In an effort to shine a light on the major issues facing the next Mayor of Chicago, the Better Government Association (BGA) asked City Hall aspirants to respond to the 2015 BGA Chicago Mayoral Questionnaire.
Both candidates in the April 7 mayoral runoff election have answered the questionnaire, which consists of five essay questions. These questions focus on an array of timely governance issues that are of interest to the BGA and the public at large.
Responding to a new BGA questionnaire, mayoral hopefuls talk financial crisis, public safety and campaign reform.
Since the BGA is a non-partisan and non-profit organization, it will not endorse any candidate in the municipal runoff election. Nonetheless, a major aspect of the BGA’s mission is encouraging open civic debate and holding public officials accountable.
By responding to the 2015 BGA Chicago Mayoral Runoff Questionnaire, the candidates contribute to a robust exchange of ideas about crucial subjects and community issues that will undoubtedly help shape the future of Chicago and Illinois. We encourage you to review all the responses.
The candidates’ responses are in their own words. They are edited for typos but not for content.
Please describe what an open, transparent, accountable and ethical government will look like under your administration.
Please touch on the following:
• Inspectors General
• Compliance with the Freedom of Information Act
Since my very first act in office, I have worked to restore faith in government by changing the culture in City Hall. From ending hiring abuse to increasing transparency and accountability across government to eliminating wasteful perks and practices – my goal has been to transform how the City works. On my first day in office, I signed a series of executive orders to strengthen ethics rules and close the revolving door between lobbying and government. My administration took the politics out of garbage collection by transitioning to a grid-based system, worked with the City Council to rewrite the ethics code, established an independent budget office to serve as a watchdog for taxpayer dollars, brought an end to the 45-years of Federal oversight of the City’s hiring practices, and is expanding the authority of the City’s Inspector General.
In my second term, I will build upon the reforms from my first. Among other initiatives, my administration will:
Prevent the next parking meters deal. My staff is currently working with the Better Government Association and organized labor to develop an ordinance that would establish an accountability and transparency framework to prevent taxpayers from getting shortchanged by future asset and service privatizations.
Support a strong, independent Council budget office. In my first term, we partnered with reformers in the City Council to pass an ordinance establishing the City Council Office of Financial Analysis (COFA). I will work with the City Council to ensure that the COFA provides a strong and independent voice to future budgetary and financial discussions.
Support Inspector General oversight of City Council. I believe that the Inspector General should be given the authorities and tools needed to exercise effective oversight of the City Council. In my second term, I intend to work with the Council to pass an ordinance that completes this important expansion of the scope of the Inspector General’s authority.
Enhance transparency of city government and strengthen FOIA response. I am committed to a strong Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) law as a means for taxpayers to hold their governments accountable. But I also believe that it is more important for governments to be transparent and make information available to residents on a regular basis. That’s why we revolutionized the City’s data portal soon after I took office, regularly posting information that residents care about. We also began making internal CPD investigation files into alleged police misconduct open to public scrutiny. By regularly making important information available to the public, we reduce the need for citizens to rely on FOIA to receive information from their governments. Over the next four years, we will take the data portal to the next level, allowing each resident to customize their experience to meet their specific needs, sorting data easily with simple tools to create views sorted by factors such as community areas, frequency and level of interest, all while continuing to publish more data.
In my first 100 days in office, I will appoint a FOIA officer and make sure he or she complies with the letter and spirit of the law, which is to make City government open and accessible, and accountable to its residents, and I will work with the City Clerk to improve the accessibility of City Council minutes and reports from each city department. I will also support efforts to establish an Office of Financial Responsibility and to give the Office of the Inspector General authority to initiate investigations into City Council, subpoena witnesses, and compel production of documents so that City government may be increasingly characterized as open, transparent, accountable and ethical.
The City of Chicago has embarked on the dangerous path of giving away its revenue generating assets to private interests, and is consequently losing revenue and control of its public infrastructure systems. However, there is a difference between government relinquishing control of its assets and partnering with private firms with the capacity to produce public goods.
