Candidate for City Council, 46th Ward
Education: B.S. Education: University of Houston MSW: Jane Addams at UIC
Occupation: Alderman - 46th 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.
I viewed "scoop and toss" as justified because the positive outcome from this far outweighed the negative repercussions of implementing spending cuts that would then affect the City's ability to create more economic development. We need to keep growing the City's economy to increase our tax base by encouraging more business development. Additionally, I favor changing the State Constitution to require a graduated income tax rather than a flat tax. This will create a more equitable tax system and get city (and state) finances back on track.
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.
Solving this pension crisis deserves the input from those with expertise in finance, which is why I have heavily supported the establishment of the Committee on Fiscal Analysis, with a well known expert in this field leading the charge. We should not strip pension benefits from current retirees or employees who are at a set age. However, I am supportive of a mix of cuts in areas where departments have created efficiencies with minor tax increases such as we did with the phone tax. I have made the suggestions that we learn from the private business sector and make a transition to relying on Social Security benefits, while offering a 401(k). This would keep this City more financially competitive.
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.
There is much misinformation about TIFs. I believe that we have progressed in making basic information on our TIF districts more available. They work well in areas that already show promise, and do not work well in areas where the business district is going through serious stagnation. I support the extension or expansion of a TIF if it can be shown that this change will grow the economy and the tax base to make the extension or expansion worth the downside of shifting the tax burden to other areas of the City.
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.
I liked #11 "It takes a City". As a social worker, this idea supports parents' efforts to be better parents. I viewed this approach as grounded in the use of best practices of addressing the systemic issue of parents with limited skills. However, I would go one step further and make sure at-risk families are more clearly defined and include histories of domestic violence and documented gang violence. I strongly believe that the use of our tax dollars should be connected to defined outcomes. I have spent much of my time in City Council pushing for more accountability through better outcome measures, which gives taxpayers a better sense of how their money is being spent.
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 fully support having one City Inspector General with the same rules of investigation across all levels. No separate but equal approach. Another idea I'd love to promote is something I'm already doing: No campaign contributions 6 months before an up-zoning request is made to 12 months after an up-zoning request occurred.
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?
I have spoken with state legislators who are charged with making this decision, and see strong pro's and con's to both appointed and elected school boards. A hybrid model could work, however, I do have some concerns. For one, I am concerned about allowing an election to take place for school board when we've seen wealthy individuals basically buy a seat in communities around the country to influence how the schools are run. Second, as a gay man, I'm also concerned about allowing outside influences play a role in the school curriculum. Every year we watch Texas move further away from science and closer to religious studies and the last thing we need is a place that is no longer safe for our LGBT youth. I support a longer school day but want to see more undirected play time so that children can learn better negotiation skills. I also want to see more art, music, and P.E. classes. I don't like charter schools because I view them as "work-arounds" for improving the neighborhood schools. I also believe the further parents have to travel to visit their child's school, the less likely they will be involved in their child's education. I would suggest CPS close its budget gap by providing economic incentives to CPS staff for coming up with ideas to close the budget gap. They are the ones who fully understand the repercussions of any cuts that are made. Involve them in this decision process.
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 created a Ward Master Plan that businesses and developers use frequently to make decisions about coming into the ward and I spend at least 8 hours per week specifically focused on attracting more development into the ward. The 46th Ward is within the top 10% of wards with the highest number of building permits. When Sonic read in the 46th Ward Master Plan that close to 50% of the area residents don't own cars, they designed their first ever urban-designed Sonic. Additionally, I have worked with all new businesses on using our local job training programs to find local, qualified employees. I also worked with the area businesses to get them to become more proactive about addressing crime. I worked with the police district to educate them on calling 911 and we tracked their call rates. They were also asked to clear out their windows so that people could see in and out, which greatly helped with reducing drug trafficking. As a result, store sales in former hot spots of crime went up over 20%. My ward website also lists all the different programs that assist with job training/placement opportunities. I go for walks in the ward and frequently take residents over to these programs.
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 supported the $13 an hour minimum wage because there's a growing gap between rich and poor. I believe this increase is one step in closing that gap.
Q: Should the Lucas Museum of Narrative Art be built at the proposed location on Chicago's lakefront? Please explain.
The City needs more economic development, especially from the tourist industry. This location will bring in more tourist dollars, which will lower the need to raise taxes.
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?
Close to 66% of the City's entire budget is spent on public safety, which is in the high range of what other cities do. Uptown has a number of residents with hundreds of arrests due to public drinking. I got City funding to create a pilot program for Haymarket Center staff to work hand-in-hand with 2 crisis intervention trained police officers. This allows officers to stay on the street longer without having to process an arrest by giving real help to the person trapped in an addiction. I also helped create a task force with the Police, the Cook County's State's Attorney's Office, local businesses, and neighborhood block clubs to assess problem hot spots and create interventions to lower crime in 2 specific areas where gang activity was especially high. One of the best interventions was teaching business employees about calling 911 and tracking how frequently they called. Crime at the intersection of Lawrence/Sheridan went down over 80% within 8 months and 37% along Wilson Avenue from Sheridan to Racine
Q: Do you support Chicago's traffic light camera program? Please explain.
No. I'm not convinced that it reduces car accidents/injuries.
Q: Should Chicago reduce the number of aldermen in the City Council?
I would support reducing the number of aldermen from 50 to 20 if two things occurred: A clear and reasonable timeframe should be provided to residents about a response to a 311 request, and we successfully change the norm that one must go through their alderman to get a better response to a 311 request. I continue to believe that aldermen are "zoning czars" and a more objective system needs to be created for zoning requests.
Q: What is your highest priority for improving your ward? What is the greatest concern you hear from residents of your ward?
I have 2 main priorities: public safety issues, especially related to gang violence, and the need for more economic development in order to create more job opportunities and retail options for ward residents. The 46th Ward is a very diverse ward with many diverse opinions about priorities, but public safety and economic development have always surfaced as the 2 top priorities.
Q: Please tell us something about yourself that would surprise us.
I'll include Ald. Tunney in the ward directly south of Ward 46: Both of us are the 6th of 8 children from a Catholic family; we are both openly gay, but we both have an older twin brother who is straight. Our twin brothers are both taller than us as well. The odds for all of this must be pretty high.