Candidate questionnaires

Portrait of Margaret Laurino

Margaret Laurino

Candidate for City Council, 39th Ward

Margaret Laurino

Candidate for City Council, 39th Ward

Portrait of Margaret Laurino

Education: St. Edward's Elementary School, Alvernia High School, Northeastern Illinois University (Bachelor's and Master's degrees)

Occupation: Alderman, 39th ward

Home: Chicago

Age: Not answered

Past Political/Civic Experience: Not answered

Website: http://Marge39.com

Candidates running for City Council, 39th Ward


Responses to the Chicago Tribune's questionnaire

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.

Ideally, government should not fund day-to-day operations through long-term bonds. However, considering the state of economy and Chicago's finances, it unfortunately became necessary for the city to find alternative ways to pay for basic operating expenses. Although we were able to reduce the city's deficit by half over the last four years, more work needs to be done. I am proud to have been one of the co-sponsors for the City Council Office of Financial Analysis (COFA), an office that provides Aldermen with budget analyses and research independent of the Mayor's Office. Your "Broken Bonds" series brought to light the many complexities of the city's budget and illustrated the necessity and urgency of establishing the COFA. I strongly support separating the legislative and executive branches of government and look forward to working with my colleagues to strengthen and expand the COFA. I agree with the Civic Federation's recommendation to develop a strategy to end the practice of financing general operating expenses with long-term bonds. My fellow Aldermen, the COFA, and the Mayor's Office should make this a priority in the next year.


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.

I support making reforms to our pension systems in order to ensure that we protect and preserve the benefits promised to our employees. If the City of Chicago allows the systems to function as they do now, it is possible that employees will not have any retirement income, whether it be a pension, social security, or individual retirement accounts in the future. Ultimately, the General Assembly and the courts will dictate how the pension funds will be restructured. I would recommend the City Council rely on the expertise of the City Council Office of Financial Analysis when restructuring the pensions systems based on guidance from Springfield.


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.

TIFs are a valuable tool and it would be a mistake to condemn them simply because they have sometimes been misused. When used correctly, TIFs can be a necessary incentive to attract businesses, jobs, and tax dollars to a community and can also be used to fund a variety of projects that benefit the community as a whole. I am proud of the TIF projects I have championed in the 39th Ward. The Albany Park Community had an outdated, yet well-used library. I used TIF funds to construct the new Albany Park Library, which brings state-of-the art learning tools to a diverse multi-ethnic, lower income community. If not for the Lawrence-Kedzie TIF, we would not have been able to construct this new library for Albany Park residents. I also used funds from the Lawrence-Kedzie TIF to build a new public school. The Albany Park Multicultural Academy (APMA) was an outstanding middle school that was housed in Von Steuben High School. By constructing a new building, APMA was able to move out of Von Steuben and free up space for the high school. The APMA building also houses the Edison Regional Gifted Center, an accelerated program for students from kindergarten to 8th grade. Without TIF funds, we would not have been able to build a new facility for these two public schools. In addition to constructing schools, I have used TIF funds to rehab 250 units of affordable owner-occupied and rental housing and to streetscape business corridors throughout the ward. I also used TIF funds to save 400 jobs in the Pulaski Peterson industrial corridor. I am a strong proponent of transparency when it comes to TIF districts. My aldermanic website has a section giving updates on all the TIFs in my ward. I also sponsored the TIF Sunshine Ordinance which requires that the City of Chicago post detailed information about each of the city's TIF district. I am also a proponent of putting excess TIF funds back into education and towards reducing the city's pension obligation.


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 appreciate all of the suggestions offered on "12 Ways to Heal a City" and believe many can offer significant benefits to Chicago if implemented. I particularly like the ideas of using shuttered schools as community centers, offering a free GED program, and plans to help at-risk children. Here in the 39th ward, I have worked to increase opportunities for youth to engage in positive activities that not only keep them off the streets, but also encourage learning and provide a positive outlet for expression. We recently completed construction on the Albany Park Library, a state-of-the-art facility which offers technology such as 3-D printers, 38 new computers, and a YOUmedia digital media lab for teens. I also support the Albany Park Theater Project (APTP) which has done an excellent job in engaging young residents, many of whom are the children of immigrants, through mentoring and an emphasis on critical thinking and education. Seventy percent of APTP's alumni graduate college by the age of 24, a rate that is nearly seven times the national college graduation rate for low-income, first-generation college students. These are just some of the examples of the steps we have taken in the 39th ward to support our youth and to offer our most vulnerable residents opportunities they may not get elsewhere.


