Candidate for City Council, 1st Ward
Education: Bachelor's degree from Augustana College, 1994. Masters of Business Administration, Depaul University 2004
Occupation: Alderman, 1st Ward 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.
"Scoop and Toss" was sold as refinancing "one credit card to get a better interest rate on a new credit card." In practice, this did not pan out. Later in this questionnaire, I will detail two ordinances that I authored, sponsored and passed that are helping to grow our tax base. We have cut basic services almost to the bone at the city. However, I have long argued that their is still much room to cut at the administrative level. Too many assistants to assistants still exist in most, if not all city departments. I would support a sales tax on services (which I will detail later in the questionnaire) IF a majority of the revenues were codified in law to pay down our debt and to fund education.
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.
To say that we can cut our way to solvency is simply irresponsible and wrong. Although I previously detailed my support for cutting bloat at the administrative level, that will not get us close to solvency. I believe each Alderman has to not only vote yes or no on plans that come from the Administration, but also and as important, craft their own legislation to deal with our unfunded pension liability. For almost ten years, the city has struggled to pass a Transit Oriented Development (TOD) Ordinance. Many other cities have this type of progressive development codified in their local laws. I authored and passed the first TOD ordinance of its kind two years ago. It allows for residential density to be built near our hard rail system, in the neighborhoods. My TOD ordinance reflects the needs and will of a growing population of Chicagoans-- those that do not want, have or need a car. The TOD ordinance is bearing fruit as the first TOD building was built two years ago- 99 residential units, 10% truly affordable units, no parking, inside bike parking, on site car sharing. The building is fully occupied and generates approximately $300,000 in tax revenue a year. This $28 million project replaced a one story dilapidated Pizza Hut that had sat vacant for almost 10 years. 150 construction jobs were on site for almost two years, and the retail and office portion of the site employs dozens of Chicagoans. If not for the TOD ordinance, the empty Pizza Hut would likely still be there. The TOD ordinance has legs as we just passed an ordinance (supported by the community) to build a second TOD building on Milwaukee Ave. Currently, three additional TOD proposals are moving through my community review process. Most candidates will talk in platitudes about economic development. I intend to continue to author and sponsor ordinances, like the TOD ordinance, that specifically address economic development. As stated, I also support a sales tax on services IF the revenue stream can be dedicated to debt and pension obligation reduction and funding for our schools. Currently, if a working class family of four spends $400 at the the grocery store, the pay a sales tax. However, if a single individual spends $400 on a "day at the spa", they pay zero sales tax. As our economy moves further and further to a service economy, we need to recognize that this is a question of "Fairness in Taxation".
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.
Unfortunately, TIF legislation that was intended to help "blighted" parts of our city has been grossly abused. That is one reason I voted, along with 10 other Aldermen, to declare a surplus on TIF and put the money back into our schools and other taxing bodies. I believe and support declaring a surplus in all TIF districts that exist in areas that are not considered "blighted". I have two TIF districts that overlap my ward. I have supported TIF funds to be used three times because the dollars went to improving our schools/ education. We used TIF funds to build badly needed playgrounds at two Public Schools. We also used TIF funds to refurbish a portion of Presence Hospital to house a modern, nursing school that was formerly housed in the suburbs. I did not support the Depaul basketball arena TIF funding when the original ordinance had the funding going to Depaul-- a non profit, private school that would generate little to no tax revenue. When the ordinance was rewritten- to have the funding directed to the hotel- I did support the ordinance as the hotel was not tax exempt and would have the ability to pump money back into the TIF. I have seen no evidence that expanding TIFs in my ward to be a net positive benefit for the community.
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 followed the series and am working on making the one school in my ward a community center. We are partnering with the Puerto Rican Cultural Center and other local stakeholders to have this idea become a reality. I support all of the other recommendations and thought it was a very helpful open discussion about our city. I also feel that our affordable housing ordinance is flawed. It offers developers two choices--- either build 10% affordable units on sight or contribute $100,000 per unit to the general fund. Most developers in my area prefer to pay into the fund which heightens the problem that we have in Chicago--- concentrated neighborhoods with affordable housing. I suggest, and will work to amend the ordinance, to provide for something called "linkage financing". If a developer would like to buy out of the requirement, the dollars would be "linked" to a qualified developer of affordable housing NEAR THE PRIVATE DEVELOPMENT. I would argue it should be ward centric, but I would be open to other suggestions such as zip code, property tax township, etc. This way, we do not handcuff the developer and we get affordable housing spread throughout Chicago Neighborhoods.
