The four candidates for 32nd Ward alderman participated in a forum Thursday, moderated by Roscoe View Journal publisher Mike Fourcher, in front of an audience of about 90 people. This is the first part of our coverage. Click here to read Part II.
Incumbent Ald. Scott Waguespack and his three challengers David Pavlik, Brian Gorman and Bryan Lynch each responded to seven questions written by both RVJ and audience members.
Each candidate also gave a 90-second opening statement and a 2-minute closing statement.
The discourse was mostly cordial, but after several forums, the candidates seemed to have grown weary of one another’s arguments.
“Well it shouldn’t be a surprise that I’ve been a punching bag for the last few weeks at these debates,” said Waguespack. “It gets frustrating, it gets offensive, when people sit up here and say things that just don’t hold water.”
All of the candidates have also responded to our extensive questionnaire, and you can see their responses here.
Question: Chicago has a structural budget deficit, and all of you said in your questionnaires that you were against wholesale property tax increases. What specific services or programs would you cut?
Gorman suggested revenue-increasing options instead of cutting services.
He suggested charging city residents small fees for the blue-cart recycling system and changing Streets and Sanitation operations from a ward-based to a grid-based system for street sweeping and trash collection.
He also suggested facilitating a stronger small business environment and higher commercial property taxes.
Pavlik suggested reevaluating how nonprofit organizations and hospitals pay water bills and property taxes to the city, as well as temporarily eliminating tuition reimbursement.
“We have more holders of MBA and practicing attorneys unemployed right now than probably ever before in the history of Chicago,” he said. “We should be employing them … not paying for somebody to do a job and paying for them to get a degree when we have an unemployed lawyer in the field.”
Pavlik also suggested reorganization of the 911 call centers for smarter deployment of officers.
Waguespack said an audit of the city’s finances by an independent budget office would be his first step. He also touted his plan for an asset lease protection ordinance to ensure the city’s assets, like the parking meters, are not sold without a full financial analysis.
Waguespack also encouraged cutting out mid-level management positions, like a “deputy to the deputy deputy district director.”
“The titles are absolutely amazing,” he said. “The jobs that they do are not.”
Lynch also suggested cutting back on personnel costs in mid-level management, which he said is the city’s biggest expense.
“Our pension system is eating us alive,” he said.
Lynch also said the city council should be more vigilant in reviewing the city budgets.
“Our budgets have gone through as they’ve been proposed without any substantive critique of them,” he said and suggested cutting the city’s fleet of vehicles.
“Should we let people take their cars home? No. We should go to an I-Go or car-sharing service,” he said.
Question: You all oppose elimination of TIFs, tax increment financing. TIFs take out over $500 million a year from our tax base, the majority of which would go to our public schools. Since you all oppose new property taxes, can you explain the value of keeping TIFs when teacher jobs and city services are on the chopping block?
Pavlik supports a closer examination of TIFs to make sure they will increase tax revenue.
“Everywhere else we have TIFs in the United States, they work,” he said. “The system is broken.”
Lynch said there are direct benefits the city receives, especially when it relates to schools. He said the city needs to focus on what it’s doing for the children.
“TIFs are a valuable tool, but you cannot agree on every TIF that comes before City Council,” he said.
Waguespack said TIFs can’t be suspended “willy nilly.” He pointed to the situation at Republic Windows early in 2009 as an example of TIFs being used well.
TIF funding was used to restart the company after the owners abandoned the facility. But he encourages reform of the TIF system.
Waguespack said he worked with 1st Ward Ald. Manny Flores to put together TIF transparency, getting the information posted on the city website for public viewing.
Gorman said TIFs are not bad, but called them a “hidden property tax increase.”
He said TIFs are useful in areas that are “technically blighted,” but pointed out the Willis Tower downtown is part of a TIF district.
He also wants the Board of Education to be able to decide how to use the money that’s allotted to them.
“Let them build the school,” he said. “Let them decide what projects need to be done.”
Question: With the YMCA of Chicago refocusing its corporate program, will you work to preserve the 200-room, 82-year-old Lakeview YMCA SRO (single room occupancy)? The facility is just outside the boundaries of the 32nd Ward, but serves its residents.
All four candidates agreed that the YMCA facility is an asset to the neighborhood and supported subsidized and affordable housing staying in the 32nd ward.
Pavlik suggested finding corporate financing for the venture, similar to how the city raised money to support its Olympic campaign.
Waguespack said he would work with neighborhood organizations and use the zoning process to protect the building.
Lynch added that the city should ensure that the people living there don’t wind up homeless and protect those living on the fringes of society.
Gorman said they should keep it in the community and consider the long-term benefits of keeping it in Lakeview.
“We have to think about what it means to transplant them,” he said.