Candidate questionnaires

Portrait of Michael R. Zalewski

Michael R. Zalewski

Candidate for City Council, 23rd Ward

Michael R. Zalewski

Candidate for City Council, 23rd Ward

Portrait of Michael R. Zalewski

Education: Nathan Hale Grammar School, John F. Kennedy High School, Morraine Valley Community College

Occupation: Alderman, 23rd Ward

Home: Chicago

Age: Not answered

Past Political/Civic Experience: Not answered

Candidates running for City Council, 23rd 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.

You can only operate with the information that you have at that time. Education should always be a top priority in the city's budget, and I will fight for more dollars to be spent in our classrooms, giving students and teachers all the resources they need to be successful. But I do not support increasing the debt and putting more of a burden on the backs of our future generations.


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 do not support penalizing the men and women who have worked hard for their benefits, risking their lives for our safety. We need a common sense approach that doesn't hurt our public safety workers. I support a Chicago casino as a way to generate new revenue that can be used to help fund the pension system. For spending cuts, city council should look in the mirror. We can reduce the size and number of committees, to cut spending without cutting services. I support reducing the size of the aldermanic expense accounts. We should lead by example – residents are doing more with less, so should government.


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.

I have supported the use of TIFs to boost economic development in my ward, to help a business move in and hire local people. Example: Shop N Save market, a grocery store that replaced a Dominick's that had closed and had become a vacant eyesore in our community. It is now employing 120 people. I support making the TIF process more transparent and inclusive. I support the Marriott and DePaul proposals because these projects create jobs for people who live in the 23rd ward.


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.

Many of the proposals should be incorporated into the city's plans to help move us in the right direction. I support small businesses, including looking into creating extra tax incentives for those business owners who hire local workers. I support using some of the closed public schools as community centers to offer after-school and weekend programs including tutoring, mentoring, and job skills training. We should explore ways that we can partner with community groups, churches, the park district, non-profits, and private companies to fund these programs, so that there are no costs to the kids using the services. I support efforts to match up students with invaluable career experiences through internships and job shadow programs. I support CPS partnering with chambers of commerce and labor unions to arrange for workers from varying fields to visit schools, to share a new perspective on their jobs and help the student plan a college and/or career path. While there are many challenges in Chicago, I believe that we can improve the quality of life by working together to improve our schools, keep our streets safe, and support more job opportunities.


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 support both positions, but we need to abolish the duplicate services between them. We should increase aldermanic staff ethics training, so that proper procedures can be followed. We need strong protections in place for whistleblowers, so that staffers do not feel like their jobs are threatened if they were to report a suspected wrongdoing. Government offices should be there for the community to access services – they should not be political campaign offices.


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?

In the 23rd ward, we are facing overcrowding in schools, and I have worked hard to make sure that children have smaller class sizes and better access to resources. I supported the Hale addition to respond to overcrowding, as well as the new school being constructed at 60th and Keeler. I have also supported the Blair Early Childhood Center. I do support a longer school day and longer school year, so that children have every opportunity to learn and get ahead. I do not support charter schools. I support offering more after school programs, to enrich learning and also keep kids safe. Investing in education should be the city's top concern. As far as an elected school board, I am interested to see the results from the ballot initiative, and I would also like to know more information about what a proposed elected school board would look like and whether or not there would be additional costs associated with it.


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?

I supported efforts to bring in new businesses that hire local workers. I helped bring in Meade Electric Co. to the ward from the suburbs to create jobs locally. I helped bring in Shop N Save into a vacant Dominick's that was an eyesore for the community. Shop N Save has now created 120 jobs for local people. We need to continually back efforts that will revitalize economic development along Archer Avenue. I plan to continue working with community residents and stakeholders to promote our neighborhood to all types of businesses. A good way to attract new business is to provide a safe, clean neighborhood environment so that residents will want to work and shop locally.


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 voted in support of this measure.


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

I would like to hear more community input, and I would also like to thoroughly review all proposals. I believe such a project could help create jobs, increase tourism and boost economic development. But we must review all the options.


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 have the greatest respect for the Chicago Police Department and the work they have done to keep our ward safe over the years. To add to their efforts, I will continue advocating for increased patrols, supporting efforts to prevent gangs and gun violence from moving into our ward, and by cracking down on criminals who attempt to prey on our children by banning sex offenders from public libraries. I work very closely with three neighborhood watch volunteer groups, Garfield Ridge Neighborhood Watch Group, Clearing Night Force, and the Archer Heights Civic Association. These are groups where community residents volunteer their time to patrol our streets, parks, schools, and alleys and notify Chicago Police if they see anything usual. They are also strong court advocates, which helps keep criminals from using our community for repeat crimes. I support the CAPS program, which keeps residents involved. I advocated for an 8th Police District sub-station and encourage police cars to remain in their respective beats whenever possible. I additionally have my staff patrol our streets on a regular basis to look for gang graffiti so it can be removed immediately.


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

Over the years, I have heard from fire department officials about drivers abusing traffic light caution (yellow lights) and causing horrific crashes. Adding countdown times at intersections with red-light cameras was something I instituted to assist drivers in knowing the amount of time they have before the signal changes to yellow. This has dramatically reduced the number of tickets being issues to residents.


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

To reduce spending, city council should look in the mirror. I support reducing the number of committees, reducing aldermanic expense accounts, and cutting out any duplication that could save money without reducing services.


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

Public safety, city services, and education are my top concerns. The 23rd ward is a great place to work, live and raise a family, and I am committed to making sure it stays safe and strong. I am committed to increasing police patrols so that gangs and gun violence do not enter our neighborhoods. I am also cracking down on criminals who prey on our children by supporting a new ordinance that would ban sex offenders from public libraries. I started off working for Streets & Sanitations, working on the back of a garbage truck, trimming trees, fixing potholes, and shoveling snow. I am continually dedicated to making sure our streets are safe and looked after.


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

There are currently four generations alive in our family: My parents, my wife and I, my two children, and five grandchildren.


City Council, 23rd Ward