1) City Pensions
Q: Chicago's fire and police pensions are greatly underfunded, and the city is required by the state to make a $550 million payment into the pension funds by the end of 2015. Do you support restructuring the pension systems, inevitably reducing benefits, to put the funds on sound financial footing?
Yes or No: This is a yes and no question.
Please Explain: It is a yes and no question because the solution to the underfunding will be shaped by the Illinois Supreme Court’s decision in the consolidated pension cases that are scheduled to be argued in March, 2015. Odds are that the court will strike down the provisions of SB1 and then it will be unlikely for labor to capitulate to an agreement where they give up something the court might say they have a right to. So we will have to wait and see if restructuring is allowed and if so, to what extent. Ideally, we should be able to strike a compromise with labor and retirees that ensures the financial footing of the fire and police pensions.
Q: Chicago's pension systems for municipal workers and laborers already have been restructured, reducing benefits, but the city has yet to identify where it will find the revenue to sufficiently fund those systems. Under what circumstances would you support a property tax increase to raise the needed revenue for the fire and police pensions and/or the municipal workers and laborers pensions?
As you know, the We Are One coalition of unions has filed a lawsuit to strike down the municipal and laborers restructured pension systems. As said before, the Illinois Supreme Court’s ruling in the pension case will undoubtedly set a precedent as to the pending litigation regarding the Municipal pension systems and will provide direction on what can be legislated without running afoul of the Illinois Constitution’s pension clause.
Additional revenue must be generated but we must look to other areas than property tax for the funding necessary to meet the pension fund obligations. With the huge windfall begin generated by lower gasoline prices, an increase in fuel tax should be considered, as should accessing TIF funds.
2) Chicago Public Schools pensions
Q: Large and growing payments required to keep the Chicago Teachers’ Pension Fund solvent are squeezing CPS' budget, forcing cuts elsewhere and limiting investment. The Chicago Board of Education has increased property taxes, but it is not enough to keep up with the high annual costs. What measures do you support to ensure a solvent retirement system and to improve the district's finances?
We need to focus our current funding on operating an efficient school system and having accountability over its operations. By diverting money to charter school operators, we divert money from public schools and leave so many children behind in neighborhood schools. We need a new vision for neighborhood schools. We must wait to see what the Illinois Supreme Court says in the consolidated pension cases before we embark on attempts at cutting pension benefits for retirees.
Q: In light of the financial issues discussed above, do you support any or all of the following measures, each of which would require, at a minimum, approval by the Illinois Legislature?
* A statewide expansion of the sales tax base to include more consumer services
Yes or No: Yes. Taxing services makes sense and many of our neighboring states tax services.
* A tax on non-Chicago residents who work in the city
Yes or No: Yes, but I have not researched whether it would require a State law to allow it.
* A tax on electronic financial transactions on Chicago’s trading exchanges, known as the “LaSalle Street tax”
Yes or No: Yes, but if we get too greedy, the trading may relocate to a neighboring state.
Please explain your views, if you wish, on any of these three revenue-generating measures.
Q: Do you support hiring more police officers to combat crime and gun violence in Chicago?
Yes or No: Yes.
Please explain: We have too many officers working overtime. Some make enormous
incomes from overtime whether they want to or not. Too many officers have retired and not been replaced. We cannot have red light and speed cameras substitute for good traffic patrols and we need more police officers walking beats.
Q: What legislation in Springfield would you support to try to stem the flow of illegal guns into Chicago?
As a criminal defense attorney for the last 24 years, my view is that there are more than enough laws on the books in Illinois that prohibit the illegal transfer and possession of firearms — they just need to be enforced.
5) Elected school board
Q: An advisory referendum on switching Chicago to an elected school board, rather than an appointed board, is expected to be on the ballot in more than 30 wards on Feb. 24. Currently, the mayor appoints all seven board members and the Schools CEO. Do you support a change to an elected school board?
Yes or No: Yes.
Please explain: My understanding is that Chicago has the only school district in the entire state that does not elect its own school board. That cannot be consistent with a democracy. At a minimum, Chicago voters should decide whether we should shift to an elected school board.
6) Tax-increment financing districts
Q: TIFs are the primary economic development tool of the city. In a TIF district, taxes from the growth in property values are set aside for 23 years to be used for public projects and private development. Do you support increasing the annual TIF surplus that the mayor and the City Council have declared in each of the last few years, money that goes to the schools and other city agencies?
Yes or No: Yes.
Q: What reforms would you propose for the city's TIF program?
Restoring all property tax dollars from TIFs back into CPS.
7) Neighborhood economic development
Q: What would you do as alderman to boost economic development in your ward, and bring jobs to your community? I would work on finding new tenants for the Frederick Cooper lamp factory on Bloomingdale as well as the now defunct Zenith plan. Those two areas were once thriving and now have enormous potential for the 29th ward.
8) Size of the Chicago City Council
Q: The City Council has 50 members, but civic groups and other regularly argue for reducing the size of the Council. What should the size of the Council be? Please provide a specific number. And why?
I am not in favor of changing the number of Alderman. It is difficult enough for an
Alderman to try to serve 50,000 people but it would me much more difficult if the number represented was greater.
9) A Chicago casino
Q: Do you support, in general concept, establishing a gambling casino in Chicago?
Yes or No: No.
Please explain: My understanding is that it would only generate about $25 million in revenue per year and that in my mind is not sufficient to overcome the negatives associated with gambling in a large metropolitan area such as Chicago. With online gambling, and the like, casinos are having a tough time as it is and it does not make sense to put our eggs in that basket.
10) Red light and speed cameras
Q: Does the city have an acceptable number of red light and speed cameras currently, and are they properly employed?
Yes or No: No.
Please explain: The automated cameras have failed in many ways. First, they are not generating nearly the amount of money they were touted to. Second, Redflex was selected as the vendor through a corrupt scheme that has led to indictments and prison for some of the people involved in the scandal. Third, there seems to be some inconsistency in the duration of the yellow light such that the system is unfair. Lastly, a recent study shows that while the cameras have modestly decreased T-Bone accidents, the cameras have actually increased the number of rear end collisions.
11) Ward issues
Q: What are the top three issues in your ward — the ones you talk about most on the campaign trail?
The lethargic delivery of city services. Misuse of TIF funds. Lack of employment.
Chicago Sun-Times Editorial Board questionnaire responses
Office running for: Alderman, 29th Ward
Political/civic background: I have run previously as a candidate in the Democratic Primary in 2014 for State Senate, 39th Legislative District. I have volunteered in GOTV programs in Iowa in the last two presidential elections. I have volunteered on a Congressional campaign canvassing precints. I have worked as a poll watcher in college and have volunteered in the past to circulate petitions for many circuit court judge candidates.
Occupation: Attorney supervisor, law office of the Cook County public defender, homicide task force.
Education: Diploma, Lane Tech H.S.; BA English, IIT; JD II-Chicago Kent College of Law