Candidate for City Council, 38th ward
Education: Bachelor Science from Northern Illinois University, Dekalb.
Occupation: Real Estate Broker
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.
This type of borrowing is not justified. The city must start using common sense. The taking of risky loans, issuing bonds and the shifting of finances around is not how you manage short term debt and not how you manage long term financial plans. I will argue for cuts in spending. There are many hard decisions that need to be made about how and where to make cuts and someone that is not politically obligated is the best choice to make those decisions. The city needs more Aldermen with out connections to other city offices or long term political families. New Alderman are needed to step up and turn the financial mess around before the current political elite and cowards pull the entire city down with them.
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.
There is a lot of misleading information about who is at fault and where and when the shortages came about. The voters in the 38th ward want to have an unbiased Alderman. An Alderman that is not influenced to make decisions contrary to voters best interests because they have already accepted money from several of these groups that are involved. There needs to be a clear understanding of how this deficit happened. Some people and organizations will be exposed for their involvement and that will need to be addressed. Next, there needs to be a clear path of how we can navigate out of this massive financial hole. I am not interested in raising taxes again and again. You do not put out a fire by throwing money at it. The tax payers should have a lot more information of why their taxes keep going up and why their politicians constantly fail at protecting their best interests.
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 the TIF can be a very useful tool to help stimulate economic growth in areas where needed. That being true, we need to simplify TIF rules for usages. It might be a good idea that TIF money should have an extension to include local public schools. When families are considering where they want to live, the quality of the local schools is always at the top of the list. If schools are not properly funded and properly managed, the surrounding area and local businesses will suffer. It is easier to find better school than it is to hope that it will change and get better by itself. Unfortunately, not all of us can just up and move to a "better" school district and not all of us can afford to send our children to private schools. As the new Alderman, I will work very hard and directly with all my local schools to make certain they are properly funded and if need be, by use of TIF funds. A city with great public schools that lead the nation in every aspect of learning and are properly and completely funded will show strong growth in real estate values, rent rolls and a solid tax base. That is what will drive businesses to flourish across the city.
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.
These are all great ideas. I am obviously always starting out with fixing our school system. In my opinion, so many of these ideas are stemmed from one another. If we want to curb violent crime...educate. If you want to increase jobs and productivity...educate. A strong education system can yield so much potential. Businesses and real estate flourish demand for city space increases and so property taxes are able to equalize evenly throughout the city. People are better able to find good paying jobs and from this more entrepreneurs emerge, stimulating growth, ideas and stream lined business survival. My own ideas about "A new plan of Chicago"; The city has an enormous amount of vacant warehouse space and other under utilized spaces, that there needs to be a new idea of how to use TIF moneys and tax incentives to the property owners, to allow certain types of businesses to start up and redevelop in those areas. Businesses, that are new and growing. Businesses that are not bound by the changes in international or national events. Businesses that are perfectly designed to serve the city of Chicago, the surrounding suburbs and beyond. I have a plan to help our city become a boom town in less than 10 years. If I am elected I will work day and night with the Mayor, the City council and the Governor to get these businesses started and rolling into full production immediately. A new industry that will employ thousands of people and stimulate more job growth as a direct result.
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.
5. Not only should the City Council keep the office of the legislative inspector General but the inspector general should be given full and separate powers to investigate the Alderman, the Mayor and their staffs. The inspector should also be able to investigate and sanction corporations, unions, PACs or any other organization that is involved in contributing money towards municipal elections. An upgrade to the city board of election laws would be necessary. If the city has the authority to monitor and hold its own elections than the guidelines and forms for filling candidate elections should be standardized and clear cut for all candidates to follow. The current election law states that all municipal elections in the state of Illinois are to be non-partisan, there needs to be ramifications for those that play on voters by claiming to be one party or the other. This law was put in place for a reason...to minimize political party stalemates and to stream line the process. It is unethical to claim a party affiliation and voters should know that when a politician or candidate claims to be from one or the other...they are committing a fraud upon you the voter. I am and always have been an independent voter, I have voted for democrats, republican and several independent candidates over the years. I do not claim to be a democrat or republican. I work for and represent the people, not a political party.
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?
