Crain’s asked the candidates running for mayor in 2019 about pensions, ethics, jobs, education and more.
BUDGET AND FINANCES
Chicago has imposed more than $500 million in new taxes in recent years, yet faces hundreds of millions of dollars more if the city’s pension funds are going to begin paying off unfunded liabilities. To get there and meet other needs, indicate whether you favor or oppose a “LaSalle Street” tax on financial transactions, an employment or “head” tax, a transfer tax on the sale of some or all residential buildings, and a payroll tax on employment of non-Chicagoans within the city.
The city’s finances are broken but we can’t afford to balance our budget on the backs of residential homeowners. We need new revenue and strategies to give us some breathing room. I’m open to new sources of revenue (see below), but only those that won’t do harm to our overall growth. I am open to discussing the so-called commuter tax, but I oppose the “LaSalle Street” tax, since it could inhibit growth in an industry important to Chicago’s long-term strength.
Do you favor or oppose creation of a Chicago gambling casino or legal sale of marijuana for recreational use to provide revenues?
The new Governor and State Legislature has made it clear they will legalize recreational marijuana. Any portion of the revenue generated by the tax that is dedicated to the City of Chicago should be directed to paying down unfunded pension liabilities.
Under what circumstances would you favor an increase in the property tax—the tax rate and/or the gross levy?
Under no circumstances. The property tax has been increased enough. Residential homeowners in this city have been asked for too much for too long. A property tax increase would be a course of last resort as far as I am concerned. Again, we cannot solve our financial problems on the backs of residential property owners. Doing so perpetuates our existing cycle of relocation.
Would you continue, abolish or alter the city’s tax-increment financing system and, if the latter, how?
TIFs can be a valuable and effective economic tool when used responsibly – and to this end, they should continue to be used. The use of TIF revenues for specific projects which, in turn, increase property tax receipts is a smart fiscal policy. However, if TIF districts are used to hijack money from other revenue-strapped arms of the government and fly under the radar of most taxpayers, the program becomes unfair and unwise.
TIF districts should be used to support development in areas where such development would not otherwise occur — and they should be shut down when the main projects in the districts are completed. TIFs cause problems when they are used to support developments that are commercially viable without the use of TIF dollars — and when this occurs the City, our schools, parks, etc. are being denied an important and necessary source of revenue.
The City has not published a comprehensive policy that would govern the establishment of TIF districts and oversight of TIF expenditures. Moreover, taxpayers have not been provided with an easy means to access information about the TIF process or to evaluate the performance of the City’s TIF investment.
The city’s TIF program needs to be reviewed from top-to-bottom to ensure affected communities are properly involved, appropriate controls are in place and money from taxing bodies are being properly diverted to help under-served constituents and communities.
Currently, one in four Chicago properties is located within a TIF district. Due to the lack of transparency surrounding the TIF program, a moratorium should be placed on TIF expansion and creation until this review has occurred and new rules have been promulgated that ensure transparency and accountability.
Should city employees and annuitants be required to contribute more toward and/or accept lesser benefits as part of stabilizing pension finances?
Pensioners and city employees have done what has been asked of them, including contributing into their pension funds. It is city leaders who have broken their promises. I would work within the collective bargaining process to explore concessions for future employees but would oppose changing any existing benefits.
Where in city government do you see the possibility for significant spending cuts? Please be specific.
Our priorities have to be public safety and education first. Everything else is fair game.
Should the city consider further asset privatizations, like that of the Chicago Skyway?
No – the Chicago Skyway and Parking Meter privatizations have been a disaster for this city.
Will your budget plans be contingent on receiving additional state aid?
Yes. Chicago is the economic engine of Illinois. The budget crisis is a once-in-a-generation problem that needs to be addressed so it does not further weigh down economic growth for the entire region. It’s entirely appropriate to ask the state for help.
Should the city issue bonds to pay pension costs?
