Responding to BGA questionnaire, candidates outline their reform plans.
By the BGA
The sharpest disagreements among major candidates running for Mayor of Chicago touch on some old familiar themes—improving public safety, reviving neighborhood schools and reforming the city’s controversial Tax Increment Financing program, according to the new BGA 2015 Mayoral Questionnaire.
In response to the BGA questionnaire, Democratic incumbent Rahm Emanuel regularly touts his administration’s record on these and other reform issues while his four opponents argue for their own policy alternatives and solutions.
The Chicago municipal election is Feb. 24th and voters for mayor will choose between Emanuel, businessman Willie Wilson, Ald. Robert W. “Bob” Fioretti, Cook County Commissioner Jesus “Chuy” Garcia and activist William “Dock” Walls III.
The BGA questionnaire consists of four “yes or no” and three “check-off” questions on various civic issues. There are also five essay questions about public safety; education; state legislation; TIFs and pending issues before the Chicago City Council.
What follows are highlights from the BGA questionnaire, not a definitive examination of the candidates responses. To see the entire questionnaire, please go to http://www.bettergov.org/action_policy/2015_chicago_mayoral_election.aspx.
Asked how each candidate views the relationship between city law enforcement and the communities they police, mayoral hopefuls focused on ways to improve police training and overall department management. Each seeks to provide officers with a greater understanding of neighborhood issues along with the skills to better connect with the communities they patrol.
Specifically, incumbent Emanuel noted that “more than 9,500 Chicago police personnel” have undergone training designed to “develop higher levels of trust between communities and police.”
He added: “When police misconduct does occur, we are committed to responding swiftly and fairly and providing a new level of transparency about the process.”
Meanwhile, Garcia called for hiring 1,000 more officers and “ensuring they are appropriately trained to implement community policing.”
Fioretti said: “Right now, as in many communities, the relationship between police and members of the community is strained, and that simply cannot continue…officers must be trained in the complexities of our neighborhoods.”
Responded Walls: “We need a fresh start between police and residents. The city of Chicago should develop an even handed media campaign, characterized by wholesome messaging, which encourages residents to abandon the “no snitch” policy while encouraging the police to abandon the ‘blue code of silence.’ “
Wilson called for a comprehensive reorganization of the police chain of command: “I propose to have four district commanders each reporting to me. Those commanders will be held accountable based on how their district is doing with relating to their community, as well as crime statistics”.
The state of neighborhood education was also a topic raised in the questionnaire, which asked each mayoral hopeful to “describe their vision for public education” and if they planned to close any neighborhood schools or reopen some.
Incumbent Emanuel stated the “Chicago Public Schools have never been stronger…but we should not feel satisfied.”
He added: “If I’m fortunate enough to be re-elected, my administration will continue to pursue an education agenda built around five themes – expanding diverse and rigorous high-quality public education options for all Chicago families, empowering principals and teachers with greater autonomy and holding them accountable for performance, investing in student supports, engaging and empowering parents, and challenging the district to innovate to make Chicago a city of learning.”
Emanuel added that he issued a “five-year” moratorium on school closures.
Fioretti’s response to the question: “I was a vocal opponent of the school closures and have pledged that as mayor, I would make certain not one more neighborhood school will close. I am open to the possibility of reopening neighborhood schools as well as finding a solution to use these facilities as community centers or for vocational training.”
Candidate Garcia called for smaller classes and a publicly-elected Chicago Public School chairman and board: “My plan involves giving the school system back to the people through an elected school board; reducing to the barest legal minimum the plethora of high-stakes, standardized tests by which we falsely judge schools, students, and teachers; placing a moratorium on further charter schools; expanding public education to include pre-kindergarten and even earlier; and reducing class size, which is one of the largest in the state.
I would also support the need for a public elected Chairman of the CPS board, and I would insist that the election be done by district to allow every community in the City to have fair representation on the School Board.”
Candidate Walls also called for an elected board and other reforms: “Members of the Board of Education should be elected by the public. We should establish eight single member districts with a president to be elected at large. The legislation must include safeguards to avoid the hijacking of the election by powerful, well-funded organizations, PACS, unions and other special interest groups.”
Tax Increment Financing
The BGA questionnaire also delved into the management of TIFs with this question: “Many advocates have suggested reforms to the way in which the Tax Increment Financing program is conducted, such as enacting through passage of an ordinance a process for the distribution of the “surplus” of unused funds, or requiring the online TIF Portal to list specific dollar amounts regarding where TIF money is spent, rather than only reporting how it is allocated. Are there ways in which the TIF program could or should be reformed? If so, how?”
Emanuel’s response focused on the TIF reform his administration has put into place, noting he has eliminated unnecessary TIFs and that public access and transparency has improved with the creation of an online TIF portal and database.
The incumbent added: “I established the city’s first-ever TIF surplus policy through Executive Order to formalize and expand the practice of declaring a TIF surplus.”
Emanuel’s challengers argue otherwise. Fioretti brands the current TIF program as “fundamentally broken” and called for a moratorium on “any new TIFs”. Wilson labeled it a “slush fund for insiders” and called for it to be used to improve local communities and “not just downtown”.
In his response, Garcia says TIFs are a “valuable tool” but should be confined to its original purpose of saving blighted urban areas. He added that excess TIF funds “should be returned to the tax base.”
Candidate Walls argues that TIFs should be more tightly managed while being made more accountable. He added that TIFs should not be used to “build private projects.”
The BGA is a non-partisan and non-profit organization. It will not endorse any candidate in the municipal election.
Robert Reed, BGA Director of Programming and Investigations, wrote this post.