Candidate questionnaires

Portrait of Stephen Niketopoulos

Stephen Niketopoulos

Candidate for City Council, 2nd Ward

Stephen Niketopoulos

Candidate for City Council, 2nd Ward

Portrait of Stephen Niketopoulos

Education: Loyola University of Chicago Bachelors of Science, Anthropology

Occupation: Educational Television Producer

Home: Chicago

Age: Not answered

Past Political/Civic Experience: Not answered

Website: http://www.SteveFor2ndWard.com


Responses to the Chicago Tribune's questionnaire

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 think Chicagoans are taxed enough, we need see restructuring in the city to make sure we can pay off this debt instead of extending it. We can't afford to keep pushing the problem onto the next generation, Chicago needs to pay it's own bills so we can finally move ahead and work on other city problems as they come up. The borrowing was not uncommon at the time, but it's becoming a major issue which needs to be addressed.


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 see a mixture of spending cuts and some city reform. New revenue streams also need to be explored. A start would be TIF reform, since this fund has enough excess money to make a dent on the money owed to pensions. Revenue streams that the city currently has can be reinforced with new revenue from tourism and entertainment to further strengthen the fund and allow for us to finally hire enough police and fire to fully staff the city.


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 TIF's are currently shrouded in a lot of mystery, with major investigation needed to know the full reach of where this money ends up. I think it is used to keep business and jobs in the city, which is one of the functions of a good government, but not at the expense of accountability. We need more oversight and more discussion about where TIF money should be spent. Two obvious things that can be addressed by this large fund are police/fire pensions and funding CPS. I don not support the Marriott/Depaul plan, simply because it did not have an open and honest debate surrounding it. If TIF money is being used as a rainy day fund instead of it's original purpose, to improve blighted communities, I think there are plenty of rainy day examples in need of immediate attention.


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 have already been coordinating multiple neighborhood groups and associations to work together. My projects include every neighborhood of West Town, with various parts of Lincoln Park and River North. Together with representatives from these community zones, we have starting coordinating efforts to make sure community enhancement projects get off the ground. This inspires more neighbors to build new community groups and advocacy platforms. Often you don't even need city or private funding, if well coordinated neighbors will work together for the benefit of their community. In addition, I agree we could use the closed schools for community centers, although I don't know how much funding would be needed. Additional GED programs are an interesting idea, I'd like to also add that trade apprenticeships can help build a more specialized workforce across the city.


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.

The office was never given the full resources it needed to effectively do the job. Distractions among the personalities involved also led to bad blood, which shouldn't reflect on the office. I think Alderman need to be held in check, and we need an independent body to do that. Chicago gets a lot of bad press for corruption and political retribution, we need to take an office like this more seriously if we are to move forward.


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?

First there should be a moratorium on Charter schools until there can be further proof that they are effective and accountable. Some research suggest neighborhood schools are more effective, so I'm not certain they are really the centers of learning they were advertised to be. The pensions need to be paid, again looking at new forms of revenue while reforming the TIF fund. We need smaller class sizes, honest discussions about standardized testing, and a hard look at the ways we evaluate teachers and principals. I think Chicago also wants to see an elected school board, and would support a fully elected or partially-elected school board.


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?

An alderman needs to lead the way on what the ward has to offer. In the 2nd we have a very specific opportunity in the area along the river (formerly occupied by the Guttman, Finkl and Lakin companies). This land will most likely stay industrial, but that still allows for tool and machine factories, research/development firms or even micro-breweries. This opportunity for new jobs, along with a chance to help the neighboring communities with improved traffic flow, would certainly be an opportunity for new 2nd ward jobs and business. As for my past experience, I have gotten to know over a hundred local business owners across the 2nd ward and have helped them reach a local base. Shop local and it will improve the economy for each neighborhood. As alderman I would actively support and encourage new industry and small businesses for the 2nd ward.


