower hundreds of millions of dollars on mayoral/aldermanic allies, a small group of insiders and billion dollar corporations. The Marriott Hotel deal is a perfect example of the last. The area in question is not blighted. The deal can be done without public dollars (the But For test), while those public dollars are desperately needed for vital city services across the city, including our most disadvantaged communities. The Marriott Corporation had 2013 revenues of $12.8 billion. They do not need $55 million from Chicago taxpayers. We need to put a stop to this form of corporate welfare when the city has so many other pressing needs.
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.
4) For the past 8 years, as Senior Vice President for Somercor 504, I have helped develop creative and effective solutions to provide access to capital for small businesses struggling to obtain bank financing. Somercor is currently one of the top SBA lenders in the nation and the leading SBA lender in Chicago. I personally have been the top SBA lender (per Crain's Chicago) in Chicago and IL. Thus, by background and experience, I was most impressed by the last 4 of your 12 ways to heal a city. "Oases in the jobs desert," for example, is just the sort of new form of grassroots community economic development I referenced in my previous answer. "Mutual of Chicago" is not all that different from my work at Somercor and I have seen firsthand the benefits that result from such efforts. I would look forward to championing these and similar initiatives as 27th Ward Alderman.
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.
5) The legislative inspector general should have the authority to investigate alderman and their staff members. I think we need to properly allow the IG to investigate at their own will as well as provide adequate resources to the IG. Our city has been plagued with corruption and we need to empower the IG to help clean up city hall.
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?
6) I am not at all certain that the premise of the question, i.e., that CPS has seen "significant" improvements in its performance, is an accurate one. I believe we have come to expect too little from CPS, and so applaud any gains. I think the academic and financial performance of CPS are inextricably linked, and both are woefully lacking. That is only in part to the fault of the system. The State of Illinois bears significant responsibility for the system's woes, and a succession of city administrations has accepted short-term fixes to avoid the burdens of long term solutions. The key to improving public education in the city is to unite all of the system's shareholders behind one plan/vision in which they all have a stake and a part to play. Key to that process is an elected school board, which I am actively supporting and circulated petitions for. So long as the Mayor's Office continues to control the Board, and use its resources for political purposes, that shared plan/vision will remain out of reach. I do support the longer school day and year, as long as teacher compensation is adjusted accordingly. CPS should freeze charter school expansion until a comprehensive review of existing programs can be completed. While charter schools can certainly be part of an improved system of public education, they cannot and should not take the place of that system. The answer to CPS' budget woes is no different than that for the state, city and other departments and units of local government. Everything must be on the table, and a mix of responsible spending cuts and revenue enhancements must be developed.
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?
7) I'm in a unique position as I have a rolodex of hundreds and hundreds of business owners that I have personal relationships with as I've provided financing and consulting for them. I have enjoyed a tremendous reputation as a top small business advisor in Chicago and business owners trust me my guidance and recommendations. I have provided tens of millions of dollars to companies that have relocated in the 27th ward. There's a list of a handful on my website, gabefor27.com. I'm not going to "encourage" empolyers to hire local residents I will be REQURING it. For far too long, the current Alderman has not fought for local jobs and has allowed the employers in the 27th ward to do as they wish. I will be taking a much more proactive approach and will be making it a firm requirement before I issue zoning approvals and occupancy permits.
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.
8) Prior to graduating college I worked minimum wage jobs and also had to pay bills which was difficult to accomplish. It was difficult just for me to support myself and led me into some personal debt so I can only imagine trying to provide for a family on the current minimum wage. Chicagoans deserve an adequate minimum wage to provide for their families. The City Council vote to increase the minimum wage to $13 an hour by 2019 recognizes this new reality, providing an economic boost to over 400,000 Chicagoans. Moreover, it recognizes that Chicago's cost of living is higher than, say Marion in southern Illinois. For these reasons, I support the City Council action.
Q: Should the Lucas Museum of Narrative Art be built at the proposed location on Chicago's lakefront? Please explain.
9) The Lucas Museum should not be built at the proposed location on the lakefront, for the same reason that the Children's Museum was ultimately persuaded to abandon its proposed new facility. There are countless other locations that would benefit from such a facility, and the facility would benefit from being the jewel in its own new crown. Lakefront preservation must remain among Chicago's highest priorities. That proposals such as this one continue to lay claim to pieces of this irreplaceable pubic asset is reason alone to reject the site, sending a clear message to future petitioners that they should look elsewhere. The city should work with the Lucas Museum to identify and support an alternative site, as the Museum would certainly enhance the Chicago experience.
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?
When Rahm ran for Mayor 4 years ago, Rahm pledged to increase the number of police by 1000. He has failed to do so. The city must take steps to honor this commitment. Those new officers and those already on the job must not only police the city, but also actively engage the growing number of community organizations that have formed, at least in part, around issues of public safety. I also think we need to higher police offers that are from the community that are policing. Currently, there's police officers policing neighborhoods they simply do not understand nor are trusted. CPD officers need residents' assistance to both solve and reduce crime. Residents, in turn, must trust that the police will seek that assistance in good faith, and will pay attention to their concerns and partner with them to make their neighborhoods safer. In my own experience, I have been involved in many community efforts undertaken by groups such as the West Loop Residents Association, Neighbors of West Loop, Fulton Market/Randolph Street Association, Near North Unity Program and others. These groups and others like them in neighborhoods throughout Chicago want to work with the police so that they can both feel and be safe, both in their homes and businesses, and on their streets. I will encourage using neighborhood programs and partnership with CAPS to instill trust and safe streets in addition to neighborhood policing.
Q: Do you support Chicago's traffic light camera program? Please explain.
I do not support the red light camera program. As its critics originally predicted, it has become little more than a regressive revenue source, doing nothing to enhance public safety. This was another public fleecing measure that has failed miserably. The city has broken the trust level of the citizens of Chicago and the public fleecing via the red light camera AND speed cameras need to be eliminated.
Q: Should Chicago reduce the number of aldermen in the City Council?
Yes! There's way too much administrative fat in city council. I think we can reduce the alderman by 50% and still be fine as long as there's a good support staff at city hall that consists of qualified workers vs patronage workers.
Q: What is your highest priority for improving your ward? What is the greatest concern you hear from residents of your ward?
13) There's a tie amongst the top two. First is safety throughout all of the 27th ward. People do not feel safe and that's unacceptable. Job opportunities are equally important on the west side. The west side has been severely neglected by Alderman Burnett for 20-years and it's heartbreaking to see so many qualified folks not working.
Q: Please tell us something about yourself that would surprise us.
14) Hmmmm......I'll be a very loud voice in city hall. I've met many current aldermen and have found most of them to be incompetent. I'm not the best at biting my tongue so everyone will know what I think, when I think it :).