Candidate for City Council, 1st Ward
Education: Bachelors from Bowling Green State University, OH Masters Program Baldwin Wallace, Berea Oh
Occupation: Marketing Consultant
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 feel 'begging from Peter to pay Paul' is an appropriate way to manage the budget. We need to find a balance of reducing costs and raising revenues without moving the burden on to the middle working class. In terms of cutting expenses, I support an elected school board, which I think will enact policies that are more transparent and accountable to families, and importantly, will reduce costs. For example, our appointed board has done the opposite, including granting an $8 million contract to clean out the closed schools, a contract that ballooned to $30 million without a blink of the public eye. In terms of revenue generation, I have been conducting casual research among stakeholders as to the merits of a "LaSalle Street modest transaction tax". After voicing initial reservations, most stakeholders follow-up with 'if it is small it can be absorbed'. Additionally, I fully support declaring a TIF surplus and reforming the program to its original intent, to facilitate development of BLIGHTED areas. But I do not support any increases that predominantly affect the taxpayers within the lower and middle tiers of income. In fact, the multiple year fee increases are causing families to flee the city and cannot even be written off like property taxes.
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 am an advocate of cutting costs in the City, and identifying new revenue streams, such as the modest transaction tax noted above and reforming TIF and declaring a TIF surplus. Moreover, I believe that taking away committed pensions is illegal, something the Illinois supreme court just ruled. There is a need to educate the citizenry that the legislature's pension 'holidays' have caused much of the financial difficulty we are experiencing. I believe there is an opportunity to alter pension plans for new hires, but we ought not touch pensions of retirees or existing employees.
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 believe a TIF surplus should be declared and given back to the taxing bodies. TIFs have become a slush fund for pet projects and too many of the dollars have been given or earmarked to private projects. I do not support the Marriott/DePaul initiative and feel this is a prime example of misuse of TIF funds and an example of how our City's priorities are misaligned, especially in light of closed mental health clinics and 50 closed elementary schools. There are two TIFs in the 1st Ward (one that was recently reconstituted) and there are still needs in the ward, specifically improvements for schools, parks and other public resources. Due to a significant portion of the 1st Ward having been gentrified, there is limited rationale for any new or expanded TIFs.
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.
Providing training, jobs and positive activity options is critical for our City's teens and youth. I like the concept of converting the closed schools, but I would also like to see a serious expansion of programming and hours in our sister agencies. For example, every park field house should be open and functioning on Sundays, something that seems obvious but is actually very rare. In addition, the remaining open schools should have programs where non-profits can use them on the weekends. Schools and parks are assets of the community, and by using existing functioning buildings, significant overhead can be saved. Yes, there will be expenses such as staff and lighting for an incremental day, but these are significantly lower than setting up from scratch. There are so many great ideas in the 12 ways article and the Tribune should be applauded for their efforts. Of those listed, I especially like the MWRD concept of reusing our water. It could start by being significantly reduced for municipal landscape contractors. And utilizing TIF funds to revitalize and incent job creation is brilliant. We need to focus on creating and supporting programs that will have long term benefits by investing in our youngest citizens and ensuring we are using our resources intelligently.
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 support the office of the legislative general. I think we should ensure that that office has the tools and freedom to provide adequate oversight. Sadly, there is so much history of aldermanic misbehavior that there needs to be an entity charged with a clear and focused watch dog role.
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?
I applaud the increase in overall graduation rates, but I would not call 4% significant and I think we need to look at which sub-groups are improving and which do not fair as favorably. I believe that we need to elect the school board. I would also like to see the majority of the board be parents of CPS students, as they are most likely to understand the impact of the policies. I would strive for a moratorium on charter school expansion in light of recent studies of performance parity when compared with CPS non-charter schools, the lack of transparency and oversight of charters, and the destabilization of neighborhood school utilization. As I stated before, if we can declare a TIF surplus, we could see nearly a billion dollars returned to schools. In addition, we need to work on our state funding, considering we are at the very bottom in terms of ranking of state's funding for 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?
A first step I would take would be to work with our local chambers and special service areas to develop plans for our commercial shopping districts, typically located along major roadway arterials. Importantly, we need to be informed by data, what is the 'leakage' by neighborhood – what products or services do residents need that they are leaving their neighborhood to purchase, and we should focus on attracting those businesses. I would advocate for anchor tenants that fill gaps in retail offerings as part of discussions in conjunction with development and zoning variances. I would focus on keeping the dollars in the community as there is an economic multiplier effect for those that live and spend in their own neighborhood. That means ensuring that the City reduces its reliance on outsourcing jobs that our citizens can perform and that we support our local independent businesses.
