Candidate for City Council, 32nd Ward
Education: B.A., Political Science Colorado State University, J.D., Chicago-Kent College of Law, IIT.
Occupation: Alderman 32nd Ward
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.
First, I don't think all of the borrowing was justified. It was difficult in years past to get clear and concise answers from the prior administration about where all of the dollars were to be spent and on what. That same scoop and toss policy was made also clear in the present administration just last year, when the Mayor's Finance Director declined to answer questions directly related to hundreds of millions that were borrowed, without specifying where those dollars were to be spent. It is hard to justify spending the money we know of much of the time, and easy to deny when we are refused the information. Going forward the City needs to do what I and a handful of Aldermen have asked for; budgeting for our needs, providing analysis of the fiscal impact of collective bargaining agreements, and requiring the Finance Director and Inspector General to provide fiscal impact statements for all contracts and legislation.
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 need to revamp the Tax Increment Financing system first. Without knowing what is slated as projects in those funds due to confidentiality claims by the Administration, no one in the City knows what the overall impact to the tax base is. Yet, TIFs continue to grow and more dollars are spent without any layout of the financial impact on taxpayers. $500 million per year is going into TIFs, which clearly detracts from our ability to manage payments on pensions and other obligations. Second, without several solutions on the table, we cannot make any headway in the discussion about which solutions are financially viable or not. Solutions should include 1) TIF reform, and scaling back the TIFs, especially as the geographic taxed area and overall PINS taxed far exceed any other City in the United States. TIF has created a serious imbalance in our tax system. A scaling back, or surplus would create an additional stream of revenue to be made as payments to what will be constitutionally required payments 2) large scale reassessment of PINs throughout the City, and a new system implemented by the County Assessor to balance the scale, 3) put an end to pay to play within the pension system, and add some type of Special Master overseer in the city pensions to act as a watchdog over pension boards, municipal advisors, pension earners (to prevent double dipping) and the fees earned and distributed, 4) provide the Inspector General with appropriate authority and financial to watchdog expenditures and waste, and provide a counterbalance to fiscal analysis within the executive branch, 5) look at other sources of revenue including any decision on casino profits with majority of profits going to Chicago, 6) any sales tax, transaction tax, or property tax should have a five year sunset provision with all proceeds going to pension payments, 6) and review contracts for possible renegotiation of profits based on mistaken market projections.
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.
Some TIFS are open and transparent, others are not at all and the Mayor's call for confidentiality and expansion of TIFs is financially risky. I have supported TIFs in my ward and will continue as long as the funds are directed to what they were initially set for and not for slush funds that the administration taps into whenever they want for unrelated projects. I have denied TIF to several developers, and they have almost always come back and built their projects with their own funds. I do not support the TIF to the DePaul Arena and Marriot. My office wrote an analysis of this deal (available publicly at www.ward32.org) and it was clear that the firm that wrote the City's analysis in support of the deal contradicted prior similar analyses that showed the deal shouldn't be made. Furthermore, the deal was clearly misleading when the recent pricetag rose over 75%.
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.
City in a Garden is one that I am supporting now. With the history of Jens Jensen well established in Chicago, we have an opportunity to support "Jens Jensen The Living Green." A local constituent took the lead on this project and has activated communities across the City and nation to get behind the idea of communities living green and in sustainable green environments. As Alderman, my push for more green space in a rapidly developing community led me to work with the producer and idea behind the Living Green. I think this model which will serve as the lead for Earth Day 2015, is a great one that all of Chicago can get behind. Development in the City can be much more than it is now, and we should value more of the spaces that we have, including the river and riverfront, not only in downtown but throughout the system. All of these spaces can be viable living greens with community gardens, play areas, learning spaces, and much more.
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 voted against the LIG originally, due to my desire to see the City Inspector General have the reins of City oversight, including Aldermen. I don't think the office should exist unless it is a sub part of the OIG. However, the IG needs all of the tools available to that office to root out the corruption and gameplaying that costs taxpayers too many tax dollars. I've co-crafted and submitted the legislation to give the OIG the ability to hire and control OIG's own staff, serve and enforce it's own subpoenas; guarantee "no less than 1 percent" of the city budget, and compel the city to cooperate with office's audits, investigations, program reviews and hearings. On top of that, the sister agencies like CHA, and CTA should be working hand in hand with the OIG. I've advocated for this for years and will continue to do so until it is completed.
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 don't think that CPS will get out of the hole it is in until they start to make better decisions on how tax payer dollars are spent, and this has to be done in conjunction with listening to taxpayers. The most recent Aramark contract is another contract that seems to be hastily entered into without the enforcement of the contract that we would see in the private sector. The toxic swap issue is another, where even the bank making the swap seemed to open the doors for negotiation, and the City sat on it's hands instead of stepping into the door. The closing of schools was wrong without a master plan in place, as was made clear by the contrary act of then wiping out school budgets across the board, forcing parents to dig even deeper into their already tapped pockets to pay for the teachers and supplies that CPS failed to make happen. I strongly support an elected school board, despite being stopped by the Mayor and aldermen with tricks that are anti-democratic. A hybrid board made up of mayoral appointees and elected members (elected members who would come only from the ranks of a regional LSC after serving at least one term at a local school council) will work. I supported a slightly longer school day but thought that CPS and the Mayor would have an idea of how to pay for it first. We have enough charter schools as is, and should not expand until there is a master plan in place for all of CPS. CPS needs to get in touch with the City and start talking about revamping TIFs. CPS holds the reins on what they are capable of implementing and should come forward with ideas but if the Council is to get behind these ideas, there needs to be a fair, and open to the public discussion.