Academic performances have increased. Every year schools are looking for money and supplies from parents. Basics like toilet and printer paper are in short supply. Elected school board involves me directly in that I have 3 children in public schools, my sisters and my wife are teachers in public schools. I'm on the LSC. There are pros and cons to the elected school board and to a Mayor appointed school board. A major issue with an elected school board is it creates a whole new bureaucracy of people running for a board seat. There is going to be corporations, unions and PACs dumping large sums of money into the candidates elections. We know campaign contributors don't do this to feel good about themselves, they want to gain influence with the board. There are board members who profit from their investments that do business with CPS. This is not an acceptable arrangement. With an elected school board, there needs to be an enforceable code of ethics law, as well as a comprehensive plan for campaign financing. It is absurd to have Board elections without campaign finance controls. Without campaign finance controls you invite corruption and influence right in. Thats when political elite, friends and families are able to buy elections and have a say in our children's education. This is hard for me to accept when I am willing to bet most or none of their children attend public schools. On the other side, the appointment of the school board eliminates campaign spending, and the political elite. Sounds good but the Mayor can still appoint his friends and political allies. To counter this: appointment by the mayor but approval from the Alderman. The mayor can pick from worthy applicants that have been screened by the inspector generals' office and sworn to a code of ethics. This would mean no financial connections to companies employed by CPS or the city. Four years ago I suggested a longer school day and was ridiculed by my opponent. At that time my children started school at 9:20am and got out at 2:30pm. My suggestion was that school hours eventually be from 8am until 4pm with after school programs. Today, school starts at 8:30am and pickup is at 3:45pm...not many after school programs but as an LSC member we are working on it. I think the length of the school year is fine. I know other countries go year round, but summer in Chicago is for kids of all ages. During the summer breaks, we need to explore the idea of having programs in the school classroom for parents who need to have their children some where while they are at work. The classes offered can be a fine tune review of the past years lessons and even advanced learning and specialty classes like chemistry, physics, math and computer programming made available to all income level students. We need to equip teachers with the tools and the support to promote good student behavior and academic achievement.
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?
7. I would attract employers to our ward by using the TIF properly and completely. I would do this by working with the city council and Cook County commissioners to amend commercial and manufacturing taxes so as to ease the burden and hurdle of starting a new business. Personally I would initiate a program to assist new start ups with financial planning and business plans so that new small businesses have a better idea of what is involved in running a business and to help to increase their goals of success. Encouraging monthly meetings with speakers from local and not so local businesses to come and speak and to have work shops utilizing experiences to help overcome common hurdles of owning and operating a small business. I would also recommend a new Booster club for real estate brokers in which residents, businesses and activists are able to show these brokers that the 38th ward is the best choice for their clients whether it is families starting out or seasoned investors. Show the home buyers where we are and why the 38th ward is the best place to raise a family....good shopping, fun restaurants, bars and of .course, GREAT SCHOOLS.
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. I personally think it should happen sooner than 2019. The minimum wage increase has been a large debate and has a lot of great points on all sides. As an Alderman I would like to see that all employees are able to make a decent wage that is steady with the basic cost of living. Most of my jobs growing up and through college were minimum wage positions. Although it was sufficient for my needs then, obviously it would be a real challenge to buy a home and raise a family making minimum wage today. Initially, minimum wage employees will have an increased buying power but as the market adjusts, prices of goods will have also increased. Large corporations are about making money for their share holders and when the increased cost of wages starts to affect their bottom line we will see an increase on goods and services across the board. The change will be subtle but eventually we will be back to the same point. Tax dollars must yield better and more services to the tax payers. As a citizen, we need to get more bangs for our bucks. City costs, departments and expenditures need to be stream lined every year. The city needs to do its job better, more efficient and for less money. That is what will allow for a closing in the gap of quality of life between minimum wage earners and organized labor earners and education based wage earners. I also believe that Alderman salaries need to be capped and only adjust at a maximum of 3% every 3 term cycles. We need to have term limits and a significant reduction in the pension amounts that any alderman may receive. If you want to be an elected official that will make decisions for other peoples lives than you must be willing to accept the same rules for yourself.
Q: Should the Lucas Museum of Narrative Art be built at the proposed location on Chicago's lakefront? Please explain.
The city needs to find a new location for the museum. Let's look for an area that needs a good shot in the arm to help boost its local economy. Daniel Burnham was a genius in his plans to keep the lake front areas an open space. We need to respect that tradition and utilize our many other available areas that would benefit greatly from the museums presence. Spread the wealth so to speak; expand the museum areas to a location that does not take away more lake front space.
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?
