The following questions were crafted at a City Bureau event with the Reader to reflect the concerns of participants who came from diverse neighborhoods in the city. Candidates Gery Chico, La Shawn Ford, John Kozlar, Neal Sales-Griffin, and Toni Preckwinkle were also invited to participate but did not respond. Full responses are listed in alphabetical order by last name. For the trimmed answers featured in print, click here [PDF].
What makes you feel safe in your home? In your neighborhood? In the city?
William M. Daley: All Chicagoans want and deserve to feel safe in their homes and their neighborhoods. No one should feel that they can’t safely enjoy a summer evening on the front step, can’t let their children play outside, or have to worry about a carjacking when they’ve been sitting too long at a red light. That’s why I have proposed improved training for our police and better use of technology, a tough stance on guns to get them off our streets, and a $50 million investment in violence prevention.
Too many of us don’t feel safe, and too many of us tell ourselves there is nothing we can do, and that is wrong. There’s plenty we can do, including better community policing. We’ve seen strategies work in other large cities in America, and we can create a safer Chicago.
Amara Enyia: I’ll feel safe in my home when the city’s ethos embraces the idea that housing is an entitlement that is accessible, affordable, and of high quality regardless of socioeconomic status, not just in what the city says, but also in what it does. I’ll also feel safe in my home when one’s address does not put them at a disadvantage in their access to quality schools, viable employment, and functioning neighborhood markets.
Jerry Joyce: What makes me feel safe is confidence and responsiveness within my community. A true community where residents are invested in the safety and well-being of themselves and their neighbors, where residents look out for one another and understand that if you help your neighbors, you help yourself and your community. And of course, a community where the police system works. There needs to be trust between the residents and the police officers. Trust that the police officers are committed, concerned, and appropriately responsive. Crime exists and accidents happen, it’s unavoidable, but the feeling of safety can be preserved if residents sense that they can trust the police and each other to prevent, anticipate, and respond.
Lori Lightfoot: The strong sense of community that we have developed with our neighbors, who look out for each other, provides the feeling and reality of safety in our home and neighborhood. I have lived in my home for nearly 15 years, and have developed relationships with my neighbors by going for walks with my wife and daughter and our dog, Hank, spending time with my daughter at parks, libraries, small businesses, entertainment venues, and friends’ homes. This has helped us all develop a strong sense of community.
Every family in Chicago deserves access to the same kind of community anchors that have contributed to the feeling of safety and security I have found in Logan Square. Shared public spaces, like parks and green spaces, quality schools, vibrant businesses, and libraries all contribute to this, and I am committed to making sure everyone in Chicago has access to these resources in their neighborhood.
Addressing the root causes of violence in our city can help us develop strong and resilient neighborhoods. When people feel literally pinned down by violence and feel left behind and without hope, these conditions are the breeding ground for violence. I refuse to accept these conditions and will continue to fight to bring peace and hope back to our neighborhoods.
Garry McCarthy: What makes me feel safe in all of these categories is the confidence that I am surrounded by a well-trained, disciplined, and community-oriented police force. A police force of officers who are respected and are respectful of residents of every neighborhood in the city of Chicago. This fosters the kind of understanding and cooperation that leads to lower crime and violence, especially in underserved communities that have been overlooked and marginalized for far too long. When I’m elected mayor, we will make public safety a top priority.
Susana Mendoza: I was born in Little Village, on Chicago’s southwest side. When I was seven, a murder on my block drove my family to leave Chicago. I know what it’s like to not feel safe in your own home, and that’s why I have a comprehensive plan to address violence in our city so no family has to leave their neighborhood like mine did.
My plan calls for revamping training for police officers so they prioritize de-escalation and crisis intervention over immediate engagement with a dangerous situation. I will also invest in Smart Policing and reform police governance to help rebuild trust between police and the communities they serve so our black and brown children feel safe around our officers. And finally, we must do everything we can to improve our closure rate and crack down on illegal guns in our streets to help bring an end to the violence. I am committed to adding 100 new detectives and investing in them with the technology and training they need to do their jobs.
Paul Vallas: I am fortunate to live in a neighborhood that is relatively safe, secure, and economically growing. I am fortunate to not have to worry about personal safety most moments. However, the safety of others is always on my mind, for individuals living in communities with much greater economic challenges and where the threat of violence is ever-present. There are too many people in this city who have safety anxiety, even when they sit inside their homes with their families, with the knowledge that a bullet might randomly come through a window. Sadly, this is not a basic human right that all Chicagoans currently enjoy. Being able to leave my home to conduct the business of everyday living—knowing I can walk to school or work, shop in my local community, access public transit—without fear of violence or personal harm should be a right every Chicago resident enjoys. Knowing I can walk in any part of Chicago without fear of violence or harassment is something every single resident should be entitled to and is what I would dedicate my administration to.
Willie Wilson: Feeling safe is as much to do with your community as any one thing you can mention. If you drive or walk down your street and it is clean, there are no abandoned or boarded-up buildings or vacant lots, you know your neighbors, you see a police car slowly drive through and the policeman smiles and waves, you get an overall sense of security. If you drive or walk down your street and it is littered, there’s countless abandoned and boarded-up buildings and vacant lots, little to no resources in the area, and police drive by slowly with a antagonistic disposition? You get an overall sense of stress, anxiety, and fear.
Describe what you consider to be the best example of affordable housing in your neighborhood. What will you do to replicate that success?
William M. Daley: We have no shortage of housing programs, and there are some great examples from different parts of the city, but they haven’t done enough to address our broad affordability gap across Chicago. I will closely examine the 20-plus programs that exist today and ensure those with a track record of success are prioritized for expansion. We need housing that meets the needs of all household income levels. Working families need good rental and homeownership options everywhere in the city, and the city must facilitate housing that does not cost-burden working families. [Note: The Daley campaign confirmed that he lives on the near north side. —Ed.]
Amara Enyia: Oakley Square Apartments, located at 2333 W. Jackson.
They offer quality-of-life amenities such as a well-equipped fitness studio and a gourmet community demonstration kitchen among other features. They also feature the unique amenity of an on-site health clinic and wellness program. It offers a variety of fitness classes, physicals for youth, and a local community-speaker series.
I support the following affordable housing provisions:
- Increasing the affordable housing percentage mandate for developers;
- Increasing affordable housing stock for family-size units;
- Eliminating the developer “opt out for a fee” provision;
- Eliminating aldermanic prerogative specific to affordable housing placement; affordable housing should be citywide, not ward specific;
- Increasing and expanding the real estate transfer tax to include economic development uses;
- Lifting the rent control ban; and
- Instituting a collaborative holistic model that tethers homelessness mitigation, substance abuse counseling, mental health services, and veterans’ services to housing.
Jerry Joyce: The Beverly/Morgan Park area where I live has strong housing values, which is one of the community’s strongest assets. We are fortunate to have an outstanding community-based alliance of civic and business groups known as the Beverly Area Planning Association. I have been a longtime supporter of this not-for profit organization. They do important work when it comes to housing in our community by monitoring foreclosures and providing resources and information to homeowners facing foreclosure.
Lori Lightfoot: I have lived in Logan Square for nearly 15 years, and have seen it go through massive changes. Many longtime residents and families of Logan Square have been displaced by upscale development projects. The John Pennycuff Memorial Apartments affordable housing development in Logan Square will provide much-needed affordable housing aimed at LGBTQ+ Chicagoans in our neighborhood.
The John Pennycuff Apartments broke ground this summer after a long planning and advocacy process. The development is a shining example of dedicated people from the community working together to use all of the resources available to create affordable housing: bonds and tax credits from the city of Chicago and funding from the Chicago Housing Authority. The development will consist of 88 units, 100 percent of which will be affordable. Forty-one units will be affordable market units, and the remaining 47 will be CHA project apartments. In a time when our affordable housing ordinances typically only give us 10 percent or 20 percent affordable units, it is incredible to see the dedication to 100 percent affordable units coming to fruition in this project.
I am a member of the LGBTQ+ community, and I know the struggles LGBTQ+ people face regarding housing and affordability. John Pennycuff, who spent many years in Logan Square, also served on the Chicago Commission on Human Relations on LGBTQ+ issues. It is an honor to Pennycuff’s legacy to name the project for him and his work.