The city’s primary responsibility is to ensure that the public has equitable access to its services and assets, and my responsibility as Mayor will be to protect these for future generations. Therefore, I am generally opposed to the privatization of public assets and resources. In some instances, it makes sense for City government to partner with private industries to produce public infrastructure (e.g. contracting road improvements, sewer installations, etc.) provided that we establish a diligent protocol to approve only those contracts that ensure proven efficiency, quality, and cost effectiveness and that prioritize contracts with the least negative impact on surrounding communities. But it is not in the best interest of the public to turn over the provision of social goods and services to private interests. Doing so often decreases the opportunity for appropriate scrutiny over vital details such as spending, service quality and hiring. If a private entity can profit from providing a service, then the city should be able to improve its capacity to do the same. But, in cases where privatization is our last resort, I will establish strong oversight that ensures that any costs savings claimed by privatization are demonstrable for the term of the contract, and do not come at the expense of service quality for city residents or employees’ ability to earn a living wage. Any leases or contracts that deprive the city of long term control of and benefit from its assets, as exemplified by the parking meter deal, will not be approved. All contracts will be limited to twenty years or less and subject to City oversight. I will improve the efficiency and effectiveness of city service delivery, establishing opportunities for checks and balances, including public input, City Council scrutiny and independent impact analyses. Public participation in decisions is paramount to guaranteeing an open, transparent, and accountable government. As Mayor, my leadership style will represent a drastic departure from Rahm Emanuel’s top-down approach; I will seek community input and take it into account before making major decisions that impact residents’ lives. I am committed to an open, transparent, responsive system of public input and review not only for budgeting, but also for development projects and civic planning across the city.
Please outline your plan to address the City of Chicago’s financial crisis, including any major new initiatives you plan on implementing or expanding.
Please touch on the following:
• Pension obligations: long-term strategies for fully funding the city’s four pension funds, including specific plans to address the impending $550 million balloon payment to the police and fire fund
• General obligation bonding practices and repayment strategies
• Proposals to increase or modify revenue sources
• Proposals for new, increased or modified fees
When I first took office we faced significant financial challenges. The City had a nearly $700 million annual structural deficit that the previous administration had papered over through one-time fixes and our pensions were dangerously underfunded. Absent serious reform, we were on the path to becoming another Detroit and scaring away the investment we need to remain a global city.
Since then, we have made real progress in righting the financial ship, cutting the structural deficit in half without raising property, sales, or gas taxes and implementing pension reform by partnering with labor. We have paid millions into the City’s rainy day fund and we have eliminated hundreds of millions of dollars of taxpayer risk by terminating swap and swaption contracts of more than $1 billion and renegotiating an additional 11 totaling $1.25 billion.
Our biggest remaining financial challenge is to provide retirement security for our workers without sacrificing our future as a city of opportunity.
The pension reform package we put together in cooperation with 28 unions to strengthen the retirement security of 61,000 workers provides the roadmap for how I will approach safeguarding the pensions of our police officers, firefighters, and teachers. We changed the compounding cost of living adjustments (COLA) to a simple adjustment, and implemented three COLA pauses in the next seven years to give the fund a chance to catch its breath. Active city employees will see a 2.5% increase in their contribution that is phased in over five years. And we raised the multiplier that the City currently uses and moves it on a path to an actuarially determined structure in the near future. We applied the same strategy to our successful solution to the Park District pension fund that was on a path to become insolvent in less than a decade.
This collaborative approach can and should be applied to putting the Police and Fire Funds on the path to solvency. To date, I am the only elected official to successfully pass pension reform legislation in collaboration with workers while ensuring the full burden wasn’t put on the backs of taxpayers. We will pursue a balanced approach that requires everyone to give a little: sensible benefits changes for our workers and finding new revenue sources. As part of this reform, we will seek not to postpone our pension payments but to build in a ramp up period that provides workers and taxpayers with a predictable path to solvency.
Over the last four years, the city’s financial condition has declined. On February 27, Moody’s downgraded Chicago’s Bond grade to 2 steps above junk status. Emanuel’s divisive and ineffective management strategies have failed the people of Chicago.
