Candidate for City Council, 49th Ward
Education: Evanston Township High School, 1976; B.A., Knox College, 1980; J.D., DePaul University School of Law, Class, 1984
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.
Over the past three years, the City has tackled hundreds of millions of dollars in budget imbalance through permanent changes to how it does business. We're not there yet, however. Refinancing a small amount of the City's $20 billion debt portfolio each year to better align resources with liabilities reflects the fact that more financial work must be done. Do I support debt refinancing? Let's look at the alternatives: higher property taxes and user fees or cuts in government service. I'd say modest debt restructuring when interest rates are at historic lows is a reasonable approach. As in all things, moderation is the key. Going forward, I'd like to see the City update its debt policy and continue making progress at ending some of the questionable debt practices that have been in place for many years. No more variable rate debt, no borrowing for operations, and reducing our exposure to banks. Those are some of the things I will be advocating for.
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.
As a future retiree (hopefully, in the distant future) whose City pension will be my primary source of retirement income, I have a vested interest in this issue. I believe in a balanced approach that includes both new revenue to the pension funds and modest changes to benefits received by current and future pensioners. In fashioning a remedy, we should always keep in mind that our City employees and retirees did not cause this crisis. They paid their contributions to funds at the statutorily required amounts. Our political leadership failed the employees by refusing to take into account the actuarial consequences of providing increased benefits and early retirement programs without the financial resources necessary to pay for them. And their union leadership failed them by advocating for increased benefits without challenging Springfield to provide the necessary revenue. Having said this, the taxpayers simply cannot afford to carry the sole burden of resolving the pension crisis. The unfunded liability is simply too great. Modest changes to the benefits received by current and future pensioners must also be part of the calculus. As much as I would like to receive a guaranteed 3% annual compounded COLA on my pension, such a benefit simply is not sustainable and the pension system will collapse under its own weight if such benefits are allowed to continue. In short, as a future City pensioner, I would rather receive a slightly reduced pension benefit than no pension at all. In determining exactly what burden the pensioners should be asked to bear, a sliding scale should be applied. Those slated to receive larger pensions should bear a greater sacrifice than a pensioner receiving a very modest pension. The agreement reached between then Emanuel Administration and the leadership of the Police Sergeant's Union was a balanced approach and served as a useful roadmap for the other pension funds. The agreement required significant financial sacrifice on the part of the City, as well as some sacrifice from those receiving pensions. I hope as the union membership realizes that the future security of their pension fund is at stake, they will revisit the proposal. The City undoubtedly will be required to provide significantly more revenue to resolve the pension crisis. Until the Illinois Supreme Court provides clarity on just how much the pension fund benefits can be changed, it is difficult to determine the exact scope of revenues and service cuts that will be needed.
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.
Long gone are the days when Chicago could depend on the federal and state government to subsidize its economic development activities. Tax increment financing remains the City's only viable alternative to stimulating economic development. However, use of TIF should be judicious. I support TIF reform that tightens up considerably on the criteria for forming a TIF. A TIF should not be created if it does not satisfy the "but for" clause, i.e., but for the TIF, the economic development activity would not occur. Additionally, existing non-performing TIF districts should be disbanded and their funds distributed to the various taxing bodies. The Mayor and the City Council have disbanded a number of non-performing TIF districts over the last several years. I also have supported and continue to support returning unneeded TIF surpluses to the coffers of the taxing bodies. Finally, I have supported and co-sponsored various measures from both the Paul Douglas Alliance and the Mayor that provide for more TIF transparency. As a result, ordinary citizens can now go online and determine exactly how much revenue exists in each TIF and measure their performance. Though I am not currently considering any new TIF proposals in my ward, I certainly would not rule out the creation of a TIF to stimulate economic development. Portions of Howard Street and Clark Street continue to struggle economically and a judicious use of TIF may help spur needed development. If I were to consider a new TIF district in my ward, I would subject the proposal to a thorough community review and evaluation process. I supported using TIF funds to pay for new McCormick Place Hotel and arena. This is an example of how judicious use of TIF can spur economic development and create jobs. A viable convention center is absolutely essential to the City's future economic development. Conventions bring conventioneers, who spend dollars in our local economy creating jobs for our residents. The shortage of quality hotel options right next to McCormick Place and the absence of a medium-sized arena for larger conventions has impeded the City's ability to attract many conventions that require one or both amenities. Much of the opposition to the plan is based on the misperception that the arena being built will belong to DePaul University. Your use of the phrase "DePaul Basketball Arena" in your question feeds this misperception. In fact, the arena will be owned by the Metropolitan Pier and Exposition Authority. Even though it is contributing $70 million to cost of constructing the arena, DePaul is merely leasing space for its 17 home basketball games and perhaps a few other DePaul-sponsored events. For the vast majority of time, the arena will be available for conventions and other uses.
