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?


Please explain:

A: Right now people are paying more for less. Police officers I have talked to

now suggest they are getting 80 cents on the dollar, forcing them to pull

more from their salary to create separate retirement accounts. This is an

outrage, and it's a problem that comes from the lack of leadership down

state and in our city. I'd look at restructuring city spending and putting

more pressure on Springfield. I think there are way too many pet projects

and secret accounts in Chicago, this need to be cleaned up. If the city

looked at it's spending we could tighten things up and find the additional

funding needed to fix the pension problem. This also needs to happen

with financial help from Springfield, something that also continues to

get pushed down the road. I'd also like to see CPD pay for the equipment

officers need for patrol, so we need to fix financial issue like these sooner

rather than later.

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?

I would not support raising property taxes until I felt like the city wasn't

holding any money back. Priorities in spending need to reflect what

Chicagoans want to see fixed, we are supposed to represent the needs

of the city and anticipate additional problems down the road. The longer

we push off a restructuring the worse the situation will get. Again it's an

issue that also involves Springfield. I think starting with tightening city

spending, looking closely at TIF reform, we should be able to fill some of

the gap. New revenue streams could also assist in future payments while

holding the city back from attacking retirees health benefits. It's a national

trend, attacking the health benefits, and it needs to stop. If we continue to

mismanage so many funds and push the problem off year after year we

get closer to bankruptcy. Instead of having a forced restructuring, Chicago

needs to voluntarily come up with a plan of action to avoid creating an

economic crisis beyond our current levels.

2) Chicago Public Schools pensions

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


The budget has a lot of hidden elements, and the review process is rushed

and incomplete. But it all comes down to how the City is being managed.

We need to look hard at the ways Chicago can restructure it's funding for

CPS. Again looking at additional TIF reform we should be able to fill some

of the gap in the CPS budget.

As for measures, I am in favor of a fair tax, but in conjunction with

tightening city spending with more citywide transparency. If we are to

adjust tax levels, we need to show that the money is going where it is

supposed to go. I also think eliminating corporate loopholes is in the best

interest of everyday Chicagoans, but we need to strengthen the local

economy so that we do not lose big business with this plan. Making it

harder for corporations to justify staying in Chicago, or coming to Chicago,

is very tricky business.

TIF money aside, I think we need to remind big business that Chicago is

central to the country. The national economy is on an upswing, this could

be the best time to make this push to close corporate loopholes. We need

to solve the pension and bond crisis so that the city will not continue to

shortchange those who are retired, or the future generations and their

schooling. The city needs to step up on more programs for kids, more

after-school funding, more internships, and more specialized training

programs for our youth. This all has the added benefit of giving kids

more options, while helping to stop the cycle of violence in some of our


3) Revenue

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


* A tax on non-Chicago residents who work in the city


* A tax on electronic financial transactions on Chicago’s trading exchanges,

known as the “LaSalle Street tax”


Please explain your views, if you wish, on any of these three revenue-generating


I feel like Chicagoans are taxed enough, and some of these ideas sound

nice but don't address the larger problems of bad fiscal management

by the city. I feel like the city council needs to build more trust in the

management of city money, the start is to look at projects that go way

over budget. Once those are addressed we can see where we really stand

financially and what taxes need to be increased or proposed. Specifically I

worry about taxing consumers more than we are, I'm not sold on the non-
resident taxes or how effective they would be. I think the LaSalle street

tax could potentially do more harm than good. If we build new streams

of revenue while tightening the spending it will make a bigger dent in the

financial issues our city has. We can't keep taxing the residents for the

City's mismanagement problems.

4) Crime

Do you support hiring more police officers to combat crime and gun violence in



Please explain:

I have a lot of experience with crime prevention in my community. I know

many of the officers, sergeants, lieutenants and commanders. We need

more officers for many reasons, but a simple enough reason is that we are

paying huge amounts of overtime to have tired and overworked officers

on the streets. Also, these overtime officers are sometimes working in

different districts, making it hard to have a connection with the community.

Because of these issues, I designed a new system of community policing

to help our officers by utilizing social media and simple door knocking

campaigns. Community policing can work if you introduce new methods

of communication to neighbors. CPD, due to its staffing problems, cannot

keep up with the technological requirements to do this, let alone make

sure there are enough cars on the street. Closing police stations made it

harder for officers to report in with a suspect, or handle paperwork, while

still on patrol. In my district a patrol car might be out of the neighborhood

for an hour if they have to book someone. The cost cutting decision of

consolidating districts was done as a business move, not a community

move. Closing police stations was hurtful for neighborhood trust,

something that makes it harder for officers to build a connection with

neighbors and business owners. The city needs to consider this as it

moves forward.

