Candidate for City Council, 3rd Ward
Education: Bachelors in Development Psychology from the University of Rochester, Rochester, New York; Masters in Social Service Administration from the University of Chicago, Chicago, Illinois
Occupation: Alderman, 3rd Ward/Social Worker
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 "Broken Bonds" series was both enlightening and troubling, because it shined a spotlight on the high-risk funding strategy that CPS has embarked upon which departs boldly from the conventional, tried-and-true methods used by municipalities and government stewards of taxpayer monies since the beginning of time. I do not believe public dollars should be used for high-yield, high-risk instruments. Such financing schemes are largely responsible for crashing the economy and resulting budget shortfalls we have today. We should sunset TIF Districts, especially in the downtown area and in neighborhoods on a case by case basis and return the increment to the taxing districts and use conventional financing structures to pay down debt. CPS has been cut to almost bone and tax increases are almost at its limits. We have to find new sources of revenue.
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 believe that there still exists some fat in the City budget, but I also believe that some form of pension reform is necessary. Specifically, I supported the elimination of compounding COLAs and increases in retiree health copayments. I won't pretend to know the magic formula, but I do feel that we should honor the spirit of the promises made to existing retirees in a manner that allows us to make benefit cuts that are compassionate to the beneficiaries without being punitive to taxpayers.
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 think that some of the TIF districts, like those in the central business district should sunset. While TIF's have been used successfully and for their intended purpose in the 3rd Ward, I do not feel the number or size of those districts needs to be increased. Yes, I support the use of TIF funds to advance the MPEA Event Center and Headquarters Hotel. This plan will buttress the City's Convention and Tourism industries by increasing available hotel rooms, meeting spaces and entertainment spending in the area. It will also generate millions of dollars in hotel, entertainment and sales taxes. Also, the increase in temporary and permanent jobs will benefit the City in general and the 3rd Ward specifically.
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 am already championing the Schools as Tools proposal. This month, CPS is releasing an RFP to sell Overton School. Working with the Bronzeville Advisory Council, we are requesting respondents to the RFP to turn Overton into a community center, or entrepreneurial, counseling and/or mentoring center. We have also turned many vacant lots in the ward into gardens or urban farms, large and small as part of the City is a garden proposal. Finally, as suggested in the Oases in jobs desert proposal, my office has awarded TIF money to projects to locate and/or expand and we have worked to create jobs for our constituents.
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 feel that the City Council should be subjected to the same level of ethical scrutiny as every other aspect of government. To be clear, I support the recently introduced ordinance which transfers the authority over aldermanic misconduct to, Joe Ferguson, the current City Inspector General. I support this ordinance because it provides greater oversight and full jurisdiction over the City Council and its staff, subjecting Aldermen, their staffs as well as Committee staff to the same investigative powers and standards as all City employees. The ordinance also provides for the appropriate budget, staff and legal authority to investigate claims of wrongdoing by City of Chicago employees.
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?
• What is the key to improving public education in the city? Returning programs that produce better-rounded, well adjusted citizens, like physical education, art, music, trade programs, home economics, etc. More importantly, the City and State need to commit to fully investing in education. Too many of our classrooms are in drab, outdated buildings that don't contribute to an optimal learning environment. Our students lack learning tools. They're forced to learn with outdated books and lack access to all the tools of modern technology. Improvements to the physical plants that are our schools and providing modern learning tools are essential to facilitating quality education. • Should members of the Board of Education be elected by the public or continue to be appointed by the mayor? I support an elected school board. • Do you support the longer school day and year? Yes. • Should CPS expand or reduce the number of charter schools? Reduce the number of charter schools and evaluate them against the same set of evaluation criteria as neighborhood schools. They likewise should be sanctioned, monitored and ultimately closed for poor performance in the same manner that neighborhood schools are judged. • How should CPS close its significant budget gap? State must increase its contribution to the education system and earmarked surplus TIF dollars to the CPS budget.
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?
The attributes of the 3rd Ward I promote most to potential employers are location, location and location. We are convenient to transportation networks, including highways, buses and trains. We are close to Lake Shore Drive and the central business district. We are convenient to higher education campuses in Hyde Park, downtown as well as in our own neighborhood. I meet frequently with business owners to assess their need for city support (land, money, and zoning) and encourage the hiring of local residents.
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. $13/hour implemented over 5 years is fair and reasonable.
Q: Should the Lucas Museum of Narrative Art be built at the proposed location on Chicago's lakefront? Please explain.
I would like to await the outcome of the legal ruling on this matter before deciding definitively. However, I am generally opposed to this concept. This facility is by no means essential to the City's Museum Campus. It encroaches upon limited open space, even if it swaps parkland for parkland. More importantly, neither its content nor design fits in the same mold as grand museum destinations the likes of Field, Adler, etc. I voted against moving the Children's Museum to Grant Park for similar reasons. I much prefer the unused Michael Reese property for location of the proposed Lucas Museum.
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?
It is time for the City to "bite the bullet" on Beat Realignment. Make the size of districts more geographically equal. Beats should be the same size. Then, adjust the deployment strategies to address incidences of crime as well as implement crime prevention strategies, including removing guns off the street. I meet frequently with the Commanders in my ward to discuss hotspots, problem businesses, drug locations and strategies to address each area. In addition, the Commanders and their staff are included in my town hall meetings and some community/resident meetings beyond CAPS. I also use my office as a safe place where residents can share tips/info to be shared with the police.
Q: Do you support Chicago's traffic light camera program? Please explain.
I voted against the Mayor's Speed Camera legislation, which was designed to generate revenue, and not to protect children as it was promoted. Too many examples of where the speed cameras are located happen to be places where there are no children. In fact there is no reliable, independent evidence that ticket cameras improve safety or reduce accidents. Similarly, the Red Light Cameras have encroached upon a realm of law enforcement that properly belongs in the hands of police, where discretion is a factor. This automation of policing function is troubling to me. It deprives citizens of their constitutionally-guaranteed right to confront their accuser. Nor, is there present a police source to verify that the automated equipment was tested and found accurate prior to the time of the infraction.
Q: Should Chicago reduce the number of aldermen in the City Council?
Yes. However, I don't believe reducing the size of the Council will result in any significant savings and would actually dilute the effectiveness of its remaining members. Constituents tend to value proximity, access and accountability from their aldermanic representatives. All of those qualities would be diminished by dramatically increasing the number of constituents served by each Council member. Correspondingly, aldermanic staffs would have to be increased to provide the same level of service. As well, office operating budgets would have to increase to meet the increased costs of postage, transportation, printing, office supplies, office size, rent & utilities, etc. I do feel, however, that some savings could be realized by combining some Council committees and staff.
Q: What is your highest priority for improving your ward? What is the greatest concern you hear from residents of your ward?
1. Retail and commercial development, which will result in greater availability of jobs in my community. 2. Education. Better schools, including expanded curricula, books & supplies. 3. Improved public safety. Police need to get out of their cars and walk the commercial corridors, fostering more one-to-one relationships with residents who are not offenders.
Q: Please tell us something about yourself that would surprise us.
Love watching the Food Network and old Bette Davis movies. Recently adopted "Toots" a Shi-Poo (Shitzu/Poodle) from a rescue shelter.