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 congratulate the Tribune Editorial Board for stimulating a broad-based discussion on our City's future. Of course, a Plan of Chicago that is not executed is little better than no plan at all. We should start with some of the elements of the plan that require little or no extra cost, but could achieve quick and dramatic results. The phrase "our children are our future" is uttered so frequently that it has become a platitude. Nevertheless, some of the low cost ideas geared to engaging our young people and steering them into the right direction can have an enormously beneficial impact on the city's future. I like the idea of creating a Chicago Youth Task Force to engage and manage young people in neighborhood clean-ups and mentoring younger children. Forming a "speakers' bureau" of adult people of color who have succeeded in their professional careers can serve as an inspiration to classrooms of inner city kids. Using AmeriCorps to create "Innovation Houses" from which recent college grads can guide neighborhood revitalization projects is another wonderful, low cost idea that can pay big dividends. Regarding my own ideas for addressing Chicago's challenges, I would like to see my participatory budgeting process expanded citywide. For the last five years, I have given the residents of my ward the power to decide by popular vote how to spend $1 million of my $1.3 million discretionary ward capital budget. It is a seven-month deliberative process in which neighborhood volunteers research and evaluate the viability of various project proposals and select the best proposals to go on an election ballot. The entire ward is then invited to vote for the projects they would most like to see implemented. I agree to abide by the results of that vote. It is an enormously popular initiative that has engaged hundreds of ward residents and youth in the civic life of my community, who had not previously been so engaged. It also has spawned the creation of new community organizations and inspired dozens of creative, new ideas for neighborhood improvement projects. I would support setting aside a small portion of the City's capital and operational budget to stimulate similar participatory budgeting activities in other City neighborhoods.
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.
Long before the City Council created the Office of Legislative Inspector General, I was a strong and vocal proponent of giving the City's inspector general the authority to investigate aldermen and their staff members. In fact, I sponsored legislation to do just that back in 2009. I have since sponsored legislation to give the inspector general a guaranteed budgetary floor and to give him additional powers that will enable him to recover for the city a share of assets from ill-gotten gains. The Office of Legislative Inspector General should be abolished. It is wasteful and ineffective and the current occupant has demonstrated a total lack of professionalism.
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 improvement in high school graduation rates is a great success. Teachers, principals, CPS administrators and the Mayor all deserve credit. Many of our elementary schools also have experienced meaningful improvements, as well. I was elated to learn last week that five of the seven schools in my ward increased their CPS school quality ratings. No school received a reduced rating and three schools received a Level 1 score or better. I strongly support a longer school day and year, so long as the additional time is occupied with meaningful educational and cultural activities that will enrich our children. I believe there is a place in our educational system for both quality neighborhood schools and charter schools. The two charter schools in my neighborhood have offered the low income families of my ward with a choice they did not previously have. Both schools are rated level 1 or greater. Eighty-five percent of the graduates of the Chicago Math and Science Academy go on to finish college and obtain a college degree. This is a remarkable statistic given that, according to the Tribune, only eight percent of CPS high school freshmen obtain a college degree. The vast majority of CMSA students are from low income families of color, most of whom are the first people in their families to go to college. Shouldn't these students have the same opportunity to attend a quality school that the children from my middle and upper income families enjoy? To me, it is a matter of simple justice. Without a doubt, the existence of those charter schools has put additional competitive burdens on the neighborhood schools in my ward. But the neighborhood schools have risen to the occasion. As I noted above, all the schools in my ward, including the neighborhood schools, have increased their school quality ratings despite the presence of charters Having said this, charter schools should be placed under a rigorous evaluation of the educational quality they offer. I am pleased to see that CPS is no longer signing a "blank check" to new charter schools and is closing those that are not performing. The key to improving public education is accountability. This is why I am very skeptical of a proposal for an elected school board. It diffuses accountability. Under a mayoral appointed school board, one person is accountable for the direction of our schools—the mayor. If the schools are not performing to the satisfaction of the electorate, the voters can replace him or her with a new mayor. Indeed, if Mayor Emanuel is voted out of office next year, it will be largely due to his handling of the school teachers strike and the closing of 50 schools. Finally, it is important to note that an elected school board does not guarantee thoughtful and progressive education policy. Decisions made in other school districts to ban books, prohibit and teaching of evolution and prevent gays from teaching were made by elected school boards.