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 a minimum wage increase, although I would advocate that we are phasing it in too slowly as it pertains to larger corporations. For smaller businesses, I think the current phase-in pace is good as it allows smaller businesses to absorb the change. I have heard significant concerns from the hospitality and small retail industry about the current plan and would like to continue to work with Springfield to ensure a playing field with closer parity to the City's minimum.
Q: Should the Lucas Museum of Narrative Art be built at the proposed location on Chicago's lakefront? Please explain.
I do not support the Lucas Museum being placed on the lakefront. I support the position of Friends of the Park, which is consistent with the Burnham plan, that the lakefront should be preserved for parks. I think there are many great other locations available, rather than taking up space on the lakefront.
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?
I spent two years working for current Alderman, with 18 months of that time spent as ward liaison to the CPD. I look at crime as a three legged stool that needs all legs—city resources, police and community—functioning to solve crime problems. I think we need to leverage new technologies including texting, social media, and cameras. We need to train more volunteers as who can act as court advocates and be approved to view camera footage, which right now can only be viewed by a sworn officer. Importantly, I would advocate for hiring more officers. With the closing of the 13th district office in the 1st Ward, a commitment was made in 2012 to bring a satellite office to the area. That still has not occurred. In the campaign season an announcement was made about it being opened, but this 'office' is a computer, not an office that residents can enter. In addition to the 13th district closing, I have heard from officers that we have had a significant number of retirements that have not been backfilled and officers have been reassigned to higher crime locations. I would advocate for a return to adequate staffing and facilitate the community getting to know their beat officers.
Q: Do you support Chicago's traffic light camera program? Please explain.
I disagree vehemently on reducing the yellow light time, and believe the motivation of that move is a money grab. as for being for or against, I am not opposed in general. If the fear of receiving a camera citation encourages people to not speed or push a light, then people are driving more safely. Assuming a benefit of safer roads, I would not prioritize fighting for the elimination of the cameras.
Q: Should Chicago reduce the number of aldermen in the City Council?
I believe that if we had fully staffed and responsive, functional City departments, like Buildings Departments, CDOT, then we could and should function with fewer alderman. I would be supportive of reducing the number of alderman with the next census remap, as long as we strengthen our ability to deliver quality services through the appropriate City departments. I fear that as a cost saving measures we continue to cut functional departments and, correspondingly, there has been too much reliance on aldermanic intervention on basic services such as pot holes, forestry, street lights, etc. To reiterate, we can save dollars by reducing the number of Alderman, but only if that is coupled with proper staffing in other departments.
Q: What is your highest priority for improving your ward? What is the greatest concern you hear from residents of your ward?
Going door-to-door has confirmed by belief that priorities are different for different parts of the ward. For example, in the northern part, which includes Logan Square, there is significant concern on quality of life issues as it relates to pending density and new restaurants and development along Milwaukee Ave. I repeatedly hear concerns on parking, rats, rats, rats and poor road surfaces. In the lower half of the ward, I hear concern about similar quality of life issues, but also, there is greater concern about public safety and a lack of responsiveness in regards to the ward office and the alderman, that are perceived to override the community's voice. My priority would be to have a ward office that responds to citizens' concerns, to commit to be a FULL TIME alderman, and to work with residents to find new solutions to quality of life issues. I would facilitate the crafting of neighborhood-specific master plans via collaboration with local community groups, residents and local businesses.
Q: Please tell us something about yourself that would surprise us.
For 7 consecutive weekend nights in 2011, I went looking for a prostitute. The back story is that when Wicker Park residents felt they were not getting sufficient police response to a resurgence in sex workers on North Ave, I thought, "How would I feel if I walked out of my garage and interrupted a transaction, like I repeatedly heard". I didn't like the answer, and yet understood that the police were dealing higher priority calls. So I thought we could affect this with community pressure and we got organized. For 7 weekends, a number of volunteers, a member of the Chicago Police Department and I walked North Ave from 3-5 AM– with the intent to drive away the 'demand' side of the transactions. A flashlight turned out to be a very effective tool in enabling the community to work with the police to move a quality of life problem out of the ward. We did invite resources to be on-hand to help the women and recognize sadly we did not solve the root problem, but the residents recognized an improvement in their community.