I will address the financial challenges facing the City in 4 ways:
- Better and more efficient service.
- Transparency and public accountability.
- Comprehensive revenue reforms that are equitable and fair and sized to meet the needs of well-functioning government.
- Collaboration with our government partners, public employees, city service providers, the City Council and our collective constituents.
In order to address Chicago’s budgetary challenges without compromising quality of services, I will find efficiencies by tackling the total cost of government, and I will do so transparently and in partnership with the City Council, public employees, labor, business, the city’s service providers and the public. From the perspective of the Chicago taxpayer, property tax levies –including payments to the City, Chicago Public Schools, Chicago Park District, and City Colleges of Chicago– have risen since 2011 by $342M or 11% under Mayor Emanuel. And each unit continues to operate within a silo, maintaining full administrative and operational staffing, supplies, and equipment, despite sharing common attributes with other units. As Mayor, I will establish intergovernmental cooperative agreements for sharing costs and operational responsibilities that the various units have in common, based on five key elements for successful service sharing: process excellence, service excellence, continuous improvement, integrated business service, and wise use of new technologies. Operational savings and performance improvements in City Departments will be identified through a series of independent financial and performance audits of Chicago departments and agencies, with the largest going first. And I will make all final audit reports available to the public. We have seen the results of this approach at the County with the County’s Set Targets Achieve Results (STAR) initiative, which has revolutionized the performance of Cook County across all departments under the auspices of President Toni Preckwinkle while generating significant cost savings and efficiencies. I will reform the TIF program so that it actually spurs economic development, infrastructure improvements, and job growth in blighted areas, as it was originally intended. I will end the practice of using bonds as credit cards to cover operational expenses, and reassess the city’s bond portfolio with the aim of prudently reorganizing the city’s debt with the assistance of non-conflicted consultants. A fair and sound solution to the pension problem will require additional revenue and commitment to this issue. I will work with bond analysts to transform pension administration by consolidating costs, engaging non-conflicted consultants and actuaries, and establishing a sound contributions policy. I will engage with the unions and negotiate changes in the benefit structure of future employees that are constitutionally acceptable, achieve real savings, and provide improvements for both taxpayers and employees. Honest, transparent, and open minded negotiations can be effective—what clearly will not work is pension change by litigation and authoritarian rule. I have long argued for more balanced revenue sources for Chicago and other local governments in Illinois such as a progressive income tax and taxes that are distributed more equitably among all sectors of the economy including services. However, those options will require action at the state level that is not likely to happen immediately. We will have to look beyond efficiencies, beyond cost cutting, beyond diversions to our traditional sources of revenue. But first we need to look to other jurisdictions to see if there are creative alternatives for generating additional revenue. As Mayor, I will immediately organize a working committee to examine the full range of existing and potential revenue options that are available to the city and other units under their individual or collective authority, possible new revenue sources requiring changes in state statute or in the Illinois constitution, and new sources of state and federal grant assistance. I will be honest about the scope of the City’s financial challenges — and bring all stakeholders together to find solutions to these problems in a transparent and accountable process.
3) PUBLIC SAFETY
Please outline how you will address the perception and experience of violence at the community level.
Please touch on the following:
• Police overtime: how to reduce it and how to budget for it
• Police staffing levels
• Police deployment
• Gun violence
While we are experiencing the fewest murders than any year since 1965, and the lowest crime rate in decades, the measure of our success is whether a parent feels comfortable letting their child be outside. By that measure, we have more work to do. My crime reduction strategy is comprehensive, bringing together the views of community leaders, law enforcement and clergy to address the role of policing, prevention and the community.
Under my watch, we have implemented important reforms at the Chicago Police Department to focus on community policing. We have revitalized the department’s leadership while holding it accountable through CompStat and we have reenergized the ranks with more than 1,100 new recruits for the first time in a decade. We have moved officers from behind desks to behind the wheel of a squad car – or the handlebars of a bike. And we are engaged in smarter policing through Operation Impact, which concentrates foot patrol in 20 areas that account for 3% of the city’s population but 20% of its crime. CPD has also sought to focus on individuals at higher risk of being involved with violent crime through the Two Degrees of Association program, through which it has identified 500 individuals at highest risk of violence and has reached out to many of them to offer connections to services.
