Candidate for City Council, 33rd Ward
Education: BA, History, NIU M Ed, National Louis University National Board Certified Teacher
Occupation: Social Studies Teacher
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.
As an Alderman, I will fight for a financial transaction tax. I also support a commuter tax and graduated income tax at the state level. These taxes are necessary to pay down debt and advocate for a fully-funded public sector that benefits all residents regardless of race, class or location. The "scoop and toss" method exposes one form of fiscally irresponsible behavior taken by our current elected leadership and their appointees, which adversely affects the working people and families of our city while benefiting the very wealthy. Rather than finding sustainable revenue streams (such as taxes on the Chicago Mercantile Exchange) to fund our schools, transit, streets, etc., our elected leadership and their appointees opt for the short-sighted solutions that ultimately wean money from the public sector, channeling it into interest payments for financiers. In turn, these same elected officials use the underfunded, struggling public sector as justification to cut services. This is both a short-sighted and two-faced policy. As a Chicago Public School teacher I am familiar with this practice and double-standard in CPS. Through these fiscally irresponsible borrowing practices, CPS diverted millions of dollars to debt payments while also advocating for school closures and cuts to our pensions. A sustainable source of revenue through taxing the very wealthy, I argue, equates to a fully funded public sector and an end to these types of fiscally irresponsible, short-sighted finance strategies.
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 care deeply about public pensions and the welfare of public sector workers, because I am one. The pension "crisis" has been created through irresponsible practices, such as pension "holidays", approved by our elected leadership and their appointees, not the public sector workers of Chicago who pay into the pension system on time, every time. The ensuing costs built up using the pension holiday strategy—similar to the "scoop and toss" bond financing method—is used as the justification for stripping public sector workers of their pensions, which is both a Constitutional right and a basic building block of a strong middle-class in our city. Pensioners do not get Social Security. Future pension crises and our current crisis can be resolved by paying into the pension systems on time. I support undoing Daley's 1995 shift of responsibility for paying pensions from City Council to city agencies like CPS. Most importantly, as with attaining a fully-funded public sector, fully funded pensions will be achieved through sustainable revenue generation: a financial transaction tax. A financial transaction tax alone, for example, could raise $9-12 billion per year in Illinois, according to Chicago Teacher's Union analysis. I will advocate for fully funded pensions through these type of sustainable tax policies, because cutting and gutting pensions is not a solution to the pension crisis. It will only remove a basic building block of Chicago's middle-class public sector workers.
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 argue for the abolishment, not reform, of TIF. Existing TIF districts should be allowed to sunset (as was the original intent of TIF), to make way for more planned, democratic forms of development finance. In the short-term, any TIF surpluses should be placed back into the city agencies they were taken from; ie schools, parks, and libraries. While TIF began with good intentions of solving urban blight, in the 1990s it transformed into the City's primary form of economic development. Since the TIF process is extremely opaque it is easy for moneyed developers and elected officials to push through unnecessary development that benefit their individual needs while diverting money from our public schools, transit, and other essential services. The $55 million allotment of TIF funds for the Marriott and DePaul basketball arena provides an apt example. Despite widespread outcry, the City pushed through this TIF allotment while later claiming TIF surplus funds could not be secured to shore up the CPS budget gap. TIF money comes from our property taxes and is often advanced through selling bonds. Abolishing TIF, therefore, will only mean fewer competing TIF districts, which serve to fracture these revenue sources and hamper democratic say in how they are spent.
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 applaud the intent and conversations sparked around a new Plan for Chicago. My platform touches on all of the key areas discussed in the editorials about the new Plan. To begin with, a strong economy and more jobs will come through a strong, fully-funded public sector, which can provide the physical infrastructure (transit, roads) and educated workforce that companies search for when making locational decisions. Importantly, a fully-funded public sector is also a way to solve many other social issues facing Chicago. Struggling families, struggling schools, and struggling neighborhoods would benefit tremendously from a strong public sector, as well as other key issues I will fight for: more affordable housing, a $15 minimum wage and an end to privatization. For over a decade, our leadership has pushed forward a Plan, which promotes the central business district at the expense of Chicago, as a whole. As an Alderman, I will not only fight for improved services in my ward, but also improved services that benefit all Chicagoans equally. A fully funded public sector, economic justice, and an end to privatization (all key planks of my platform) are both sustainable economic development policies and ways to improve quality of life for all.
