The Sun-Times Editorial Board sent the candidates running for 27th Ward alderman a list of questions to find out their views on a range of issues facing the city and their ward. Cynthia Bednarz submitted the following responses (the Sun-Times does not edit candidate responses):
Who is Cynthia Bednarz?
She’s running for: 27th Ward alderman Her political/civic background: I am a 27th Ward homeowner and neighborhood leader since 2000. I am a mother of two Chicago Public Schools children. I am an activist for women’s rights and have supported many other progressive political causes. I have not run before for political office. Her occupation: Real Estate Broker for d’aprile properties Her education: Master of Business Administration, Loyola University; B.S. in Marketing from Northern Illinois University Campaign website: cynthiabednarz.com Twitter: @CynthiaBednarz Facebook: facebook.com/shinefor44th/
What are the top three priorities for your ward?
Cynthia Bednarz:Reduce the Costs of Housing & Living: Chicago needs an immediate property tax freeze. We must work with the new Cook County assessor for accurate home assessments and educating Ward residents about tax exemptions. I have a plan to more affordable housing throughout our Ward for seniors and other residents. A State of Illinois progressive income tax and more federal funding for major projects are needed to reduce the local tax burden on Ward residents and businesses.
Public Safety: We can improve public safety and crime prevention by focusing on contributing factors. We need more drug addiction counseling, mental health counseling and pathways for people to get out of gangs. We need more job training and placement resources, more employment opportunities and collaboration with businesses to hire at-risk young adults and ex-offenders. Emphasis must be placed on creating small businesses and minority-owned businesses in the Ward. We must take drug profits away from gangs with state-sanctioned medical marijuana centers and marijuana legalization as well as exploring the decriminalization of other drugs, thereby reducing the disproportionate prosecution of minority residents. Lastly, we need state-of-the-art resources and training for our Chicago Police Department along with more public involvement in Community Policing.
Education: We need a publicly-elected school board to gain the best schools and eliminate corruption. I will work with administrators and local school councils in all schools, especially those with Level 3 ratings. We need to create more after-school programs, mentoring and counseling for at-risk students and their families. Early childhood education is a critical foundation for schools that are able to achieve in high levels. We need to work with our City College students, teachers and administrators. We need more school funding through better use of our TIF funds and a progressive state income tax.
Recent civic work
Please tell us what you have done in the last two years to serve the city, your neighborhood or a civic organization. Please be specific.
Cynthia Bednarz:I am the mother of two daughters at CPS schools. Because these schools are not receiving sufficient funds from the City of Chicago, I have volunteered for several years to raise private funds for these schools including financial contributions from my family. I support our CPS schools, and I understand the serious, urgent challenges of CPS parents.
I am a proud advocate for Women’s Rights. My daughters and I attended the January 2017 Women’s March in Washington D.C., and I am a lifelong Democratic voter.
Since moving to the East Garfield Park neighborhood in 2000, I have helped coordinate our block club activities. From public safety communications and activities to meeting about development issues to forming a sports softball team with my neighbors, I have led the way for a better quality of life.
Several times, my neighbors and I met with the incumbent alderman Walter Burnett, Jr. We believe that he ignored our input and has not put forth the required effort to improve our neighborhood and other neighborhoods across the Ward.
Chicago is on the hook for $42 billion in unfunded pension liabilities, which works out to $35,000 for every household. Those pensions, in the language of the Illinois Constitution, “shall not be diminished or impaired.” Should the state Constitution be amended to allow a reduction in pension benefits for current city employees or retirees? How about reducing pension benefits for new employees? Please explain.
Cynthia Bednarz:The Illinois Constitution should not be amended to allow a reduction in pension benefits for current city employees or retirees. Regarding the pensions of future employees, the new mayor and aldermen must examine this issue in its entirety utilizing consultation from at least two, objective, third-party financial consultants to assess all financial options, resolve our pension crisis and establish future rules.
All options including cost-cutting and new revenues and new financial rules must be on the table. Going forward, I support new revenue as discussed in the next section. I support third-party forensic audits of every City of Chicago department. I support third-party financial audits of every City Hall TIF project over $500,000. When cost-verifications and cost-savings are achieved, when our books are fully open and understood, the new mayor and aldermen will resolve our pension crisis.
Of the following often proposed sources of new revenue for Chicago, which of the following do you favor, and why? A Chicago casino, legalized and taxed recreational marijuana, a LaSalle Street tax, a commuter tax, a property tax increase, a municipal sales tax increase, a real estate transfer tax increase, video gambling.
Cynthia Bednarz:I support legalized and taxed recreational marijuana and a Chicago-owned casino. Other cities are gaining windfall revenues from both sources without overwhelming crime or other problems. When marijuana is legalized, this would reduce the financial power of street gangs and ideally reduce violent crimes. When a casino is approved, we can gain revenue and implement social service precautions for those addicted to gambling.