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?
Since I was first elected alderman, I have made economic development and job creation one of my top priorities. When I first took office, I convinced the City of Chicago's Planning Department to merge three poorly funded, duplicative and largely ineffective business organizations into one well-funded and effective development corporation and chamber of commerce. Now known as the Rogers Park Business Alliance, the organization consistently ranks as one of the strongest business development agencies and chambers of commerce in the City and has been a valuable partner with me as we have overseen the revitalization of Morse Avenue and Jarvis Square and the more nascent but promising revitalization of Howard and Clark streets. One of my crowning achievements was the creation of Gateway Center, a multi-million dollar shopping center that brought new retail jobs and amenities to my community, including a full-service grocery store. Up until Gateway opened in 1999, my neighborhood had been without a full-service grocer for over half a decade. Most recently, when Dominick's announced it was closing its Chicago area stores, including its Rogers Park store at Gateway Plaza, I asked Mayor Emanuel to appoint me to his Grocery Store Task Force where I made sure the Rogers Park location was front and center on the Task Force's agenda. I worked closely with the chairman of the Task Force, Deputy Mayor Steve Koch, and together we took advantage of the Mayor's known penchant for gentle persuasion to convince Jewel-Osco to include the Gateway location in its list of new stores. My wife, Barbara, and I were instrumental a few years ago in launching the Glenwood Sunday Market, which not only provides Rogers Park residents of all incomes, fresh, locally grown and produced vegetables, fruits and meats, but also brings hundreds of paying customers to the Morse-Glenwood business district every weekend. Despite its overwhelming popularity in its first year, it wasn't clear the Glenwood Market would survive another year. So I convinced the Rogers Park Business Alliance to take the Market under its wing and I assigned one of my staff assistants to serve part-time as its market director. As a result, the market is financially solvent and has become a Sunday morning institution. Not only do I work to bring more businesses to my community, I also work to encourage new and existing businesses to hire community residents. My office frequently refers employers to the Howard Area Employment Center, an organization whose funding I advocate for. The Center works with ex-felons to provide them with the training, skills and resources they need to secure gainful employment and turn their lives around. Finally, recognizing my neighborhood is primarily a "bedroom community," my office sponsors twice-a-year job fairs where I pair employers outside my community with residents in my community. Dozens, if not hundreds, of ward residents have found employment through my job fairs.
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 joined the overwhelming majority of my colleagues in voting to increase the minimum wage in Chicago to $13 an hour by 2019. I was on the "Minimum Wage Working Group" that proposed the increase, and I was one of the lead sponsors of the bill. In an ideal world, the minimum wage should be uniform across the nation, but it is increasingly clear the Congress will not act to increase the federal minimum wage in the foreseeable future. Nor does it appear that the Illinois General Assembly will vote an increase in the statewide minimum wage anytime soon. At a time of growing income disparity in our city, it is imperative that the City Council step in when other levels of government fail to act. A minimum wage of $13 would increase the earnings for 31% of Chicago workers and begin to narrow the income gap. The increase will also be phased in over five years to give businesses time to adjust. I understand the concerns expressed by the Tribune Editorial board and some in the business community that an increase in the minimum wage will put Chicago's businesses at a competitive disadvantage and result in a loss of jobs. However, recent studies have found virtually no negative employment effect due to minimum wage increases. And studies of counties and municipalities with minimum wages higher than nearby jurisdictions similarly saw no job loss. In fact, some of the studies show that jurisdictions with higher minimum wages experienced greater economic growth. This should come as no surprise, as low income workers tend to spend their higher wages in the local consumer economy, providing a financial stimulus to local businesses.
Q: Should the Lucas Museum of Narrative Art be built at the proposed location on Chicago's lakefront? Please explain.
Though I shared the Tribune Editorial board's opposition to the Children's Museum location in Grant Park, I respectfully disagree with its opposition to the proposed Lucas Museum site. The relocation of the Children's Museum would have been an economic blow to Navy Pier. Its proposed new location on Randolph would have been remote and isolated, offering little in the way of improvements to the park or economic development stimulus for the City. In contrast, the proposed Lucas Museum will be situated in the heart of the Museum campus, bringing new tourists to our City who will not only visit the museum, but likely will visit the nearby Field Museum, Shedd Aquarium and Adler Planetarium. It will also offer meaningful improvements to our lakefront by removing a large, unsightly surface parking lot. It is highly doubtful Daniel Burnham envisioned a parking lot when he called for the shoreline to "remain forever open, clear and free." Absent, this plan, the parking lot likely will remain for generations, contributing nothing to the ecology or public enjoyment of the lakefront. Having said this, I would have a very difficult time supporting development of the Lucas Museum under its current proposed design. I strongly encourage the design team to go back to the drawing board and design something that is more in keeping with the architecture of the current museums on the campus.