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 Office of the Legislative Inspector General should be consolidated with the City Inspector General because their duties overlap. The role of the City Inspector General should then be refined so that everyone can have a better understanding of how it will investigate allegations of wrongdoing. City employees should also be given regular guidance on ethics rules. In 2005, I introduced an ordinance mandating annual ethics training for employees so they are clear on what is expected of them.


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 was pleased to see that almost all 39th Ward schools received a 1 or 1+ rating. I believe this is testament to our strong teachers, principals, and parents as well as the hard work of our students. Proper funding is a vital part of improving our education system, but it also important that we acknowledge the role that parents play in a student's education. Therefore, we need to work to engage parents in their children's education and ensure that they have access to the tools necessary to aid in their child's schooling. No amount of money will help a child in the classroom if we do not ensure that their parents can provide a home environment that is conducive to learning and supportive of their student's education. My recommendation is that we have a hybrid school board with members elected by the public and some members appointed by the mayor. Hybrid school boards have been implemented in other municipalities and have proved to be very successful. My concern with an elected school board is that it could turn into a costly fight and into a popularity contest among special interest groups. By having members both elected and appointed, we could avoid the perception that only one person appoints, and therefore, controls the entire board. Details would have to be refined, such as would members be elected by district and should we expand the current seven member board. However, I believe a hybrid board would be a reasonable compromise, allowing the public, special interests, and elected officials to all have a voice in the future of education in Chicago. I support the longer school day. Our recent school ratings show that the education reforms that have been implemented in the past decade are showing results. Our high school graduation rate is at the highest level it has been in years. In 2003, the high school graduation rate was at 44%. In 2013, it jumped to 64%. With full day kindergarten, an emphasis on early childhood education, and other reforms taking hold, I believe the graduation rate will continue to rise. Some praise charter schools for the progress they have made in turning our education system around. While some charters have had success in providing creative solutions to the many challenges our children face in the 39th Ward, I have not had a good experience with charter schools. Aspira Haugan, which serves grades 6-8, was formerly in the 39th Ward and continues to serve 39th Ward students. While other schools in the community had 1 or 1+ ratings, Aspira Haugan had the unacceptable rating of 2+. Our students deserve better. I would like to see charters like Aspira Haugan be more engaged in the community. I would also like more detailed and consistent data on charter school accomplishments as well as increased transparency and accountability in how they spend taxpayer dollars and their disciplinary practices.


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?

As Alderman, I have always worked to bring quality developments, businesses, and jobs to the 39th Ward. I have accomplished this by being sensitive to the specific needs of new and existing employers and by working closely with property and business owners and local chambers to make sure they have meaningful input in new projects and developments. Sometimes, the needs of the community and the needs of businesses conflict. For instance, Restaurant Depot, a national wholesale food supplier, wanted to locate in the 39th Ward but the location they were targeting was too close to the residential neighborhood and did not fit the community. Rather than lose a business and potential employer within the area, I worked to find them a more suitable, alternate location. We recently broke ground on their new $18.9 million, 60,000 square foot facility in our Peterson Pulaski Industrial Corridor. When construction is completed, this business will bring 50 full-time and 20 part-time jobs to the community. I regularly serve as a liaison between businesses, city departments, and other quasi-governmental agencies, helping employers to cut through red tape and to access resources that can help them start, keep, and expand their businesses. For example, at one time businesses in the Peterson Pulaski Industrial Corridor suffered from unreliable electric service and limited bandwidth. It was such a problem that one of the corridor's largest employers threatened to leave Chicago and the 39th Ward because of it. I connected the company with top executives and engineers from Commonwealth Edison and internet service providers in the area to identify and correct the issue. Today, that corridor is thriving and the company is expanding. I also encourage the use of financial incentives such as the Small Business Improvement Fund and tax incentives to aid in building improvements and renovations. A few years ago, I employed TIF funds to retain Wolters Kluwer (formerly CCH) in the 39th Ward. The highlight of the agreement with Wolters Kluwer was that the company and their 400 jobs remain in the Ward and that 45 new jobs be set aside for local hires. I also employ city funds for Streetscape projects on main thoroughfares throughout the 39th Ward to improve the look of our retail business areas, and work to empower my local chambers. I co-founded of the Peterson-Pulaski Business and Industrial Council, the Sauganash Chamber of Commerce, and the Pulaski Elston Business Association, and work closely with them to attract and retain businesses in the 39th Ward.


