Candidate for City Council, 11th Ward
Education: Mark Sheridan Academy Mount Carmel High School University of Chicago The John Marshall Law School
Occupation: Law School Student and President of the Canaryville Little League (Volunteer)
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.
For more information and for my specific stances, please visit www.JohnKozlar.com. This borrowing is not justified. Our elected officials have been making some very bad decisions over the last decade. I am reminded of two that really put the city in a bad position - the sale of our parking meters and the privatization of our Skyway. These were two long-term revenue entities for our city, yet we made a deal with private investment groups that only impacted the city on a short term basis - a basis that has already been depleted. So no, this was not justified, nor was the same concept of issuing bonds for spending on fulfilling short term operating expenses. This practice simply does not work and it is a shame that our elected officials made these decisions. Going forward though, we need to get rid of the incompetent elected officials who are making these decisions. Furthermore, we need to spend only what we have. When we make decisions, we need to not only pay attention to the short term result of our decisions, but focus on the long term consequences of our decisions. We can pay down the debts by increasing the wealth of our city. We already pay too many taxes. I will vote NO on more taxes, including voting NO on a property tax increase. It is time to put someone in city hall who knows how to operate a budget and who cares about the implications when it comes to taxing our residents. What we have now is the mindset from our elected officials of "who can keep what, and how can we pay more to keep getting votes" attitude. What is needed now is not a tax increase. If we increase our taxes, we will lose our residents in moving outside of the city. We are on the brink of this happening, especially with the upcoming voting for property tax increases, and other increases in taxes. When we increase taxes, we decrease the amount of money our hard working citizens get to keep. Plain and simple. For revenue increases, I think it is crucial that we implement revenue generating developments within our city. This can include, but not limited to: putting in contracts from our major events that the city will obtain a larger percentage of the profits, organize more events that will attract many goers - such as concerts, family oriented events, and sporting based revenues. Also, I would be more favorable to a casino in our city, as long as the location(s) are suitable and most effective. For cuts, Alderman do not need a pension. This decision alone will save the city millions, but will also change the mindset of our elected officials for the true purpose of being a public servant. There needs to be more modernization and efficiency in the way we administer our city services. This is a direct reflection of our city council, which is why we need fresh ideas and a new perspective.
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.
Just to reiterate: we already pay too many taxes. I will vote NO on more taxes, including voting NO on a property tax increase. Our pension crisis is probably one of our most ignored problems. I found it interesting that this payment of our pension liability was delayed for after the election. Before making a decision, we have to identify how this problem happened. What we did, or what our elected officials did, was gamble with city employee pensions and kept using the invisible credit card. When you combine both of these practices, you get the result you now see: $200,000+ increase per hour in unfunded pension liability debt. What does this mean? No mass hiring for jobs for the next generation of workers, minimal job availability for those who recently lost work or are simply trying to put food on the table for their family, and non-productive advancements to solve these problems. Again, what we have now is the mindset from our elected officials of "who can keep what, and how can we pay more to keep getting votes" attitude. What is needed now is not a tax increase. If we increase our taxes, we will lose our residents in moving outside of the city. We are on the brink of this happening, especially with the upcoming voting for property tax increases, and other increases in taxes. When we increase taxes, we decrease the amount of money our hard working citizens get to keep. Plain and simple. For revenue increases, again I think it is crucial that we implement revenue generating developments within our city. I would agree to support putting in contracts from our major events that the city will obtain a larger percentage of the profits, organize more events that will attract many goers - such as concerts, family oriented events, and sporting based revenues. Also, I would be more favorable to a casino in our city, as long as the location(s) are suitable and most effective. Again for cuts, Alderman do not need a pension. This decision alone will save the city millions, but will further change the mindset of our elected officials for the true purpose of being a public servant. Also, it would be unwise to change current employee pensions, simply because there will be much litigation costs and unproductive fighting back and forth with out representatives. If we can make feasible, wise, honest, and transparent adjustments, it will be favorable for our city to make this happen. With this said, we should not punish our public employees for the mistakes made from our elected officials. I think we should pay more attention to those hired after 2018, and make the changes there if needed. Our next generation is ready to go to work, and those who are currently out of work are ready to make a living. We need to make the right decisions for our city, and get our citizens back to working and earning an honest living.
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.
