Candidate for City Council, 18th Ward
Education: Chicago Military Academy - Bronzeville (HS); Bachelor of Business Finance - Western Illinois University (2008); Master of Business Administration - Western Illinois University (2010)
Occupation: Sr. Event Account Executive, InterCall
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.
The City's entire use of long-term municipal debt has been mismanaged and is in desperate need of reform. Having earned an education in Finance, I cannot justify the use of any long-term debt to pay for short term expenditures like equipment purchases or legal costs – it is completely absurd. Using "scoop and toss" tactics will only burden future generations to pay off things that have long outlived their usefulness. As Alderman, I plan to work with the Progressive Caucus to introduce an ordinance requiring that long-term capital improvement projects are presented to the public through a referendum, as it is done in many suburbs and cities throughout our nation. If our City is ever to meet its financial debt obligations then its elected officials must also find new and creative revenue streams. We cannot simply cut our way out of this problem – cutting retiree benefits, cutting mental health services, cutting public services, etc. We also cannot afford to place the burden on our citizens to pay an increase in property taxes at a time in which many are still struggling to pay their mortgage. As Alderman, I would champion reform that closes corporate loop holes, such as the toxic interest rate swaps that have cost the city and school district nearly $100 million each year. I plan to work with other progressive Alderman to propose a LaSalle Street Tax that would generate an estimated $10 billion (with a b) annually for the State, with about $2 billion going directly to our City. Lastly, I support making reforms to our Tax Increment Financing (TIF) program that would include, but is not limited to, delaying their expiration such that a small section of its revenue could be used to produce a series of Bonds.
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 are very few issues more important in our State, and in our City, than that of our public employee pensions. As Alderman, I will stand ready with other Alderman to ensure that there are no future cuts or attacks on the pensions that many retirees, including my own parents, depend on for their livelihood. I plan to reject proposals that would include cuts to retiree's income. In order for our City to meet paying its pension obligations we must find new and creative revenue streams. I am willing to champion reform including, but not limited to: • A commuter tax on individuals that live outside of the City but work here and rely on its services • A LaSalle Street tax on futures contracts executed through the facilities of the Chicago Mercantile Exchange and the Chicago Board Options Exchange • An end to toxic interest rate swap agreements that have cost the City of Chicago and the Chicago Public Schools over $800 million in profits • An investigation into the likelihood of a Casino here in Chicago
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.
In my experience, I have personally witnessed the TIF program help restore what were once considered "blighted" neighborhoods into thriving business districts. For instance, in downstate Galesburg, I studied how the TIF program was used by the community to build new industries in place of a large Maytag plant that once provided thousands of jobs to the area. However, here in our City, we have experienced the worst mismanagement of this program to date. I do not agree with the allotment for pet projects such as the Marriott Hotel and the Depaul Basketball Arena. In my ward, specifically, there are so many business districts in dire need of service that I cannot justify using TIF dollars to help bring private industries to areas that are not considered "blighted" or in the most need. In order to continue this program in Chicago I believe that we need smart reform to ensure that residents have a say in how TIFs are created and managed. As Alderman, I would support an ordinance requiring that new TIFs are voted on by the Ward prior to being brought before the City Council. As stated previously, I would also vote to extend their expiration such that a small section of its revenue could be used to produce a series of Bonds. Lastly, I would consider using any excess in TIF funds to meet the balloon payments owed to our pension systems.
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.
The "12 ways to heal a city" was a very inspiring narrative that reflects well on our citizens. Of the ideas, I would particularly want to champion the "Innovation Houses" in the 18th Ward. My community is one of the hardest hit by foreclosures, and this would be an excellent place to pilot such a program. Many young adults, like myself, returned home from their college education only to find staggering unemployment. This is an excellent way to take and provide our young adults with the opportunity to get their start in life right here in Chicago. It will also inspire our residents to see an infusion of young people eager to return home and get involved in their communities. Having a background in the private industry, I believe I can urge corporate and civic leaders to get involved in making this program a reality. To add to this idea, I would further require that those young adults work towards either purchasing the home themselves, or assist in the selling of the property to prospective buyers. This would give them experience in real estate, and the proceeds from the sale can become an added revenue stream to our City.
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.
As a progressive candidate, it is my firm belief that our City Council needs to not only keep, but to also increase the role of the Legislative Inspector General (IG). There is no clearer evidence supporting this stance than the amount of Alderman and staff indicted and imprisoned for abusing their office. I also believe that requirements should be changed such that an allegation does not require a signed affidavit from a complainant in order to be investigated by the IG. All reports should be considered and acted upon to ensure that our City is not faced with another indictment and possible lawsuit. The Chief Executive (Mayor) should also be required to file an ethics statement with the City, if this is not already a requirement.
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?
As a proud product of the Chicago Public Schools (CPS) system, I congratulate our teachers, parents, and staff on their improvements in freshmen on track and high school graduation rates. Our teachers, in particular, are being asked to accomplish more with less. I was proud to have attended various rallies in opposition to the closing of our neighborhood schools because I do not believe the key to our financial performance rests on cuts and school closings. In order to improve public education in this City we need the collaboration of all parties – the Teachers Union, the community, the City Council, and the Mayor. To that end, I believe our City deserves a democratically elected school board – one that is made up of local community and educators. I further believe that there needs to be a moratorium on the expansion of charter schools in the City. We cannot close 50 neighborhood schools, and allow for the expansion of more Charter schools. Lastly, in order for the CPS to close its significant budget gap, I believe once again that we must look to adding new and creative sources of revenue, including but not limited to the aforementioned commuter & Lasalle Street tax, and end to toxic interest rate swap agreements.