To ensure the possibility of projects like this in every neighborhood, there are several things I will do as mayor. As set forth in my housing plan, I will limit aldermanic prerogative by supporting and signing into law the Affordable Housing Equity Ordinance. This ordinance provides that if a development with affordable units is proposed in a ward where less than 10 percent of the rental housing stock is affordable, then the proposed development would automatically go through a streamlined process for approval. In this process, the alderman can help shape the development and request changes, but he or she no longer has veto power over the development or the unilateral ability to reduce the number of units that are affordable. Enacting a streamlined process would also ensure that good housing proposals do not languish waiting for aldermanic approval simply by dragging them out over long periods of time, forcing community organizations or developers to abandon their plans without ever actually going through the approval process.
In addition, I will seek to amend the Affordable Requirements Ordinance in four ways. First, the amended ordinance will increase the number of affordable units required to be built by housing developers from 25 percent to 50 percent. Using the example above, under the amended ordinance, the developer of a ten-unit building would be required to build five affordable units, instead of 2.5. Second, one-half of the affordable units built will have to be located in the new, market-rate development. Third, affordable units that are not located in the new, market-rate development must be built within one mile of the development, instead of two miles. Finally, the affordable units that are built must include units large enough to accommodate families.
If community organizations are given the resources to build, and developers are held accountable, we can ensure there is affordable housing in every neighborhood in Chicago.
Garry McCarthy: Perhaps the closest and likely best example of affordable housing near my neighborhood is the Margot and Harold Schiff Residences in the near north neighborhood. They not only offer apartments for low-income households, but also a good mix of market-rate units. They also are close to public transportation and a good mix of neighborhood amenities. As mayor, I will promote the expansion of affordable housing in neighborhoods across the city where job opportunities and quality schools are a central element in the plan. [Note: The McCarthy campaign confirmed that he lives in River North. —Ed.]
Susana Mendoza: I think the best example of affordable housing, though not in my neighborhood, would have to be the work that [the national organization] Preservation of Affordable Housing (POAH) has done in Woodlawn with buildings like the new Woodlawn Park building on the old Grove Parc Plaza site. POAH has built community-centered housing that incorporates wraparound services like job training, all while achieving development without displacement. I think the way to replicate their success is to follow their principles—ensuring that there’s community input prior to development and ongoing dialogue throughout development, a commitment to zero displacement, partnerships with federal and state entities as well as neighborhood organizations and non-profits, and most importantly, a focus on investing in human capital. All of these will be guideposts for me as I implement an affordable housing policy as mayor. [Note: According to her website, Mendoza lives in Portage Park. —Ed.]
Paul Vallas: The best example of affordable housing is a model that can be brought to scale on a massive level. That model is landlords converting unimproved spaces into high-quality garden-unit apartments. Garden-unit apartments are, for the most part, affordable in most areas of the city where they are located. My affordable housing plan removes obstacles for landlords converting unimproved spaces into high-quality, affordable garden-unit apartments. There is the potential to create well over 150,000 units throughout the city, without city subsidies. Further, the city has more than 700 linear miles of empty ground-level retail space. We must explore how amendments to the zoning ordinance could facilitate converting these spaces to residential use, especially that which is accessible for those with physical disabilities. Furthermore, the city controls thousands of unoccupied residential buildings, and there are tens of thousands of other buildings that are in foreclosure or have been abandoned because of tax delinquency issues, which are sitting unoccupied and decaying in the communities. Securing these buildings and turning them over to local, community-based developers for the purposes of preparing them for reoccupation, along with the removal of obstacles to garden units, will go a long way towards substantially increasing the availability of affordable housing in the city of Chicago. I will also ensure that property tax increases are capped at 5 percent or the rate of inflation, whichever is less; allow seniors to cap or freeze their property taxes until the property is sold; simplify the process for accessing and renewing available tax relief programs; partner with nonprofit organizations and volunteer groups to provide support and infrastructure for homeowner appeals; and lead the city to more aggressively oppose property tax appeals by large commercial property owners and challenge underassessments of large commercial properties. Dramatically expanding available housing, with the initiatives I’ve identified, will create downward pressure on housing costs. There’s nothing that drives down housing costs more than more supply than demand. Ultimately, however, the most effective way to ensure affordable housing and address gentrification is to cap property taxes and reform the property tax assessment systems. You can read my affordable housing plan on my website here. [Note: The Vallas campaign confirmed that he lives in Lincoln Park. —Ed.]
Willie Wilson: I live downtown, where many large buildings have 20 percent of the units set aside for affordable housing. I would like to see the single room occupancy (SROs) living option downtown that would provide real alternative housing for those who cannot afford much. These have become few and far between, but I can see the city becoming involved in these kinds of buildings to help solve some of the homeless problem.
What policies would you implement to reverse black out-migration from Chicago?
William M. Daley: I’ve set an ambitious goal to grow Chicago to a city of three million people. Seventy years ago, there were 3.6 million people in Chicago. Today there are 2.7 million. Since 1980 we’ve lost 400,000 African-Americans. Some residents moved to the suburbs as housing restrictions in those areas stopped, and that’s fine. Unjust housing policies had limited African-Americans’ options for far too long. But many residents left because Chicago didn’t deliver for them. They didn’t feel safe in their neighborhoods. They weren’t satisfied with our schools, and the city wasn’t affordable. We can fix these problems. We must fix these problems. I’m committed to seeing Chicago grow.
The first thing we need to do is tackle our crime problem. If we cannot get crime under control, nothing else we do will matter. Then, we need more inclusive growth. Parts of Chicago are doing well, but as a region we aren’t growing fast enough, and in too many parts of the city we aren’t growing at all. I’ve committed to advanced manufacturing to jump-start Chicago’s growth, bring investment to parts of the city that need it, and create good jobs that will keep African-Americans in the city and attract new residents.
Amara Enyia: A shrinking population is due in part to poor public policy at the overall city level. Disinvestment has been public policy in marginalized communities of color. Therefore, the mayor’s first order of business must be to examine demographic trends that will show where we are losing population, as well as where significant investments need to be made.
Second, the city must adopt a true community engagement strategy that seeks input from community members on the status of their communities and options that are available to them. In the past, these processes have been fraught with attempts to manipulate communities through misinformation or no information, processes that lacked integrity either because they took place behind closed doors or outcomes were decided prior to actually engaging the community. Residents want honest, up-front information that can help them make the best neighborhood decisions. The next mayor must engage in a thorough, bottom-up strategy that arms communities with the information about investment options.
Third, it’s time for our city to adopt an equity framework, especially as it relates to capital and programmatic expenditures. An equity framework would actually mandate that more resources are allocated to communities that need them most. Equity seeks to ensure that residents have access to safe neighborhoods, thriving economies, great schools, and diversity. An equity framework would also declare that all communities should be high quality—not just those that happen to be located in affluent neighborhoods. Adopting this framework would actually make Chicago a more attractive option for many families who see moving out of the city as the only way to avoid the potential of not having the aforementioned options for their households.
Jerry Joyce: My campaign is focused on improving education, increasing opportunity, and making Chicago safer and more affordable. This means focusing on neighborhood schools, attracting opportunity zone investment, holding the line on property taxes, and restoring police-community trust with authentic community policing.
Lori Lightfoot: In order to ensure that people want to stay in Chicago, we must significantly improve public safety all over the city. Crime and violence impact every corner of the city and every facet of life. Crime and violence influence a family’s decision whether to stay in Chicago. That decision has an enormous impact on our schools, as a declining population leads to declining school enrollment, economic vitality in our neighborhoods, access to goods and services, and the city’s tax base.
Crime and violence also affect a business owner’s decision to stay, relocate, or open a new business in Chicago. Businesses are unlikely to stay in, relocate to, or open in our most violent neighborhoods unless they have hope that there is a plan to bring sustainable reductions in crime. The lack of economic activity ensures high unemployment rates, creates food and medical deserts, and increases the likelihood of flight from the city. We must change our priorities in neighborhood economic investment to ensure that we are spending taxpayer dollars equitably, and helping to create safe, and economically strong communities across Chicago.
We cannot stabilize our schools, neighborhoods, and tax base until we meaningfully reduce crime and violence. I am the only candidate in this race who will not have to learn on the job regarding all the facets of local policing and crime reduction. I am also the only candidate with a comprehensive plan to reduce crime and violence, and I am the only candidate who will hit the ground running on this issue.
