Candidate for City Council, 44th Ward
Education: High School, Brother Rice B.S., University of Illinois Masters Degree in Hotel Administration, Cornell University
Occupation: Alderman, City of Chicago; Owner, Ann Sather Restaurants
Home: Not answered
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.
Reducing municipal debt needs to be the focus of the City Council moving forward. Instead of new borrowing or refinancing the outstanding bonds, we need to prioritize paying off the bonds we currently have at the maturity date. While borrowing is essential for the city to build new infrastructure and taken on large scale projects, we need to stop borrowing to fund our operating expenses. It won't happen over night but eventually we will begin to restore funding to the areas that need it most. I believe in reducing costs in the city budget wherever possible. We all need to share in the burden of lowering the debt, I support creating more economic efficiencies as we did during the shift to the grid system. One efficiency worth exploring is the consolidation of public safety and streets and sanitation offices. These two departments can work in the same building as a one-stop-shop for a number of city services. Ultimately, we are going to need to work more efficiently to offer the same city services with less people. In the 44th Ward, we have put our ward yard on the market and we are hoping it sells at a high price. The city owns property in some of Chicago's up and coming neighborhoods that we simply don't need. If we consolidate offices and departments, we can sell the property and may even make a profit. We can use this money to pay down our bond obligations and save money each year. Selling the property to private entities also puts those properties back on the property-tax rolls. The sale would generate one-time influxes of capitol that we can use to pay down debt but the sale would generate property tax revenue for years to come. We also need to scale back public investment in projects if they are not necessary. The sorely needed Wrigley Field renovations are being done without taxpayer subsidies but the community will still see the creation of new revenues and their will be hundreds new jobs for the city. It will hurt in the short-run but we need to think about the longevity of our city. Prioritizing paying our municipal debt and limiting future borrowing will help the City find its fiscal footing.
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.
Pension reform needs to happen in our City. Ideally, we will move forward with a compromise but I am realistic in my expectations. We need to begin by retooling retirement plans for new hires, then examine what, if any, reforms we are allowed to implement for current workers. Everything needs to be considered in regards to pension reform and I believe the Supreme Court's decision will help guide us. We need more flexible pension options for new hires who may opt into a 401K system. We need greater flexibility in how we invest our pension funds so that we are getting the greatest return on investment. Finally, we need to reform the rules on double-dipping so that retirees are only receiving one pension from 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.
As chairman of the Economic Development Committee, I have seen how successful TIFs can be. Within the 44th Ward, we have had a TIF that was used to help develop Lincoln, Ashland and Belmont over 20 years ago. That area has transformed into a thriving commercial district, which has led me to decide not to continue the TIF upon its expiration. Since being elected Alderman, we have no new TIFs in the ward, nor have I made any TIF expenditures since being elected Alderman. Despite the various success stories, there are a number of reforms that we need to implement. The TIF process needs to be more transparent so that residents have a greater understanding of how the TIF process works. Chicago residents should understand how and why we use TIFs, where they exist, and what some of the results can be. We need to take a narrow approach to TIFs, ensuring that they are being used in the areas that really need economic development. When a TIF is successful and neighborhoods blossom, the city wins. When we create a TIF in an already thriving commercial district, neighborhoods lose. This type of inequality is what we need to remedy. One way to prevent us from creating unnecessary TIFs is to restrict what percentage of the city can actually be in a TIF. We should also take a look at how we implement accountability metrics for TIF districts. Where are the jobs or new companies that the TIF district was designed to implement.
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.
There are a number of great ideas presented. Using schools as community centers, better educating our workforce, and incentivizing communities to invest in underserved communities are all great ideas that will make Chicago more attractive to businesses. Chicago is a great city with hardworking people. When we couple our determined work-ethic with new educational opportunities, we can create a workforce that can't be matched. Though I caution against mandating businesses pay for their workers continued education, I do believe that we should incentivize and reward that behavior. Using schools as community centers will enable communities across the city to provide new resources to those who need them. We can use the community centers to facilitate extracurricular activities for students, continued learning programs for adults, or social events for seniors. We should do what we can to defer costs where possible, including looking to the community for funding if the community can afford it. Incentivizing companies to invest in underserved areas can generate new economic opportunities in blighted neighborhoods. These new companies can hire local workers and create a new influx of revenue in Chicago's neighborhoods that need it most. When these companies thrive, they will more than make up for the lost tax revenue. When they employ Chicago workers, they will spend more money in the local economy. By better educating our population, becoming more fiscally solvent, and making Chicago more attractive to businesses, we can expand the number of taxpayers and increase city revenue. These should be the first steps in restoring city services to the appropriate levels.
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 Chicago City Council needs one inspector general whose objectives and purviews are clear to Aldermen. There can be a symbiotic relationship between Aldermen and an Inspector General but there need to be more open lines of communication between the two. I believe that Joe Ferguson is the best person for the job.
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?
The 44th Ward is very lucky to have some of the best schools in the City of Chicago. Last week, we learned that all elementary schools received a 1+ Rating. However, instead of investing in 44 for 20+ years, many residents live here until their children are in junior high and then move to the suburbs. I have been working with teachers and administrators at Lakeview High School to give our community a viable neighborhood high school. At Lakeview, we have initiated a new STEM program, which gives students the skills necessary to compete for 21st century jobs. This is making Lakeview more attractive to parents and many families are growing deep roots here in Lakeview. The 44th Ward has remained charter free. Citywide, we need to hold charter schools to the same standards we hold our neighborhood schools. I support the longer school day and the longer school year, more stringent standards for teacher tenure, and incentivizing teacher performance. We need to continue to invest in our schools because when schools improve, neighborhoods turn around. Schools can be powerful forces in the community and we need to continue to give them the support and resources they need.
