Candidate for City Council, 20th Ward
Education: Graduate of Northwestern University, Illinois Institute of Technology and Eastern Illinois University
Occupation: Alderman 20th Ward
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.
The best way to enhance revenues is to build the economy. In August 2011, the 20th Ward was awarded HUD's first $30.5 million Choice Neighborhoods Initiative (CNI) grant in response to a powerful proposal put forth by a partnership that included neighborhood leaders and organizations. The CNI award has expanded and accelerated my Woodlawn plans to go beyond housing and attracted other private, philanthropic and public funders. The plan includes upgrading and integrating every aspect of the community from housing to parks, education to public safety, from job creation to improved streetscapes and landscapes. In addition, we were able to secure $5.5 million in grants to homeowners, $1.7 million directly to existing small businesses and tax incentives to manufacturing businesses. Searching for and securing a variety of revenue enhancing options, along with TIF, supplies communities with the needed jobs and income. If used correctly, these funding bases can benefit all Chicago workers and communities. You have to understand that the citizens of Chicago are facing hard economic times, and as a public servant, it is my job to help alleviate that burden whenever possible, not add to it. In recent years, the city's budget has been balanced on the backs of workers with an unprecedented number of furlough days, staff cutbacks and an unwillingness to replace the large number of city workers that are retiring while workloads are increasing. I strongly believe that there are other ways to generate new revenue, and that we must be more exhaustive in our efforts to develop those new revenue streams, including in burgeoning industries as alternative energies and advanced manufacturing. However, I do recognize that the demand for city services continues to grow. As Alderman, I will continue to ensure that city services are being provided in the most fiscally efficient manner possible.
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.
Growth is the key to the funding of the police and fire pension fund. At present, all the proposed solutions are aimed at reducing the pensions of those who put their faith and their money into a pension plan. The shortfall is not the fault of the public servants of the city whose pensions run from a modest $34,000 a year to a still pretty modest $78,000 a year for a retired teacher. Grow the economy, restore full positions to the police force so that there are more contributions into the pension fund, make certain that the investments of the pension funds are sound (the stock market has never been higher, those heights should help pension funding). If taxes are needed, don't use the regressive 'fees' that are currently in place – which the Tribune reported added up to $481 per household per year over the past four years. They place the burden on the working people of the city. Better to use property taxes or income taxes.
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.
TIF is an important economic development tool to encourage development and investment where it would not otherwise occur. However, I believe that the TIF program is in need of serious reform. Part of the process for the improvement of the TIFs is to require more citizen engagement in the early stages of concept development and overall planning. I believe that the City can make adjustments to the TIF system that could provide both immediate and long-term relief for cash-starved taxing bodies in Chicago, including such measures as allowing older TIF districts to be dissolved, if necessary, before the end of their 23 year life span, or indexing the frozen tax baseline to inflation, so the taxing bodies dependent on this revenue can keep pace throughout the life of the TIF as their costs increase. As to the reduction of TIF districts, I believe that such a decision should made after careful evaluation as to whether the funds are truly being appropriated to "blighted" or "conservation" areas, staying true to the original purpose of TIF. Finally and most importantly, any spending of City dollars, TIF or otherwise, must be a part of a transparent budget process. TIF budgeting and, in particular, the subsidies given to various entities within TIF districts, has occurred behind closed doors for too long. As our elected representatives, the City Council must be given a larger role in the process with strong public participation.
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.