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.

Currently, the minimum wage in Illinois stands at $8.25 an hour. At this rate, an adult working 40 hours a week would only earn $16,500 a year. This is not enough to support a family or to escape the cycle of poverty. I supported raising the minimum wage to $13 an hour by 2019 because it would provide families in Chicago with a living wage while phasing the increase in over several years so as not to place undue burden on employers. I could not support a $15 an hour minimum wage at this time because I do not believe our small businesses could shoulder that amount in the current economy.


Q: Should the Lucas Museum of Narrative Art be built at the proposed location on Chicago's lakefront? Please explain.

This is an issue that would be best handled by the Alderman, residents, and community groups that represent that area. I would also strongly consider input from the Friends of the Parks organization. I believe any lakefront development needs to be scrutinized with the end result being; "Does the project enhance the city's lakefront experience while adhering to Daniel Burnham's vision of a pristine lakefront for future generations to enjoy?"


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?

The City of Chicago has a great police force and I support all the hard working women and men in the Department who lay their lives on the line to protect and serve. I believe Chicago has done an excellent job in strengthening the standards of training for police and utilizing information technology and cameras to fight crime and improve public safety. I hope to see sustained progress on this front and will work to ensure that the police department continues to hold its officers to the highest standards. In addition to having a quality police force, Chicago needs a strong CAPS program. Residents know their communities best and are most knowledgeable of events in their neighborhoods. That being said, residents are a valuable resource for police and they need to work together in order to stomp out crime. The best way to foster that relationship is by using the CAPS program to improve police-neighborhood communications. In the 39th Ward, I lean heavily on the CAPS program and encourage all residents to attend so that they can become familiar with their beat officers and voice their concerns. I also send staff to all CAPS meetings so that I can be aware of those concerns. In addition to having staff at CAPS meetings, I also work closely with the Commanders and officers of the ward and regularly communicate with the 16th and 17th Districts regarding reports we receive on criminal activity. I also work with them to ensure they have all the tools and resources necessary to do their job. One example of our collaborative efforts is the 17th District Police Station. Several years ago, I worked with the 17th District to secure funding for a new, state-of-the art police station. Now, our officers have an updated facility with up-to-date technology which they can use to more effectively fight crime. I have fought to ensure that the 39th Ward keeps its fair share of police officers, worked with community associations to identify specific safety needs on a block-by-block basis, and then spearheaded efforts to encourage those community associations to form safety task force committees and block clubs. Through these efforts, we have been successful in developing a network of police and residents to improve public safety in the 39th Ward. I believe that the police and residents working hand-in-hand have helped the 17th District experience a 44% decrease in crime since 2010.


Q: Do you support Chicago's traffic light camera program? Please explain.

I supported the traffic light camera program in order to improve traffic safety for pedestrians and motorists throughout Chicago and especially around our schools and parks. Recently released camera footage from CDOT of accidents at red light intersections illustrate the danger posted by motorists who run red lights. Data from CDOT shows an 11% decrease in accidents at intersections with red light cameras. I believe the program has been successful in slowly changing dangerous habits behind the wheel and making drivers more aware of their surroundings while driving. This has certainly held true for me as I have become more aware behind the wheel after the program was implemented. I won't deny that there have been issues with the cameras. Going forward, I would support careful and regular review of the camera contracts in order to ensure that there is fair enforcement of the law and regular maintenance of the equipment.


