WHY I’M RUNNING
The 39th Ward is enormously diverse, with strong social networks and a thriving small business community. But like many areas of the city, it faces challenges. We must strengthen our neighborhood schools, recruit and retain additional businesses, and make our streets safer. I'm the only person in this race who has taken these challenges head on in my career.
Strong neighborhood schools are the heart of our community, something I understand better than my opponents. As my parents battled addiction and incarceration, my neighborhood school was my sanctuary. That’s why I ran for and won a seat on the Local School Council (LSC) at Roosevelt High School (RHS) and helped lead a positive turnaround while building capacity at our neighboring CPS. At RHS I helped select a new principal, built the Friends of RHS to help raise resources for the school, and formed an Advisory Council to their Career and Technical Education programs. These efforts lifted RHS out of probation for the first time in 15 years to a level 2+. My peers elected me Chairperson of our Education Committee on the Northwest Side. As Chair, I lead efforts to vertically align our neighborhood schools and organize workshops for education leaders and parents to share resources, best practices, and strengthen fundraising efforts. Among the candidates for 39th Ward Alderman, my experience with our neighborhood schools is unmatched.
This is what I would suggest to strengthen our local schools:
- Allow individual schools to build upon their existing assets. At RHS, we highlight the strength of our Career and Technical Education Programs (CTE) that prepare students by awarding certificates for in-demand employment opportunities upon graduation. College enrollment and acceptance rates are rising at RHS, but college is not the only option for a fulfilling and productive career, and many of our students do not pursue college immediately after high school. Our CTE certificates have helped us retain many nontraditional students and recruit additional students with an entrepreneurial spirit.
- Build "Friends Of" nonprofit organizations at individual schools. These impactful groups help fund the marketing of a school’s assets, increase parent engagement, and give local businesses an opportunity to get involved. As the Chairperson of the Education Committee on the Northwest Side I helped form these groups and hosted workshops to encourage networking and sharing of best practices.
- CPS to vertically align their neighborhood K-12 schools. Making consistent improvements across all levels of education will attract and keep students in their local schools from K through 12. As I go door-to-door and meet with 39th Ward residents, families consistently tell me they want a strong and safe elementary school, grade school and high school in their community. Vertical alignment will boost enrollment and retain families in Chicago.
- Elect our school board I fully support an elected school board. As Chairperson of the Education Committee of the Northwest Side, I’ve worked with Representative Robert Martwick to educate LSCs and PTOs about HB 1774, which would divide the city into 20 elected school board districts. This would ensure adequate minority and community representation and limit the threat of outside special interests. This bill also calls for an elected Board President. A city-wide race for this position will ensure widespread media coverage, thereby helping to educate the electorate on the issues of the board and help the public make informed decisions in their local school communities.
Like many neighborhoods in Chicago, crime is a major concern in our community. Last summer, four young men lost their lives to gun violence in 39th Ward neighborhoods. One was shot a block from my apartment, another had relatives at APCC, and another graduated from RHS. I take crime in my community personally. My opponents may talk about crime in our communities, but I have taken direct action to prevent it. My approach to crime reduction is twofold: prevention through intervention and deterrence through enforcement.
- I’ll connect at-risk constituents to resources in Chicago’s nonprofit community. The mentoring program I founded for 15 at-risk boys at Volta Elementary Schools is a good example of taking a positive and proactive approach to reducing violent crime among young people. Organizations like Year Up, where I served as a mentor for 2 years, help at-risk youth obtain the skills to secure employment at Fortune 500 companies in Chicago. The One Summer Chicago Program is designed to keep kids off the streets and on a path to employment. For residents re-entering society after incarceration, organizations like the Jane Addams Resource Corporation (JARC) and the Albany Park Community Center train adults for in-demand fields like CNC machining, welding, CDL truck driving, and much more. Equipping previous offenders with adequate job skills reduces recidivism and demonstrates a commitment to families and strong communities.
- I’ll work to reduce the number of illegal guns in Chicago. I support increased sentences on crimes committed with illegal guns, illegal arms sales, and possession of illegal weapons in public facilities as a deterrent to gun violence.
- I’ll advocate for more police and more training. I will work alongside District Commanders to ensure they have enough beat officers to adequately patrol the Ward. I will also advocate for more training for all of our first responders in addressing issues of mental illness and addiction.
For our Ward and our city to be successful, we must support our small businesses. I’ve served our local chambers of commerce for the past six years as a board member and volunteer. To help recruit new business, I’ve built vacant storefront reports, founded two street fests in 39th Ward neighborhoods, and visited business incubators to lobby businesses on behalf of our neighborhoods. To retain businesses, I’ve helped them recruit job seekers in our Workforce Development Programs at APCC and students in our Career and Technical Education Programs at RHS. My opponents will tell you they have plans and ideas for economic development in the Ward; I have an established record of getting it done.
- Support local businesses. I support providing local chambers of commerce, economic development groups and city delegate agencies with robust consumer data and market analysis to assist in marketing neighborhood business hubs, helping business acquire new customers and attracting new businesses.
- Generate vacancy indices for each commercial district in the ward. Provide square footage, leasing contact information and advertised rent for all vacant storefronts and for sale properties in the ward to provide to prospective businesses.
- Simplify the permit process. The Alderman should not be required to sign off on building or driveway permits, provided the plans meet zoning and safety requirements. This unnecessary step slows business opening and growth and provides an opportunity for official corruption. I would advocate that building permits be approved by the relevant city departments with notice given to Alderman.