Garry McCarthy: As mayor, I will move aggressively to hold the line on any property tax increases. African-Americans have been forced out of Chicago by those higher taxes, which is why lower-tax locations like Atlanta, Dallas, and Houston are attracting African-Americans from Chicago. I also will launch the most ambitious effort in the city’s history to reinvest in underserved communities on the south and west sides. Likewise, I will restore quality education to those communities which also lost a big portion of the black middle class when Rahm Emanuel closed more than 50 neighborhood schools. My plan calls for the creation of so-called “Smart Schools” that will be smaller but will offer a host of educational options, including wraparound services that will make the school the centerpiece of a community. Schools where parents will derive as many benefits as their children.
Susana Mendoza: Black and brown neighborhoods in our city have suffered from disinvestment and disenfranchisement that cuts working families off from opportunities to build true wealth and prosperity. We can reverse this disinvestment in part by intentionally leveraging our downtown success to build an inclusive economy that lifts up our working families. I believe we can put our neighborhoods first by expanding access to capital and support for small businesses and development in struggling neighborhoods; setting our students up for success, from expanding universal pre-K to creating fair lending programs for student loans; and strengthening our working families by fully enforcing our labor laws, increasing the minimum wage, and expanding access to the EITC [earned income tax credit].
We can also do more to intentionally invest in minority contractors. In 2017, Chicago issued guidance that encouraged developments to hire minority- and women-owned contractors. I will make that policy law, and work to expand its scope to ensure returning citizens and participants in violence reduction initiatives like READI [a Heartland Alliance program] are included.
And finally, I have a plan to reduce the violence that too often drives black and brown families from our city. My comprehensive plan to address gun violence will hold police accountable by revamping training and investing in community policing, improve the closure rate by hiring more detectives, and crack down on illegal guns through tough gun regulation.
With these critical reforms, I’m confident we can reverse the black out-migration in Chicago.
Paul Vallas: I was the first candidate to present a comprehensive plan to generate massive investment in long-underserved areas in Chicago, particularly areas in the south and west sides. The plan, which I call my Chicago Marshall Plan, will bring immediate and substantial investment to Chicago’s most economically beleaguered communities on the city’s west and south sides. Unique and significant private investment opportunities in these areas are now available through the 2017 federal tax law, which provides enormous incentives for businesses that invest in opportunity zones. There are currently 133 designated opportunity zone areas in Chicago, the vast majority of them on the south and west sides. There will be strong national competition to attract private investment into economically depressed areas using these incentives. I would supplement the private investments with the city investment of funds made available through the city’s neighborhood development and TIF funds. I have specifically called for an earmarking of one-third of all TIF revenues to economic investments in the opportunity zones. My plan has also called for implementing a “Buy Chicago, Sell Chicago, Hire Chicago” plan with the $20 billion in annual spending that the city and its relative governmental agencies (e.g., Park District, CPS, CHA, airports, etc) that are under it control, to stimulate economic growth and expand job opportunities in the city’s poorest communities. This would mean giving weight in the awarding of contracts or purchasing commodities from companies that are located in Chicago’s poorest communities or are willing to partner with companies located in those communities and companies that are willing to hire people from the city’s poorer communities. (My $3.2 billion school construction plan allocated 54 percent to minority- and women-owned businesses, and 58 percent of salaries that were paid went to minority workers.) My plan also calls for the repurposing of closed schools or other appropriate shuttered buildings into adult education, occupational training, and entrepreneurial centers to provide adults who are high school dropouts, chronically unemployed, and/or previously incarcerated with opportunities to be trained and helped in securing jobs and to receive assistance in starting their own businesses. It is my goal to invest in community-based social services, specifically with cannabis proceeds going to the restoration of mental health wellness centers, as well as other social services (legal aid, opioid and drug rehabilitation centers, etc). You can read my full economic development plan here.
Willie Wilson: I speak constant and often about the need for equality in the distribution of purchasing and service contracts with the city as well as the fair distribution of city controlled or influenced jobs. People move to where the work is and where they can afford to live. We must stop the real estate tax increases as well as the hidden taxes like the bag tax, red light cameras, parking tickets, car boots, and the hundreds of nickel and dime hidden taxes that make it more and more difficult to live in the city.
How did you meet your top donor? What is their top civic or policy priority?
William M. Daley: I’ve had the pleasure of knowing Pat and Shirley Ryan for decades. They have made lasting contributions to civic life across Chicago, including the arts, education, and youth services. I’m proud to have their support. [Note: as of February 1, following the Daley campaign’s submission of this survey, William M. Daley’s top donor was investor Paul Finnegan. —Ed.]
Amara Enyia: Our top donor was well aware of the work I’ve done in underserved communities. My top donor noted my expertise related to economic development, community organizing, municipal finance, and urban planning. My top donor was well aware that there is not one issue I haven’t worked on related to this city. Furthermore, my top donor was captivated with my “bottoms up” approach to stabilizing communities via a cooperative model of economic engagement.
There is no top civic priority. The issues affecting this city aren’t hierarchical. The interconnectedness of the aforementioned issues and my understanding and experience working with those most impacted would most likely preclude them from prioritizing one priority over the other. [Note: as of February 1, Amara Enyia’s top donor was Chance the Rapper. —Ed.]
Jerry Joyce: My top donor is my wife. We met in college at Yale. [Note: Joyce’s wife is Jannine Caoili Joyce, a Filipino-American physician at U.Chicago Medicine. —Ed.]
Lori Lightfoot: I am my own top donor. My top donor other than myself is my good friend Mary Dempsey. Mary formerly served as the commissioner of the Chicago Public Library, and my wife, Amy Eshleman, served as Mary’s assistant commissioner. Mary now serves as the president of DePaul College Prep High School.
Mary and I really got to know each other when we worked together to help clean up and bring accountability and transparency to the city’s Department of Procurement Services following several major contracting scandals. Through Mary’s leadership, we made the procurement process much more cost-efficient, and I particularly focused on cleaning up the minority- and women-owned business enterprise certification and compliance programs, which were plagued by fraud and corruption.
Mary is a selfless public servant and focuses her time and resources on making quality education accessible to families across the city. I feel honored that she is my friend.
Garry McCarthy: [Note: Candidate failed to respond to question. As of February 1, Garry McCarthy’s top donor was businessman Brian McCormack. —Ed.]
Susana Mendoza: Building trade unions are my top donors. My father was a Teamster pipefitter who taught my brothers and me the important roles unions play in the lives of working men and women. As a state representative, Chicago city clerk, and Illinois state comptroller, I’m proud to have worked hand in hand with them. I’ve always stood with organized labor, and was proud to lead the charge with them standing up to Bruce Rauner and his crisis-driven agenda. I will continue to stand with our working families as mayor as we work to lift up every neighborhood across our city by increasing the minimum wage, protecting workers’ rights, and bringing investment and economic development to communities that have suffered from disinvestment and disenfranchisement. [Note: as of February 1, Susana Mendoza’s two top donors were union PACs tied at $250,000 donations: LiUNA Chicago Laborers District Council and Laborers’ Political League. —Ed.]
Paul Vallas: Chicago Blackhawks owner Rocky Wirtz has been my largest financial supporter. I have known him and his father since I successfully ran the Chicago Public Schools in the 1990s, and they were also supporters or mine when I narrowly lost the Democratic primary for governor to Rod Blagojevich in 2002. It is important to note that his father was a supporter of mine despite the fact that I raised the amusement tax and that their contributions were unsolicited, which kind of goes against the grain. I believe his support is a reflection of his confidence of the type of executive that Chicago needs. Rocky Wirtz said as much publicly, when asked to explain why he was supporting me. Like many Chicagoans, Rocky Wirtz is concerned about Chicago’s financial stability and making the city work for all of its citizens. The investments of the Blackhawks, in conjunction with the Chicago Bulls, have brought substantial new economic activity to the west side and I would hope to build on that. Other noteworthy donors to my campaign have included Oscar-winning actor Sean Penn, who I have worked closely with over the past decade to rebuild the education infrastructure in earthquake-ravaged Haiti. [Note: the Vallas campaign has confirmed that as of February 1, Paul Vallas’s top donors included Rocky Wirtz, via his companies Distillers Distributing Co., Sauk Development, W Sports Media LLC, 35L Sportsman LLC, and Fair Chance Farm, Inc., for a total of $200,000, and billionaire Koch Foods CEO (no apparent relation to the Koch brothers or their businesses) Joseph C. Grendys, who has also donated $200,000. —Ed.]