When TIFs came about, I think that the idea was correct: to use the TIF money for blighted areas or areas that were undeveloped in our neighborhoods. However, just like many things operated by elected officials, the implementation of this idea went astray. There has been many abuses of the TIF, which leaves the program in question from many voters. I think that the TIF program is great if used for the right reasons. I think it gives another sources of financing to economic developments. But, I will say, that TIF in moving forward, should only be used for projects that will either make our communities more economically and environmentally efficient. By economically efficient, I mean that any more invested through TIF, should be generating some sort of revenue for the city. If no revenue is to be made, then it should be for the development of our neighborhoods, especially for after schools programs where children and their families can get off of the streets and into educational and/or extra-curricular activities. I know that if elected alderman, that I will work closely with our neighborhoods to not only spend the TIF money wisely, but to do so in a transparent way. With the current $55 million allotment, I would rather see this investment be spent within our neighborhoods, directly. If the city is the one who will be keeping the funds from the revenues of the two projects (ie this will bring in long term revenue for the City of Chicago - or even a good portion), then I will be more favorable to these ideas. However, I want to make sure we go line by line that the $55 million is the actual cost and not simply spend tax payer money unwisely. Lastly and most importantly, we can only spend what we actually have, and not continue down the road of wasting taxpayers money for non productive projects that do not benefit our neighborhoods directly.
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.
For more information about my campaign and for specific ideas and plan for our 11th Ward and city, please visit www.JohnKozlar.com. I agree with many of these plans for a better Chicago. I especially would like to see the following: Curbing our crime, developing of our neighborhood deserts, fixing our schools, and not only reconstructing our city's budgets, but also putting our economic resources in a direction that is green, not red. Just by going off of the results of the CAPS in the 11th Ward, a program that brings the community and our policing together, we can truly start changing the negatives in our city. We have to work together, whether it be for our budget, schools, crime, and quality of life, otherwise we will continue to bicker and nothing will change. I would like to thank the Tribune Editorial Board for offering these ideas with the suggestions of readers, because the first half step of including our community has been initiated - now we have to accomplish the other half by our elected officials coming to the table, together.
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 think that the Office of the Legislative Inspector General (OLIG) is a pertinent body of our city. I feel it is a needed entity, simply because it is independent and nonpartisan, and "whose mission is to investigate allegations of misconduct by members and employees of the Chicago City Council." If we do not have oversight of our council members, then we run the risk of more corruption and lack of responsibility for our actions. I 100% feel that the city inspector general should be given authority to investigate our alderman and staff whenever he or she wants to. This is a positive office and can be very effective, coupled with a code of ethics given to each alderman and his or her staff. Therefore, we will all be given notice and due process for our own actions, especially when we make decisions as public officials. If we do not have an accountable and responsible local government, then we will not have an efficient and productive city.
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 think the key to improving our CPS educational system is to give our students, their families, and teachers the sense of security. The sense of security is based off of no more school closings and no more mass firings of teachers. If we continue to have our good teachers be worried about losing their jobs or families and students not knowing if their school will be opened the following year, then we diminish the learning experience and quality of education for our schools. I 100% support a elected Board of Education in conjunction with appointments by the mayor. If we do not work together, meaning if we do not have representation from our teachers and parents who have students in our Chicago Public Schools, then we lose their important insights on important issues facing the well-being of our school system. I do not support a longer year, but feel that a school day should be from roughly 7:45am to 2:30pm. We have to balance our youth having time to be children and learning, and I feel that summer months should be enjoyed by everyone involved in CPS. I would agree to have more after school programs for families and children that would like to be more involved, especially in music, sports, and other forms of art. Right now our per-pupil spending criteria has dismantled our educational system, including our CPS budget, and has put an unnecessary burden on our teachers, staff and neighborhood families. Instead, we need to reduce the amount of students per classroom and give teachers the resources they need and be economically wise about our spending. The result will be 20-25 students per classroom in the CPS, teachers keeping their jobs, and families getting the education they deserve for their children. We have great schools on the south portion of our ward, and (after talking with residents) a lack thereof on the north parts (including near University Village and Commons). I will advocate for better school choices near University Village to make sure a good quality education is accessible for all of our ward's students and families, otherwise we risk losing them to other parts of the city or suburbs. I will work closely with our Local School Councils, teachers, and parents to work towards a real solution for our next generations because the way we currently manage our CPS budget is simply not working.
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?