FUNDING CITY SERVICES
To make our city a stronger place to do business and raise a family, we must adequately fund essential services such as schools, public safety, and infrastructure. To do this, we need to raise revenue and expand the tax base while holding the line on further property tax increases.
Here are my suggestions for expanding our tax base.
- I’m an advocate for a state-wide Graduated Income Tax (GIT). This tax must guarantee that municipalities will have a greater share of the LGDF. According to The Civic Federation, the State of Illinois FY 2019 budget estimates personal and corporate income tax collections of $21.4 billion. Only 5.8%—or $1.25 billion—will be distributed back to municipalities. I would advocate that 25% ($5.3 billion) of those funds be distributed back to the municipalities from which they came.
- I support the sale of underutilized city owned property. For example, two football fields of mostly vacant parking lots are located outside of the 17th District Police Station in the 39th Ward is. While these lots lie empty, neighbors suffer from high property taxes, lack of affordable housing, and shortages of places to shop. With community input and oversight, the city needs to fast track the development of this land into mixed-use taxable parcels (ideally a blend of residential and commercial properties). Developed land would alleviate property tax pressure, commercial stores would generate new sales tax, and new employees would not only be gainfully employed, but would be paying income tax.
- I support the legalization, heavy regulation, and high taxation of recreational marijuana. The state has already decriminalized the possession of marijuana, but the sale of it remains a crime. Illinois needs to legalize the sale of this substance so the state can acquire legal revenue from what is currently an illegal endeavor.
- I also support expanded gaming in Chicago. Our current casino policy serves as a form of protectionism for suburban and downstate casinos, and Chicago suffers from the lack of revenue a casino would inevitably bring. The creation of casinos in Chicago would create good paying construction jobs and make available many entry level service industry jobs. This again grows our base through increased sales, income, and property taxes.
PUBLIC EMPLOYEE PENSIONS
Chicago’s pension liabilities have placed our city in a fiscal crisis, which bold thinking and political courage are required to fix. As the city’s debt has grown, it has imposed increasing tax burdens on all of us and limited our ability to adequately fund services. But threatening the retirement security of middle-class workers who dedicated their lives to public service is not a moral solution to the problem. The pension problem is a math problem, and we should use math to solve it. I support changes that will modernize our system and ensure that we are paying back the debt in a way that minimizes the burden on taxpayers.
- Reduce our long-term liabilities by allowing the city to offer discounted benefit buyouts. This would allow us to reduce unfunded future liabilities, making our long-term obligations more manageable.
- Provide a one-time cash influx into the pension fund through a pension obligation bond. The city should not use debt to avoid obligations. However, bonding could be an effective one-time tool to manage the repayment of debt. The police and fire pension systems have funded ratios of approximately 24%, and these funds can’t generate enough returns at this level to pay pension checks. Therefore, we are selling off principal to pay pensions. A sustained recession would render these funds insolvent. Instead, the city can and should use bonds to add a large influx of cash into the systems. If a recession hits, this will insulate the pension funds against large sell-offs and preserve the solvency. When the market returns, funds will have the assets to capitalize on returns. Bonding can also be used to level out the pension payment schedule, ensuring the city can meet its future obligations.
- Promote a long-term sustainable solution in the form of a progressive income tax at the state level. I’ve been working closely with Representative Martwick on his progressive revenue plan. I will work with my colleagues and other municipalities to ensure that a portion of the revenue is returned to municipalities through the Local Government Distributive Fund (LGDF). Higher revenues from a progressive tax should be used to fund pension obligations.
- Support a tier 3 pension system. Traditional pension plans are obsolete because they dramatically reduced pension benefits for those individuals who work fewer than 30 years at one company. My generation does not find a job after college and keep it until retirement. Millennials spend 3 to 7 years in one position, and then move to another. A tier 3 pension system, with a 401k style complement, would give members of the next generation the portability they need, the retirement security they deserve, and the ability to help care for both aging parents and children. Additionally, this type of system would save the city money on the funding side and remove barriers that currently exist for those who wish to pursue a career in public service.
The TIF program must be reformed. While TIF is a very effective tool for economic development, it has been regularly abused by the city. TIF law must be reformed to ensure that taxpayer dollars do not become windfalls for wealthy developers. I am encouraged by the work of the Progressive Reform Caucus, and would consider other measures as well, including the following:
- Automatic declaration of surplus. TIF districts freeze taxation levels for 23 years, and many are extended for another 23. This locks future generations into deals that may not reflect their current best interests. I suggest raising the percentage of TIF surplus from 25% of the available cash balance in the TIF - after accounting for current and future project commitments and contingencies, revenue volatilities, tax collection losses, and tax liabilities - to 75%, to be distributed back to school and other taxing bodies.
- Changes to the “but for” test. Currently, TIFs operate under the “but for” test (but for the TIF, the development wouldn’t occur). I will advocate for changes to the definition of “blight” to ensure that TIF development is available for truly blighted areas, and not abused by those areas (like the Loop) that are clearly thriving without additional city investment at the expense of those in need.
- Advocacy for the creation of Special Service Areas (SSAs) over TIFs. Unlike TIFs, SSAs are democratically created and locally governed. While I was on the Board of Directors of the North River Commission, we successfully created SSA #60, which is working to clean up the community and offer investment incentives in our local business districts. Critically, SSAs do not siphon off tax revenue that otherwise would have been allocated to schools.