Willie Wilson: I am my own top donor. I have self-financed 99 percent of my own campaign. I have chosen to handle my campaign this way so that I will not be beholden to big corporation, special interest or political party—only accountable to the people in which I will serve. Everyone realizes that if someone gives you something, they expect something in return. It is an old adage we all know. So when a politician receives millions of dollars in support from any source, we all know that entity expects some special consideration in return.
So much money flows through Chicago, but the already wealthy tend to keep it. How will you implement progressive taxation?
William M. Daley: There is no doubt that Chicago’s tax system isn’t working. We have billion-dollar budget deficits and ever-increasing property taxes. The city has regressive taxes and a fine structure that tries to fill budget holes on the backs of low- or moderate-income residents.
Given the size of our budget challenges, I’m considering all revenue options, including a progressive real estate transfer tax. I will create a graduated fine and fee structure for city stickers, reform fines and fees, and support a progressive state income tax.
Amara Enyia: I would pledge my support for the state legislature moving away from a flat income tax to a progressive one. A flat income tax rate has a regressive impact on moderate income populations and absolves high-income populations from having to pay what they ought to in the spirit of equity. We anticipate the policy platform and prospective legislation of the incoming gubernatorial administration and state legislature to be far more sensitive to the needs of everyday Chicagoans, particularly as it relates to a progressive income tax, community-based economic and social enrichment programming than those preceding them. We also apply a significant amount of reliance on a cooperative model of housing, land ownership, and workspaces with a public bank serving as a flagship of municipal accountability, transparency and opportunity for all Chicagoans.
Jerry Joyce: I oppose any municipal income tax.
Lori Lightfoot: Our regressive revenue stream is a serious problem for the city of Chicago, and one that our next mayor must work diligently to solve. Many of the progressive revenue sources we need that do not unfairly burden working- and middle-class families will need approval from Springfield or require years of work to implement. We must mount an effective lobbying campaign to ensure that we have the tools we need to fund necessary services without taxing working people out of the city.
Obviously, given the current pension crisis and the structural municipal deficit, additional revenue is going to be necessary in the short term, and intermediate terms. I am open to looking at a range of progressive revenue streams. My core principles in evaluating revenue sources are (1) what are the benefits and risks; (2) who will bear the burden of the revenue source—I want to lessen the burden for low-income and middle class individuals and families who have been hardest hit; and (3) any short-term gain is worth the long-term implications.
Long-term, there are a number of progressive revenue sources we can work toward. We must ensure that a progressive state income tax, which Governor Pritzker has promised he will fight for, will give a fair share of its revenue to the city of Chicago. I also support efforts to legalize and tax recreational marijuana, though it will also require Springfield’s approval, and would not bring revenue to Chicago until late 2020 at the earliest. I support efforts to make sure that minority communities that have been ravaged by the war on drugs have an opportunity to benefit from legalization in terms of receiving licenses, placement of grow operations, and jobs.
Finally, in thinking about a Chicago casino, it is imperative that the casino be city owned, and its construction must be used as an economic development tool to benefit people and neighborhoods that have been neglected by city government for far too long. As mayor, I will ensure these groups are involved at every stage of the process, from the design, planning, and construction of the casino to its daily operations. Moreover, I will insist that the casino work with Chicago businesses to create a localized supply chain for goods and services.
In the meantime, I have proposed a graduated real estate transfer tax that would generate between $80 and $150 million annually for building, preserving, and rehabilitating housing that is affordable, homelessness prevention efforts ,and building and operating new city mental health clinics. Under the proposed progressive rate structure, approximately 95 percent of property transactions would receive a tax cut on the sale of properties. Due to the graduated rate structure, a transaction involving a $250,000 property would result in a $1,000 savings and a $500,000 transaction would result in a $2,000 savings, while a transaction involving a $1 million property would result in approximately the same payment as under the current structure.
Garry McCarthy: By working closely with Illinois state lawmakers in pushing legislation that encourage, if not mandate, the wealthy to pay a greater percentage of taxes, while imposing lower tax rates on low- and some moderate-income earners. Newly elected Illinois governor J.B. Pritzker campaigned on the need for progressive taxation. So it appears such a policy has a good chance of passing.
Susana Mendoza: As mayor, I’m committed to bringing budget stability and fully funding our obligations to working families without burdening our middle class with further regressive taxes. I will look to increase revenue by legalizing marijuana and working to pass a Chicago casino. And as the candidate in this race with the most Springfield experience, I will be a staunch advocate for passing a progressive income tax statewide. I will also work closely with [newly elected Cook County assessor Fritz] Kaegi to bring true reform to the property tax system and create a process that is transparent and fair.
Paul Vallas: I support making the income tax progressive by expanding the property tax relief tax credit programs and introducing other tax credits that can provide tax relief for renters and senior citizens. These initiatives would not require a change in the [Illinois] Constitution, and should be included in any proposed increase in the state income tax. I support the current efforts to reform Cook County’s property tax system and will continue to push to make sure that Chicago is collecting fair property tax payments from major downtown property owners, who appear to be carrying disproportionately lower burdens than recent sales suggest they should. To protect small homeowners, renters, and businesses, I also will cap property tax increases at the lower of 5 percent or the rate of inflation, whichever is less (it has averaged 2 percent the last five years) and simplify the process to access and/or renew available tax relief programs to help middle- or lower-income families and individuals and older residents. I will move to freeze fees and to reduce punishing fines that are adversely impacting working families. This includes the elimination of the red light cameras that helped drive thousands of Chicago residents into bankruptcy and the capping of fines so that no fine will exceed the cost of the license, the fee, or the ticket. I will also create stability and predictability for Chicago’s taxpayers. You can read my budget plan here.
Willie Wilson: We already have progressive taxation, so that is not the problem. In my view, the problem lies with career politicians. Politics were never meant to be a “career” where a person enters to make “their fortune in life.” It is supposed to be a period of “public service” where you give to your community and then return to your chosen profession or trade. We have lost sight of that. We need term limits on political service and investigation of “career politicians” who have been perpetually held office to ensure any white-collar crime that may likely exist will be punished for public servants that steal or misappropriate taxpayer dollars.
How will you ensure TIF funds are reinvested in underfunded communities? What reforms would you suggest to address the racism evident in the inequitable use of TIF districts and funds? Do you support the Lincoln Yards development? The 78 development?
William M. Daley: TIFs are a tool, and as mayor, I will employ them as part of a coordinated strategy to drive economic development in the south and west sides, especially in future industries like advanced manufacturing. I will sync our public spending on things like infrastructure, parks, and new TIFs with strategies to attract private investments through new-market tax credits and economic opportunity zones.
TIFs are part of this strategy, but they must be used transparently. I will improve public reports to account for TIF spending across the city and clearly focus my TIF strategy on areas of the city that need help. Downtown is thriving, but it’s long past time to spread that success to our neighborhoods and the people who live in them. Coordinated and bold investments are key to growing Chicago and spurring that growth.
My goal is growth. Developments like the 78 and Lincoln Yards are part of Chicago’s growth, but they must balance local inputs and neighborhood preferences. Going forward, my focus for growth will be the south and west sides. We need to make the streets safe for investment, and we need to develop future industries that can grow in neighborhoods across Chicago.
Amara Enyia: According to state law, TIF funding is supposed to be used to spur economic development in blighted areas. Without that funding, catalyzing economic development in blighted areas would be much more difficult. Unfortunately, TIF dollars are being used in areas that are not blighted. Funding is also deceptively “ported” from one TIF district to the next for a project that is able to take advantage of those dollars. We must be insistent with utilizing TIFs for blighted communities only. There also needs to be more transparency about how TIF dollars are being used and how decisions are being made about where funds are being allocated. Furthermore, residents must have a voice in the decision-making process. As it stands, TIF dollars are too often going to areas that don’t necessarily need it and not often enough to the communities that do. So equity in policy requires addressing the issue of transparency. It means creating accountability for how TIF dollars are used in the city’s wards. These are institutional pillars that need to be changed in the TIF process. And if these changes are implemented, TIFs could be a tool that challenged communities can use to spur economic development.
Jerry Joyce: TIFs can be a valuable and effective economic tool when used responsibly—and to this end, they should continue to be used. The use of TIF revenues for specific projects which, in turn, increase property tax receipts is a smart fiscal policy. However, if TIF districts are used to hijack money from other revenue-strapped arms of the government and fly under the radar of most taxpayers, the program becomes unfair and unwise.
