Candidate for City Council, 15th Ward
Education: St. Joseph Seminary of Loyola University Criminal Justice, Major Philosophy, Minor University of Illinois at Chicago Masters in Public Administration, Financial Mgmt
Occupation: Office of the City Clerk, Staff Assistant
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 do not believe that the use of "Scoop and toss" borrowing pre-recession was justified. However, in light of how hard and deep the recession hit our economy, I can understand how 'scoop and toss' became a necessary tool to help make some 'ends meet' in the short term until a long-term solution or restructuring was found. Unfortunately it does not seem like any were found, except using and depleting our reserves year after year. One way City Hall can change its finances to pay down existing debt is to reduce its take of the TIF increment from 100% to 90%. This, however, may require State Legislative approval in order to amend the law governing TIF's. Clerk Orr's idea of removing 10% of the buildings within TIF districts may be procedurally easier to achieve as that may require the council to amend the designated areas reducing it by 10%. Both cuts in spending and tax increases or new revenue streams may be needed to get us to where our expenses better in-line with our revenues. Besides the TIF idea mentioned above, a Chicago casino, although years away from becoming a reality, could bring in new revenue from tourists and those with disposable income.
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.
In order try to avoid a property tax increase (or at least reserve it as a last option), any solution would have to involve a combination of ideas. There have been some that claim the pension payment ramp was artificially created too steep and that it should be reamortized to better manage the payments. TIF anticipation bonds, as suggested I believe by Ald. Reilly, can be another tool. A slight increase in employer and employee contribution can also be added to the mix, including a legal assurance that the city must contribute its share based on actuaries. Since 2006, give or take a few years, none of the property tax collected by the city has gone into the general operating fund, until now. Now, 2.4% (or 19.9m) will be allocated to the operating fund. Maybe that should remain in order to continue paying our debt and pension obligations. Neither the employees nor the taxpayers cause this problem; therefore the solution should avoid raising property taxes, if possible.
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.
3. As stated above, possibly lowering the percentage of the increment that is deposited in the TIF fund, or removing some of the properties from a district, would make more money available to the other taxing bodies and to our debt and pension obligations. Also, focusing more on the original intent of investing in blighted areas to develop the tax base should be the priority. Except for the 63rd/Ashland TIF, the TIF districts in the 15th ward seem to cover mainly the commercial corridors. Without a plan to analyze, I do not see the need to expand the boundaries of any TIF within 15. With the real possibility that property taxes may need to go up in 2015 (payable in 2016) to cover the rising debt and pension costs, placing a TIF on these properties by expanding their current boundaries may put an extra burden on the local homeowners. I would take under consideration the extension of a TIF in 15 if it's shown that the local businesses can continue to improve, further developing the tax base. This, however, should be balanced against the needs of the city as a whole and the other taxing units that are deprived of the property taxes within the TIF's. I support the current practice of surplus TIF funds returning to the other taxing bodies. As tourism increases, I can see the value of adding a Marriott Hotel near our convention area and just a bus-ride south of the downtown area; as well as a multi-use arena, anchored by DePaul basketball, which has the potential to siphon shows away from the Allstate arena. However, what concerns me is the $55 million in TIF funds committed to the project during this time where the economic upturn has not been felt by the majority of residents. Maybe a slightly lower amount would be more appropriate.
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.
Education is the key to success. It can not only make or break an individual but also a city. An education can reduce poverty, violence, and as the article states, less likely to become a victim of a crime at an early age. For these reasons I would champion this idea above all else. It's been said before that when you open a classroom door, you close a prison cell door. To that we can add closing the door to poverty and to a funeral home. The responsibility of the school system is to know what the jobs of tomorrow require and then to teach and prepare our youth for those jobs. The next logical step is to educate the older population. GED Chicago would do just that. I would urge other major companies to invest in this program so that more adults can participate. Education begets education and by teaching this demographic, it may lead them to push their children to do better both in and out of school. The West Englewood area of the ward can really use the Innovative Houses idea. With many vacant houses on each block, the challenge will not be to find a house but to find college grads that want to return to their neighborhood.