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 an increase in the minimum wage, but understand both sides of the issue. I am concerned about the state of Illinois not following closely behind, the borders of Chicago may have business move just over the line into the work out of the suburbs. This wage increase isn't happening fast enough for working families who are trying to pay the bills, but it is spaced out enough for Illinois to have a chance to catch up to Chicago. The minimum wage could not have stayed at such a low level, so as long as it's moving in the right direction I feel like it will further infuse our local economy.


Q: Should the Lucas Museum of Narrative Art be built at the proposed location on Chicago's lakefront? Please explain.

I am concerned about whether this plan really had the time to know what the community had to say, so on one hand I feel like it was rushed. There are very good arguments about the lakefront space and overcrowding, and the legality of this plan. That said, I am excited to see the draw the museum could have for tourism. The process of this museum being located along the lakefront left a lot of unanswered questions, but the intention of adding a new focal point for the tourism industry speaks to Chicago making a statement about new and exciting things in Chicago's near future.


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 have designed a new system of community organization by utilizing social media and simple door knocking campaigns. Community policing should be encouraging new methods of communication, but often CPD cannot keep up with the technological requirements to do so. Therefor it is still hard to coordinate neighborhood efforts with CAPS and CPD, often having to work outside of the box to make sure all involved are on the same page. The CPD overall need more officers on the street, they simply don't have the number of officers needed to cover all shifts in each district. Closing police stations was a costly move for neighborhood trust as well, something the city needs to consider as it moves forward. Community Policing, at its best, is a neighborhood working together to help the police in every way they can. When you are part of something, you look out for other people who are also involved. In this case, a series of neighborhoods are now more interconnected with the common goal of helping to identify local problems. The ease and availability of using your computer or even your phone to report, or have a discussion, can't be ignored. That said, it is always important to meet in person, and I host many community meetings across the neighborhoods and also write various newsletters. The way to build community is to know your neighbors and look out for each other.


Q: Do you support Chicago's traffic light camera program? Please explain.

I support more oversight into this troubled program. While it does have an effect on certain intersections, and on overall safety, the rollout of these camera's has been confusing and frustrating to most Chicagoans. Often times it's hard to know when an area has camera's, but most importantly it's hard to know where the money is going. It's impossible to have officers at every intersection, so I see the effective use of these camera's in dangerous intersections, but my ongoing concern is these camera's are about revenue and not entirely about safety.


Q: Should Chicago reduce the number of aldermen in the City Council?

You have to evaluate whether alderman are currently doing a full time job or not. If each alderman really did the work needed for each ward, and openly worked alongside neighboring wards, yes there could be a lower number of alderman. The ward maps hardly represent community areas, so assuming the maps could reflect neighborhoods more closely we could easily have less alderman. If communities played more of a role in self identifying ward issues, it would help the office better manage those concerns. The confusion of ward maps often leads to issues in coordinating neighborhoods.


Q: What is your highest priority for improving your ward? What is the greatest concern you hear from residents of your ward?

Ward office communication is a big issue for me, since I have worked with multiple offices over the years and seen staffers come and go who are easily overwhelmed. A well managed staff can better manage requests and allow for me to make the time to be part of each community. The 2nd ward is now drawn between so many different areas that in my opinion communication is going to be key to make it run efficiently. I make that promise, that each neighborhood will see me and have the chance to work with me on all ideas and concerns. My goal is a regular online and printed newsletter, along with community meetings and social media presence.


Q: Please tell us something about yourself that would surprise us.

I've actually been very involved in the music scene of Chicago as well as some local comedy. I have a wide range of friends from different musical and artistic backgrounds, and I love studying the arts. Whenever I get a free moment I visiting an art gallery or catch a concert or indie film. In college I majored in Cultural Anthropology, which led to some of my original ideas for coordinating ethnic communities in Chicago. I find that diversity can be inspiring, and creative thinking is an asset useful when working with large communities.