TIF districts should be used to support development in areas where such development would not otherwise occur—and they should be shut down when the main projects in the districts are completed. TIFs cause problems when they are used to support developments that are commercially viable without the use of TIF dollars—and when this occurs the city, our schools, parks, etc, are being denied an important and necessary source of revenue.
The city has not published a comprehensive policy that would govern the establishment of TIF districts and oversight of TIF expenditures. Moreover, taxpayers have not been provided with an easy means to access information about the TIF process or to evaluate the performance of the city’s TIF investment.
The city’s TIF program needs to be reviewed from top to bottom to ensure affected communities are properly involved, appropriate controls are in place, and money from taxing bodies is being properly diverted to help underserved constituents and communities.
Currently, one in four Chicago properties is located within a TIF district. Due to the lack of transparency surrounding the TIF program, a moratorium should be placed on TIF expansion and creation until this review has occurred and new rules have been promulgated that ensure transparency and accountability.
In line with the “back-to-basics” TIF ordinance that was introduced in the City Council [in 2016] and supported by [longtime Cook County clerk David] Orr, reform should include stronger restrictions on any newly created TIF, review by City Council of TIF funds during the budget approval process, and the requirements that “blight” be proven and any unencumbered funds be declared a surplus.
The 78 and Lincoln Yards developments must be immediately evaluated by the next mayor before proceeding, particularly in light of the fact that the alderman who was the long-term chairman of the City Council zoning committee [Alderman Danny Solis, who has resigned as chair but remains on the City Council] is now embroiled in a federal corruption investigation. These developments must be reviewed to ensure that they make sense for the affected communities and our city as a whole.
Lori Lightfoot: The Lincoln Yards development should be a decision for the next mayor and the next City Council. And it should be a decision made with community input and a full understanding of the impact on population density, schools, traffic, and other factors. All of these questions remain open at this time, and until they are answered to the satisfaction of the community, the development should not move forward.
As discussed in my good government plan, Chicago must bring real transparency to all aspects of tax increment financing (TIF), an economic development tool that diverts more than $650 million in property taxes annually. When I am mayor, the city will not create new TIF districts until we have fully analyzed the performance of existing districts to ensure that they are meeting their intended objectives and that private recipients of TIF funds are satisfying their contractual obligations. The city will set performance thresholds for each TIF district, and each district will be reviewed at least every five years to determine whether those thresholds are being met. If they are not being met, then the city will, after soliciting public input, determine whether to close a district, revise its objectives or make other changes. In addition, the city will impose penalties on private recipients of TIF funds that do not meet their contractual obligations.
Before any new TIF is created, the city must strengthen the standards for determining whether a district qualifies for TIF. The city will no longer loosely apply the test for determining whether an area is “blighted,” and it will raise the bar for clearing the “but for” test, which requires one to show that private projects and investment would not happen without TIF investment. Only then will the city consider creating new TIF districts that meet these more rigorous standards.
For any new TIF district, the city will clearly describe the justifications for creating the TIF, and it will do so in publicly available documents and in town hall meetings in the proposed district where citizens can provide input. In addition, the city will closely monitor private developers to ensure they are meeting their obligations under redevelopment agreements, including those related to job creation and minority and women business enterprise requirements. If a private developer fails to meet its obligations, the city will enforce penalty provisions contained in the redevelopment agreement, including clawing back TIF funds.
Garry McCarthy: As mayor, I intend to cut property taxes through aggressive TIF reform and putting a full stop to political spending that benefits the wealthy and well-connected at the expense of working families and low-income Chicagoans who are struggling beneath the burdens of violent crime, decreasing city services, and poor public schools. Currently, 31 percent of property tax revenue is tied up inside TIF funds, many of which are in neighborhoods that don’t need TIF money in order to spur economic growth. As mayor, I would return that money to the city’s corporate treasury in the form of a $400 million tax cut.
In my first year, I will freeze all new TIF spending while we conduct a forensic audit of all TIF expenses and revenues. I will move to create a city ordinance that further defines the state term of “blighted” so as to properly use TIF dollars the way they were originally intended.
Done correctly and legally, TIF funds could provide a large infusion of cash to pay for schools, infrastructure improvements, and spurring economic opportunity in neighborhoods where it’s needed most.
I am giving tacit support to the Lincoln Yards and the 78 developments. While both will provide spectacular transformations of those areas, I’m concerned about the $900 million TIF for Lincoln Yards. However, I am encouraged by the level of community involvement in the discussions about Lincoln Yards.
Susana Mendoza: While we certainly need to reform the TIF system to ensure that money is being spent to improve public assets like infrastructure and schools, not to serve as giveaways to wealthy corporations shopping around for new office subsidies, we should also continue to pursue development opportunities throughout the city that can create good-paying jobs and revenue for the city that we can reinvest in our neighborhoods.
I will expand the Neighborhood Opportunity Fund, which takes funds paid by developers to build downtown and invests them in neighborhood projects, especially on the south and west sides. We can pay for additional investments by tapping $250 million in downtown TIF districts that are subject to a freeze put in place by Mayor Emanuel. The funds cannot be used elsewhere in the city due to an Illinois law that restricts TIF use to projects located within or adjacent to the districts where the TIF funds are generated, trapping too many of the dollars downtown. I will use my expertise navigating Springfield to change this law and put dollars to use where they will generate the most impact in our neighborhoods.
Paul Vallas: The city needs to implement a new paradigm for using TIF funds to support new development. Large-scale redevelopment projects are essential for the city to thrive, but need to have clearer TIF guidelines for developers and also should provide opportunities for the city to leverage that growth to help poor and long-neglected communities. Furthermore, that new paradigm needs to provide taxpayers with the transparency needed to clearly understand how their taxpayer money is being used. The critical components of that paradigm are as follows:
- Existing successful TIF’s should be evaluated for possible accelerated expiration so that local governments and schools can reap the benefits of an expanded tax base.
- A minimum of one-third of all TIF proceeds should be dedicated to a Chicago Equity Investment Fund (CEIF) to provide capital for investment in blighted areas of the city, with priority given to the 133 federally designated opportunity zones (see my previously released economic development plan). TIF revenues and other city subsidies and grants to businesses and developers should be in the form of an “equity investment,” allowing the city to realize a return on its investment that can then be used for additional future investments. Full transparency in the drawing of TIF district boundaries to ensure that they are designed in a way that does not divert existing property tax revenues away from the schools and other local governments, which only diverts increased tax burdens on other taxpayers. Full transparency on what TIF proceeds will be used for, and protections and security to ensure that developers and businesses that receive direct or indirect city support live up to their commitments or face “claw back” provisions (e.g., make Target or other retailers pay back any benefits they received if they close their businesses). This new paradigm for TIF investment will not diminish development but will provide a structure to ensure greater transparency and accountability in city investment, while also ensuring benefits are shared in lower-income communities.
- You can read more on my Facebook page here.
Do you support an elected school board? If not, why not, and if yes, please describe the model you prefer.
William M. Daley: Chicago needs more community involvement in the school board, but the mayor must also be held accountable. I support a hybrid board—with the mayor appointing four seats, including the board president, and the local school councils feeding up recommendations for the other three seats, which the mayor must accept. The process to recommend community board members must include all Chicagoans, including parents who are undocumented, refugees, and permanent legal residents. An election administered by a board of elections would not be truly representative, because it would leave those important voices out of the process.
Major votes, including budgets, tax hikes, and school closings, would require a supermajority of five, meaning at least two board members appointed by the mayor or one from the local school councils must support the measure. Chicago Public Schools has difficult problems to solve, including enrollment issues and poor college or career outcomes, but we can fix these issues. It will take direct involvement from the mayor and input from the community. This hybrid school board provides both. Above all, it keeps the focus on our kids, not politics.
Amara Enyia: A significant number of citizens have expressed support for an elected school board. Trusting that people know what they need should lead our decision-making. Simply being elected is not a panacea. But what people are looking for is accountability. And as it stands, with an appointed school board, there is minimal evidence of accountability to children who attend Chicago Public Schools. An elected school board is also about responsiveness and residents wanting to have input in what is happening in the schools where they are sending their children. So I definitely support an elected school board.
