Candidate questionnaires

Placeholder for Walter Burnett, Jr.

Walter Burnett, Jr.

Candidate for City Council, 27th Ward

Walter Burnett, Jr.

Candidate for City Council, 27th Ward

Placeholder for Walter Burnett, Jr.

Education: B.S. Degree, Northeastern Illinois University

Occupation: Alderman

Home: Chicago

Age: Not answered

Past Political/Civic Experience: Not answered

Candidates running for City Council, 27th 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.

I support well-planned budgets that provide the most efficient and highest quality services our city can afford. As we finally move away from the recession, we now have a more stable picture of our city's actual revenues and expenditures. Moving forward, our city government must work to be upfront with the public about the realities of the municipal budget. We need to have a public discussion about what type of services taxpayers want, and how they wish to pay for those services.


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 are working to find a solution that doesn't disproportionately impact those that rely on the pension system. The search for a solution that is amenable to taxpayers, employees, and government is still ongoing. A big factor is the upcoming supreme court decision on the constitutionality of pension benefit modifications. I hope this court decision will help us move forward with a comprehensive strategy for fixing the problem.


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 can't speak to all the uses of TIF dollars across the city, but in my own ward we used TIF dollars to build elementary and high schools, create a new stop on the CTA Green Line, develop green space, assist existing businesses, and attract new businesses. I solicit input from the residents in my ward on the use of these funds. I would prefer that TIF dollars be prioritized in high need wards before being used to support a hotel.


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 think all of the suggestions are valid, and can benefit our city. The idea that impressed me the most was Innovation Houses. Finding an adequate living space is the biggest concern I hear from my residents, especially older residents. This is also an issue I have focused on as Alderman. I would love to see Innovation Houses implemented in the 27th Ward, but think the program should be expanded to all folks, not just young people.


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.

We should always strive to keep elected officials honest and transparent. I support the office of legislative inspector general.


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?

I don't think there is one key to improving our public schools. But I will address school board elections, longer schools, and charter schools. On local school board elections: I don't support electing the school board. Voters have input in their schools when they elect the aldermen and mayor. I'm open to considering changes to the school board because many times they do not take input from the community, but we don't need to be adding more politics to this process. On longer school days: Yes. We should be giving our children the best shot at a quality education and a longer school day gives more time for instruction, activities, and more. And finally, on charter schools: We should increase them. We have made great strides increasing the availability of good schools on the West Side. I was instrumental in opening Westinghouse High School and I laid down an important condition that I believe should apply everywhere: when we open high quality schools, we have to have opportunities for the community. I view my role as not only having more of these opportunities, but again, having them for members of my community.


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?

The answer is simple: TIF incentives. These will help bring even more businesses to the 27th Ward and boost economic development. I think maintaining communication between new employers and local residents is a great way to encourage new employers to hire local 27th Ward residents. In the past, we have done this through a number of job fairs. I will to continue this process, and maybe increase the amount of job fairs annually.


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.

Most definitely, I was on the mayor's Minimum Wage Working Group and voted for the measure. This increase would help a number of 27th Ward residents that work full time jobs but unfortunately still live in poverty.


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

Though I would definitely love to see this project in the 27th Ward, I understand that this project is contingent upon this location and I want to make sure our city doesn't miss out on a great opportunity. It will bring hundreds of millions of dollars in investments and revenues to the city and also attract many new visitors. I hope some of this economic activity can result in jobs for residents of the 27th Ward.


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?

Hire more cops. We have to recognize the lack of resources available to promoting safety. We also need to acknowledge that police cannot do all the work. That's why encourage beats police officers and residents to actively develop relationship with each other. Attending CAPS meeting is a great to start! I attend my neighborhoods CAPS meetings and have relationships with CPS officer in my areas.


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

It depends on the location of the camera and whether or not it will help improve public safety. Above all, I am huge proponent of being fair. I don't want people running red lights, endangering other drivers and pedestrians, but I also want to be fair.


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

No. My community needs effective representation that only comes from smaller wards. We worked for a long time to be able to participate and have a voice in Chicago government, and I don't want to give that up just because some people believe it can save a very small fraction of money in our city's budget. I am still committed to finding other ways to make our government leaner and more efficient, so we can ease the burden on our budget and taxpayers.


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

We also need safer streets so our residents can walk around the neighborhood and kids can play in our parks without fear. Economic development helps with that, and so do good schools. As I said before, we also need more police officers on our streets. I want to focus on bringing more economic development to my ward and continue develop diverse housing, and improve our schools. I hear in my community that there is a lack of affordable housing and job opportunities.


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

I am deacon in church. I visit the state prison one a month and host church services there. I also visit the county jail and juvenile detention.