Candidate for City Council, 38th ward
Education: DePaul University (Chicago, IL); Master of Science Degree in Public Service Management; June 17, 2001. Georgetown University (Washington, DC); Bachelor of Science Degree in Foreign Service and Certificate in Latin American Studies; Graduation: May 24, 1997.
Occupation: Chief Operating Officer
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 process of refunding and over-relying on general obligation bonds for short term expenses was not justified – it was reckless. Mortgaging our future for a short-term cash infusion threatened Chicago's economic outlook far more than the pain it saved by not having to adopt more responsible, albeit unpopular, measures such as spending cuts and incremental revenue increases. These tactics have only delayed the inevitable, depriving the city of the opportunity for individuals and businesses to focus on innovative solutions sooner rather than later. In the meantime, our credit rating is diminished, our debt has exploded, and our ability to finance at competitive rates has been hampered. Additionally, our pension funds are on the brink of insolvency. These financial instruments have a role to play in the market, but they have no place funding the day-to-day operations of running a city. The sheer magnitude of these challenges requires a commitment from our leaders to make tough and potentially unpalatable choices. I am committed to considering every angle of spending cuts and revenue increases. The choices, for me, will come down to 1) ensuring burdens are shared fairly and 2) an end-goal of the highest long-term good of the city. The measures that stand out in my mind as the most reasonable and effective given this criteria include construction of a world-class land-based casino, a tax on certain luxury goods and services, stronger enforcement of asset forfeiture laws against convicted felons and scofflaw offenders, zero-based budgeting, eliminating operational redundancies, program audits to ensure investment matches outcomes, asset audits to identify and unload money pits, and a temporary freeze on aldermanic pay increases. Of course, the single most effective thing we can do to reduce our long-term debt and end our reliance on general obligation bonds is to grow our economy.
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.
Defaulting on a payment, which would result in the Chicago's credit rating being obliterated and the bankruptcy of a retirement system on which so many hardworking citizens rely, is obviously not an option. Meeting the terms of the payments and ensuring sustainability into the future, then, require shared sacrifice among the pensioners, contributors, and tax payers. Overall, I support the terms of the proposal to arrive at an Actuarially Required Contribution plan that passed the Illinois General Assembly and is now pending with the Illinois Supreme Court. Should the Supreme Court uphold the lower court's decision of unconstitutionality, reforms that do not affect already-earned benefits must be implemented, including COLA reforms, adjustments to retirement ages, and changes in employee contributions. From the employer contribution side, I support the construction of a world-class land-based casino with tax revenues dedicated to funding the four pensions. If we are at the zero hour and a property tax is subject to a vote, the people of the 38th Ward can be sure that I will be part of the conversation, offering alternatives, making amendments, and securing concessions on behalf of my constituents. At the very least I would seek a cap to set a ceiling on the amount by which a property can be taxed.
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.
The city's use of tax increment financing should include greater transparency and more accountability. The definition of a blighted or economically depressed area must be defined more clearly. Any TIF that has outlived its usefulness should be eliminated and surpluses returned to the taxing bodies. There should be additional campaign contribution restrictions applied to businesses that receive TIF dollars. I support responsible TIF districts in the 38th Ward as a tool for ensuring continued economic development. The middle class families of my ward, specifically unionized tradesmen and women, rely on the jobs created through construction made possible by TIF money. Time will tell if the Marriott Hotel and DePaul Arena will spur the kind of economic activity that justifies such a large public investment. In general, I am opposed to subsidizing projects that will strictly benefit for-profit entities or private institutions. Furthermore, the optics of this deal is understandably hard for taxpayers to swallow given our dreadful fiscal outlook.
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.
At the age of 24, I unexpectedly founded a nonprofit organization because there was a need in my community that was not being addressed. I am grateful to the Chicago Community Trust and the Chicago Tribune for bringing Chicagoans of all walks of life together to identify ways to fill needs that are not being addressed. I am always excited to hear and support proposals as worthwhile as the ones described in "A New Plan of Chicago." I would like to highlight just three that speak to me as critical ways to improve Chicago, all for different reasons. 1. The MWRDC industrial park initiative is an especially attractive opportunity because it is one that generates revenue, spurs major economic development, demands environmental innovation, and can be replicated. The thought that the water may be able to support large hydroponic farming operations on property that is now vacant, abandoned, or foreclosed is very tasty frosting on the cake. 2. Urban farms produce tangible benefits both in means and ends. They create a place of beauty and sustenance where blight once prevailed, whether it be an eyesore on one block in an otherwise strong neighborhood or a community in great need. They are excellent tools for educating children and adults alike on agriculture, nutrition, and work ethic. Their resulting produce has the potential to support the participants from a dietary standpoint and from an entrepreneurial one. 3. I am a champion of projects that cross sectors, generations, and socio-economic backgrounds. Not to mention projects that inherently result in positive short- and long-term outcomes. This is what the Schools as Tools initiative does - while addressing two extremely troubling concerns with closing the schools: losing important neighborhood anchors and leaving families without enrichment opportunities in their own 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.
The City Council should eliminate the Office of the Legislative Inspector General and immediately shift these duties to the Office of Inspector General Joseph Ferguson. The Council should fund it appropriately and get out of the way. Our city must do more to address the root causes of unethical conduct. We must identify and eliminate self-interest, self-protection, and cronyism in the system. Otherwise, the public's confidence in our ability to be responsible stewards of taxpayer dollars will continue to diminish.