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.
Removing the Office of Legislative Inspector General would be an irresponsible and unethical decision, which I would fight against. More ethical governing will come through an emboldened Inspector General Office, which means more authority to investigate and more funding for workers. The city inspector general should be given authority to investigate aldermen and staff, and Mr. Khan needs an appropriate budget to do so. The other route to achieving government ethics is more transparency. As an Alderman, I will support legislation that promotes both transparency and an emboldened Inspector General. At the ward level I support working with a 33rd ward advisory council that has monthly public meetings and public minutes, a measure that was killed when my opponent Deb Mell was appointed to fill her father's seat. I also advocate for and will utilize participatory budgeting practices.
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?
School performance policy dictates where attention is paid, particularly when budget cuts are combined with student based budgeting and punitive measures such as turnarounds and the closure. FOT rates are easily manipulated, and teachers face tremendous pressure to manipulate grades. I am opposed to no zero policies and "benchmark grading". The trend in the classroom has been a shift away from learning content and towards literacy skills, which is the intention of national and local education policy. As a result schools in poor areas have lost the enrichment programs that would typically keep kids interested in school. These kids are made to take double period math, english, and science in order to boot test scores. Wealthier kids in magnets get the full range of academic programs, including a variety of AP courses. Under mayors Daley and Emanuel we have seen public schools starved of resources at the expense of charter proliferation, with a push to privatize public education, as if schools were parking meters. School closures were unnecessary, cost hundreds of millions in additional borrowing, continue to cost us millions more in maintenance, but when parents did not "choose" charter schools parents had the choice made for them. The privatization mantra is "competition and choice" will fix public education but that is a misguided and dishonest position. Competition and choice work well when producing durable goods, but education is a social service, not a business. Stability and collaboration are needed to produce the best results. The key to improving education in Chicago is making sure all students have the full compliment of wraparound services necessary to cope with social and emotional needs. Many CPS students have been traumatized and need health and social services as a prerequisite to improved learning. Often education is seen as the ticket out of poverty, but the number one indicator of student success is poverty itself. We need a more holistic approach that addresses poverty and financial instability of our families in Chicago as a means of improving educational outcomes for our youth. CPS finances are intentionally mismanaged in order to create crises, driving policy decisions that are in the interests of wealthy privatizers, not students. Look no further than toxic rate swaps, pension holidays, or how last year's "historic" $1 billion deficit was plugged with $700 million in "reserve" funds. There is no accountability at CPS except to the mayor, which is why I support an elected school board. Current board members have a direct or indirect financial stake in test based accountability and school privatization. The longer day and year have had little impact except to make my 9 year old son like school less. At my high school the longer day added 5 minutes to every class period and reduced teacher prep time. I support a moratorium on school actions and charter expansion and a financial transaction tax, TIF expiration to fully fund CPS obligations. See "CPS starving its Schools to Justify Privatization" for more on my views on 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?
I believe a strong economic development strategy in my ward will be achieved in two ways. First through a fully funded public sector: fully funding the public school system, for instance, equates to a well-educated workforce, as well as programs that help prepare people for jobs, and a fully funded and more robust public transit system equates to more access to jobs. These types of policies promote a healthy physical and social infrastructure, which employers seek out when making locational decisions. Moreover, I advocate for improved services in the ward through reprioritizing the city budget to direct funding to our neighborhoods not just to the downtown. Too often our current elected leadership attempts to attract employers through corporate subsidies and tax breaks. This strategy has proven time and again to fail in creating jobs and, more importantly, takes money away from the types of services that employers actually search for when making locational decisions. As a CPS teacher, I have advocated for these types of policies through my work in the education justice movement in Chicago, which has fought to ensure that all residents have equal access to quality public schools. As an Alderman, I will be able to expand this political project to advocate for fully public services for all residents of the 33rd Ward. A fully funded public sector (schools, transit, social services, etc) is not only possible through sustainable revenue policies, such as progressive taxes, but they are necessary to generate sustainable economic development and a high quality of life for all Chicagoans.
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.