Developing higher levels of trust between communities and police has been a major priority for this administration. CPD created and implemented training for police officers to teach fairness and respect – also called “procedural justice.” To date, more than 10,000 Chicago police personnel have completed this training. When police misconduct does occur, we are committed to responding swiftly and fairly and providing a new level of transparency about the process. In a reversal of past practice, the City recently announced that it will make internal investigation files into alleged police misconduct open to public scrutiny. And earlier this year we launched a body camera pilot to test the effects of cameras on local policing – in other cities body cameras have been associated with a nearly 60% reduction in use of force and an 80% reduction in complaints filed against officers.
Despite this progress, Chicago faces a significant gun problem driven by the ease with which guns can be purchased in the suburbs, Indiana or Wisconsin both legally and illegally. We must strengthen state gun control laws in order to make continued progress in reducing crime here in Chicago. We can begin by passing the Chicago gun store ordinance on the state level. This would require all gun dealers in Illinois – which account for 40% of the guns recovered in Chicago crime scenes, to implement best-practice policies such as training, security plans, inventory audits, tracking merchandise recovered in crimes, employee background checks, and videotaping the point of sale.
My main focus as Mayor will be reducing gang and gun violence, and my approach will be multi-faceted. I will begin by staffing the police force adequately, keeping the promise to hire 1,000 officers, which Rahm Emanuel broke; training them to implement true community policing, a proven strategy for deterring and addressing crime; ensuring that they do not compromise their ability to earn the public’s trust by assuming federal immigration enforcement duties; and that they are trained to assist crime victims by referring them to the appropriate community organizations for resources and support.
Significant overtime currently is unavoidable, which reduces the effectiveness of current officers. With the 265 current patrol vacancies and the 580 vacancies in Sergeants, Lieutenants, and Detectives reported by the Police Superintendent, the Department will remain understaffed for the foreseeable future unless we act to correct this problem. The existing vacancies are currently funded; the challenge will be training sufficient officers in a timely manner.
I will work to get illegal guns off our streets by going after retailers that sell to straw buyers—by linking Federal data that tracks guns manufactured and sold by serial number with the State’s database of illegal guns seized on the street or used in a crime. That effort will allow us to go after retail sources of many weapons used in crimes on our streets. This is elementary public safety policy that cuts off the source of gun crime at its knees. I have a record of working to keep dangerous weapons out of the hands of youth and hardened criminals—and successfully tackling the dynamics that drive crime.
As Commissioner, I fought successfully to toughen Cook County gun laws. I was the chief sponsor of Cook County’s new “Protection of Minors Ordinance,” which curbs kids’ access to guns, and I co-sponsored Cook County’s ordinance requiring reporting of lost, transferred, and stolen firearms; and an ordinance amendment banning a broader range of assault weapons and stiffening penalties for violations. At the State level, I also voted for and passed anti-gang legislation (Safe Neighborhoods bill). I support tougher penalties for committing crimes with a gun. Additionally, I have hands-on experience in bringing gang crime down in this community — with better policing, intervention programs and educational and work alternatives for youth at risk.
I will implement strategies that are effective in breaking the cycle of violence by training all CPS youth to peacefully resolve conflicts using restorative justice principles, creating safe spaces in neighborhoods, bolstering neighborhood economies, and increasing job training and job opportunities that offer meaningful alternatives to criminal activity. You cannot destroy communities and expect them to become safer.
As Mayor, I will create safe spaces in every neighborhood by replacing foreclosed properties with community peace hubs on high-violence blocks; keeping libraries open and accessible; expanding and supporting community schools; encouraging neighborhood celebrations that bolster community pride and encourage fellowship; and promoting clean, well-lit streets and parks.
4) CAMPAIGN FINANCE
Please describe what you will do to limit the influence of special interest money on elections.