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 numbers we are seeing from our public school system are encouraging. Graduation rates indicate that we are heading in the right direction. The key to public education is making sure that educators and administrators have the financial resources to effectively run a school. I am concerned that middle class families like those throughout the 38th Ward are stuck in a perpetual state of fundraising to pay for the basics that should be funded by CPS. These neighborhood schools are community anchors and we should fund them appropriately. Charter schools play a role in our school system, but they shouldn't come at the cost of neighborhood schools. I would support a freeze on new charter schools until we address our existing capital needs and meet our basic programming expenses. The Board of Education's reliance on auction rate bonds has jeopardized the short and long term fiscal health of our public school system. Now, more than ever, we need to identify a dedicated revenue stream that will help stabilize the financial instability that exists. As alderman, I will work with my colleagues on urging the state and federal government to resume their fair share of funding for our public schools. These bodies must also be held accountable for their inaction and gradual disinvestment. I am not convinced that an elected school board will better resolve our financial challenges or produce better educational outcomes. While most of the 38th Ward constituents with whom I speak agree with this sentiment, I am disappointed that we will not have a referendum to get an even better sense of where constituents stand. The Board of Education can and must be reformed. We must have stricter oversight of the board's budget and establish a much more robust system of public engagement. I also believe that the board must do a better job of incorporating the perspective of parents and educators in its decision making process. We should always strive to ensure greater accountability in our government and the Board of Education is no exception. The people of Chicago do have an opportunity to voice their approval or disapproval with the direction of our public schools via their vote for mayor.
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 will work with our local chambers of commerce on a retail needs assessment so that we know which businesses and industries would benefit most from doing business in the 38th Ward. I will then actively seek to recruit new businesses and urge them to invest in our attractive business districts. My ward office will also do all that it can to eliminate red tape and assist prospective businesses through the permitting process while informing business owners of incentives and grants available to them. I'd like to see the 38th Ward serve as a destination for entrepreneurs and businesses graduating from Chicago's incredible job incubators. The more we can do to help cultivate new and burgeoning industries, the better off our entire city will be. Finally, in order to grow our commercial corridors, we must continue making investments in our aging infrastructure. That means water and sewer systems, roads, utilities and transportation systems. The City Council has a responsibility to establish conditions conducive to economic growth.
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 increasing the minimum wage and would have supported Mayor Emanuel's ordinance raising it to $13 had I been alderman. This increase will affect more than 400,000 Chicagoans directly. It is also predicted to result in $860 million in local spending. An increase to $15 would have given me greater pause because I am concerned about the disproportionate burden for small businesses with more than four unrelated employees, and because it remains to be seen how businesses that border suburbs with a different minimum wage will fare.
Q: Should the Lucas Museum of Narrative Art be built at the proposed location on Chicago's lakefront? Please explain.
I am thrilled that Mr. Lucas chose Chicago. A $300 million investment, none of which is financed by taxpayers, is a sound investment in our city – one that will create sustainable revenue streams through job creation and tourism dollars. Chicago's lakefront Museum Campus is an appropriate location for the Lucas Museum of Narrative Art. The current design, however, does need to be scaled back to better fit the city's lakefront plan to "maintain and enhance the predominantly landscaped, spacious, and continuous character of the lakeshore parks."
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 an all of the above approach to improving public safety in the City of Chicago. As alderman, I would support efforts to hire and train additional police officers so that every neighborhood in every district is adequately staffed. I would also like to see the boundaries of the 16th District, which includes the 38th Ward, redrawn so that beats are smaller and response times improved. With a daytime population of 250,000, our resources are already stretched thin. Just as important as maintaining adequate staffing, is making sure we invest in our crime labs and evidence technicians. The backlog of cases places an enormous strain and unrealistic demands on the men and women of the Chicago Police Department. We must also do more to educate the public about appropriate preventive measures. Cameras, phone trees, improved lighting, and urging the public to call 911 when they see something suspicious are all critical to ensuring safe neighborhoods. I would also like to see greater investments in and awareness of our CAPS program. I am troubled by the lack of public participation in these meetings and would support efforts to change the way the public interacts with this program. I am a recent graduate of the FBI Citizens Academy, where I learned about the strides that have been made with inter-departmental collaboration. Strategic partnering, clear roles, and shared communication and resources have made a big impact on the outcomes of the Chicago Police Department, FBI, Homeland Security, and the offices of the US and State's Attorneys. We must prioritize the continued collaboration of our law enforcement agencies and prosecutors.
Q: Do you support Chicago's traffic light camera program? Please explain.
Chicago's speed cameras have produced far less revenue than they were expected to generate, a sign that the program is at least convincing drivers to slow down around our schools and parks. While I do have concerns about this program, I, along with many parents in my community, are very much aware that reckless driving continues to be a problem throughout Chicago, especially near our schools and parks. The cloud of scandal surrounding the red light cameras under the last administration has led the public to question the use of any automated attempts to enforce traffic laws. Time will tell if this program is able to exist in a responsible manner.
Q: Should Chicago reduce the number of aldermen in the City Council?
If aldermen will be expected to oversee the delivery of basic city services, in addition to their legislative responsibilities, than I am against reducing the number of aldermen in the City Council. Reducing the number of aldermen will increase the number of constituents each serves and expand geographic boundaries to include even more diverse and distant constituencies - presumably all with the same staff resources. This will certainly have a negative effect on the delivery of city services while leaving little to no time for legislative responsibilities.
Q: What is your highest priority for improving your ward? What is the greatest concern you hear from residents of your ward?
The residents of the 38th Ward consistently point to the disparity between increasing taxes and fees and decreasing city services as their greatest concern. Thus, my highest priority for improving the ward is bringing more tax dollars back to the ward, particularly through investments in neighborhood schools, local commercial district revitalization, infrastructure, police staffing, and solutions that mitigate the impact of aircraft noise and emissions.
Q: Please tell us something about yourself that would surprise us.
I was in a music video - Coach Ditka's Grabowski Shuffle.