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?
Shortly after earning my Master in Business Administration, I returned to my home community in search of a career. Finding none, I was forced to look to other areas that in some cases were miles outside of our City limits. As Alderman, one of my top priorities is to ensure that this trend does not continue, and that we invest in the economic development of the 18th Ward. To start, I would implement a "shop local" program throughout my ward. Taking a page from sites like GroupOn and Living Social, we need to expand the amount of programs we offer to encourage residents to spend more of their dollars in their own neighborhoods. I would create a creative 18th Ward Business Directory that would not only help advertise our local businesses, but also help promote deals and promotions that are being offered therein. I would also require that at least one of my office staff have a background in writing effective business plans. I want my office to become more engaged with aspiring entrepreneurs – to help with the essentials of writing a business plan, finding space in the ward to operate, and link to banks in the area that could potentially invest in their idea. Lastly, I believe the most effective tool we have to encourage entrepreneurship is through education. As Alderman, I want to partner with our local Daley College to provide free informative workshops for aspiring entrepreneurs on how to get started. For those participating in the program I would also want to partner with local commercial property owners to help lease to those startups that have shown promise. We have an abundance of "For Sale" or "For Lease" office space in our ward - many of which have been abandoned for years, and are falling into disrepair. This would be an effective way at addressing that need while also encouraging entrepreneurship at home.
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.
The 18th Ward, in particular, is unique to this issue in that we border many outlying suburbs like Evergreen Park and Oak Lawn. Many in the community had concerns that raising our minimum wage would force some businesses to leave the ward, and move in some cases directly across the street. However, when my campaign circulated petitions asking neighbors their support of an increase in the minimum wage to $15/hr the overwhelming majority agreed that it was the right thing to do. I, therefore, continue to support the Councils vote as it was passed to increase the minimum wage over a 3 year period.
Q: Should the Lucas Museum of Narrative Art be built at the proposed location on Chicago's lakefront? Please explain.
As a fan of the Star Wars universe, I like many Chicagoans felt thrilled to learn that our City was chosen as the host of the Lucas Museum of Narrative Art. Aside from my own personal enjoyment, I also believe it will bring tourism, much needed jobs, and additional revenue to our City. However, I agree with organizations such as the BGA and Union League Club, that the process of approving this project should be an open, thorough, and inclusive process. So far, there are legitimate concerns around transportation options, the possible use of tax dollars, and environmental clean-up costs. Until such concerns are answered to the public's satisfaction I believe the City and Parks should tread carefully to avoid any possible litigation, and ensure that this project is a financial benefit to the City.
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 the key issues facing the 18th Ward is that of our public safety. In recent years, we have seen drastic increases in the amount of violent crimes being recorded to the Police. In order to secure our communities future, we must address the issue of violent crime in a way that includes our city council, local community groups, churches, schools, and most importantly the Police. As Alderman, one of my primary goals will be to work with community leaders and churches to increase the number of mentorship programs in my ward. We have to fight harder to keep our youth from entering into the justice system, because we know that it leads to a very vicious cycle. I would also work to strengthen the role of our Chicago Alternate Policing Strategies (CAPS) program. Firstly, I would work to restore the funding to the CAPS program which over the years has been drastically reduced. In wake of recent national events like that in Ferguson and New York, we must also work to restore the trust between the community and police. To that end, I would also look to expand the CAPS program by allowing Officers to teach courses in neighborhood schools that would address topics including but not limited to, encounters with the police, restorative justice, and neighborhood watch. As the son of two retired members of the Chicago Police Department (CPD), I am also deeply aware and concerned with the drastic reduction in our police force. Rather than restoring our CPD to its agreed upon staffing levels, our Mayor and Police Superintendent have instead reassigned administrative and desk officers to field duty and relied heavily on police overtime. This strategy has put our public at risk. As Alderman, I plan to work with my colleagues in City Council to hire more police officers and strengthen the CAPS program.
Q: Do you support Chicago's traffic light camera program? Please explain.
No. The implementation of the City's red light and speed camera program has been a complete nightmare. Through a series of complaints, investigations, and even lawsuits I think it is evident that this program needs to be completely re-examined. Our residents not only deserve a refund for the amount of revenue generated from the shortening of the yellow lights, but also a full investigation into the bribery schemes that are responsible for its inception.
Q: Should Chicago reduce the number of aldermen in the City Council?
Yes. The Chicago City Council should take a note from our state legislators who also cut the Illinois house in half. Our City, unlike other major US cities, has an inordinate amount of council members per capita. With the decline in our population, and the centralization of city services, I believe we are primed for this conversation. If we are looking at means of addressing our City's budget, we must leave everything on the table.
Q: What is your highest priority for improving your ward? What is the greatest concern you hear from residents of your ward?
The 18th Ward is one of Chicago's largest, and therefore concerns tend to differ depending on where you live. However, one central issue that I believe is felt all over is the high unemployment rate. As Alderman, the highest priority that I will have is finding new and unique ways of getting people employed. Jobs can be seen as a deterrent to crime, and a way to improve the overall community. Educators have a responsibility to prepare your young to compete in a global technology driven economy. So all concerns – whether it is crime and safety or education – can be impacted by addressing this key issue.
Q: Please tell us something about yourself that would surprise us.
Aside from politics and business I have a distinct passion for cooking. I consider my father a master grillsman, and have always tried my best to outdo him in the kitchen. In college, I would often cook meals for various student activites, and was renowned around campus as the unofficial Chef of Western Illinois University.