Candidate for City Council, 43rd Ward
Education: Jerry attended St Jude the Apostle grade school in South Holland. He attended Mt Carmel High School for his freshman year and graduated from Thornwood High School. He earned an Associate of Arts Degree from Holy Cross College, where he was named to the Executive Board of the National Association of Students at Catholic Colleges and University. He earned a Bachelor's Degree in Marketing from DePaul University, where he partook in the IME Honors Marketing Program.
Occupation: International marketing consultant and Chicago community activist
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.
Adding debt to the backs of our children and grandchildren to cover for the fact that we cannot live within our means is never justified. We need to return to fiscal responsibility and reign in spending so we can balance the budget. Taxpayers are footing enough of the bill for government at every level, and residents and businesses in Chicago feel the pain of taxes and fees more than most. We absolutely cannot increase taxes on already overburdened taxpayers. The solution is in prioritizing our spending. It won't be easy, because until we've paid down our debts, we are going to have to be that much more prudent with our spending. But there is no other path forward, as we cannot continue to kick the can down the road and hope future generations can solve the problems we are unwilling to face.
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.
There is no easy solution to the pension crisis, nor is there a fair solution. Those who worked hard for their pensions deserve to receive what they were promised, even if they were promised much more than they should have been and much more than we can afford. Residents are already struggling under the weight of government taxes and fees. Politicians in Springfield and Chicago overpromised and under budgeted, and now after years of kicking the can down the road our current elected officials are faced with this crisis. Changes for future retirees are easier to make, in that we need to bring their pensions in alignment with that of the private sector, and steps have already been made in this direction. However, that doesn't solve today's crisis. The "easiest" solution for politicians would be to blame Springfield's inaction for the crisis and then increase taxes, mostly in the form of a property tax hike, but I do not support that. Taxpayers are already paying enough, and our economy is already lagging behind that of surrounding regions. While we need to continue to urge the State to take substantive, constitutional action, there are steps we can take here at home beyond simply raising taxes. We must bring all sides together to agree on the necessary compromises that will allow us to withstand this crisis. Everyone has skin in the game, and it's time that everyone sat down and had an honest conversation about where we are and where we are headed. If no concessions are given, pension spending will swallow the rest of our budget whole, leaving us even less to spend on education and public safety. I believe that if such an honest and open dialog were to occur, we could balance concessions with consideration for current and soon-to-be retirees and find a path forward. The key is to ensure that all "share in the pain" of resolving this crisis. Right now, it is taxpayers that are feeling the pain most, by having to give more and more to plug budget holes and pay for benefits that are far out of line with any benefits they might receive in the private sector. I do not support increasing taxpayers' pain as part of this solution.
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 problem with TIF districts is that they have been abused in Chicago, and by all accounts overused, as an end-all be-all solution to spurring development that in many cases did not need or warrant the investment of taxpayer dollars. Especially at a time where we need to be reevaluating the way we approach development. Chicago has a wonderful tradition of evolution and progress, one which we must embrace. At the same time, it is important that we respect our rich history and protect our way of life. The city needs to provide a level playing field for businesses and entrepreneurs, and get out of the business of picking winners and losers. We need to reduce the regulatory burden that is stifling innovation, and allow our local communities to take the lead on determining the proper level and type of development that is best for them. In my community, our focus is on retaining our unique urban feel as we define our neighborhood for the years to come. We are working towards commercial districts that are built around the idea of community and neighborhood businesses. Our criteria for development is in attracting resident and non-resident young professionals to the neighborhood so that we can continue to create a rich and vibrant urban life based on diversity and balance. Meanwhile, we are working to preserve our parks and public green space while increasing accessibility to our neighborhood's many relevant cultural experiences. However, to assume that our approach works for every other community would be a mistake. Development and job opportunities are desperately needed in some areas or the city. In others, development has far outpaced infrastructure investments and improvements, leading to clogged thoroughfares (an issue my neighborhood faces thanks to development in the surrounding areas). As a result, I do support the creation of limited development incentives highly targeted to help spur development in areas of the city that are most in need. We are a city of neighborhoods, and it is the collective strength of all of these great neighborhoods that makes us a world class city. As for the $55 million TIF allotment for the DePaul Arena and the Marriott, I am highly supportive of the desire to bring all my Blue Demon sports back into the city limits. However, I am wary of this expenditure when there are so many other areas of need in our budget and 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.