What other sources of new revenue do you favor or oppose?
Cynthia Bednarz:For our city and our state, we need a progressive state income tax. Across America, states have enacted progressive income taxes so that wealthy people pay more and working families get relief. Sales taxes, gas taxes, property taxes, water taxes and other consumer taxes – – billions in which were supported by Mr. Burnett during his terms – – are regressive taxes that hurt working families compared to wealthy families.
When considering new revenues, we must also eliminate the wasteful spending and corrupt practices of current Chicago leaders because their mismanagement threatens any new revenue that is generated. Consider the record of Mr. Burnett:
He supported the mayor giving $55 million in tax increment finance (TIF) funds to Navy Pier, a violation of the Illinois TIF statute. He voted in February 2016 to allow Alderman Ed Burke to retain secretive control of Chicago’s workers’ compensation program, and today Mr. Burke was indicted by the federal government. Mr. Burnett also approved out-of-control TIF spending with no public oversight or cost verifications including a $65 million CTA Green Line Damen Station and $20 million for 0.75 miles of Fulton St. improvements. During the Daley Administration, Mr. Burnett voted to sell off Chicago’s parking meters.
He has shown time and time again that he cannot be trusted to oversee the revenue of our city. Therefore, if new revenues are generated, a new 27th Ward alderman is needed to ensure the highest ethics, integrity and public oversight of every tax dollar.
As alderman, I would also support consolidating and reforming every City Hall department where possible to save tax dollars.
Tax-increment financing districts are a primary economic development tool for Chicago. In a TIF district, taxes from the growth of property values are set aside for 23 years to be used to support public projects and private development. What changes do you favor, if any, in Chicago’s TIF program?
Cynthia Bednarz: TIF districts and TIF projects should continue only where they meet the State of Illinois legal statute for expenditures: TIF funds must be used to remediate “blighted community conditions and revitalize economically-disadvantaged communities.”
The Department of Planning and Development must show that TIFs are physically connected to low-income U.S. census tracts; that TIF projects will eliminate economically-blighted conditions; and that TIF projects will result in financial benefits to people in low-income census tracts including opportunities for jobs, affordable housing, small-business creation and minority-owned and women-owned businesses.
Every TIF project over $500,000 must receive full public scrutiny including DPD justification reports and at least two nighttime public hearings for Ward residents to ensure public oversight.
Today, Mr. Burnett has no public criteria or oversight process for TIF spending decisions. For the projects noted above and other major TIF projects over $500,000, he failed to negotiate Community Benefits Agreements for construction jobs and construction contracts for Ward residents and businesses. As alderman, I would implement all of the TIF reform provisions above, leading to proper government oversight, transparency and benefits to people who need help the most.
What will you do to rein in aldermanic prerogative?
Cynthia Bednarz: Aldermanic prerogative must be limited to protect against corruption and misguided decisions for our Ward and our city.
For example, if an alderman is considering a zoning change or a planned development to assist a development, a specific developer must be named and a Community Benefits Agreement should be achieved related to jobs, housing, traffic patterns. The City Council Zoning Committee must allow nighttime hearings for voters to participate in public review of these proposals.
For all City Hall projects over $500,000 especially TIF projects, the City of Chicago must grant the Inspector General full power to investigate anything, in order to ensure public accountability. For TIF projects over $500,000, nighttime public hearings must be required for public input.
These actions would help the 27th Ward and all Wards to hold their aldermen accountable for their actions and rein in aldermanic prerogative. I cite two examples of Mr. Burnett abusing his aldermanic prerogative:
He granted a complete repeal for the eastern section of the Kinzie Industrial Corridor Planned Manufacturing District (PMD) east of Ogden Ave., allowing property owners to capitalize on new developments. Meanwhile, he ignored the requests of residents and property owners west of Ogden Ave. to repeal their PMD zoning. In doing so, Mr. Burnett is artificially limiting economic development in the Ward, preventing residents and property owners from developing properties to meet market demand, and preventing Chicago from gaining sorely needed investment, residents, businesses and jobs.
Also, Mr. Burnett abused his aldermanic prerogative to prevent millions of dollars in new investment related to new housing in the Ward. As reported by Crain’s Chicago Business (https://www.chicagobusiness.com/commercial-real-estate/goose-island-residential-plan-stalls), Mr. Burnett rejected Onni Group’s estimated $200 million plan to buy 901 and 904 N. Halsted St. and build 1,000 residential units there.