. If you want to improve public safety...add more police to the rolling patrols and add them evenly through out the city. I also believe if we can encourage people to have and participate in something as simple as a block party where they live; you increase neighbor familiarity, create friendships and in turn have increase awareness on your block and the happenings that take place there. Community participation is key to making great neighborhoods. For over 18 years I have had a passion for coaching and running the little league baseball at Portage Park. I can't count how many times during the season, off season and even across town I hear, "Hey Coach Tom!" We have created such a great baseball community. You can recognize and are recognized by people in your community, that you actually know these people and their kids, as they grow up from Tball players to high school years. I even have players that have come back years later to become coaches themselves. It's a good feeling to be a part of a community organization that impacts so many families in our ward and surrounding wards. To have an organization with stability to withstand the test of time and giving children a reason to come back years later when they start having their own kids. These are the beginning relationships to any strong community. There are so many families and children in our community that we are not able serve them all in our park without the installation of lights or extending our baseball season. My current board members and I have hopes that we can expand our league to include all the major parks within the ward and the surrounding communities. I believe this will strengthen our community and in turn add security from within. It is just another factor why the 38th ward will do well in the years to come with the right leadership.
Q: Do you support Chicago's traffic light camera program? Please explain.
11. I do support the traffic light cameras. The studies of whether they make traffic safer or add a different kind of increased accidents is in my opinion still unclear. There is no doubt that there is great revenue source that is not from an increase in property tax or an increase in fees and is not a totally new fee just made up to create revenue for the city. As you have already guessed I am not a fan of creating new fees just for the sake of making money. The city is not in the business of profitability. The traffic light camera revenues are totally voluntary....if you feel the need to run a red light then you contribute to the fund. Respect the traffic light that is designed to keep us all safe and it costs you nothing and maybe you save someone else's life in the process. People need to get used to the idea of slowing down in the speed zones and slowing down for the yellow instead of accelerating through. I admit I have gotten several tickets for turning on red with out coming to a complete stop and for driving over 30mph in a park speed zone. Like anyone else initially I was upset...who wouldn't be? Then if you are able to see it objectively, you know that you broke the law and if there was a police officer near by they would have pulled you over to write you a ticket. The neat trick is now the camera allows for the ticket to be issued with out discriminating who the driver is and basically not missing anyone. The cameras free up police officers time to allow them to attend to more urgent and pressing matters, rather than spend 20 minutes writing a ticket. The tickets are not cheap and I do not plan on getting another one of those anytime soon.
Q: Should Chicago reduce the number of aldermen in the City Council?
12. I don't agree with reducing the number of Alderman on the city council. Oh yeah and good luck trying to get the current alderman to agree either! For every reduction in the number of Alderman you increase the number of people that Alderman must serve. You can save money, maybe about 3 million a year in reduced salary costs if you cut the number of alderman to 25, but then the wards will double in size. Now there will definitely be a need to increase staff to service all the people of the ward that has just increased by 100%. On the side note, now with a reduced number of alderman, you have just made it easier and cheaper for super PACs and special interest groups to continue buying politicians and easier for any mayor to control the city council.
Q: What is your highest priority for improving your ward? What is the greatest concern you hear from residents of your ward?
What is needed is greater exposure and connection from the Alderman to the people who live in the ward. I have heard complaints for years that the current alderman does nothing and that the ward office is unresponsive. That people feel they have been victims of retaliation for speaking out or complaining to 311 and the mayors' office for a lack of basic services in the ward. I am no stranger to this type of behavior from the current administration and I don't expect they will go away quietly. People want to be apart of their community and I would want people to know who I am and that I am working very hard to improve the quality of services they receive not just from the city but from the new Alderman office. I want people to know that I am in their corner, fighting on their behalf, not for some corporation or PAC that gave money to buy influence but for the residences that live, work and die here. We have had enough rubber stamps around here...let's get this city back on its toes and working hard to be the best city in this country to raise a family.
Q: Please tell us something about yourself that would surprise us.
After reading this question to my family and hearing their responses...I guess I am very domesticated! When I was a younger man my father would often (very often) ask me to bake him cookies...he would pick the cookie and I would look in my mothers cook books for the recipes. I always followed the directions to the letter and as the years went by I would change things and add something different. Baking is a science and so rewarding when you know people love what you made. Being one of 14 brothers and sisters and being known as your dads master chef when it came to making cookies was a pride I still carry today. I have always enjoyed baking and over the past 10 years I have become the primary cook in our house. I love cooking for my family and our friends. I have invented my own vodka sauce, my version of Zuppa de Pesce (Italian fish soup) for Christmas dinner and a favorite of all my friends, Spicy shrimp! I am also a funnel cake nut. I help out at St. Pascal's annual church carnival and I have a booth where I and several friends from the baseball league make and sell funnel cakes and homemade Italian ice. Come to the carnival fathers day week and visit me in the food tent. The Banner on our booth says "Tommy Cakes". Once you try my funnel cakes you will crave them every year. And part of the money we make goes to the Portage Park Baseball picnic!