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: No to benefit reduction, yes to restructuring.
Please Explain: Pension benefits that have been earned must be paid. Too often left unspoken is the side effect upon the actuarial problem of city penions by a multi-decade, ill-advised wave of privatization of city services. As city jobs are shed, the ratio of active city workers to retired ones falls sharply, making the actuarial problem significantly worse. Of all the reckless political gamesmanship undertaken with pension structures, it is the notion that privatization brings greater efficiency and fiscal health to city finances that rings most hollow. This management fad must be finally rejected. A program of deprivatizing city services will reverse this process and restore ratios of active workers to retired in numbers that make positive actuarial impact.
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?
A: Before considering a property tax increase, I support expanding the notion of taxable property to include stocks, bonds and commodity futures contracts. I strongly advocate a tiny tax on electronic financial transactions that take place in Chicago. In 2008, the S&P 500 alone traded at the Chicago Mercantile Exchange at $54 trillion in notional value. A tenth of a penny tax on that sum would have produced $54 billion in a single year. As for counter-arguments holding that the CME, so taxed, would leave Chicago, I say it is long past time to stop pretending that the financial industry is precariously sited here in this world-class city. We should all face the fact that market makers and their legal counsel need to be on, or near, LaSalle Street and not in, for example, Libertyville.
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?
A: My first measure would be to stem the tide of privatization that plagues education budgets with heightened, not lowered costs. Second, I support expanding the notion of taxable property to include stocks, bonds and commodity futures contracts. I strongly advocate a tiny tax on electronic financial transactions that take place in Chicago.
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, dependent upon assurance of progressivity of any such consumer service taxes.
* A tax on non-Chicago residents who work in the city
Yes or No: Yes
* A tax on electronic financial transactions on Chicago’s trading exchanges, known as the “LaSalle Street tax”
Yes or No:Yes (as above)
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
The Emanuel administration's failure to hire officers to replace those lost to attrition has produced worse crime outcomes at the street level in the hardest-hit neighborhoods, irrespective what City Hall's numbers are telling us. This is a mistake that should be rectified.
Q: What legislation in Springfield would you support to try to stem the flow of illegal guns into Chicago?
A: Like all violent crime, gun crime is what happens when opportunity dries up and education is undermined. Any addressing of gun crime without first a fundamental shift in priorities toward addressing the poverty, injustice and lack of opportunity in the highest crime areas of the city would be a doomed effort.
I would support a ban on handgun sales in suburban Chicago. Private store operators in our suburbs should not so easily profit from the mayhem they enable away from their communities.
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: The Board of Education should absolutely be elected by the public so as to put an end to the outrageous current situation of an investment banker as President of the same body whose bank holds the mortgage on properties selected for charter schools, such as with the FBI-investigated Concept Charter.
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:No
Q: What reforms would you propose for the city's TIF program?
A: I would argue that Chicago's “primary economic development tool” is not its TIF program at all. Rather, the primary force for Chicago's economic development is the demand presented by a healthy local, state and national economy. While the TIF program is legendary for its abuse and for the distance from its original purpose, the program was designed to combat blight and to fund “but for” projects. This feature alone disqualifies it as a “primary” economic development tool for the same reason we wouldn't say that a fire hose, intended for emergency use, is a “primary lawn-watering tool”.
The TIF program in Chicago is largely a no-strings-attached shadow finance network designed to add wealth to the pockets of already-wealthy developers and owners. It is in desperate need of a thorough audit of its disbursements, as well as a rewriting of its rules to create needed mechanisms that a) ensure that any funds disbursed actually produce economic development that benefits the taxpayers b) allow clawbacks for funds disbursed that do not produce such benefit c) do not enrich politically connected banks and financial entities by creating giant surpluses for them to sit upon.
7) Neighborhood economic development
Q: What would you do as alderman to boost economic development in your ward, and bring jobs to your community?
1) Bring the neighborhood's commercial property owners together with respectful prospective businesses on a regular, ongoing and open basis to find ways to capitalize on the 11th Ward's unique and central location.
2) Continue to partner with the UIC Department of Urban Planning and Policy to
produce sustainable, profitable plans for the revitalization of South Halsted St. and Archer Avenue.
3) Ensure that special zoning usages in the 11th Ward are granted only with actionable, written conditions of well-defined benefit to the people of the 11th Ward, including sustainable employment, addressing of noise and traffic impact concerns and active, ongoing community involvement.
4) Establish workshops advising small business on obtaining operating capital using alternative lending networks and under-promoted programs offered at the federal and state levels.
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?
A: I do not advocate for the reduction in the size of the City Council. I believe that Chicago's people need more, not less representation. Instead, the representation we have needs significant improvement, starting with this February's elections. I also advocate weaning all surviving rubber-stamp Aldermen away from their dependence on runaway corporate lobbying, a task that would be made harder by a reduction in the number of Aldermen.
9) A Chicago casino
Q: Do you support, in general concept, establishing a gambling casino in Chicago?
Yes or No:Yes
Please explain: Gaming revenue is effectively no different from lottery revenue in terms of negative social impact: any popular dependence upon gaming is indicative of dried-up economic opportunity, which is a political problem that needs to be addressed at its cause. That cause is income inequality and persistent over-concentration of wealth away from the working people that create it.
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 city's red light camera program as it stands is about revenue, not safety. It is mismanaged and gamed to the point that it negatively impacts safety, including the recent adjustment of the yellow light times to below three seconds. Recent studies have shown no significant net safety improvement, which should be the central consideration for these cameras to exist. The camera program as it is currently run should be ended.
11) Ward issues
Q: What are the top three issues in your ward — the ones you talk about most on the campaign trail?
A: 1) My constituents are very unhappy with the level of communication the Ward office currently provides. The 11th Ward office is not concerned with constituent service and hasn't been for many years. They routinely receive no or poor communication from the Ward office staff on community matters reaching back many years.
2) My constituents are also very unhappy with the lack of access they have to their Alderman. For 17 years, the“Machine”appointee in the 11th Ward office has acted as if any request was a bother instead of such requests being his purpose for being in the chair. The voters in this Ward have had enough of that kind of treatment.
3) The blight, empty storefronts and litter along South Halsted are a constant complaint by our voters. The withering of this neighborhood is a scourge that I have spent the last ten years addressing by volunteering, crafting of plans and repeated programs to create festivals, redevelop our cornerstone theater, clean up the streets and produce economic study of the neighborhood toward creating an attractive and sustainable economy using models such as Andersonville, Beverly, Albany Park and Pilsen.
Chicago Sun-Times Editorial Board questionnaire responses
Office running for: Alderman, 11th Ward
Political/civic background: Endorsee: Reclaim Chicago, National Nurses United, North Side Democracy For America (Adopted). Elected: Local School Council (McClellan Elementary). Elected (three terms): President, Park Advisory Council, Palmisano Park. Founder: Save The Ramova (nonprofit), Friends of South Halsted (nonprofit) Bridgeport Business Association (nonprofit). Co-founder: Bridgeport Alliance (community group). Delegate: IVI-IPO.
Education:BFA, Ray-Vogue College of Design
Campaign website: sullivan11thward.com