This hits at the heart of the way that I operate and how I will conduct myself if honored to be able to serve my Ward as Alderman. In my professional career and personal life, I am a collaborator. I work hard to bring people to the table, ensure their voices are heard, build consensus, craft a plan, and work together to implement that shared vision for the future. Chicago faces some tough issues, and I know that by working together, the people of Chicago can solve these problems and continue to move towards a better future for our families and community. This doesn't mean that I don't have my own set of beliefs or a backbone to back them up, as I do. I will never use the typical politician cop out of "my community was for or against it" as an excuse to avoid a tough issue. Unfortunately, that is what we have in our current Alderman in the 43rd Ward. The incumbent too often blows with the wind, which has led to inconsistencies and broken campaign promises. We need an open and transparent Alderman who will bring factions together to inform a decision and get things done for our neighborhood. As Alderman, as I do now, I will encourage my fellow 43rd Ward residents to contribute to the solution. I agree with the Chicago Tribune that we can heal our city if we come together and all become a part of something bigger than ourselves.
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.
We absolutely must keep the office of legislative inspector general. Not only that, but we must further empower the office to accomplish their mission. Until corruption and patronage is a thing of the past in Chicago, a future that sadly looks to be further off than we would hope, we must take steps to increase accountability, no matter how uncomfortable that makes elected officials and government employees. I believe we need to increase government transparency so our leaders are more accountable to the people they serve. In addition to the above measure, we need to make our finances more transparent, giving the public unfiltered access to how their money is being spent. A current, searchable, online "ledger" similar to one recently unveiled by the State would be a great way to "let sunlight in" and make city government more accountable to those we serve.
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 believe in our schools, our children and our teachers. I had the opportunity to serve as a member of the Lincoln Elementary Local School Council, where I worked with my fellow Council Members to secure a new school annex to resolve the school's overcrowding issue. I spearheaded a team of over a dozen school parents to develop and design the new Lincoln Elementary School website, increasing communication and transparency for our school community. I am also serving as a 5th Grade Room Parent for the school. I believe we need to continue to invest in our public schools, specifically to expand access to and integration with technology in the education experience. Not only will this further enhance the real world education our children receive, but it can also serve to increase efficiency in our schools and reduce costs, something that is sorely needed as we address budgetary constraints. I also believe that having educational choice is a benefit to our community. While I take great pride in my family's choice of public education and have committed to all that public education demands upon parents to be successful, I am cognizant of the fact that there is more than one way to educate children successfully. As a child and brother to two teachers, I learned to have an open mind to the variety of educational approaches. There are a variety of options for high quality schools in my neighborhood and there needs to be a variety across the city. I am in favor of making members of the Board of Education publically elected so that they are accountable to the people that they serve, rather than a political 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?
The key in my Ward is not necessarily attracting more employers, but rather the right employers. As we develop areas like Webster Square and the old Children's Memorial Hospital site, we need to focus on development that attracts both resident and non-resident young professionals to the neighborhood. Recently, we have seen this demographic move out of the neighborhood, further amplified by the loss of patrons, employees and visitors of the two hospitals we have lost in the last several years. An increased effort should be placed on attracting young professionals as they tend to use more alternative/public transportation and invest in our neighborhood businesses. I am a Member of the Lincoln Central Association, an organization dedicated to improving the neighborhood. I also volunteer on both the marketing team and as a head coach for the Oz Park Baseball Association and am an active supporter of Bike Walk Lincoln Park.