Economic development is crucial to the well-being of our 11th Ward. Right now, if you go down Halsted Street in many parts of our community, you will find many boarded up or vacant storefronts. Currently, there is a lack of opportunities for our residents to spend time, whether it be shopping or entertainment. We can attract more employers to our area first by working directly with our community to see what is needed, second by identifying the right locations, and third by building up our area to attract businesses. I am the only candidate with specific ideas on my website (www.JohnKozlar.com) as far as economically developing our ward. I have canvassed our many neighborhoods and listened from the residents to what is needed in our community. The developments include: Halsted Street Revitalization - Ramova Theater; Residential Dog Parks; a 21st Century Bowling Alley; a state-of-the-art youth sports field; and our Morgan Street renovation. Once we add these projects to our ward, there will be more opportunities for our community. When there are more opportunities for our community, the current businesses are positively impacted because more people and families will be attracted to our ward - whether it be to shop or live. When we attract more people to our ward, then more businesses will want to be a part of the economic influx. When we have more employers coming into our ward, this will in turn lead to more jobs. I will sit down with the employers and advocate to hire from within the 11th Ward, simply because when you have our community invested and are able to get jobs from our local businesses, the care and appreciation factors go up, and then we will feel like a true community again. For economic development in our ward, I have first hand experience from being a part of the Canaryville Little League. Within the last give seasons, I have managed a budget of over half a million dollars between 2010-2014, and from this have conducted ballpark additions, totaling over $225,000.00 in renovations and economic developments. When we invested in the league, the number of players increased dramatically and more families from all over the SouthSide of Chicago wanted and continue to be a part of the Little League because it is truly a fantastic place for our youth and a fun filled, family environment.
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 agree with the vote to increase the minimum wage to $13 an hour, in several steps, by 2019. It is very difficult to live on the current minimum wage, especially for a family with children. Taking into account business and economic principles, it will be vital to raise the minimum wage going into the future.
Q: Should the Lucas Museum of Narrative Art be built at the proposed location on Chicago's lakefront? Please explain.
I think that Chicago's lakefront is a great location for a new Museum, especially for the Lucas Museum of Narrative Art. I would first consult all of the parties, which include the residents of our city, to make sure everyone is working together.
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?
For a more in depth analysis and detailed information about my campaign, please visit www.JohnKozlar.com The city can improve public safety by making sure we invest in our police officers and the community as a whole. I live in a ward that has amazing CAPS programs, and the result when the community works directly with our police force is positive. I would support modernizing the gear that our police officers have, so that they too are safe in serving and protecting our neighborhoods. In our ward, I have had the blessing of being a part of the Canaryville Little League, which is a great place where children are kept off of the streets during the summer months. Currently, the Canaryville Little League has over 450 registered players, from seven different neighborhoods on the SouthSide of Chicago. I have one on one conversations with the local police. When we communicate together and when we invest directly in our neighborhoods, truly amazing results happen. Also, we have many assets in our community, and many residents who work closely with our police. Therefore, it is the act of identifying our ward's assets, and having everyone work together for the betterment of our community, especially when it comes to our public safety.
Q: Do you support Chicago's traffic light camera program? Please explain.
I think the idea of the traffic light program was to improve the safety around our schools and parks. I agreed with this practice. However, it seems that the traffic light camera program is now a way to tax people in every aspect of their driving lives. I think the program has been abused in this manner. There was even evidence of reducing the yellow light duration, just so we can issue more tickets. This was wrong and I would favor going back to the initial purpose of this program: to keep our drivers and pedestrians safe.
Q: Should Chicago reduce the number of aldermen in the City Council?
I feel that we need competent aldermen in the City Council. We need aldermen who do not get elected and turn their back on the community. We need aldermen who have a history of directly helping our community, and not those who simply say they are there for the well being of our community.
Q: What is your highest priority for improving your ward? What is the greatest concern you hear from residents of your ward?
For a more in depth analysis and detailed information about my campaign, please visit www.JohnKozlar.com The most critical issues in the 11th Ward are education, economic developments, having more job opportunities, reducing crime on the streets of our Ward, building community relationships, and making sure that we do not undervalue the importance of our youth and their families. My main priority is to work directly with our ward members, to look at each resident eye to eye and not on a pedestal. I will be working with our community to initiate new recreational and modernized resources for our 11th Ward.
Q: Please tell us something about yourself that would surprise us.
I am a new Uncle and Godfather. My sister recently had a baby, Declan James, and he is a very inspirational individual. Also my first plane ride was at the age of 19. I was in college and we took a baseball trip to Japan. We played Japan's national champions (Waseda University) in a three game series, and I got to sign some of my first (and last) autographs on baseballs. It was an amazing experience to say the least and memories that I will have with me for the rest of my life.