Jerry Joyce: It is imperative that the Chicago Board of Education has input from parents and community members. Without this, the board is ill-equipped to make decisions that impact the education of Chicago students. I support a school board made up of seven members—six elected by districts and one appointed by the mayor. The mayoral appointee must be a parent of a child currently enrolled in CPS at the time of the appointment.
Lori Lightfoot: Yes. My mother was an elected school board member, so I understand the importance of giving parents and stakeholders a voice in how schools operate. That is why I support a fully independent elected school board.
Creating a fully elected school board will require a change in state law, so I will draft and help introduce legislation in Springfield to give Chicagoans the right to elect an independent school board. Until this legislation becomes law, I will appoint individuals to serve on the school board based on their merit and backgrounds, not on their loyalty to the mayor. This will include CPS parents, academics, and individuals from the nonprofit world with deep backgrounds in education. These individuals will be selected as part of a transparent process that includes public input.
Garry McCarthy: I support a hybrid board, with half the board elected by the community and the other half selected by me. As the mayor, I know that I will be held accountable for the actions of the school board. Therefore, I also need to have the authority as well.
Susana Mendoza: I support a school board mixed with elected and appointed officials. As a proud CPS parent, I believe community members deserve a voice on their school board, but I also believe a mayor has to have skin in the game and be held accountable for the performance of our neighborhood schools. As mayor, I will never abdicate or walk away from my responsibility and accountability to Chicago’s students.
Paul Vallas: I support a hybrid school board of nine members. Four would be appointed by the mayor, four selected by the community, and a chairman appointed by the mayor. The community representatives would be chosen directly by the locally elected local school council members. I would also limit my selections to those who were serving as existing local school council members. This would ensure direct community representation and keep the special interests at bay, as the selection of members by the public would not entail expensive elections. The recent local school board election in LA cost millions of dollars as both the charter schools and the unions spent millions in support of their candidates, and this is not a system I would ever want to replicate. It is important to note that the charter advocates were able to secure a majority control of the LA Unified School District in the last election, in large part by simply outspending their opponents. My hybrid model would ensure that the mayor has a direct stake in the schools and thus cannot escape accountability, while giving the community a powerful voice, independent of special interests other than the best interests of the children, and ensure full transparency.
Willie Wilson: Clearly, we need a complete overhaul of our educational system as well as expectations and accountability. I will have an elected school board that works with community-based parent organizations and CPS staff to determine the proper number, size, location, and staffing of each school and in each community. This will create a partnership and accountability system that will be manageable to clean up the current years-long CPS crisis that has come to light and set a new precedent for our system.
What is your top policy idea to implement for the Chicago Police Department when you take office?
William M. Daley: Crime is my top priority, and my goal is a 75 percent reduction in shootings and a comparable reduction in murders in four years. It’s a bold goal, but we don’t have a choice. Every violent crime rips families apart and tears at our communities. Too many lives are cut short, students can’t focus on their studies, and neighborhoods struggle under the weight of decline. This issue affects us all, no matter where you live in Chicago, and we must address it now.
Too many police officers aren’t supported on the job. We need a better-trained police force that leverages the latest technology. I’ve called for an immediate requirement that police officers receive 40 hours of annual training and improved access to mental health support, and I will invest in the latest police technology to make each officer more effective.
Police can’t solve our violence issues by themselves. We also need more effective engagement with communities through street intervention, prison reentry programs, and job and skills training. I’ve committed $50 million to create an Office of Violence Reduction and Prevention to spearhead these programs, and I am committed to strategic neighborhood investments. It has worked to curb violence in other cities, and it will work in Chicago. This kind of commitment will also help build trust between the police and our communities.
Amara Enyia: I oppose spending $95 million for a police training academy. Far too often, whenever the city proposes investment in underserved communities, it’s presented in the form of police infrastructure including but not limited to manpower, training centers, and new technology. Economic and human infrastructure investment ought to be prioritized over law enforcement outlays. Social, behavioral, and mental health investment will enhance the quality of life for residents and families specifically, and communities and the entire city in the aggregate. It requires a different philosophy to shift resources from where we have always put them to understanding the importance of applying them to neighborhoods that have a legacy of being intentionally overlooked.
Jerry Joyce: The number one responsibility of any government must be the protection and safety of its people, and the city of Chicago is failing at this job. Police department staffing levels have been decimated, which has directly contributed to the impact of crime in communities across Chicago. City budgeting must be prioritized to hire more officers in order to restore a more responsive and accountable Chicago Police Department.
Chicago lags the nation in murder clearance rates, a direct result of significant cuts to the detective division. Solving murders and gun crimes cannot be done without adequate investigative manpower, and the detective division must be restored so that violent crime can be investigated in a timely manner. Too many cases are languishing because of the manpower shortage. Once restored to appropriate levels, the division can be supplemented by a pool of retired detectives.
Lori Lightfoot: Reducing gun violence. As set forth in my detailed public safety plan, we cannot arrest our way out of our violence problem. Instead, the city and its partners must treat this epidemic of violence as the public health crisis that it is. This means addressing the root causes of violence by revitalizing economically distressed neighborhoods, ensuring access to quality schools in every neighborhood, eliminating food and medical deserts, and providing a pathway to good jobs that pay a living wage. In addition, we must follow the lead of cities like Boston and Oakland and increase the resources devoted to violence interruption techniques so we can stop violence before it happens. Furthermore, the city, philanthropic foundations, and local businesses must place more emphasis on, and commit more resources to, organizations across the city that help ease the transition of the thousands of citizens released annually from state and county jails back into society and the workforce. Providing legitimate jobs that pay a living wage is one of the best ways to reduce violence and recidivism and improve our communities.
To stop violence, we must also be much more proactive in stopping the flow of illegal guns that fuel violence. This requires a proactive, coordinated response from law enforcement that must be led by the U.S. Attorney for the Northern District of Illinois, in coordination with the ATF, FBI, DEA, the CPD, and state and county law enforcement, as well as federal counterparts in states like Indiana, Wisconsin, and Mississippi, from which large sources of illegal guns flow. We must target the traffickers, felons in possession, and straw purchasers with an effective carrot (social service support and jobs for those who leave the criminal life) and stick (stepped-up prosecutions for serious offenders) approach. In addition, the U.S. attorney’s office must significantly increase the number of illegal gun cases prosecuted in Chicago.
To ensure that the city has a comprehensive public health approach to addressing violence and overall public safety, I will create a Mayor’s Office of Public Safety, a first of its kind in Chicago. There are currently only two full-time personnel on the mayor’s personal staff devoted to the broad public safety needs of the city such as police, fire, homeland security, emergency management of natural and manmade disasters, and 911 and other emergency services. This is woefully inadequate, particularly when compared with the resources devoted by the mayors of New York City and Los Angeles. Competent stewardship of the city’s public safety needs and infrastructure requires a real commitment of resources and expertise. And that is precisely what I will bring to the job.
We also must strengthen existing state gun laws, sign into law legislation regulating gun dealers, and support federal legislation that makes gun trafficking a federal crime. State legislators can strengthen existing laws to discourage straw purchasers and punish traffickers, as well as address problems arising from the failure to report lost or stolen guns, and the governor can sign legislation requiring gun dealers to certify their federal licenses with the Illinois state police and take measures to protect against straw purchases. On a federal level, Congress can pass Representative Robin Kelly’s Gun Trafficking Prevention Act, which would make gun trafficking a federal crime and would increase penalties for straw purchasers.
The next mayoral administration also must do more to support CPD, which is reporting that for 2018 it seized approximately 9,700 illegal guns, which is twice the illegal crime guns seized in New York and Los Angeles combined. This means creating a single office in CPD to track illegal guns and gun arrests across the city, and increasing the number of hours CPD’s crime lab is open, the number of firearms examiners, and the number of shifts examiners are available to process gun crime evidence. It also means purchasing a $300,000 mobile ballistics laboratory that can be dispatched immediately to shooting scenes and can process ballistics information in hours instead of days. (This mobile lab costs less than the average amount CPD spent per day on overtime between 2013 and 2017.)
Garry McCarthy: I’ll be a mayor who will make fighting crime our first priority. We will implement a comprehensive plan that offers a dynamic, state-of-the-art approach to crime prevention and reduction. My crime strategy requires a mayor with the political will to implement, supervise, and communicate with the public. I will eliminate the political manipulation and micromanagement of the police department by City Hall. Initiate a top-to-bottom review of the disciplinary system of CPD by a blue-ribbon panel of experts to examine all aspects of the system, including the role of COPA [Civilian Office of Police Accountability] and the Police Board. Use data-driven policing strategies to reduce specialization, enhance professional management, and put more police on the streets. Restoring public trust in the police department will require completely depoliticizing decision-making, hiring, and public communications.