I am not in favor of issuing pension bonds because with the near term market volatility, I would not be willing to gamble taxpayer money. I would only consider a pension bond if the federal government would avail Chicago its full faith and credit – even if only for pension obligations for first responders.
Will you keep the city’s red-light-camera fine system?
Let’s be honest: this system was put in place to raise revenue, not to promote public safety. At the very least, the public should be given warnings prior to the imposition of these significant fines. The program should be reviewed and reevaluated in its entirety.
ETHICS AND GOVERNANCE
Should term limits be imposed by law on elected city officials? If so, how many terms on which officials?
I have always supported term limits with two terms for mayor and two to three terms for aldermen.
Should state law make it illegal to run for one office within a certain period, say a year, of being elected to another?
Yes. Having special elections to fill seats are costly to taxpayers. Also, it’s not fair to voters to have their decision basically put in the hands of executives and party leaders instead of having their voice at the ballot box shortchanged for someone’s personal ambition. If you don’t really want the office then give up the advantages of incumbency and let the voters decide.
Should the authority of the city’s inspector general be increased and, if so, how?
Yes. The same authority over city employees should apply to the City Council.
What type of restrictions on lobbying and employment would you impose on former members of your administration?
I support a ban of AT LEAST two years from the time of leaving the administration and lobbying the city.
What types of limits should be imposed on campaign fundraising? Will you follow them even if they are not enacted into law?
I believe in total transparency in contributions and that serious consideration should be given to public financing of campaigns.
Should candidates for city office be required to disclose their income tax returns?
In light of the recent charges leveled against Finance Committee Chairman Ed Burke, are changes needed not only within that committee operation but also vis-à-vis the practice of “aldermanic privilege”?
I support City Council reforms but the aldermen are the voices of the people they serve and I believe they should retain aldermanic privilege to determine what is best for the constituents that they directly serve.
Should a remap of city wards be turned over to an outside body or stay with the City Council?
I would be open to the prospect of placing a remap of city wards in the hands of an outside body.
What other steps would you take to end local government’s culture of corruption?
I propose a ban on any outside income for members of the City Council and the senior staff of department agencies.
Should the members of the Board of Education, now selected by the mayor, instead be elected? If yes, please indicate whether it should be the entire board or just some members, and how you would keep special interests from dominating the process.
I support an elected Chicago school board made up of seven members – six elected by districts and one appointed by the mayor. The mayoral appointee must be the parent or guardian of a child currently enrolled in CPS at the time of the appointment. I believe this will bring greater accountability.
With the city’s population and CPS enrollment continuing to decline, should some schools periodically be closed?
Chicago Public Schools should not start with the first response of closing the school. We should focus on what is driving the loss of students and this analysis should figure prominently into the overall strategy. We have to take a broader look at the demographics of the surrounding area and engage in vigorous conversations with parents and community members. CPS must recognize that schools are not only places of learning, but often anchors in the communities in which they are located. There should be a 10 and 20 year strategic plan formulated, which takes into account the population and demographic data.
Should schools that no longer are needed for K-12 purposes be put to some other use and, if so, what?
Absolutely. The uses may vary. For instance, I’m proposing using five schools on the South and West sides to assume the training functions of the Fire and Police Academy currently proposed by Mayor Emanuel. Other uses could be for job training or to house nonprofits that focus on neighborhood safety and mental health, and police substations.
Should all schools offer basically the same programming with the same resources, or should the current system—i.e., a mix of schools separately focused on curricula such as college prep, IB or vocational ed, while others are “neighborhood” schools—be continued or changed? If changed, how?
Every neighborhood should have a viable public school option. Additional options such as those listed are great, but they should not negatively impact neighborhood schools.
Would you encourage or discourage the formation of additional charter schools in Chicago?
Charters have received mixed reviews. Over 75,000 students are enrolled in Charters in Chicago. They should be subject to same residency and administrative compensation as non-charters.