While I applaud any increase in the minimum wage, the vote to increase the minimum wage to $13 over the next 5 years is not enough of a change and not fast enough. The working families of my Ward (60% work in service sector, many earning minimum wage) cannot afford to wait five years to pay for increasing rents, groceries, and transportation. Raising the minimum wage to $15 now is absolutely necessary and possible. The transition would be easily achieved by major corporations whose business depends on the locational advantage Chicago offers and, as for small business, I support allotting TIF funds and other economic development funds to make the transition to a $15 minimum wage.
Q: Should the Lucas Museum of Narrative Art be built at the proposed location on Chicago's lakefront? Please explain.
No. I don't think another downtown attraction is necessary and reflects the mayor's emphasis of downtown over our neighborhoods. The proposed museum would give away 17 acres of prime lakefront property for $1? The whole thing reeks of Ari Emanuel's influence. Not only is it a bad deal for the city, it feels like it would be better suited for Hollywood, not Chicago.
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 best way to promote public safety is through a $15 minimum wage and fully funded public services. Crime is at its root a social issue, which can only be addressed through policy that expands opportunities for young people. Our elected leadership regularly resorts to the short-sighted strategy of increased policing as a means of increasing safety, which can often have the opposite effect of criminalizing young people and restricting further opportunities for achievement. In my Ward, crime has decreased 26% between 2012 and 2014, which is above the 19% decrease in crime in Chicago, as a whole. I advocate for a further reduction in crime by creating economic opportunities and opportunities for community involvement for youth. Police need to build trust in our communities, and I think having more stability in police assignments and having police walk their beats at regular intervals will go a long way to building that trust.
Q: Do you support Chicago's traffic light camera program? Please explain.
No. In a recent Chicago Tribune article my opponent Deb Mell was quoted as saying, "I love the red light cameras." I, on the other hand, oppose the red light cameras wholeheartedly. First, it's regressive taxation; they represent another form of revenue generation disproportionately coming from the pockets of working families and working people in my Ward and the City. As an elected official, I will fight for more creative and sustainable forms of revenue, such as the financial transaction tax, which can more effectively raise money for our city. Secondly, the red light program demonstrates a troubling trend in City policy: the privatization of city services. In selling off essential city services to private companies, our elected leaders have transformed the City government's responsibility from providing services towards ensuring profit and revenue for private companies, often the mayor's campaign contributors. The red light camera, as well as the parking meter and Ventra debacle, are all examples of this trend. I will fight for a moratorium on privatization and more sustainable, fair forms of revenue creation. Finally, the manipulation of yellow light times by the city prove that the intention of the program was always revenue, not safety. Rahm's motorcade routinely blows off red light tickets while the rest of us must pay.
Q: Should Chicago reduce the number of aldermen in the City Council?
Chicago's Ward system is an inefficient political system and one that allows competition between neighborhoods to drive development and distribution of city funds. Although I believe Chicago would benefit from a reduction in its Alderman, there are other more pressing, winnable issues that can resolve the problems created by Chicago's Ward system. For example, competition between neighborhoods for scarce funding can be alleviated through sustainable and fair revenue generation, which would provide more money for essential public services for all neighborhoods. Moreover, I advocate for increased democratic decision-making and an end to Mayoral control of the Chicago Public Schools and other sister agencies. A democratically elected board for CPS, the City Colleges, the Chicago Housing Authority and the Chicago Transit Authority would allow for a more centralized and city-wide democratic forum to overcome the shortfalls of our 50 Ward system.
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 my Ward is ensuring that all residents regardless of their income, race or location, have equal access to quality public schools and essential city services. Over the past couple of decades, Chicago's downtown has received the lion's share of resources and attention, diverting money away from neighborhoods like the 33rd Ward. The potholes are a relevant example. On average, it takes 14 days to fill a reported pothole in my Ward. It takes a mere 3 days for a pothole to be filled in the 42nd Ward, which encompasses neighborhoods like the Gold Coast and River North. In order to achieve a higher standard of living for all residents in my Ward as well as a sustainable economic development strategy, I will advocate for improved services through reprioritizing the City budget to neighborhoods like mine that contain invaluable cultural heritage.
Q: Please tell us something about yourself that would surprise us.
In 1982 when I was in Kindergarten I received an honorable mention in the National PTA Reflections art contest. The theme was "What makes me smile" and the entry was a watercolor of a trolley. The painting was hung in the Art Institute and was covered by Chicago newspapers.