Our Urban Times, Elaine Coorens
Question: Alderman Waguespack, what do you see as the top five issues for 2017 in Chicago and your 32nd Ward?
Waguespack provided the following five issues:
- Violence and Crime
While there are some issues unique to wards, the main problem we all face is the violence and crime throughout the city. Our ward, comprised of several community areas, has seen a real increase in crime, which isn’t always accurately reflected in crime statistics.
We have a crisis of governing and policing on our hands. The state budget impasse has cut crucial social services to all parts of the City. Mayor Emanuel’s budgets have reduced the number of police officers on the street, while his overtime to combat crime expenditures policy has largely been proven a failure.
People are desperate to make ends meet and provide for their needs and those of their families during a time when trust in the police and elected of the City is at an all-time low. Further, the pattern and practice of discriminatory action on the part of the CPD must be addressed to restore public trust in the police and government. Tensions will continue to run rampant, especially given the incoming federal administration.
Residents and businesses in all our neighborhoods are building better ties to neighbors and police and that has helped with deterring some crime. Block by block buildup of neighborhood watches and close communication with our own neighbors goes a long way to improving safety in our neighborhoods. The police appreciate this type of awareness and interaction with them.
I think we all need to stay focused on the larger policy issues and where are tax dollars are spent to make sure we are getting the most value for those funds. I think it will be important to get back to funding for mental health clinics and individuals in need, and address the gang and violence issue in a different way, bringing back some of the proven methods of intervention where funding police overtime alone won’t solve the continual drain on resources.
- Chicago Public Schools
We have worked diligently to address the needs of students and teachers at CPS, yet fiscal mismanagement and poor budgetary decisions continue to cripple our schools. The Board of Education has yet to address these problems, and it is the children and educators of Chicago who suffer.
The CPRC [Chicago Progressive Reform Caucus] has called for hearings on the defunding of Special Education at CPS twice. A resolution I introduced in November of 2015 regarding CPS’ compliance with the ADA and the implications of further slashing SPED programming has yet to be called up for hearing.
We were pleased with CPS’ response to the lead contamination of drinking water at Chicago schools, but it was cold-comfort because they had knowledge before the fact and the issue remained unaddressed. We will have to continue to monitor that situation to ensure that remediation is swift and thorough, and hold the Department of Health accountable in its response and treatment for persons affected by the contamination.
In our local schools, we’ll be working on some necessary capital projects in a couple schools, and continuing to deal with CPS budget related problems created by cuts to schools across the city.
- Government Ethics
An ethics crisis continues in the highest levels of city government. Transparency continues to be lacking at every level of government.
In February of 2016 City Council took a historically close vote to expand the jurisdiction of the Inspector General over city council committees, but we lost the vote 25-23. City leadership, who could have made sure the vote successful, sat on their hands.
The vote result speaks volumes about how elected officials truly treat transparency and accountability. Until the offices and committees of the Chicago City Council can be adequately monitored and audited by our Inspector General, there is less meaningful mechanism of professional responsibility and accountability.
In the most recent Mayor’s official business email battle that was waged against the BGA [Better Government Association] (and still against the Chicago Tribune), the mayor made clear he is not beholden to higher ethics standards when doing business behind closed doors.
I think citizens should continue to demand more ethical behavior and an end to the pay to play and politics that put taxpayers and citizens second to personal gain. Our group of Aldermen in the progressive caucus will continue to work on legislation to improve city standards.
- Small Business
We’d like to find ways to keep helping small businesses as they grow or set up shop in the 32nd Ward. Local chambers of commerce and individual businesses are important to the vibrancy of the ward and city, so we need to do what we can to improve the basics that we work on at our level of government.
Together with groups like the Small Business Advocacy Council, we’ve found ways to decrease the time frame for signage, but need to get the Administration to advocate for the changes in City Hall.
Even when there are disagreements on some issues with local business models or ideas, we’ve always figured out ways to work toward mutual goals. The staff in my office work as diligently for businesses as they do residents and we work to do more each year. I think we have a robust and constantly changing business environment that looks to build and do business in our ward because of the approach we take with business.
- Chicago Finances
We have to get the city’s fiscal house in order. Massive borrowing at extremely high interest rates is not an option anymore. The Mayor has been given several progressive and cost saving measures for several years now and has rejected options for years, using gimmicks that get us from one year to the next instead.
Taxpayers are sick of the old trope where he messes with taxpayers and then tells us it will be the last time we see the loss of tens of millions of taxpayer funds.
Taxpayers should keep tabs on all of these major financial issues and learn how the finances of the city are dictating every other policy or work that is or is not done. Demanding accounting for the expenditures and how processes work in a transparent manner is important for everyone’s own pocket book.
Before the City Budget was voted on in November, the Mayor’s water and sewer tax increase was passed. The largest property tax ever passed in Chicago’s history will hit us harder this year.
County Clerk David Orr released his 2016 TIF [Tax Increment Financing] Revenue Report showing Chicago will collect $461 million in TIF revenue or $89 million more than the previous year.
The lack of a long term planning and commitment to financial reform is disheartening. However, in December 2016, a handful of fellow Aldermen and I were able to have our first hearing on TIF reform in years, and we are pushing to get back to the original intent of TIFs by tightening TIF standards. The new oversight mechanisms we passed into City Council this past year will help, but it won’t stop bad deal-making.
I’ve recently passed a few transparency ordinances with fellow Progressive Caucus aldermen on financial disclosure. We passed the Debt Transparency, Accountability and Performance Ordinance, which creates a bit more oversight of the City’s big debt deals. The recent Mayoral email release again revealed how vital this legislation is.
We also passed the Privatization Transparency and Accountability Ordinance to try to prevent future bad privatization deals for taxpayers, like the two parking meter deals. What this requires, beyond just these two examples, is an administration willing to play by rules and end the conflicts of interest. It is imperative that we are vigilant about the spending and borrowing habits of City Hall.
Rear View Mirror…2016
Some of the issues addresses by the Progressive Caucus in City Council were:
- Passing the Privatization Transparency and Accountability Ordinance to make sure we prevent future bad privatization deals for taxpayers, like the parking meter deal.
- Pushing a comprehensive slate of progressive revenue options to lighten the burden on working families, and advanced the argument that progressive revenue is needed at the City level.
- Won crucial improvements to the police oversight legislation passed in fall 2016, including sufficient funding for the new police oversight body and access to critically needed independent counsel.
- Fought for the passage of the Welcoming Cities Ordinance amendment to protect Chicago immigrants from abuse by law enforcement.
- Introduced legislation calling for a moratorium on new charter schools, with overwhelming support.
- Played a key role in passing legislation requiring that 400,000 Chicago workers are guaranteed earned sick time off work.
- Ensured that City Hall created a property tax rebate program for working families.
- Passed the Debt Transparency, Accountability and Performance Ordinance, which creates oversight of the City’s big debt deals. The recent email release revealed how vital this legislation is. It’s a first step toward ending pay-to-play politics at City Hall.
- Passed legislation making it clear anti-Muslim hate speech and violence has no place in our city.