Candidate for City Council, 7th Ward
Education: B.S. from Alabama State University, College of Education, Master of Community Planning from Auburn University, College of Architecture, Design and Construction, and a J.D. from the Illinois Institute of Technology's Chicago-Kent College of Law. Admitted to practice law in the State of Illinois in November 2014.
Occupation: Alderman, 7th Ward City of Chicago
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 believe, at the time, the Administration and members of the City Council, found themselves struggling with a structural deficit that had been years in the making, and while borrowing debt to pay down debt is never a wise financial decision, this was likely a last resort to make sure that the residents of the City continued to receive high quality city services. There needs to be an independent financial and performance audit of all city services and departments to identify where the most efficiencies can be made. Any final decision should ensure that these efficiencies will be effective and that they will have the least impact on how city services are delivered to residents. I will argue primarily for spending cuts, but in reality, and in order to get out of from under debt creating by a growing structural deficit. However in order for the City to achieve a sense of financial security, there will likely have to sacrifices made by all.
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 going to have to be a series of solutions to resolve the pension crisis. I will support a solution that is comprehensive, treats workers fairly, and ensures that citizens won't have to revisit this decision again once we have asked them to make sacrifices to accommodate a solution.
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 support TIFs as one tool to support public and private development throughout the City, especially when it comes to building and maintaining infrastructure, such as roads and projects in the public way. In the 7th Ward I would like to see the boundaries of the Avalon Park/South Shore TIF extended from its current terminal at 79th Street/Exchange Ave. to 71st / Exchange Ave. There are potential projects that would benefit public and private development along this commercial, housing, retail and industrial corridor. There are several options on how excess TIF funds could be used. There should be a metric system developed to analyze the best use of these funds from both a qualitative and quantitative perspective. Some of the considerations that should be taken into account in making a final determination should include: the area where the funds were originally generated, needs of that community, needs of surrounding communities, and needs throughout the city. With regard to the Marriott and DePaul athletic center, I think the use of TIF funds to create more opportunities for economic development and job creation are a key reason why TIFs, when used properly, really stand to give a true public benefit.
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 following ideas are very attractive to me and I am encouraged by the work the Tribune has done to get them moving. I am one of the newest member of the council and will consult closely with my colleagues on incorporating the following ideas into an agenda for 2015. • GED Chicago - I am an advocate for helping adults who have yet to achieve their primary educational goals and acquiring new skills that will enable them to be productive members of society. I believe that along with achieving these educational goals, we must also ensure that necessary supportive services are available to assist with any transition. These services should address soft skills and employers should be encouraged to provide these services or work with a non-profit to make sure that the people / soft skills are taught so that these adults are ready to enter the workplace, both mentally, socially and emotionally. • Innovation Houses - The need to revitalize struggling neighborhoods is so great in urban cities. Government needs to find a way to partner with the private sector on ideas and strategies that address blight, foreclosed and vacant properties, and encouraging big box retailers and national chains to develop and adopt an urban model that will bring investment to struggling neighborhoods. • It takes a City - At-risk populations, both children and parents are most prevalent in majority minority neighborhoods, where there are limited health care options that can address the needs of those who are socially and emotionally disturbed. I will champion efforts to expand programs and funding to address the needs of at-risk parents and children. • City in a Garden - I am an advocate for urban faming, and providing kids with the opportunity to connect and learn how to grow and cultivate one of our basic necessities – food. I am also a proponent of urban farms supporting the 'domestic' (ward/City) economy by being a supplier to neighborhood restaurants, grocery stores and food pantries. I also encourage the creation of community gardens, as a way to get neighbors to be more engaged and take stock in their respective blocks.
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.
There obviously needs to be oversight and a way for government employees, whether they are elected officials or not, to be held accountable for the duty they owe to taxpayers in their respective positions. Whomever has this oversight, whether it is the inspector general, legislative inspector general or some other investigative office, the techniques and policies that govern their respective office should be fair; they should conduct investigations that are based on fact; and they must have an underlying mission to make sure that tax payer dollars are being used in a fiscally responsible way.
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?