Q: Should Chicago reduce the number of aldermen in the City Council?

No, Chicago should not reduce the number of Alderman in the City Council. Unlike City Council members in many other large metropolitan areas, Chicago Aldermen are deeply involved in the day-to-day operations of ensuring ward and city services are being delivered. They serve as intermediaries between the residents of their ward and the various city departments, providing access to services that maintain our quality of life, and guidance and resources for those who are unsure of where to turn for assistance. Alderman and their staff also provide customer service and follow up on residents' issues to ensure that requests and inquiries are fulfilled in a timely manner. If we were to reduce the number of Alderman in Chicago, it would be extremely difficult to provide the highest quality of personalized service to residents in the third largest city in the nation. Reducing the number of Alderman would entail the creation of larger wards which would encompass larger geographic areas of Chicago. This consolidation would create challenges in addressing the unique issues our varied communities face and would probably not bring the cost savings proponents anticipate. Chances are, each ward would have to have two offices to provide residents with the same level of service they have become accustomed to receiving. This would, in turn, require expenditures for staffing, rent, and supplies at two locations. If you ask a Chicago resident who their Alderman is, they are likely to know the answer. If you ask who their County Commissioner or State Senator is, chances are they will not know. Chicago Aldermen have a unique role in not only providing essential services to their constituents, but also serving as the elected official closest to the public. People can see their Aldermen in their office, at the grocery, or at houses of worship. Aldermen serve as the face of government in their communities and, in many cases, the only elected officials the public ever meets. Reducing the number of Aldermen in the city council would remove the one constant contact the public has with the government.


Q: What is your highest priority for improving your ward? What is the greatest concern you hear from residents of your ward?

My top priorities for improving the 39th Ward are addressing community issues like O'Hare noise, education, public safety, and providing infrastructure improvements and quality city services in the face of shrinking budgets. Residents across the ward have expressed their concerns over these issues and I have worked diligently to address them. When the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) made changes to landing and takeoff patterns, redirecting air traffic over neighborhoods in the 39th Ward and dramatically increasing the level of jet noise in the area, I implemented a multi-tier approach to combat the effects of airplane noise. By partnering with Congressman Mike Quigley and community groups such as FAIR (Fair Allocation in Runways), I have pushed to make the FAA and Chicago Department of Aviation answer the tough questions and present real plans for fair flight allocation and sound proofing assistance. Because public safety is one of the most important quality of life issues, I have dedicated myself to ensuring that the 39th Ward gets its fair share of police officers and that our emergency personnel have the tools and resources they need to serve our communities. I have done this by working closely with the Commanders and officers of the ward, sending a liaison to all CAPS meetings, and regularly communicating with the 16th and 17th District police regarding all reports we receive on criminal activity. My staff and I also work hard to make sure that vacant buildings are identified and secured, that graffiti is removed promptly, and that we support our youth with positive alternatives and programming in our schools, parks, and community organizations. Infrastructure improvements and service delivery are also essential components to our quality of life. That is why I am committed to funding infrastructure improvements that invest in our communities and enhance our business corridors. Throughout my years as Alderman, I have fought to bring millions of dollars of infrastructure improvements to the 39th Ward and I am constantly working with various city departments to improve the delivery of services to the our residents. For example, in 2014 alone I spent over $1 million dollars on street resurfacing throughout the ward. I represent one of the City's most diverse wards with a population that is 54% Caucasian, 24% Hispanic, 3% African American, and 18% Asian. My staff and I work hard to address and balance the concerns and hopes of these different racial and ethnic groups. My campaign slogan is, "Bringing It All Together" because my overriding goal in my years as Alderman is to ensure whatever I do for the ward is not done to the detriment of any one group. If re-elected, I will continue to fight for the interests of the 39th Ward and continue to work with residents and businesses to keep our neighborhoods the wonderful places they have always been to live and raise our families in.


Q: Please tell us something about yourself that would surprise us.

I collect cookbooks and read them like novels as I do not cook much. Julia Child is one of my heroines. I have an autographed copy of "Julia's Kitchen Wisdom."