Candidate for City Council, 45th Ward
Education: Graduate of John Marshall Law School Jan. 2006
Occupation: Chicago Police Lieutenant and Attorney
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 imagine it is a difficult task to turn around years of fiscal irresponsibility. To say recent tactics to delay bond payments were not justified without all the information would be a political response to gain votes. I can say it is a practice that should be phased out and eliminated; sooner than later. I prefer to make informed decisions and would confer with experts in the field of finance and budgeting to come up with an alternative way to manage our finances. We often hear politicians speak about transparency, but it never really happens. A good step in the right direction would be legislation that would require city officials to present a clearer picture of our financial situation. I like the idea of requiring officials to present a spending plan, then put it to a public vote. It would hold elected officials more accountable. I would argue against tax increases; we as citizens pay enough in taxes, fees and fines. Spending needs to be cut and our TIF program needs to be reformed. An example of a spending cut would be pensions for elected officials. Public service was never meant to be a career or a path to riches. I do not believe elected officials should retire on the backs of citizens with a taxpayer-funded pension.
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.
All too often our First Responders are somehow portrayed as greedy for receiving a pension. They put their lives on the line every day. They see things and deal with things no average citizen would ever imagine seeing or dealing with. It is a job they readily accept with all the risks that come with it. 30 years of fighting crime and fires takes a toll on the body and mind. Who would want a firefighter or police officer working well into their sixties? First responders already contribute and have contributed to their pensions; 9% of their pay. Cost of living increases are 1.5% simple and not compounded. In 2011 reforms were made to First Responder pension plans for all new hires under SB3538. Full retirement was changed from 50 to 55, the reduction of the final average salary from the highest 4 year average to the highest 8 year average, capped at $106,800. The bill also requires the City to make the necessary payments as stated in the question to bring the funding levels back to 90% by 2040. It appears as though the City has done nothing to prepare for this pending payment over the last 4 years. Our State Constitution is clear that First Responder pensions"...shall be an enforceable contractual relationship, the benefits of which shall not be diminished or impaired." Regardless of how we got here, it is up to our current and future elected officials to fix the problem. That will include finding new revenue streams that do not burden taxpayers, cut spending and utilizing the billions of dollars in TIF funds. I support a Chicago based Casino with 100% of the revenue dedicated to our pension liability until we are back on track. I support the idea put forth by Alderman Brendan Reilly to dedicate 50% of all current and future TIF funds toward pension liabilities until we are back on track. I also support the idea of reducing the number of Aldermen from 50 to 25 and eliminating pensions for all elected officials.
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.
While I am no expert on the TIF program, it is clear that billions of dollars have been diverted into the program and it needs reform. At the very least, I believe 100% of TIF spending should be subject to consideration by the City Counsel. Until the program can be properly reformed, I believe legislation should be passed to allow current and future TIF funds to be spent on getting our public schools in order, hiring more police officers and helping to address our pension liabilities. I do not support the expansion or extension of TIF districts anywhere in the city until the program is reformed. Until we get our financial house in order, we should not be utilizing taxpayer money to fund hotels or basketball arenas. That is not to say that maybe at sometime in the future, there may be a project that makes sense and benefits the city. We need to pay the bills, address public safety and straighten out our schools first.
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.
There are many great ideas in your article and I'm sure hundreds more. I would be interested in learning more about the water-based industrial park idea. Sometimes I think we jump before we think. Once the proper research is done and the idea is actually feasible, then it becomes an idea to "champion".
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 believe the City Council should keep the office of the legislative inspector general and his authority to investigate should be expanded to investigate campaign finances. The process should be simple. The complainant signs a sworn affidavit (to help prevent false allegations). There authority to investigate should be immediate with a signed affidavit; no approval from the Ethics board or any Alderman for that matter. It makes no sense that he is not able to investigate without permission from the very people he is to investigate. There should be a system put in place to ensure the office is not used for political vendettas, but that is a risk no matter who is in charge of the investigations.
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?
Our public school system needs to be a priority. The Tribune reported over 9,000 children dropped out of school. Those numbers are staggering and ultimately tie into our other priorities of public safety and economic development. If we are unable to properly educate our children, then we have failed as a city. Funding appears to be a major problem with our school system and the millions diverted into the TIF program cause part of that. But money is not the only answer, we need to make sure we are managing that money properly and it is being used to educate our children. Members of the school board should be split; half appointed by the mayor and half elected. It is a system that our Police Pension Board utilizes and seems to me to be the fairest way to have proper representation. I do support a longer school day and year. As long as we have the funding to properly utilize that time. Just having children sit in school with nothing to do accomplishes nothing. I do not support the expansion of Charter Schools. I believe we need to fix the neighborhoods schools we have now and devote our resources there.
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?