Schools as Tools – The school closure plan disproportionally affected at-risk children in underserved communities. In the 20th Ward alone, the closings displaced 3,330 students. I strongly agree with repurposing schools for the benefit of the community. I am leading efforts now to begin discussions, involving residents and other stakeholders, to offer suggestion on successful adaptive reuse of the buildings. GED Chicago – I have established an Education Task Force in the 20th Ward, brought in reading programs to advance the comprehension of kindergarten and first grade students. I have worked on the expansion of Early Childhood Development and expanded GED programs in the communities. While I strongly agree with encouraging the obtaining of GED, I also understand that the best way to enhance opportunities for our youth is to build the economy. We must grow and diversify the economy so that our youth have real opportunities. It Takes a City – Expanding the SAFE Children program is a great idea. I have established a youth track team, re-established youth basketball, afterschool programs, sponsored numerous youth sports programs and college tours for 20th ward youth but we cannot stop here. Innovation Houses – I have supported more than 500 new units of housing developments. There has been more than $200 million invested in housing rehabilitation in the 20th ward. While I am in support of new innovative housing, I believe that we must continue to institute programs that reclaim the foreclosed and abandoned homes that still remain in our city. eBay Chicago – How property is used in a given neighborhood is a community issue and should have community involvement. There are a number of existing programs that's attempting to address this issue. Similar to the adaptive reuse of school buildings, we have to present a variety of reuse options for these properties. City in a Garden - In the 20th Ward we have established farmers markets, urban farms and community garden. Many lots are contaminated and clean-up is expensive. We encourage city gardens but also understand that its not as easy as many may think. Oases in the jobs desert – I agree with this concept. My priorities have always been increasing employment, education and housing opportunities in my ward and the area. Over the past years, working with others in the community we have brought more than 3,500 youth summer and 550 permanent jobs to the ward. We must continue to explore a variety of options that will increase opportunities Kids and careers – Exposing kids to lessons in leadership, discipline and responsibility are vital to shaping their future. Both mentoring and visibility is important. We must invest our time and resources into our youth by creating programs that can link their curiosity about the world to career paths that are attainable. HUBS and STEMS – Interesting concept that can help small businesses and offer a variety of career options to youth Mutual of Chicago – I agree and encourage its development in the 20th Ward
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.
Ethics and oversight are key to the effective operation of municipal government and to the public's trust. All forms of government require an independent office dedicated to ensuring honesty and integrity by rooting out waste, inefficiency, corruption, fraud, and other misconduct.
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 purpose of education is to educate a populace of critical thinkers who are capable of shaping a just and equitable society in order to lead good and purpose-filled lives. This is one of the many reasons why improving local school and education of our children has been a priority for my administration. I have established an Education Task Force in the 20th Ward, brought in reading programs to advance the comprehension of kindergarten and first grade students. I have worked on the expansion of Early Childhood Development, which includes complete family services and support, and has also expanded GED programs in the communities. I fought against the proposed closings of 13 schools in the 20th Ward. Before and when CTU went on strike, I wrote letters of support, held community meetings to come up with strategies to keep our schools open, walked the picket lines with the educators in my district and encourage residents to have their voice heard by contacting Chicago Public Schools directly. Schools are the backbone of healthy communities. We should be working to make these schools better, The school closure plan disproportionally affected at-risk children in underserved communities. In the 20th Ward alone, the closings displaced 3,330 students. In order to better use the city's already available resources and keep local public schools open, I cosponsored a resolution calling for a moratorium on opening new charter schools. As community leaders, we should be encouraging better school attendance, not instituting educational barriers. That starts with a realistic approach to evaluating the city's educational assets, not simply trying to save money on the backs of working families.
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?
As I previously mentioned, the 20th Ward was awarded HUD's first $30.5 million Choice Neighborhoods Initiative (CNI) grant in response to a powerful proposal put forth by a partnership that included neighborhood leaders and organizations. The CNI award has expanded and accelerated my Woodlawn plans to go beyond housing and attracted other private, philanthropic and public funders. The plan includes upgrading and integrating every aspect of the community from housing to parks, education to public safety, from job creation to improved streetscapes and landscapes. In addition, we were able to secure $5.5 million in grants to homeowners, $1.7 million directly to existing small businesses and tax incentives to manufacturing businesses. Searching for and securing a variety of revenue enhancing options, supplies the community with the needed jobs and income.