Making sure that all schools, especially those in neighborhoods that survived the school closings have the necessary resources for students and the necessary training for teachers and administrators. Many neighborhood schools are in desperate need of infrastructure improvements (air conditioning) and upgrades to equipment (computers, lab equipment) that impact a student's ability to concentrate and learn. In order for our neighborhood schools to be successful, these issues need to be addressed and resolved. I am still deciding on whether the school board should be elected. Appointments to boards allow people to be vetted and more closely scrutinized outside of the messiness that comes when folks run for public office. I do believe Democracy has a positive impact and I'd strongly consider a hybrid model where we can combine the best of both. Yes, I absolutely support a longer school day and year, and hope that this additional time is dedicated to the core curriculum, arts, music, and recreational programs, which will provide students with an opportunity to achieve a well-rounded education. Before any new charter schools are opened, there should be a transparent evaluation process on the need for a new charter and its impact, either good or bad, on nearby neighboring CPS schools.
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 have been in conversation with developers and property owners on how best to bring back some of our traditional neighborhood retail corridors and the 95th Street big box corridor. Most new employers to the ward, which have mainly been small businesses, have made a commitment to hire locally and to give back to the neighborhood. On December 16, I am hosting the first-ever E. 79th Corridor Planning meeting along with Chairman Michelle Harris. This planning initiative will include roundtable discussions with experts and community stakeholders with the goal of developing a strategy of next steps that will infuse mixed-use development along this neighborhood corridor. Additionally this process will serve as model on how we further engage stakeholders on ways to re-vitalize other neighborhood corridors in the 7th 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.
Yes, I absolutely support the increase in the minimum wage. I signed the initial bill for a $15 increase which led to the creation of task force to study the issue and figure out what would be most implementable in the City. While $13 will not be mandatory until 2013, the incremental raises in between will allow small business owners to adjust to this fare increase and allow minimum wage workers to have hopes for a better, more financially sound future.
Q: Should the Lucas Museum of Narrative Art be built at the proposed location on Chicago's lakefront? Please explain.
The Lucas Museum would be a great addition to the already existing Lakefront Museum Campus and would be another boost for tourism. Tourism is one the key drivers of our economy and benefits those who work in the hospitality, restaurant, and retail industries. Our tourist population is one of the main reasons that Chicago was chosen as the site.
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?
Improvement in public safety is on the shoulders of all Chicagoans. The police have the responsibility to enforce the law, fight crime, and get perpetrators off our streets; however residents also have a responsibility too – neighbors must be willing to stand-up collectively and not allow activities to take place on their block or in their community, which prevents our ability to attract the type of development and re-investment that we sorely need and want. I have been pleased with the creation of impact zones and special tact teams to address those districts that have high incidents of crime. It behooves us all to report crimes and disorderly behavior that is taking place in the public way. At every meeting or community gathering, I reiterate the TSA motto – if you see something, say something. I also have placards that can be seen throughout the ward that remind criminals and potential criminals that in the 7th Ward - we call police.
Q: Do you support Chicago's traffic light camera program? Please explain.
I support the Administration looking at ways to make areas near schools and parks safer; however speed cameras should not be relied upon as a long-term revenue source. These devices are about changing behavior and once that happens, there is likely a decline in future projected revenues. I also think that proper notice should be given to residents when these cameras are installed, so they are aware of the consequences of their travel behavior, before they find themselves with one or more ticket(s), cannot pay the cost and fees, and are then subject to the wheel locking device (boot). When this happens many of the individuals who did not have the funds to pay the original ticket, often find themselves in precarious positions when it comes to commuting back and forth to work.
Q: Should Chicago reduce the number of aldermen in the City Council?
No. It's important that communities like mine have ample representation in the council.
Q: What is your highest priority for improving your ward? What is the greatest concern you hear from residents of your ward?
My highest priority is to make sure that my residents get the highest quality in city services and that the citizenry of the 7th ward remain active and engaged on what is happening in their community. Following that I am fighting to bring much needed investment to the ward. This comes in the form of economic development (in the sense of jobs, job training, and retail options that the community wants to support), safety (more police patrol on the streets and more community engagement in reporting disorderly conduct and criminal activity), and quality education options, that exist in the neighborhood and give families a real option before they relocate to the suburbs. Some of the greatest concerns I hear from residents involve police response, new trash cans and recycle bins, having access to quality retail options in the neighborhood so they don't have to leave the community, modernized infrastructure and more funding for lighting, viaduct repairs/maintenance, road paving and reconstruction, tree removal and trimming, and clean streets and alleys.
Q: Please tell us something about yourself that would surprise us.
I started playing the violin when I was five years old.