In the event that additional aid from Springfield is limited, how would you fund CPS improvements?
I have a variety of ideas on creating new revenue, including a new entertainment district in the South Works site to include a casino; a passenger facility charge at Chicago airports; a renegotiation of the parking meter deal; and the introduction of sports betting. Paying down our unfunded pension liabilities would have the effect of making borrowing cheaper and make funds more available for improvements.
Does the city need more police?
Yes, and the numbers tell the story. The current administration did not properly staff the Chicago Police Department and let attrition take its toll, particularly in the detective ranks.
Police Department staffing levels have been decimated which has directly contributed to the impact of crime in communities across Chicago. Chicago lags the nation in clearance rates, for murders and shootings. This is a direct result of significant cuts to the Detective Division. Solving murders and gun crimes cannot be done without adequate investigative manpower and the Detective Division must be restored so that violent crime can be investigated in a timely manner. Too many cases are languishing because of the manpower shortage.
Once restored to appropriate levels, the division can be supplemented by a pool of retired “detectives emeritus.” This pool should be retained by the State’s Attorney’s Office and available upon request of the detective division for specific cases.
City budgeting must be prioritized to hire more officers in order to restore a more responsive and accountable Chicago Police Department. I would implement regular monthly reviews of appropriated numbers, not just before an election.
Do you support and will you implement the currently pending federal court consent decree governing operation of the Chicago Police Department?
The consent decree will be in place when the next mayor is sworn in and I will implement it and seek to get out from under its requirements as expeditiously as possible.
Should the department continue with work toward opening a new police training academy?
Yes, but not as currently proposed. I propose a plan to repurpose five vacant Chicago Public Schools buildings as new community-based training academies for the city’s fire and police departments, a proposal that could save the city up to $100 million and provide a catalyst for investment in economically-depressed neighborhoods on the city’s south and west sides.
The current plan for a $100 million training academy completely ignores the fiscal health of the city at a time when our finances are broken. We need to invest in improved police training but we also must be smarter with our resources and more transparent with the process. My plan ensures that public safety, economic development and fiscal responsibility go hand-in-hand.
The proposed school sites were selected because they are located in newly-created Federal Opportunity Zones, which offer tax incentives to spur investment. Repurposing the vacant buildings in these zones also will help attract additional investment.
The five shuttered Chicago Public Schools buildings proposed in the plan could either be refurbished by the city at a much lower cost or be publicly auctioned, whereby the purchaser could refurbish the property and lease it back to the city. In either scenario, the move would benefit public safety and spark revitalization efforts. Additionally, the city would save an estimated $400,000 annually in costs associated with the five buildings.
I would direct all cost savings to cover unfunded pension liabilities for first responders.
Should “restorative justice” programs play a role in the city’s public safety strategy and, if so, what role?
Yes. Restorative justice programs for nonviolent or first time offenders are a crucial cornerstone to public safety. Effective restorative justice programming diverts cases from the felony system and saves taxpayer money. And they provide individuals with the opportunity to avoid a conviction and stay out of the criminal justice system.
Should the city fund block clubs and other neighborhood groups as part of an anti-crime strategy?
We need to do everything we can to assist in the development of community and police partnerships, including opportunities for mentoring, extracurricular activity and jobs programs. These teams could come together in any variety of settings in schools, parks, community gardens and sporting competitions. I would seek public funding for such programming.
Does a “code of silence” exist with the department? If so, what would you do about it?
I do not believe that there is a code of silence in the police department. The actions of some officers have harmed the reputation of the entire department. Without question, there has been a breakdown of trust between police and community and we need to do everything we can to repair this.
A huge contributing factor to this problem is the lack of confidence that many citizens have in the police department. Crimes are not being effectively investigated and solved and that is frustrating for a lot of people, especially the victims of violent crime and their families.