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?
One of my first legislative acts as alderman was to sponsor City Council hearings that moved City officials to adopt community policing, first as a pilot project and then citywide. I mobilized community groups in the far North Side to successfully designate the 24th Police District as a one of the pilot districts. Since then, I worked closely with the CAPS beat groups and the 24th District Police commanders to effectively combat crime and worked to install blue light police safety cameras in neighborhood "hot spots." Despite a rough year with some high-profile shootings that understandably have elevated community concerns, serious crime in the 49th Ward remains well below the levels we experienced as recently as 10 years ago. The 24th Police District is fortunate to have a series of police commanders who understand the essential role community residents play in crime prevention. This is why community policing remains a strong element of policing in the 24th District despite inconsistent support citywide. I was pleased to hear Mayor Emanuel express support for community policing in his recent budget address and his decision to decentralize community policing into the districts. Superintendent McCarthy has expressed similar support for community policing. Policing is just one element to fighting crime. Recognizing the link between criminal activities and irresponsible landlords, I have taken on slumlords in the 49th Ward, a neighborhood with older housing stock, 75 percent of which is rental housing. One of my staffers devotes the vast majority of her time to housing issues, handling tenant complaints and taking irresponsible landlords to court. We force slumlords to improve their tenant screening and property upkeep or sell to responsible property developers. As a result, problem buildings, such as the reside building at Morse and Glenwood, now known as "Reside on Morse" and the Broadmoor Hotel at Howard and Bosworth, are now neighborhood assets.
Q: Do you support Chicago's traffic light camera program? Please explain.
The Active Transportation Alliance, a long-established organization that advocates for bicycling, walking and public transit, strongly supports the cameras because they encourage safe driving and save lives. I share their view. The fact that the number of tickets issued as a result of the cameras has fallen considerably over time demonstrates the cameras are causing motorists to slow down. However, the cameras must be beyond reproach. Every effort should be made to ensure that the cameras are functioning accurately and citing only those motorists who are truly violating the law.
Q: Should Chicago reduce the number of aldermen in the City Council?
Though the proposal to reduce the size of the City Council has surface populist appeal, those advocating such a "reform" should beware of what they wish for. Thirty-five years ago, a young populist reformer named Pat Quinn championed a referendum to reduce the size of the Illinois House of Representatives. The referendum passed and the House of Representatives was reduced by a third. No money was saved and many thoughtful independent and progressive leaders in both parties lost their seats, concentrating power in the hands of the legislative leaders. This concentration of power in the hands of a few leaders ironically proved to be one of Pat Quinn's biggest obstacles to governing when he became the State's chief executive. Unless a reduction in the City Council is accompanied by a sea change in what Chicagoans expect of their aldermen, I believe the voters would live to regret adopting a proposal to reduce the size of Chicago's legislative body. One of the unique attributes of the current system is that aldermen are immediately accessible to their constituents. Few, if any, large cities provide their residents with this close connection to their elected representatives. The aldermen, in turn, are able to learn the ins and outs of their respective communities unlike any other City official. Most of the proposals call for the City Council to be reduced by half, from 50 to 25 aldermen. If that were enacted, each alderman would represent 114,000 constituents, instead of 57,000, and the geographic size of their wards would in many cases more than double. The need for larger aldermanic staffs would wipe out the vast majority of cost savings, and the voters would lose the immediate accessibility to the alderman and their staff that they have come to expect.
Q: What is your highest priority for improving your ward? What is the greatest concern you hear from residents of your ward?
Crime and public safety have always been and continue to be the greatest concerns I hear from the residents in my ward. As I note in my response to Question 10 above, building a strong and cohesive community is the ultimate answer to our crime problem. What does a strong and cohesive community consist of? Residents who get involved and are civically engaged in their neighborhood, strong and vibrant locally-owned businesses, safe and affordable housing, living wage jobs and good schools. These priorities are interwoven. Progress on any and all of them leads to a safer and more secure neighborhood.
Q: Please tell us something about yourself that would surprise us.
Unlike many incumbents and candidates for office, whose responses to candidate questionnaires are composed by ghost writers, I actually write my own responses to my questionnaires!