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, along with approximately 13 other Aldermen, voted against the creation of this office. The office was set up as a side step of the City Inspector General to give "cover" to Aldermen who feared the City Inspector General. It was a very regressive ordinance. I have always stated that the City Inspector General should have the full authority to investigate aldermen and the their staff. We should not be treated any differently than any other City of Chicago employee.
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 far as public schools in my ward, ALL are now level 2 or above. I am extremely proud of the progress at Roberto Clemente High School. When I became Alderman, I vowed to change Clemente-- a school I can see from my house. It had been on probation for 14 years. Violence was a weekly issue and only 800 students were attending a school of 3200 seats. Of the 800 students, only 20% lived in the Clemente area. I officially asked for an International Baccalaureate (IB) Wall to Wall program at Clemente and the first thing CPS told me was "we can't do that." After organizing alumni, the community, and other stakeholders, CPS agreed to implement an IB program---- wall to wall. Meaning, any student in the attendance boundaries who wanted to go to Clemente could attend. The success has been fast and dramatic. We expected Clemente to be off of probation and a level 2 school after the second year of the IB implementation. Clemente achieved both of these after the first year. We also doubled the amount of freshmen attending Clemente after the first year of IB. Violence at Clemente is almost non existent. I am a true believer that IB and STEM like programs are proven models for success for ALL CPS students. As a former Local School Council member, I do believe that parent involvement and strong principal leadership are a must for any successful school. I circulated petitions to get enough signatures to get the question "Should the voters of Chicago elect the School Board?". We prevailed and it will be on the ballot in February. I do not believe any other Alderman (or candidate) actually organized their own petition drive to get this important question on the ballot. The main reason I support some form of an Elected School Board is that we need parent (of Public School children) and teacher voices represented on the Board. However, an elected School Board is not a panacea for reform. If we do move in this direction, perhaps a hybrid model (some members elected, some appointed) would be appropriate. I also think candidates for an Elected School Board should have some qualifications before running for this office. A lot of our Local School Councils (LSCs) have vacancies and I would propose that any candidate serve at least one full term on an LSC before running for Board Commissioner. I do support the longer school day and year and feel we should expand further and compensate teachers appropriately. I believe we must continue to keep the "pause button" on Charter Schools until we weed out the ones that are not performing. I supported the closing of a charter school in my ward that fit this category. TIF reform will help us close the budget gap as well as the service sales tax I mentioned earlier in the questionnaire.
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?
Please see my earlier answer as it relates to the Transit Oriented Development (TOD) Ordinance I authored, sponsored and passed. Also, we have held no less than a dozen local job fairs for the many businesses that have opened in the 1st Ward in the last four years. I have also zoned major streets (Milwaukee Ave, Division Street, Chicago Ave) as Pedestrian streets that encourage development to come right up to the sidewalk as opposed to creating more drive thrus. This has proved to be an economic development boon as mostly local businesses want to be surrounded by other local businesses -- no drive thru required. For four years I have also invested thousands of dollars of money I have raised--- not taxpayer money --- into an ongoing graffiti removal program. Although we will probably never rid the ward of ALL graffiti, we have made tremendous gains. Our graffiti removal program -- Dubbed 1st Ward Graffiti Action Hero --- has been recognized nationally and by the local 12th district police Commander. She asked my staff to present our program to all of the Aldermen in her district with the hope that they would implement a similar program. This program is very important to our local businesses as they save money by having us remove it--- quickly. And it provides for a better atmosphere for our neighborhoods. We also have two excellent Special Service Areas (SSAs) in our ward that provide additional services to the business community such as sidewalk snow removal, marketing, additional sidewalk trash receptacles, clean and green services, etc. I wholly support these two SSAs and their expansion when appropriate. Also, on the local hiring question, I have had success in recommending qualified, union laborers and tradesmen to work on the many private developments that have occurred in the 1st Ward over the last four years.