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?
Dialogue and open lines of communication are key to attracting new businesses and working with existing ones. Within the 44th Ward we are constantly working to attract new retail, restaurants, and shops. We take a very hands-on role in the process. I use tools and zoning approval, to support the new CTA renovations, and have expanded SSAs to get new companies to invest in Lakeview. In the 44th Ward, we have had some major successes this past term. We built St. Joseph's Hospital and expanded Advocate Hospital. These two facilities created new jobs and improved the healthcare quality in our community. We also successfully enticed Mariano's to open a new location in the ward. If elected to another term, I want to work to attract technology and innovation hubs to the area, expand broadband, and rebuild our infrastructure. As the Chairman of the Economic Development Committee, I regularly meet with businesses, not just when they are threatening to leave. This past term, I worked hard to pass the elimination of the head tax so that employers are more attracted to this great city.
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 and appreciate that there was a healthy debate on the topic. I did not vote for Mayor Emanuel's plan to raise the minimum wage to $13/hr. by 2019 because there was a negotiated bill in Springfield that would have made the statewide minimum wage $11/hr. I fear that this ordinance has caused Chicago to be less competitive than we were before, that businesses will move into the suburbs, costing the city vital tax revenue; that this increase could cause a number of small businesses to shut their doors because they cannot compete with their neighbors in the suburbs. I am concerned that these recent changes could result in the loss of entry-level jobs.
Q: Should the Lucas Museum of Narrative Art be built at the proposed location on Chicago's lakefront? Please explain.
I personally do not like the proposed location of the Lucas Museum. I am on the record in the past as being opposed to large-scale development on the lakefront as I want to keep the lakefront free and clear. Museum Campus South would be an interesting location for the Lucas Museum. In addition to the Lucas Museum, Chicago is also in line for the Obama Presidential Museum. These two could be great tourist attractions that generate new revenue for the city. If we put either or both on the Lakefront, I am unsure it will attract any new tourists to new parts of the city. People already visit the downtown to see Millennium Park, Navy Pier, and the Museum Campus. These two world-class tourist attractions could act as a new economic engine on the near South Side.
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 work very closely with our local police and take a hands-on policy in regards to public safety. You can see members of my staff or myself at every CAPS meeting. We take the information from these meetings to work with Area Commanders to identify priorities for public safety. Whether it is a problem business, an uptick in crime, or addressing concerns about bar crawls, I take all public safety concerns seriously. That is why we have added new police officers to the 19th District and established Lakeview's first Entertainment Detail to prevent crime after public events. I believe that keeping our neighborhood clean and sustaining economic development are crucial to preventing crime. I will personally talk with business owners or residents about property maintenance, graffiti, or broken windows if that is needed. Maintaining Lakeview and providing proper city services has helped us keep crime rates low in Lakeview. During a time of consolidation of police districts across the city, I fought to maintain the number of police officers in Lakeview. During my tenure as Alderman, we have built a new 19th District police station and have made Lakeview one of the safest neighborhoods in the entire city.
Q: Do you support Chicago's traffic light camera program? Please explain.
There are a number of reforms we need to implement in regards to the red light program. However, the crash data we have from local red light cameras indicates that they are working to prevent accidents. We have seen significant improvements at Belmont and Lakeshore. When traffic patterns improved and traffic accidents were reduced in the area of Halsted and Belmont, we removed the camera because it was no longer needed. Aldermen need to continually examine where cameras are used and ensure that cameras are used as for legitimate safety purposes. Citywide, we should be exploring longer yellow lights to continue to decrease traffic accidents at our most dangerous intersections.
Q: Should Chicago reduce the number of aldermen in the City Council?
Aldermen are the primary deliverers of services. I am open to the idea of reducing the number of aldermen but I want to ensure that they have the ability to be effective in delivering city services and having the tools to ensure that wards continue to improve and that neighbors are proud to live in the neighborhoods. It is important that Aldermen have the ability to connect with their constituents and voice their concerns. Constituents need to be adequately represented in the City Council. We need to preserve the ability of an Alderman to get things done.
Q: What is your highest priority for improving your ward? What is the greatest concern you hear from residents of your ward?
This past term, CNN and Forbes Magazine named Lakeview as one of the best neighborhoods in the country. I am committed to maintaining the quality of life that Lakeview residents have come to expect. The greatest concerns I hear from ward residents center around public safety, quality of our schools, and overall neighborhood vitality. That is why I work so hard to keep Lakeview safe, keep our schools as some of the highest ranked in the city, and continually work to bring new stores in and promote our vibrant small business community I believe my constituents want the City of Chicago to get our fiscal house in order. That's why I want the City to focus on paying down our municipal debt and making Chicago more attractive to businesses. As Alderman, I share these same concerns. I want Lakeview residents to have a community and a city that they are always proud of.
Q: Please tell us something about yourself that would surprise us.
I personally empty overflowing garbage baskets in the neighborhood. I have been known to act as a one-man street sweeper – clearing sewers, cleaning curbs, and picking up leaves around parked cars. P.S. I really am a Cubs fan!