In an effort towards more authentic community policing, I propose a Neighborhood Immersion Pilot Program that would create teams of sergeants and beat officers that remain on the same beat for a period of 30 months. Having the same team in the same neighborhood for an extended period of time would create the consistency and familiarity that is currently lacking between officers and the communities they serve. With this immersion, officers will be better able to gather the intelligence necessary for solving crimes. By increasing the clearance rates and establishing a stable presence in these communities, the relationship and trust between officers and the communities they serve will improve.
We also have to keep in mind that law enforcement is but one component of public safety. Positive, effective programs need to be developed for youth in our neighborhoods that focus on underlying crime issues of youth unemployment, lack of educational opportunity, and lack of hope. I propose new programs such as one-on-one mentoring with CPD officers; increased CPD-Community teams working together at schools, parks, community gardens, sports teams and competitions, and other programs to build interaction and engagement between Chicago youths and the Chicago Police Department.
Have too many limits been put on the department, limits that hurt law enforcement? Be specific.
A department-wide lack of training and resources has limited the ability of officers to do their jobs as effectively as possible.
What is your position on tightened state and federal gun laws?
I support background checks on new purchases and transfers of firearms. I support efforts to crack down on “straw purchases.” And I support a federal ban on armor-piercing ammunition.
Should the state license gun shops and require monitoring cameras in sales areas?
I am unclear on how state licensing would be different than federal licensing but willing to explore. I would support monitoring cameras in sales areas.
Should Eddie Johnson be retained as police superintendent?
I have not taken a position on the retention of Superintendent Johnson and I don’t think it would be appropriate to do so in the context of a campaign. It’s one of the most important personnel decisions a mayor would make and I don’t think it should be made without full analysis and evaluation after the election.
I respect Superintendent Johnson and his career with CPD but regardless of who the Superintendent is — the policing policies and strategies of Rahm Emanuel have failed miserably and they need to be addressed with expediency by the next mayor of this city.
Has the rapid growth of jobs in the central area been a good thing for Chicago?
Growth in our central area has been a net positive, but we need to train our focus on creating family-supporting jobs in our neighborhoods, with a focus on small businesses.
Employment lately has grown much more quickly in the central area than in many outlying neighborhoods. Is that mostly due to misuse of city resources, or more a function of the way today’s economy works?
Part of this is the continued downward trend in manufacturing and the changes in corporate workforce which favor downtown siting. But there can be no doubt that Chicago has neglected neighborhood small business.
Would your focus be on creating more jobs in neighborhoods, improving transit links so that neighborhood residents can more easily access downtown jobs, or something else?
My focus would be on creating more jobs in our city’s neighborhoods, with an emphasis on small businesses.
Should the city continue to make major efforts to attract corporate headquarters, such as Amazon’s HQ2—efforts that include tax incentives?
Our efforts should be focused on enhancing neighborhood small businesses and attracting and retaining Chicago residents.
What is your position on rent control and mandatory community-benefit agreements on major developments—steps that some say would curb gentrification?
I support community-benefit agreements, to be evaluated on a case-by-case basis.
Should the city continue the system in which downtown developers that get zoning bonuses and other benefits pay into a fund used to incent neighborhood projects?
I do not support incenting developers to help create mayoral slush funds.
What role would new federal Opportunity Zone tax credits play in your development policies?
I support the use of federal Opportunity Zones to spur development in economically-depressed communities. My plan to halt the construction of the costly fire and police academy relies on repurposing shuttered school properties located in Opportunity Zones, a move that I believe will spark investment in those communities.
Should the city pursue or drop work on a series of large developments pursued by the outgoing mayor, including The 78 property at Clark and Roosevelt, Lincoln Yards, the River District east of Chicago along the river, and the Michael Reese/truck yard near McCormick Place?
These developments should not be dropped but they need to be reevaluated by the next mayor to ensure that they make sense for the affected communities and our city as a whole.
Read more at Crain’s Chicago.