Susana Mendoza: I will work to end the code of silence and help our police officers transition from what the Obama Justice Department call[ed] a “warrior mindset” to a “guardian mindset.” We can do this by properly training law enforcement and implementing early warning systems to identify at-risk officers before they graduate from the academy, and to intervene with training or discipline for serious offenders who are already in uniform.
Paul Vallas: My first major policy initiative unveiled in May of 2018 was on how to rebuild and reform the Chicago Police Department, which has been gravely impaired in its ability to do its basic functions in recent years. Many of the common-sense elements of my reform plan were later included in the city’s federal consent decree on police reform, which includes major improvements in staffing, supervision, and training.
But even more important for public safety than reforming our police department is changing the conditions that contribute to violent crime in too many of our communities. Poor education, the lack of employment opportunities, the failure to offer any real opportunities for those previously incarcerated to secure occupational skills, and employment opportunities are all major drivers of violence in Chicago’s most economically challenged neighborhoods.
A comprehensive economic development plan would be accompanied by an effort to get violent criminals off the street by restoring police-beat integrity and the detectives division, hiring hundreds of retired police officers with investigatory experience to provide various case support, establishing a Witness Protection Program to keep witnesses and victims safe, and work with the state’s attorney’s office and U.S. attorney’s office to ensure the aggressive prosecution and stiff sentencing of violent offenders, especially those [convicted of gun-related crimes].
Also, the destruction of the community-based social service infrastructure like the closing of the mental health centers. I have proposed a comprehensive economic development plan that I refer to as my Marshall Plan for Chicago’s long-ignored communities. The plan articulates how the federal opportunity zone program and the fair share of TIF revenues can be used to bring massive capital investment to Chicago’s poorest communities. The “Buy Chicago, Hire Chicago” plan shows how the city can use the $20 billion in resources it annually controls through public budgets (city, CPS, CTA, CHA, parks, enterprise funds) to expand economic opportunities in our poorer communities. The plan also talks about how shuttered schools can be repurposed as community business incubators and adult education and occupational training centers to help develop local business start-ups and provide employment-linked training to high school dropouts, the chronically unemployed, and those previously incarcerated. The plan further details how a portion of available federal, state, and local resources combined with potential proceeds from the taxing of cannabis can be used to rebuild community-based social services. These initiatives would have a dramatic long-term impact in restoring communities, reducing crime, and growing the city’s population and economy. You can read more on my Facebook page here.
Willie Wilson: Our city needs to be unified. And if elected mayor, I will bring our city together. I intend to divide the city into four separate police districts and form community-based citizen committees in each district to participate in choosing the best police leader for their district. This would be the beginning of bridging the gap between citizens and the police force to work together as partners and foster a cooperative environment. I believe this type of partnership approach will lead to establishing the much-needed trust and a culture of working together to solve current crime issues/cases as well as deter and decrease future crime in those areas. Likewise, I believe we should work together as a community embracing all races, creeds, and colors. Inclusion is the key. Together is the way.
The city itself plays a role in creating financial hardship for residents, particularly through unfair ticketing practices that can drive people into bankruptcy. How will you change this?
William M. Daley: We cannot continue to balance our budget on the backs of low- and moderate-income Chicagoans. Chicago’s fine and fee structure is unacceptable.
It is vital that we address the enormous ticket debt that is already issued, decrease the burden on low- and moderate-income Chicagoans, and deal with our ever-growing backlog of unpaid fines. I will:
- Execute a onetime amnesty for low- to moderate-income Chicagoans most impacted by the current regressive structure
- Create a statute of limitations for parking ticket debt
- Create a progressive city sticker fee and fine structure so that lower-income residents pay less
- Limit driver’s license suspensions to moving violations
- Improve access to payment plans through better technology and more financing options
Amara Enyia: Chicago has a history of punitive policies that increase the everyday economic stressors of Chicago’s most vulnerable and widen the wealth gap, that only benefit and privilege those with access to power. The answer to Chicago’s problem is not just a change in leadership but a reimagining of the system’s design. We have the chance to build a Chicago that is equity forward, a Chicago that actively rejects the idea that citizens should be punished for being poor, a Chicago that protects its people and provides a workforce that allows us all to thrive.
Chicago’s legacy of draconian policing in low-income black and brown communities takes a significant toll on the pockets of our communities when its predatory practices exploit public safety systems, hurting black and Latinx communities the most.
The majority of Chicago’s bike tickets go to bikers in black communities like Austin and Lawndale, and when it snows, CPD tickets minority communities for shoveling violations more than all other communities. Almost a quarter of those living on less than $15,000 a year report having outstanding ticket debt, and are 40 percent more likely to be issued vehicle-related tickets and fines, even though white communities own more vehicles. On top of student loans, medical bills, and other debt, ticket-driven debt perpetuates a cycle of financial insecurity for families that are already significantly disenfranchised, pushing them into unemployment, bankruptcies, and incarceration.
Chicago is leading the nation in bankruptcies—not because Chicago’s wealthy face higher rates of hardship, but because compliance violations incur the largest source of ticket debt in the city, and that fact is a stain on Chicago’s progress. When people lose their licenses and cars, they lose their jobs, and when people lose their jobs, they lose their livelihoods.
From overwhelming tax costs that eat away at what Chicagoans are able to put on the table at dinnertime to targeted racist and classist ticketing that place even higher barriers to an individual’s ability to live their daily lives, the draconian nature of Chicago’s fines, fees, and forfeiture systems perpetuate disparities in revenue growth and holds us back from thinking of new, innovative ways to keep Chicago’s economy thriving. We need progressive and productive ticketing and fee policies that protect our communities instead of punishing them for being poor. Viable solutions include:
- Conducting an assessment and take a hard look at the impact of Chicago’s predatory tickets, fines, fees, and forfeiture system on low-income constituents;
- Fighting for progressive fee structures that impose lower tax rates on lower-income constituents; and
- Replacing the existing Chicago vehicle immobilization payment structure with amnesty programs that will allow Chicagoans to repay their debt in public service instead of cash to reclaim their vehicles
Jerry Joyce: I would conduct a complete analysis of the city’s vehicle ticketing systems to explore this matter and make any required changes moving forward.
Lori Lightfoot: It is unacceptable that our ticketing system is having such a devastating impact on low-income people and people of color. To identify and address racial disparities, I will direct that an audit be conducted into potential bias in ticketing. Additionally, right now people who owe money to the city aren’t allowed to work for the city or as taxi or ride-hail drivers. I would end this policy for people whose outstanding payments are below a certain threshold, and would work to stop the suspension of drivers’ licenses for nonmoving violations.
Garry McCarthy: This comes down to a person’s ability to pay. In those cases where the loss of a driver’s license could mean the loss of a job, a home, or a family’s well-being, I would advocate for payment in the form of an appropriate and verifiable [term of] community service. I will ensure that a person is not penalized into poverty. We’ll start by making sure there is a payment plan system that takes into account that person’s ability to pay based on their financial situation. We will work with Chicago residents, not against them.
Susana Mendoza: I implemented a technology overhaul of our ticketing system, and I’m confident I can build on that experience, and that progress, to create a fairer system for all. I have a comprehensive plan to reform the fees and fines that hit low-income residents the hardest. My plan would prevent fines from rapidly escalating by capping additional fees, eliminate duplicate ticketing, institute payment plans and alternate payment options, add programs for amnesties and debt forgiveness, and allow for “fix-it tickets” and “correctable violations.”