Community policing, at its best, is a neighborhood working together to

help the police in every way they can. When you are part of something,

you look out for other people who are also involved. My online community

covers over 10,000 neighbors, and if polled many would like to see another

1,000 to 2,000 officers hired. I would like to see more efforts put into

encouraging community feedback with new services and technology.

Just because we have a red light camera at an intersection doesn't mean

we don't also need a patrol car nearby. Shootings are up in the city, if

the community gets more involved in reporting troubled houses or gang

locations, without the fear of retribution, it could go a long way to curbing

gun violence. Every single day we can all play a role in watching out for

each other, but there needs to be a system in place for us to trust that our

reporting helps solve the problem, and that there is adequate staffing in

place to handle these reports.

What legislation in Springfield would you support to try to stem the flow of illegal

guns into Chicago?

We need the help of Chicagoans to identify and educate each other on

where guns are ending up. Locations across the city are found all the time

as trafficking sites for illegal guns sales. This is also a national issue, but

also one which applies to states next to Illinois. Racketeering statutes are

one method, strengthening the kind of trouble gun runners can get into.

But we also need community alternatives for our youth to break the cycle.

I think providing more school programs, after school opportunities and

even new paths to apprenticeship training can help break up the constant

violence that our youth find themselves involved in.

5) Elected school board

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?


Please explain:

I think a hybrid would work so the mayor would appoint some people

and some are elected, at least I think that is the first step in the process

towards having a full elected school board. There have been too many

CEOs over the years with little consistency. They always have new ideas

for what can work, but if the mayor doesn't like the direction things are

heading in he can call for a change whenever he wants one. Now that

we finally have a large portion of Chicago weighing in on the idea we

can finally see what needs to be done to reflect the views of citizens of

Chicago. I think in the near future we will see some elected school board


This also speaks towards a larger problem within city hall of the lack of

discussion on major city-wide issues. Parliamentary maneuvers are way

too common, we need to see more coalitions and cooperation across all


I am encouraged to see more involvement from the community, which

means more safeguards against mismanagement. Regarding the issues

within schools, having a good principal who can look out for the needs of

the school and plan far ahead to avoid budget issues is an ideal situation.

But schools also have principals who use the system to their advantage

to make the morale and culture of the school under their control. I am

concerned about the over-testing of students, classroom sizes being way

too large, the pressure on our teachers imposed by standardized testing,

and small windows of opportunity for teachers to show how effective they

can truly be. I'd like to see these things addressed in future negotiations

between CPS and CTU, and I want to see a school board that reflects the

views of the citizens of Chicago.

6) Tax-increment financing districts

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?


What reforms would you propose for the city's TIF program?

This program has done good things and it has done bad things. Most

neighbors I talk to are not familiar with TIF's, or what they are designed to

do. In my mind there is a lack of transparency, which means you have to be

an insider to really know where the TIF money is being spent. I am all for

alternative ways to increase funding to schools and blighted communities,

but when things like the Depaul arena are slipped into the omnibus of a

city council meeting, that says to me there are a lot of things not coming to

light about TIF's in this city. I would like to see the mayor account for how

much money there is, and where it is going more often. I think that there

are many things everyday Chicagoans want to see fixed first before pet

projects get funding. For those who are familiar with TIF's, I have not yet

met anyone who says they want to see TIF funds protected before we fix

pensions or our bond debt problems. That says to me that we need to look

at where our money is being spent, and where out priorities are as a city.

7) Neighborhood economic development

What would you do as alderman to boost economic development in your ward,

and bring jobs to your community?

I think the first step is making sure the Finkl/Lakin/Guttman redevelopment

stays mostly industrial, which would allow for new development centers

or assembly plants to come into the area. Even the chance of bringing

working lofts or a microbrewery to that area of the ward looks good. This

would definately increase the amount of jobs in the ward, but also helps us

redefine some of the traffic routes for cars and bikes. Along Elston avenue

is also seeing a boom in retail. I'd like to make sure cars and pedestrians

can easily get in and out of the area, which would draw more business

to that sections as well. I'd consult with the Chambers of Commerce and

neighborhood associations as well to discuss areas of the ward that could

be improved, and what types of business they would like to see. For me it's

about having an open dialogue with neighbors and other business owners

about what I can do to help encourage new business development.

8) Size of the Chicago City Council

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?

