Candidate for City Council, 4th Ward
Education: Northeastern Illinois University BA Urban Planning and History Chicago Public School graduate: Calumet HS and Colman Elementary School
Occupation: Restaurant owner and local business owner
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.
This type of borrowing was and is damaging to the city. We must not use this important tool to cover basic expenses. As alderman I will fight for fiscal transparency and accountability in all areas of government. Further, the loss of mental health clinics and cuts in vital city services has been damaging to communities; we need to examine new sources of revenue such as a commuter tax and a LaSalle street transaction tax.
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.
We must strive to preserve the pensions and maintain the promises made to our retired police officers and fire fighters. The city most move away from fast fixes to long-standing problems and commit to transparency and accountability. We need to examine tax loopholes that serve only the very wealthy. More police officers in the street will lead to strengthening of the pension funds, and while this would not resolve the city's financial commitment, it would restore some of the lost confidence. We must further continue to seek opportunities to bring new revenues into the city and not look to privatizing services as a short term fix that does nothing to ensure future, stable revenues.
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.
Tax Increment Financing is an important tool that can spur economic development in communities that need it most. However, the excess TIF funds should not be treated as a mayoral slush fund. We need to tap into these funds to shore up short-term financial debt, particularly where our schools are concerned. I do not support the $55 milllion allotment of TIF funds at a time when our communities are experiencing cuts in police and mental health services. This investment benefits private corporations at the expense of the neighborhoods. We need comprehensive long term planning and solid review policies that includes community input when establishing TIF districts.
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 would champion free GED testing AND expanded classes, the Sister Cities initiative, expanding SAFE children, and Hubs and Stems program, which would benefit both our high school students and small businesses. I would also support the idea of releasing the city's inventory of vacant and/or unused properties to some extent. However, we must focus on increasing the number of affordable housing units and these building and vacant lots should first be examined for this possibility and they should NOT be given away wholesale to enrich corporations or developers.
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.
The city needs the Office of Inspector General and more importantly, must ensure that is has the authority to investigate the mayor, aldermen and their staff. It is vital that we support this independent watchdog as mandated by the city municipal code, and that city council supports this office by funding it and maintaining its role in investigating our elected officials. The public deserves no less.
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?
The key to improving education in the city is by supporting our neighborhood schools and fighting for equitable funding. Chicago parents have enough choices with our quality selective enrollment schools, and we do not need more charter schools. Numerous studies have shown that charters do not necessarily show improved performance; I cannot support more charters when they allow exclusionary practices in terms of serving children with special needs and others. I do support an elected representative school board, which is the only way that CPS will be accountable to parents and the wishes of the community. We need to bring new revenues to the city and make our public schools a priority. We can do this by imposing a transaction tax on LaSalle street and renegotiating toxic swaps – a practice done by many other major cities. We also need to work with our state legislators to bring more revenues into the city, including a graduated income tax. The longer school day and year may have benefited some children/schools, but as a blanket reform it needs to be carefully examined. Most importantly, the city most stop with unfunded mandates that put more pressure and strain on the system.
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 a small businessman I have had to fight city hall repeatedly not only grow my business, but to merely survive as a small businessman. We need transparency in who gets development dollars, and an administration that works with small businesses who not only serve the community, but are from the community and hire from the community. My restaurant and entertainment spaces (Norman's Bistro and Room 43) serve to unite the community as they bring in residents from throughout the ward and the city. I have partnered with the Hyde Park Jazz Society and Hyde Park Alliance as well as many organizations in the Bronzeville community. As alderman I will fight to see that city dollars go to communities and small businesses and not downtown developers. The alderman's office should assist in streamlining the process for business growth and not hinder it.
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 stood with Raise Chicago for a $15 increase in minimum wage, and will continue the fight for an equitable living wage. While I am pleased that our hard-working citizens will see an increase, the phase in is too slow and will have less of an impact than a $15 minimum wage. I will continue to support this increase.
Q: Should the Lucas Museum of Narrative Art be built at the proposed location on Chicago's lakefront? Please explain.
No, our lakefront is a vital natural resource; there are many other locations for the Lucas Museum, which would benefit the community. I would oppose this action.
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 CAPS program is a vital institution and must be supported in order to strengthen the relationship between the beat officers and residents, as well as improve policing by engaging with the community. As an active community member I sat on the community advisory council for the 21st District before the station closed. I stood with members of my community and fought the closing of the 21st district. We need to stop the policy of wasteful spending when it comes to paying overtime for police officers on the beat and focus on hiring new recruits and getting more police officers on the street.
Q: Do you support Chicago's traffic light camera program? Please explain.
This should be examined to align with best practices so safety is not compromised in the interest of gaining more revenue.
Q: Should Chicago reduce the number of aldermen in the City Council?
Not at this time.
Q: What is your highest priority for improving your ward? What is the greatest concern you hear from residents of your ward?
We must deliver ward services equitably. The biggest concern I hear from the residents of the fourth ward is that the current alderman is not responsive to their concerns. Residents want a voice in development – as a businessman and community activist I know how our small businesses need to be supported. Furthermore, the fourth ward has lost thousands of units of affordable housing, and we must insure there is further development without displacement.
Q: Please tell us something about yourself that would surprise us.
My father was the one of the first African American fire fighters in Chicago. As a teenager I worked in the mail room of WGCI Radio and worked by way to becoming a Sales Executive. I am proud to say that I went from the mailroom to the Board Room!