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 voted to increase the city's minimum wage and will continue to support legislation that will increase the quality of living for all residents. My priorities have always been increasing employment, education and housing opportunities in my ward and the area. Over the past years, working with others in the community we have brought more than 3,500 youth summer and 550 permanent jobs to the ward, created or rehabbed more than 500 units of housing, and brought new resources to our schools, including expanding the Early Childhood Development and GED programs. I will continue to work with a host of organizations, civic groups, legislators and individuals to create a level playing field for all Chicago residents.
Q: Should the Lucas Museum of Narrative Art be built at the proposed location on Chicago's lakefront? Please explain.
The Lucas Museum will be a great addition to Chicago's Museum campus. I am not loving the 1st design but I believe it will be redesigned. I also believe other lake front location, specifically on the south side, should have received more serious consideration. However the challenge in this situation is the balancing of private investment and the public's interests. We have to explore better means of checks and balances to ensure that all voices are heard in the decision making process.
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 think the safety of our citizens is of the utmost importance and having a fully staffed police force should be at the top of the list. I do support realigning beats to increase safety in higher crime neighborhoods. As a former police officer, I've seen first-hand the trauma crime and violence can bring to a community. However, I also believe that we must balance this by introducing and expanding programs that help our most vulnerable youth and prevent them from moving toward crime. During my tenure I have successfully implemented • E.A.V.I: (Expanded Anti-Violence Initiative) launched in Englewood as a pilot program that resulted in a 28% drop in public violence • Added 26 law enforcement cameras across the ward and invested in a pilot program to visually patrol and dispatch • Organized West Woodlawn Task Force for strategic action on safety issues • Supported new legislation that makes three-year penalties mandatory for gang members caught carrying guns • Worked with D.A.R.E. and Ceasefire to promote safety programs in and out of school, along with safety committees in Woodlawn, Englewood and Back of the Yards
Q: Do you support Chicago's traffic light camera program? Please explain.
There are serious flaws in Chicago's traffic light camera program that has not only garner the negative attention of me and my fellow council members but has also sparked anguish by the residents of the city. The disproportionate program is in great need of reform that should be centered around the safety of citizens and not enhancing the revenue of the City. We have to examine this program and create a better product for all Chicago residents
Q: Should Chicago reduce the number of aldermen in 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?
My priorities have always been increasing employment, education and housing opportunities in my ward and the area. Over the past years, working with others in the community we have brought more than 3,500 youth summer and 550 permanent jobs to the ward, created or rehabbed more than 500 units of housing, and brought new resources to our schools, including expanding the Early Childhood Development and GED programs. After years of neglect and in partnerships with residents, businesses and institutions in our ward, we have accomplished much. From the $300 million invested in infrastructure improvements such as in water lines, sewers, streets, parkways and lights to the hundreds of new and rehabbed homes going up throughout the ward. From the increasing public safety and decreasing crime and violence to the creating innovative economic development – our partnerships are making the difference. My experience includes the development of new programs for youth and new market rate and affordable housing. It includes standing up for legislation to reduce foreclosures, to increasing the availability of adult trauma centers. It includes understanding public budgeting, my budgeting background in the Chicago Police Department and managing the current budget and reducing the deficit to attracting new businesses. It includes improving local schools and increasing public safety. The citizens of Chicago are facing hard economic times, and as a public servant, it is my job to help alleviate that burden whenever possible, not add to it. As Alderman, I will continue to ensure that city services are being provided in the most fiscally efficient manner possible to continue to provide the optimal delivery of services. While I am proud of our accomplishments much remains to be done to address the needs and potential of the 20th Ward. I look forward to the next four years to ensure that we can continue the strong alliance we have built to continue the progress and keep moving forward.
Q: Please tell us something about yourself that would surprise us.
I was invited to a Free Agent Tryout for the New York Jets after my senior year at Eastern Illinois University.