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?
I have a robust ward with businesses opening frequently. My staff and I are very proactive and look for ways to help advocate for businesses and our chambers of commerce that support small to large businesses. I reach out to businesses as well through my contacts with business people, and find locations that fit the needs of potential businesses. We have frank conversations about taxes, licensing, and the include all of our communities in the process of bringing in business. We also make sure all economic development, both residential or commercial, fits the needs of the community and make sure we have the appropriate infrastructure in place before starting projects. I provide clear assessments to businesses to let them know ahead of time what to expect and how they can budget and plan accordingly. We have seen an influx of many new businesses in the past year and 2015 and beyond are looking very good with new types of businesses coming in, including a hotel built in a wonderful historic structure, a Ford dealership, and a mixture of food, retail, and services related businesses. We are also advocating for reuse of planned manufacturing districts, and new areas of the ward. I'm confident that we will continue to have a ward that is a large source of the City's new 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 it and think that the timeframe of waiting for full implementation in 2019 is acceptable to many but not all businesses. I spoke to many business owners directly and understand many of their concerns but the cost of living in Chicago is high and will get higher if taxes and fees continue to rise for individuals, as well as businesses. The $13/hour compromise will put more dollars into the economy that people will spend locally.
Q: Should the Lucas Museum of Narrative Art be built at the proposed location on Chicago's lakefront? Please explain.
NO. I support the concept that the land is part of the "public trust doctrine" case made by the Friends of the Parks. I trust their judgment more than that rush to judgment made by the administration and Park District. Additionally, this museum presents a great opportunity to establish a museum in a neighborhood that needs development. We cannot keep talking about investing in neighborhoods and then every time a nice project comes forward deny that effort. Furthermore, we lost an opportunity to lease at a reasonable price tag (despite the claimed amusement taxes). San Francisco lost the deal in part because they did not stoop low and lease for $1.00/year. They wanted fair value for their land and stood strong. There should also be a ban on the type of play to play that took place with donations, and finally, the museum is not a fit. We have an aquarium, planetarium, natural history, science and industry, and now... Jabba's Hut?
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?
When I was first elected, I immediately moved to develop strong CAPS programs that put police officers on the side of residents, instead of in a confrontational position. Based on a CAPS group that was working well, we included more local neighbors as facilitators and made outreach key, through mailings, flyers, and a very robust social media presence where every community has a Facebook neighborhood watch with thousands of members who offer neighbors and police insight and help daily. These pages have offered information that led to several arrests. We also host safety seminars, and provide up to date police alerts through our email alert system broken down by neighborhoods. I also work closely with the Police districts in my ward to make sure we are on the same page. Despite losing hundreds of officers in the mergers of 19/23 and 12/13 Districts, and despite running into constant RAPS and insufficient officers, we have been able to get work done. But, we require more officers and detectives to be hired to keep up with the workload. The idea that the administration perpetuates, that the perception of crime by citizens is not reality, is wrongheaded and does a disservice to citizens. I don't think we as a City can sustain the poor policy making that has seen the loss of thousands of officers, inadequate staffing, and running massive year to year overtime budgets that cannot be justified. It is clear there is no oversight of the month to month budgeting at the Police department and they cannot or will not justify the overtime. We also need to see serious improvements in IPRA and the Police Board, and better models must be implemented to protect both citizens and police from arbitrary and unjustified decision-making. These issues can be addressed once we have open and honest dialogue about crime stats, and the relationships we have with all of our interdependent communities.
Q: Do you support Chicago's traffic light camera program? Please explain.
I do not. The red light camera program was proven to be a failure by your reporters, and the City had to go to great lengths to create a justification that exists nowhere else in the U.S. – that less than 3 seconds on an amber light was legal. In the OIG reports it was clear that CDOT failed in oversight, and the program has little to show for improving safety infrastructure. The speed camera project has also been a fiscal failure, as the amount that was budgeted for was never reached, but the money was spent. At present, there are only a handful of people in the entire City government who know the details of the camera programs and the lack of institutional knowledge has left too much room for error now and in the future. We need to revamp, and start to scale back on these programs if they cannot be justified.
Q: Should Chicago reduce the number of aldermen in the City Council?
YES, I offered a redistricting map in 2012 that had 35 aldermen based on community areas. We are only a few years away from a new census and map. Chicago should begin to prepare now by pulling together academia, elected officials, and FAIR map advocates to prepare Chicago for better map that does not disenfranchise Chicagoans, and operates only in the best interests of individuals and interest groups operating behind the scenes.
Q: What is your highest priority for improving your ward? What is the greatest concern you hear from residents of your ward?
I am still focused on education efforts with parents and community groups, making sure development is appropriate and not out of scale, while adding to the vibrant business districts, and staying focused on crime issues so that our quality of life is not diminished. The greatest concern of many families is their child's future. Where will they go to school, and what is the outlook for their child's secondary education, and beyond is a constant concern for our parents.
Q: Please tell us something about yourself that would surprise us.
I am soccer fan.