Paul Vallas: I will stop the general practice of suspending drivers’ licenses, I will get rid of the red light and speed cameras, and I will cap fines so that they do not exceed the cost of the licenses, stickers, or tickets. These will be done immediately. The city’s current policies are the most regressive form of government funding imaginable. These policies currently cause disproportionate pain for low-income communities, including out-of-control ticketing on city sticker violations and drivers’ license suspensions for unpaid tickets. Fines, fees, and penalties that exceed people’s ability to pay can create barriers to employment and mobility. When people cannot pay fines, fees, or tickets, their credit can be taken away or downgraded, their drivers’ license suspended, making it impossible for many to get a job or find a place to live. Ultimately, this creates less productive citizens and taxpayers. This is a classic “lose-lose” for the city and its citizens. As mayor, I will call for a standing committee of public policy experts and citizen groups to review all city fee and fine policies and make recommendations. I will also review all current prohibitions on those with debts to the city from being hired, receiving contracts, or securing licenses or grants. I will consider a fees and fines amnesty program that will waive all penalties on late ticket payments. Better options could allow people with debts to the city to conduct business, but then have their debts paid off over time with deductions from city wages or other payments. I will call for a review of the current prohibitions on those with debts to the city from being hired, receiving contracts, or securing licenses or grants. As I mentioned, I will eliminate red light cameras, stop suspending drivers’ licenses, and cap fines so that they do not exceed the cost of the original license, vehicle sticker, or ticket. These I will do unilaterally. I will then call for a standing committee to address the aforementioned issues and to develop an ability-to-pay plan. You can read more on my Facebook page here.
Willie Wilson: Our city has the terrible distinction of heaping the largest tax burdens on our citizens than any place in the country. We have such a long list of “hidden taxes” that disguise the actual cost of living in Chicago. In all, the city subjects Chicagoans to over 30 individual taxes and a multitude of fees. I will make sweeping changes across the system to rid the citizens of outrageous nickel-and-dime taxes and fees including, but not limited to, throwing out the ticketing, booting, and red light camera systems.
How would you ensure clean, safe, affordable, and accessible water for the entirety of the city?
William M. Daley: The 400,000 lead service lines that run from the street to private properties are a serious concern that requires close monitoring and a clearer assessment. As mayor, I will call for a more comprehensive study of the current water system to better understand the scope of the current problem and increase monitoring, so we know the extent of the problem and identify any risks quickly. Replacing lead service lines could cost billions of dollars and take years of coordinated effort between the city and property owners. I will work with property owners to manage costs and ensure pipes are replaced. The idea that Chicagoans would not all have equal access to clean, safe water is unacceptable.
Amara Enyia: The issue of lead in Chicago’s water is an infrastructure issue that largely has not been addressed because of the costs attendant with upgrading service lines. Addressing lead involves:
- Acknowledging that lead pipes are indeed a citywide infrastructure issue and the city must develop a comprehensive plan to address it that involves targeting those areas of the city where lead levels are highest. This should include areas where populations are most vulnerable, including day cares and schools, parks, and communities where high levels of lead have already been detected (both in paint and in water).
- Immediately creating a tax rebate/incentive program for homeowners/landlords who do decide to take on the costs associated with upgrading lines. These are costly endeavors that should be balanced with a reduction in property taxes as credit for taking on that cost.
- Creating a fund utilizing federal and state resources that can support homeowners who opt to take on costs associated with upgrading lines but are unable to pay the entire cost upfront. This fund should be supplemented with local resources and would prioritize lower-income neighborhoods, where lead levels in pipe and homes tend to be higher. Moreover, incentives should be created for landlords who opt to change connector lines on the buildings they own.
- Establishing a public bank for Chicago would allow Chicago to fund its own infrastructure projects, thereby lowering the cost of these projects to the city as a whole. Having a long-term, sustainable mechanism for funding infrastructure ensures that the city can address environmental and public health concerns in a timely fashion without placing the burden entirely on homeowners and jeopardizing the health and well-being of our communities.
Jerry Joyce: We have known about the lead problem since before 1966. Most cities in the U.S. discontinued the use of lead in the mid-1960s; however, Chicago continued until the federal government issued a mandate in 1985.
Addressing this issue will require a long-term massive public works plan involving the state and federal government. However, we must start by identifying the most vulnerable and susceptible areas and immediately begin the process of installing lead-filtered water fountains in every school, public park, community center, library, and other public facilities.
Lori Lightfoot: Chicago has abdicated its responsibility to provide residents clean, safe water by failing to adequately test water quality after it leaves Chicago’s Department of Water Management facilities. Chicago has failed to test residential water quality widely, choosing instead to rely largely on testing in the homes of current or former city employees. The city has hewed far too closely to the federally mandated minimum of 50 residential tests yearly, of which nearly half have been conducted in the homes of Department of Water Management and other city employees. Not coincidentally, when Chicagoans had the opportunity to request their water be tested, nearly 70 percent of samples were found to have lead contamination, with three in every ten homes tested showing lead levels above the maximum allowed in bottled water by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration.
My administration will add lead pipe replacement to municipal construction projects and earmark federal-state loans from the Drinking Water State Revolving Loan Fund to replace lead service pipes. We must give homeowners a viable option to replace lead service lines and be transparent about it.
I am looking to other cities that have conducted large-scale lead-replacement projects for funding ideas. These ideas include allowing utilities to use ratepayer money to cover the cost of replacing pipes on private property and providing financial incentives for qualifying homeowners to replace private lead water lines on their property through financial assistance, waiving or reducing applicable city fees and interest-free loans. Additionally, the city will provide access to free and low-cost filtration systems as a stop-gap for homes that need immediate relief from lead contamination, a step the Emanuel administration only abruptly decided to take in November 2018 after more than five years of denying the existence of the lead problem.
Additionally, Chicago must continue and expand rigorous, regular testing at our most high-risk locations, including schools, childcare centers, and parks. Proactive testing and mitigation in these areas can help ensure that Chicago’s most vulnerable residents—children—can thrive without the serious and long-term consequences of lead or other contamination in their drinking water.
Garry McCarthy: The most pressing environmental threat to Chicagoans is lead and other toxins in our drinking water, especially in CPS schools. As a father of a two-year-old son, I am very concerned that Chicago’s drinking water may have a deleterious impact on our children’s cognitive growth. Our campaign is drafting a full remediation plan that addresses this challenge. Also, I’m committed to cleaning up Chicago’s brownfields, abandoned buildings, homes, and other dangerous structures that invite crime and health risks.
Susana Mendoza: No family should be afraid to drink water from their faucet. I strongly support efforts at the state level to identify and ameliorate key lead pipe risks, especially in schools and childcare centers, and I will fight alongside Governor Pritzker to enact legislation that can help Chicago in replacing dangerous water infrastructure. At the same time that we fight at the federal and state level for resources and help in combating the problem, I will explore options at the city level to replace lead service lines and water mains.
Paul Vallas: Last June, I proposed a plan to aggressively address this issue. My clean water plan will create a neighborhood conservation fund that will secure and leverage federal, state, and local funding sources to help finance the replacement of lead service lines in homes and small businesses. It will establish a revolving loan fund that will be self-replenishing to give Chicagoans long-term access to property improvement capital. This initiative will also help establish a neighborhood-based water purification industry that will contribute to local employment opportunities. The steps I will take include:
- Initiate a public education campaign to address resident concerns, explain resources available to ensure that they have clean water, and inform them of immediate steps that can be taken to limit lead exposure.
- Offer free testing services and develop a plan to test all properties connected to lead service lines and provide quick turnaround time informing property owners of the result of those tests and ensure complete transparency.
- Prequalify vendors to ensure residents are receiving effective water filtration systems and make those systems available to any homeowner, landlord, or business that needs them, and provide subsidies when necessary.
- Develop an aggressive program for replacing lead pipes in existing properties.
The replacement priorities for the plan are:
- Provide public access to affordable, effective, and subsidized water filtration systems.
- Prioritize the replacement of lead pipes at facilities serving children, including day-care centers and schools. Concurrently, address lead paint hazards.
- Include lead pipe replacement for parks and other facilities in the city’s capital plan.
- Establish a program to provide public financing for lead pipe replacement, which is currently the sole responsibility of property owners.
I plan to pay for the plan by accessing federal and state loan programs, along the lines of the program utilized in Galesburg, Illinois, and dedicating an annual percentage of current and future TIF surpluses and developer fees to the neighborhood conservation fund to extend loans to homeowners and businesses for lead pipe replacement, pursuing the creation of a state’s homeowner’s property tax credit program to partially offset the costs of lead pipe removal and replacement for landlords and small businesses, and creating a local property tax abatement program to partially offset the cost of lead pipe replacements and lead removal from property. You can read more on my clean water plan on my website here.
Note: Funding to the neighborhood conservation fund could be also be increased by dedicating a portion of future casino revenues to that fund for neighborhood infrastructure and improvement, if and when a Chicago casino is authorized.
Willie Wilson: We already have elected officials responsible for this! What are they doing? Let’s hold the Water Reclamation District Commissioners accountable! v