You have to evaluate whether alderman are currently doing a full time job

or not. It should be mandated as a being a full time job, I certainly think of it

as two full time jobs. Any alderman that really cared about the work would

spend a full amount of time in the community as well as city hall. So that

said, if each alderman really did the work needed for each ward, and openly

worked alongside and coordinated with their neighboring ward alderman,

yes there could be a lower number. The ward maps hardly represent

community areas, so assuming the maps could reflect neighborhoods

more closely we could easily have less alderman. If communities played

more of a role in self identifying ward issues it would help the office better

manage those concerns. The confusion of ward maps often leads to issues

in coordinating neighborhoods. If the maps were reflective of community

areas or neighborhoods, and alderman worked together on coordinating

city services, you could cut the number of alderman in half.

9) A Chicago casino

Do you support, in general concept, establishing a gambling casino in Chicago?


Please explain:

On paper this would enhance the tourist industry, bring in more convention

business and provide the city with some much needed revenue. But

gambling in Illinois has been on the decline, and there are many issues

with the oversight and transparency involved in how this operation could

be run. I like that the Illinois gaming authority would be involved with

oversight, and the State and City could benefit equally from the revenue.

But corruption is a big worry for me. If you look at the example of Illinois

lottery, there are many things about this which could harm those who don't

have the extra money to spend. I would be very concerned with the effect

this would have on Chicagoans and the surrounding area the casino would

be located in. My approval would come with a clear structure of how this

would solve some of the City's main issues without causing harm. If money

clearly did go towards pensions, education and capitol projects I could see

the benefit of having a casino in Chicago.

10) Red light and speed cameras

Does the city have an acceptable number of red light and speed cameras

currently, and are they properly employed?


Please explain:

The city has the largest camera operation in the country, and most people

are confused or frustrated about how this happened. Going back to 2002

when a city employee was taking bribes for each approved camera, we

know that too many cameras were rolled out too quickly. There is no

transparency about why cameras are placed where they are, and no

records of the process behind these decisions. The entire program has

just too many faults to it. Of the 190 cameras (give or take) across the city,

only 40-50 seem to be needed as deterrents to unsafe intersections. I would

assume the $70 million a year the city earns from these cameras makes

most lawmakers happy to have the revenue. I would rather remove some

that are causing more rear ending accidents because of drivers slamming

on the brakes to not get a ticket. Do cameras increase crash possibilities,

I think they do. Do some cameras keep drivers more accountable, I also

think they do. We need to find an accountable middle ground to move

forward. We need to explore lengthening the yellow lights to 3.5 seconds,

or at least making sure they are a full 3 seconds, to cut down on accidents.

11) Ward issues

What are the top three issues in your ward — the ones you talk about most on

the campaign trail?

The main reason I'm running is to make sure that voters in this oddly

shaped (and un-democratically designed) ward feel like they are well

informed and involved. The only way to do that is to create a system

of participation. I have a history of hosting in person meetings and

forums. I find a well educated community stays the most involved in it's


I will make sure services in the ward are equal and balanced, with plenty

of communication both ways on what needs to be done. I will introduce

participatory budgeting, giving each community a chance to discuss and

vote on a project that applies to their neighborhood.

Ward office communication is a big issue for me, since I have worked with

multiple offices over the years and seen staffers come and go who are

easily overwhelmed. A well managed staff can better manage requests

and allow for me to make the time to be part of each community. Each

neighborhood will see me and have the chance to work with me on all ideas

and concerns. My goal is to provide a regular online and home delivered

newsletter, along with hosting community meetings and engaging in social


But overall, I will bring more accountability to local government. I believe

this city needs to reflect those living in it. I will not staffing out my

responsibilities. I will be a full-time alderman, with no other jobs to weigh

me down. I want the new 2nd ward to be the most open and transparent

ward in the city in how it operates, but also in my own communications

with constituents about what is happening at city hall. I will increase ward

meeting times and create satellite offices for all corners of the new 2nd


With that, I hope you see that I am a genuine person who is running with

your best interest in mind.

Chicago Sun-Times Editorial Board questionnaire responses

Steve Niketopoulos

Office running for: Alderman, 2nd Ward

Political/civic background: President of the Ukrainian Village Neighborhood Association

Local School Council Representative, Columbus Elementary

Precinct Captain/Volunteer, Will Guzzardi for State Representative

Occupation: Educational TV Producer (Resigned to run for Alderman)

Education: Bachelor's of Science, Loyola University Chicago

Campaign website:  stevefor2ndward.com