Our ward is perfectly situated to be economically viable for years to come; we just need to promote that better. We are perfectly situated for easy access to O'hare and downtown. We have the Metra, Blue Line and Kennedy Expressway running down the middle of our Ward. We have to create an environment that is receptive and helpful to small businesses; they are the life source of our city. I would support "a program for consolidating and streamlining the business licensing, permitting, and fee assessment process, which would include a single, annual payment for all regulatory requirements." (Taken from the Chicagoland Chamber of Commerce questionnaire; it's a good idea). My office will be one-stop shopping for all businesses; new and old. We will be an expeditor so to speak. We will make it as easy as possible for the business to cut through the red tape that is city hall. I will devote our resources to infrastructure and work to get our streets and sidewalks looking like a neighborhood where a business would want to open it's doors. While we are one of the safest communities in the city, it doesn't mean we have no crime at all. I will fight to increase the number of officers assigned to the 16th and 17th Districts and get them back up to the levels that will allow us to have foot patrols in our business communities and allow us to have a greater presence in our neighborhoods to address problems in a timelier manner. I am on the boards of 2 of our local chambers. I have worked to get local business owners to network and help promote our community. I have put on large-scale fundraisers that draw people from outside our community and promote our local businesses. Like Rock the Badges, a fundraiser I started 2 years ago. It's a battle of the bands between Chicago Police Bands and Chicago Fire Department bands. The events have drawn more than 500 people from within and outside of the community and our ad books promote our local businesses.
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 an increase to our minimum wage. I believe it should be done on a statewide level to keep all of our small businesses on the same playing field. I am concerned about the impact a "Chicago only" wage increase will have on small businesses in our ward; situated near suburban communities that will not be impacted by the wage increase. We are fighting to fill our empty storefronts in our community and I'm not sure how this will impact that process. I hope now that Chicago has taken the lead on this, that the State will follow suit and bring a fair wage to all of our residents.
Q: Should the Lucas Museum of Narrative Art be built at the proposed location on Chicago's lakefront? Please explain.
I need more information to give an informed response to this question.
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?
I am a Chicago Police Lieutenant and I am assigned to the 16th District with covers a large portion of the 45th Ward. I am part of the public safety process within our community working with the resources we have. For the record, my statements here are not given as a Chicago Police Officer and not on behalf of the City of Chicago or the Chicago Police Department. It has been well documented that the City of Chicago has a shortage of police officers. The 16th District and the 17th District that make up the 45th Ward have both seen an influx of gang members and a reduction in police personnel over the years. Criminal street gangs have successfully established footholds in stable neighborhoods and local parks, while our Alderman has made a mediocre attempt at best to increase police resources city wide and almost no attempt at all to increase resources in the districts that make up the 45th Ward. Portage Park is on the front line of this battle, and we need all the resources we can get to keep this and other ward neighborhoods safe. I know and understand how the Chicago Police Department works. As alderman, I will demand that our community is provided with the necessary police manpower and equipment to combat these violent gangs and keep our streets safe. We need more officers on the street as soon as possible. Unfortunately, the current hiring process would not allow new officers to hit the streets anytime soon. In order to expedite the hiring process and bring experienced officers into the Chicago Police Department, I propose that we begin hiring experienced officers from other municipal police departments. Under this "lateral transfer" plan, officers with at least two (2) years of sworn law enforcement experience who pass a review process would immediately be hired as probationary police officers. They would then be placed into an accelerated academy class to familiarize them with Chicago specific ordinances and police procedures. Thus, by reducing the redundant training of an already certified Illinois Peace Officer, we could have experienced officers on the street in 1/ 6 the time that it takes to train a new officer.
Q: Do you support Chicago's traffic light camera program? Please explain.
Red light cameras are just another way for the city to generate revenue under the guise of public safety. A study by the University of Illinois Chicago concluded that Red Light Cameras in Chicago actually increased accidents by 5%. Instead of properly managing our resources, our city council continues to find ways to balance the budget on the backs of taxpayers. Once elected, I will work to have all red light cameras removed from the 45th Ward.
Q: Should Chicago reduce the number of aldermen in the City Council?
I believe we should not do more with less when it comes to public safety, but I strongly believe we can do more with less Aldermen. At one time you needed to call your alderman to get a garbage can; now you just call 311. Now is a great time to strongly consider and have hearings on reducing the number of Wards to 25 instead of 50. The process can be simple, one Alderman for each police district. If one police commander can be responsible for the safety of over 100 thousand residents, I'm sure one Alderman can represent the same number of constituents. Imagine an alderman who doesn't have a second job; with his sole responsibility to represent and work for the citizens of his ward.
Q: What is your highest priority for improving your ward? What is the greatest concern you hear from residents of your ward?
Providing ward services and properly utilizing our ward resources are the greatest concerns I hear from residents. It all ties together; Economic Development, Public Safety and Ward Infrastructure. Our roads are in bad shape, we have police resources that are less than they were just 15 years ago and our store fronts are still vacant from one end of the ward to the other. Almost as many businesses have closed as have opened throughout the entire ward. While our Alderman focuses his efforts on one part of the ward, I will represent the entire ward. Our Alderman has is so combative, he has become ineffective when it comes to some of the simplest of ward services; just getting a garbage can or a tree trimmed takes months if at all. Milwaukee Ave near Central was a called the "cheese-grater" for almost a year and half because he could not or would not work to get the road patched or repaved.
Q: Please tell us something about yourself that would surprise us.
You would be surprised to know that I once went by the nickname, "Cinnabon John" before joining the Chicago Police Department. I worked for the company Restaurant's Unlimited and I traveled around the country assisting in the opening of Cinnabon Bakeries. Nobody could roll out a dozen cinnamon rolls faster and maintain the quality demanded by the company than I; thus the nick-name, Cinnabon-John. ☺