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 the concept of a higher minimum wage, but I am concerned with the implementation of the city's minimum wage increase. Most concerning is that fact that the minimum wage in surrounding regions is significantly lower than in Chicago, meaning that costs are increased for businesses and consumers in Chicago but not the surrounding communities, driving business across city limits. I am also concerned that this move increases the cost of doing business in the city without pairing it with necessary reforms that would bring reductions in business costs. As a result, it will be harder for our current businesses to create jobs for our residents, as well as it being harder for future employers to establish their roots in the city.
Q: Should the Lucas Museum of Narrative Art be built at the proposed location on Chicago's lakefront? Please explain.
This is a prime example of government not listening to the people it serves, which is the primary reason why I am running for Alderman. Bringing the Lucas Museum to Chicago was a fantastic financial and public relations opportunity for the city, but due to the way in which it was handled, the city and public seem to have no control over the location, the look of the building and the effect it will have on our lakefront. This is odd considering the level attention the city paid to whether the owner of a Chicago high rise was able to put their name on the side of their building. This is not acceptable, as I have heard over and over from community members that the proposed building is an not something for our treasured lakefront.
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 must work to make our community safer. We should be doing everything possible to ensure our children can safely walk and bike to school. While I recognize we live in an urban environment, we should not accept as a way of life any crime and violence that makes our children and their parents feel unsafe. In my Ward, we face several unique challenges. Because the overall crime rate in our community is lower than in other areas of the city, we have seen drastic reductions in police staffing levels. While it is understandable that certain areas need a heavier police presence than others, this has resulted in a noticeable increase in crime in our neighborhood. Violence has increased, evidenced by a shooting that occurred on the incumbent Alderman's block just a few weeks ago. We've even seen an uptick in drugs in the community, though it's not clear if that is an increase or simply that those who partake in the drug trade feel less of a need to conduct their trade in private. Since we are unlikely to see an increase in police presence, despite our need to at least go back to previous staffing levels, it falls on the members of the community to take more of a role in improving public safety in our community. I have already been part of this effort, as I and many of my fellow community members have taken it upon ourselves to keep our Alderman and police informed of things that are happening in the Ward. As Alderman, I will work to encourage increases in community policing strategies. Neighbors working hand in hand with our beat cops will decrease the multitude of "crimes of opportunity" that continue to pester our streets and alleys. I will be with my residents, on the street, dealing with their needs and concerns. Our Ward needs a visible and accessible Alderman who will put the needs of their residents above those of their political bosses and special interests.
Q: Do you support Chicago's traffic light camera program? Please explain.
I do not support Chicago's traffic light camera program. While I have the benefit of hindsight to inform my decision, it was clear from the beginning that this was more about revenue than public safety. Since then, we have seen the rampant corruption that resulted from the program, which really should not have been a surprise to anyone. I believe we need to abolish the traffic light camera program.
Q: Should Chicago reduce the number of aldermen in the City Council?
I am always in favor of increasing efficiency and reducing costs, and on its face reducing the number of aldermen in Chicago would accomplish this. However, it would also consolidate power among even fewer individuals while making our Alderman that much more inaccessible to the people they serve. As a result, I cannot commit to supporting this just yet, but I can commit to being an ally of proven government reforms and the reduction of the number of government bodies in our city and state.
Q: What is your highest priority for improving your ward? What is the greatest concern you hear from residents of your ward?
My highest priority for improving my ward is to bring the residents of our Ward together. Our current Alderman has failed to deliver on this due to the needs of appeasing her political leaders and allies. While the political parties and bosses are all putting up candidates in this race, I am nothing more than a father, husband, and community member who wishes to bring his Ward together in order to seek and enact common sense solutions to the issues we face. I believe we can do so in a much more collaborative, open, transparent, and amicable way than has been done to date. This is how successful businesses run and I see no reason our ward and this office can't operate in the same successful manner.
Q: Please tell us something about yourself that would surprise us.
I am an avid bicyclist. I can be often found pedaling around Lincoln Park with my son, Matthew, or rescue dog, Rufus, in tow. I have combined this with my love of my community to develop and support many initiatives designed to get people active and out enjoying our wonderful Lincoln Park community.