Conversations with the aldermanic candidates of the 32nd Ward
Topic: The one issue most pressing in your ward
The one issue most pressing in you ward is…
Solely within the 32nd Ward, I would have to say the financial issues that are being dealt with in the city, because they effect the issues that are important ward: services, the police, and schools. Everything comes from our fiscal accountability. I look at it from a standpoint of getting our fiscal house in order. That includes the pension. That includes top-down budget review that looks at coming up with alternative sources of revenue. I don’t know if I can throw that under a larger umbrella of just saying the fiscal health of the 32nd Ward.
In years past, maybe people could have said, “The development had run amuck in the 32nd Ward, and that’s an issue.” There’s no development right now, and let’s say there was development going on, and it was inconsistent with our landscape, I still don’t think it would be as important as the fiscal issues. Whether we’ve got rats, whether we’ve got a lot of crime in our streets, those are all problems, but I think those are symptoms of the larger issue which is that our fiscal health is in such a mess with our operating deficit and our revenue streams remaining flat – sure, are we peaking up a little bit, but I don’t think we should get lulled into a false sense of fiscal security, because the prognosticators seem to suggest that we may not be out of this. With what’s coming down the hill with the pension issue, with the governor signing that income tax increase, I think there’s still a lot of problems ahead.
The fiscal issue is so large that if there were any singular issue – like development in the ward – it would overshadow that. But I don’t know that there’s any one prominent issue. The fiscal health within the 32nd Ward is the biggest issue.
On the ward level, it’s constituent services. Whether it’s private residents who aren’t getting recycling programs, they have horrible rats – third highest amount of rats in alleys in the city – and aren’t getting their potholes filled and aren’t receiving responsive, prompt, courteous service to their needs, or constituents in the form of business that have been left behind and are dealing with a bureaucratic nightmare. That would be it.
Ward Nights shouldn’t be once a week, unless I have a campaign event, and then the next week a holiday. We had 21 days without Ward Night in our ward. That’s ridiculous. If you’re not going to do it on Monday, and you’re only doing it once a week, do it Tuesday. But it’s gonna be every night. If I’m in the office, I will meet with you as a constituent, or I will tell you, “I’m sorry, I am in a meeting and need to put a value on somebody else’s time because they came here to do this. I will take your name and number and either me or my staff will be calling you back right away.” That’s number one to the ward.
Taxes. The tax burden. In terms of property taxes, and how much people are paying, and now the income tax without any property tax relief. If you look at the price people are paying in this ward, it’s pretty heavy. The burden is so heavy on them, they just don’t feel like government as a whole is giving them something in return. It’s probably the property tax burden, coupled with this new income tax, both on residents and businesses. Across the board. When you sit here, and people come in, and over the last three years getting their tax bills, they’re like, “Where in god’s name is all this money going? And what are you doing about it?”
You fight the waste in city government and wherever you can. There’s probably hundreds of place I could fight it, but I have to pick my battles. The budgets and different departments and the way they operate, we look at that with the different departments we work with, and try to keep the tax burden down by making them more efficient. I would say it’s that. Figure out how to bring that burden down over time.
The other half is, if you’re wasting too much on the tax burden, you’re not getting it in the schools, you’re not getting it in the police, you’re not getting it on your streets. It’s like the parking meter deal. 50% of that money goes to Abu Dhabi and Germany. 50% of 100 million dollars a year, right out the door. That’s 50 million a year that should be going into our streets and our schools and everything else, and that’s what I mean by that tax burden, the payment that we’re putting into the system: we’re not getting a fair return on what we’re paying into the system. That’s the most pressing issue, because it affects everything else down the line. Schools or crime or whatever, it all emanates from that one burden.
Schools. The quality of the schools, and specifically the high school, in the 32nd Ward. I believe fundamentally that the education issue is not a lagging issue, but is actually an issue that if we take some leadership on and solve, it will alleviate some of the other concerns that we have.
I talked to you about some of the consequences of a neighborhood school or a high school that doesn’t meet the standards of the parents. They’re either going to choose to send their kids to private school, choose to move out, or they’re going to send their kids to a sub-standard school. If we could somehow make a neighborhood high school that they know they can send their children to, and that they’re getting a top notch education and can be involved with and be a part of the community, they’ll move there and they’ll stay. It will be a destination from all over the city for folks to come there. And I think that will spread itself out from there.
We need to make all the schools stronger. But there is no magic pill on how to do it. It’s a lot of smaller things. How do you work with a new principal and administration to set new standards for their school that’s creative and works and meets the individual needs? How do you get the parents who are not sending their kids to the neighborhood school, getting them to buy in to the vision that this new administration has, and working with CPS to make sure that they get the resources that lack in the community? That’s the role of alderman – it’s a leadership position, making sure that all these parties can come to the table and say, “This is a priority of ours. Let’s work together and try to figure out ways to get this done.”
We’ve seen it in schools like the Audubon School, where you have an innovative, hard working principal in John Price who is extremely demanding of his teachers and staff. Now you’ve got a whole group of the Roscoe Village community who are now going to send their kids there, that are active in the Friends of Audubon program. I’ve been to three LSC meetings in the last six months there. They’re extraordinarily well-attended, and that’s something that didn’t exist ten years ago. There’s a spark, there’s leadership, there was a demand for a good neighborhood public school, and now we’re seeing that. I don’t see why that situation and commitment can’t be replicated in other schools throughout the ward.
 Local school council