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 would be more inclined in keeping the office of legislative inspector general instead of giving the city inspector general the authority to investigate alderman and their staff members. For me, it has more to do with the separation of powers between the legislative and executive branches.
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 media outlets have all touted the rising graduation rates and improved student performance in our public schools. I believe our course is headed in the right direction but we must stay vigilant that our progress continues. I believe one of the most important keys to improving our public education is parental involvement. The parent can instill the attitude a child will have toward an education. Another key is to provide the adequate resources that teachers need to teach. Text books and supplies by the first day of class, and a reduced class size that is more conducive to learning. I have wrestled with the issue of an elected school board. What concerns me about an elected School Board is not so much the amount of money that would enter the race (as others have mentioned), but more about the false promises and/or the promises to deliver the impossible in order to win election. This could be followed by gridlock as each board member sticks to their side, refusing to compromise. I do support a longer school day and year. I hope that the extra time is being used wisely and not simply as "daycare". Recent studies have shown that there is not much of a difference between charter and traditional schools. CPS should concentrate on improving the schools that we currently have. See what works in some schools, whether it is a charter or neighborhood school, and attempt to replicate that in the others. Speaker Madigan's idea of a surcharge on millionaires was one way that CPS could've closed its significant budget gap. Even though Ald. Burns on Chicago Tonight said the idea would never pass the state legislature, a transaction tax may help closing the gap as well.
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?
Employers want to locate where there are customers. One of the largest concentration of businesses in the 15th ward is along the 47th Street strip. I would like to use TIF funds to redevelop the business strip a la Greek Town or Oakley St. so that more visitors from outside the ward come to spend their money on 47th. As the economic activity grows, more businesses will want to move to 47th street, encouraging them along the way to hire local residents, thereby keeping more money in the ward and improving the lives of thr 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.
I support the City Council vote to increase the minimum wage in several steps to $13 an hour. I recall reading a few reports that state that if the minimum wage increased at the rate of inflation, it should stand at about $15 an hour; and if it were to increase at the rate of productivity, it should stand at near $22 an hour. The difference between the current minimum wage and a livable wage is made up by government, via public aid, thereby subsidizing a business's payroll. Increasing the minimum wage may decrease the amount of people on public aid, which would save taxpayers money. It may also help a single mother spend more time with their child, helping them with their homework; and buying fruits and vegetables, as healthier foods are more expensive.
Q: Should the Lucas Museum of Narrative Art be built at the proposed location on Chicago's lakefront? Please explain.
I would like to see alternative sites before signing off on building the Lucas Museum on the currently proposed location. However, I would also not say "No" to someone who wants to drop over $300m of their own money into our economy.
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 Chicago Police Department responds to calls, and by their presence, can deter some crime. But you would need a cop on every corner to stop all crime from happening. Poverty is one of the leading factors that cause crime; therefore a multi-faceted approach must be implemented to improve public safety. After-school programs such as tutoring or sports; summer jobs program for teenagers; and job training for adults; all these programs must be funded and utilized. The police cannot do it alone.
Q: Do you support Chicago's traffic light camera program? Please explain.
I'll reserve my judgement, as there is more research coming to light in recent days.
Q: Should Chicago reduce the number of aldermen in the City Council?
I'm not sure if reducing the number of alderman in the council will bring in any meaningful savings. The residents will continue to expect the level of service they are currently receiving, so if the number of alderman is reduced, those that remain will need to double their staff in order to continue serving their constituents.
Q: What is your highest priority for improving your ward? What is the greatest concern you hear from residents of your ward?
The highest priority for improving my ward is safety and economic development. The greatest concern I hear from the residents in the Gage Park area is city services. In the Brighton Park area is the prostitution. In the Back of the Yards area are city services and safety. And in the West Englewood area are what to do with all the vacant properties, safety, and employment.
Q: Please tell us something about yourself that would surprise us.
I spent 8 years in the seminary. Four at Quigley Seminary South HS, followed by four years at St. Joseph Seminary of Loyola Univ., with the thought of going to Mundelein Seminary. But it was during my college years where I became more interested in serving the public through government.