Please touch on the following:
• Restrictions to which you will abide regarding your own contributors
• The use of public financing
• Contributors receiving contracts (or other business from the city), jobs or appointments
Throughout my career, I have supported campaign finance reform and the public financing of elections. As Mayor, my first act in office was to sign six executive orders that set a new standard for government ethics, including imposing new standards to protect City employees against pressure to give gifts or make political contributions to their superiors, including department heads and the Mayor, and prohibit City lobbyists from making political contributions to the Mayor. I was proud to work with Alderman Joe Moore to sponsor a ballot question for the February 24, 2015 election that asked voters whether they would support a system that creates incentives for candidates to seek small contributions by providing a public match. This measure was supported by roughly 80 percent of Chicago voters. And I have long supported the public financing of elections – in particular, I believe that television broadcasters should offer free advertising to candidates for office, which would elminate much of the pressure to raise funds.
I am a staunch supporter of small donor campaign financing, as are 78% of Chicago’s voters, according to last month’s ballot referendum. We need a small donor program that would match contributions of regular people so that Super PACs and Dark Money don’t drown out their voices. Los Angeles and New York City have implemented similar programs and, in New York’s last election, every winning candidate used it. It is time for Chicago to join this movement for a more accountable democracy. As Mayor, I will push for a small donor system to be in place before the next election to increase political participation and ensure that voters have diverse, and viable, choices at the ballot box. And, with regard to my own contributors, I will follow the example Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle has set by refusing to accept political contributions from City employees, and limiting contributions from entities that have done business with the City in the previous four years, entities seeking to do business with the City, and lobbyists registered with the City to $750 per year.
5) PUBLIC LAND & PUBLIC INPUT.
What is your opinion on the use of public land for private development projects or on constructing new buildings on existing open public space?
What is an appropriate level of public input for such a project?
Please outline what such a process should look like.
Our park system is one of the city’s most precious resources, and they should be protected and enhanced. That’s why I’ve added 750 acres to Park District ownership in four years – nearly a 10 percent increase – and why we have a robust plan to revitalize parks in every neighborhood and ensure that every child is within a 10 minute walk of a park or playground by the end of my second term. The city faces two opportunities to attract world-class cultural institutions that will provide thousands of jobs, create neighborhood economic development anchors, enhance the downtown and South Side museum campuses, and in one case, honor Chicago’s most famous son – President Barack Obama. I support these public buildings on parkland as long as they enhance green space, ensure public ownership, and come with extensive opportunity for public input.
Chicago’s motto adopted in the 1830’s–“Urbs in horto” is Latin for City in a Garden, and there is a book entitled “The City in a Garden, a Photographic History of Chicago’s Parks” which confirms that one of America’s best kept secrets is Chicago’s historic park system. I appreciate the foresight that our City’s founders had in setting aside park space and having some of the nation’s most significant architects, landscape designers and artists participate in its design, and I am generally opposed to the use of public land for private development projects because such land grabs are often unnecessary and not in the public interest.
Our parks are vital access points for recreation, play and the solace that comes from the natural — rather than built — environment. They belong to the people as a free, open and critical antidote to the concrete and brick that dominates so much of our cityscape for so many of our residents. The people of Chicago are rightly opposed to encroachment on their public parklands. Construction of new buildings on open park space should be a last resort after a public debate and well documented consideration of possible alternatives. Yet, the current administration has repeatedly allowed private institutions to confiscate land they do not own –the people’s land– supporting proposals that are created behind closed doors under a veil of secrecy with no formal input from either park advocates or the public, and collaborating with its proponents to push these land grabs. Mayor Emanuel has broken the fundamental public trust by supporting unnecessary land grabs–that’s the mark of a mayor who neither understands nor cares about our people and their public assets.
I support efforts to bring institutions that will spur economic development and add to the rich cultural and artistic fabric of our city, but such endeavors do not need to be linked to a private raid on the people’s limited public assets. As Mayor, I will be a steward for the continued survival of our parks and unparalleled lakefront.
Image credits: Candidate photos provided directly by the respective campaigns.