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 was the lead sponsor of the $15/ hr minimum wage. As a graduate of Depaul's MBA program, and a Vice President of a private, union printing company I feel that my business acumen is unique to the city council. The federal government has not acted on raising the minimum wage for many years even though a diverse group of economists feel that it would raise people out of poverty and contribute to our economic growth. Springfield hasn't fared much better. A federal minimum wage increase is preferred followed by a raise at the state level. However, the faith and trust in these two entities has long been eroded. That is why I felt Chicago must act. During the debate, we heard many "scare tactics" and much anecdotal information on how raising the minimum wage would negatively impact our economy. But not one, not one study could be presented that showed a minimum wage increase at the city, state, or federal level that negatively impacted the economy. We should be making our decisions based on facts, not anecdotal information or scare tactics. Minimum wage jobs were supposed to be "entry level" positions where workers could move up into higher skilled and higher paid positions. That scenario exists less and less in our economy today. A minimum wage increase was long overdue for Chicagoans and I am proud to be the lead sponsor of the $15/ hr minimum wage.
Q: Should the Lucas Museum of Narrative Art be built at the proposed location on Chicago's lakefront? Please explain.
I would be more excited if this project were located near the downtown, but in another location that would greatly benefit from the economic impact that such a museum would bring. The 25th ward has a tremendous site that is located near the South Loop. This would both be convenient for tourists and would provide for a renaissance in a neighborhood that needs it much more so than the lakefront/ downtown area.
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?
Continue to invest in community policing. My ward has shown significant reductions in crime over the last four years (historic lows) and the community is invested in the CAPS program. I, or one of my staff, attend all CAPS meetings as there is much an Alderman can do to compliment the police. I routinely go on "drive arounds" with my Commanders to point out problem buildings/ homes. In my ward, the crime problems we have can usually be attributed to one residence. Through the inspection process that I request from the city, we were able to demolish or vacate 5 problematic homes in the ward. My graffiti removal program, mentioned earlier, has also contributed to a safer feeling environment. When we catch graffiti offenders, I routinely go to court to advocate for the maximum penalty. We have been successful in having judges sentence people to 50 hours of community service--- in the 1st ward--- cleaning up graffiti with one of my volunteers. When the inefficient and old 13th district police station was slated to close in the 2011 budget, many residents who lived directly around the station agreed the station was not meeting the needs of the police, but they also felt safe (perceived or real) with a law enforcement presence on their block. After the closing, I lobbied the Cook County Sheriff to consolidate their warrant division into the shuttered 13th district police station. After much back and forth, we were able to re-open the station two years ago and 75 sworn officers are in the neighborhood everyday. Recently, we have also added the CPD to this station so they can fill out their reports without having to travel outside of the neighborhood to the new police station. The result--- historically low levels of crime in the adjacent neighborhood.
Q: Do you support Chicago's traffic light camera program? Please explain.
I believe technology, like this, should be used to reduce red light infractions. I only supported one in my ward, near Clemente High School, where a student was almost killed by a vehicle running a red light. Unfortunately, technology can be abused as we saw with the ticketing of motorists that didn't warrant it. The city has proposed other locations in my ward for these cameras and I have not supported their installation, and thus they have not been installed, because sufficient evidence did not exist to warrant their installation.
Q: Should Chicago reduce the number of aldermen in the City Council?
If it were proven to save money and not reduce city services, I would be all for it.
Q: What is your highest priority for improving your ward? What is the greatest concern you hear from residents of your ward?
I believe I have answered this question in my previous answers--- continue to improve a greatly improving school system, public safety, and economic development. These are not simply platitudes for me--- I believe I have demonstrated that I don't simply talk well about these issues, but deliver solutions. I have a very economically diverse ward--- and that is its strength! We may not have the extreme poverty or extreme wealth that exists in other parts of the city, but if you creep in a little bit from each end of the spectrum, we have it in the 1st Ward. However, no matter income, residents want clean streets, safe neighborhoods, and good schools. I am proud of my record and all three fronts and look forward to four more years to continue moving the 1st Ward forward.
Q: Please tell us something about yourself that would surprise us.
I fear (almost) nothing in life--- not heights, flying, snakes, spiders, bad guy in a dark alley, public speaking, debate, death threats, fire, etc. HOWEVER, I am terrified of mice. If a mouse were to run past me, I would scream louder than anyone and jump on the nearest table!