Candidate questionnaires

Placeholder for Tara Baldridge

Tara Baldridge

Candidate for City Council, 8th Ward

Tara Baldridge

Candidate for City Council, 8th Ward

Placeholder for Tara Baldridge

Education: B.A. - The University of Chicago Master of Fine Arts - Roosevelt University

Occupation: Writer - Center for STEM Education and Development at Chicago State University

Home: Chicago

Age: Not answered

Past Political/Civic Experience: Not answered

Website: www.tarabaldridgefor8thward.com

Candidates running for City Council, 8th Ward


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.

Due to the financial circumstances, there was really no choice, but to refinance these old debts. The improper budgeting is due to a lack of leadership. Moving forward, City Hall must increase revenue and, at the same time, freeze non-essential spending. Bringing in quality businesses and schools to all of our neighborhoods will increase property values and contribute to the city's revenue. As well, TIF reform is necessary to offset borrowing and bring essential services to the community.


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.

The issue is not with the pensions themselves, but the fact that they have not been funded properly throughout the years. Once again, transparency and accountability are essential in solving this problem. While I am open to many revenue generating ideas, the LaSalle Street tax (a small financial transaction tax) would be a viable option to rectify this situation. But, only with legislation that ensures the revenue generated is used to fund our pensions and pay down the liability and not for short term obligations or pet projects.


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.

The first change that should be made regarding TIF funds is transparency and accountability in use of funds. Also, money from TIF districts needs to be spent and used in the wards from which they arise. TIF's in the 8th ward have been used to fund private developments that do not contribute to the growth of our community. In fact, they have taken money from our ward and our schools to fund projects in other communities. Excess TIF funds should be spent rebuilding our neighborhood schools and investing in job training programs and small business financing in the 8th ward. I do not support the allotment of TIF funds to buy land for a Marriott or DePaul basketball arena when my community is faced with little to no investment in increasing its viability.


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.

First, I commend the Tribune Editorial Board for presenting a series that takes into account the ideas of the residents. This is something that is currently lacking in city council and within the 8th ward. One of my main agenda items is communicating with the residents of the 8th ward so we can all contribute to increasing our community-collaborative ideas and thoughtful discussion is essential in creating a neighborhood that serves all residents. The proposals that I would champion are City in a Garden and Schools as Tools. Both of these ideas capture the spirit of building and creating with purpose. And, they touch on multiple areas of interests and provide avenues for continued exploration. An idea I would offer is utilizing the current closed CPS high school in the 8th ward to house multiple programs that address those youth who are not traditional learners. This school would be a center for development of high quality trade skills, cooperative working environments for entrepreneurs, visual arts and music programs, recording studios, culinary arts and other technology that allow students the freedom to explore viable career options in an environment where their talents are championed.


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 City Council should keep the office of the legislative inspector general and expand its authority. Transparency in any elected office is critical to proper governance. There must be an office that holds the aldermen and their staff members accountable for their actions. I believe more open communication between the city council and residents would lead to better ethics.


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?

Academically, the performance of CPS is lacking due to the multitude of mandates upon teachers and administration from state and federal government. The ways in which student performance is calculated is not in line with the way in which students actually learn. Over testing and "teaching for the test" have become rampant within CPS and skews any accurate portrayal of student talent. Financially, CPS has many improvements to make. The disparity between neighborhood schools, contract schools and charter schools leaves many of our students left out of new initiatives and new technologies. The key to improving public education in the city is reinvesting in true education-not curriculum and tests that are created by for profit companies, but curriculum created by teachers and administrators dedicated to education and not profit. We must also focus on student development that includes success across multiple intelligences and provides wraparound services for those in need. I believe that members of the Board of Education should be elected by the public. Representation for our teachers, students, administrators and staff should be based on community engagement and involvement and not corporate investment opportunity. I would also recommend election reform so that the ERSB is not a position for those with enough money to pay for it. In my opinion, the longer school day has not been funded properly or used effectively in many schools. Simply making the day longer without funding or additional employees does not make our educational system any better. In fact, it only adds pressure to an already struggling system. CPS should not expand the number of charter schools. These schools take away vital funding and resources from our neighborhood schools. Proper use of TIF funds can aid in closing the budget gap for CPS.


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?

By creating a trade based school initiative in our ward with a uniquely qualified talent base, we would attract more employers. With a strong industrial and manufacturing base already in our ward south of 95th street to partner with, we can collaborate on future business needs and match portions of our training to suit those needs. With collaboration on teaching and internships, our youth would be on track for career success. I have worked to bring economic development to the ward by sourcing and introducing businesses in the ward to the surrounding community through my connection with The Children's Book Fair. As a past member of the Chamber of Commerce, I understand that visibility and marketing of our quality businesses throughout the city at large is critical to increasing business within the 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 the vote to increase the minimum wage, but it is not enough. The gradual increase to $13 by 2019 will not be enough to support the cost of living increase. We need to work harder to raise the wage immediately.


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

While I can appreciate the building of the Lucas Museum, I also appreciate the beauty of our lakefront. There are many areas of our city that are in need of this type of community investment that would not require disrupting public land.


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 support the increase in police officers. However, I also support an immediate initiative to train and support police officers in social and cultural awareness. Police officers must be able to connect with residents in times of peace to create a mutually respectful environment for proper policing. Officers cannot only see our youth as "trouble" and our residents cannot only see our police officers when there is trouble. I support hiring civilians in non-essential police roles within the office so our police officers can patrol the streets, get to know residents and business owners as community partners. I would love to see incentives for police officers to patrol in the area where they live. It would be beneficial to the community to see police officers as people who are invested in the area as neighbors and not just "on the job".


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

No, I do not support this program. This is a tax on our residents that is being used to support bad fiscal decisions. I have signed a pledge with Ban the Cameras to work against this program. Traffic cameras have not been proven to reduce accidents and there is no transparency in the program from its inception to the use of its revenue. If they must stay, I would propose an ordinance to use funds to improve the ward in which the monies were collected.


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

Other larger cities have less city council members, so I would be open to this initiative.


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

My highest priority is preparing our residents for economic development initiatives. We need jobs and new businesses, but we also need training to create a sustainable work force. As alderman, I am not just looking to bring businesses to the ward, but to create our business district with small businesses developed collaboratively with our residents. We cannot continue to wait for offers to come to the ward, we have to pursue them or create the opportunity on our own. The greatest concern is that the Alderman has been non-existent in many areas of the ward. Residents feel alienated and under-represented.


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

Most people see me as a true "Southern" girl, but I love participating in fun 5K's. So far, I've done a mud run, the cosmic dash and the foam run. I can't wait to bring a 5K to the 8th ward!