Onni would not comply with Mr. Burnett’s “aldermanic prerogative” requiring 20% affordable on-site housing units and no financial buy-out option for affordable units, which directly contradicts the citywide requirements for 10% affordable units and a buy-out option. Mr. Burnett told Crain’s, “It’s no skin off my back if they don’t build over there. If that stayed as Greyhound another 100 years, it wouldn’t bother me at all.” Here, Mr. Burnett’s abuse of aldermanic prerogative is discouraging local and global investors who want to come to Chicago and preventing millions of dollars in new affordable housing, as well as market-rate housing.
Aldermanic prerogative must be curtailed. The City Council as a whole should make development decisions based on the needs of our city, empirical evidence and an open, public processes that guarantees public input and oversight by Ward voters.
To also rein in aldermanic prerogative and prevent systemic corruption, I support term limits for all Chicago elected officials. I support remapping the wards to align with the needs of our neighborhoods, not to protect candidates. I support moving the Chicago election from February to April, in order to increase voter participation and curtailing of aldermanic prerogative abuse.
The City of Chicago has entered into a federally monitored consent decree to overhaul the training and practices of the Chicago Police Department. Civil libertarians say it is long overdue, but others say it is unnecessary and could make it tougher for the police to do their job. What’s your view?
Cynthia Bednarz: I fully support the complete review and overhaul of the training and practices of the Chicago Police Department. Chicago needs the best-in-the-world training, procedures and equipment for our honored police officers while ensuring cost-verifications and progressive public oversight. We must also guarantee the rights of our residents, gain maximum community policing collaboration with residents and businesses, and protect our police officers from harm.
Chicago has entered into this federal decree due to tragic events in our city, after Laquan McDonald was sadly shot by a police officer in October 2014. At the time, instead of Rahm Emanuel releasing the video immediately and demanding Chicago Police Department reforms right away, the release of the video was delayed for 11 months, postponing urgently needed reforms and jeopardizing the lives of police officers and the public.
When Mr. Emanuel released the video in November 2015 under court order, someone stood next to him at his press conference and never questioned his actions: Mr. Burnett. Previously, when Mr. Emanuel proposed a $5 million settlement for the McDonald family, Mr. Burnett voted for the settlement without question.
As alderman, I will work diligently with the mayor and my colleagues to gain the best training and resources for the Chicago Police, while involving the public and emphasizing community policing. We must help everyone be as safe as possible and fully informed, not make it tougher for police to do their job. If a controversial incident occurs, I will demand full public transparency and immediate action for necessary reforms.
What should Chicago do to reduce the number of illegal guns?
Cynthia Bednarz: Chicago should push for strict gun laws in our city and state. We need legislation to gain better business practices for gun dealers and remove loopholes in our laws that let corrupt gun dealers operate. Guns, gun ammunition and gun ranges should be taxed to pay for violence prevention and protecting our police officers.
We should also push for accountability and transparency for gun dealers by allowing inspection of records during business hours by the Illinois State Police.
For citizens wanting to own and/or carry a gun in Illinois, they need the most rigorous background check and waiting period. For those with legal guns, I would support legislation that mandates this: If a gun you own is used in a crime, you will be held partially responsible even if you did not commit that crime.
We need to decriminalize marijuana and borrow successful ideas from cities like London that are addressing other addictive substances and providing social services. This would help Chicago end violent street gangs who are fighting over drug profits with weapons.
Lastly, we need to use TIF funds for services to residents who need job training and placement services, health services and gang-intervention counseling to help their children avoid street gangs and crime, thereby reducing illegal guns and gun violence in Chicago.
What is the appropriate role of charter schools within the Chicago Public Schools system?
Cynthia Bednarz: First, there should be a moratorium on new charter schools until there is a publicly elected school board that can verify CPS information for the public. Any future charter schools should be approved by votes of the elected CPS board and the City Council.
Charter schools should exist to address specific needs for our children that are missing in our CPS community schools and magnet schools. Also, charter schools should have designated CPS community-school partners for collaboration. For all charter schools to continue and for new ones to apply, these charter schools must create “CPS Community-School Partnership Plans,” identifying how the charter schools will collaborate with community schools.
Also, Charter schools must allow union representation by the Chicago Teachers Union, with all CPS and charter school teachers represented by CTU.
During 23 years in office, Mr. Burnett has failed to promote reforms for our CPS schools, parents, children and communities. Further, he has never demanded a publicly-elected school board.
Should the Chicago Board of Education be solely appointed by the mayor, as is now the case? Or should Chicago switch to an elected school board or some hybrid?
Cynthia Bednarz: Chicago should have an elected school board like every other school district in Illinois. This would ensure public accountability, heighten the interests of Chicagoans to improve our public schools, and prohibit corruption, mismanagement, scandals and financial abuses. A publicly-elected school board would energize Local School Council elections and elevate the importance of these community leaders.
Is there enough affordable housing in your ward? Please explain.
Cynthia Bednarz: While Chicago is the only major American city that has lost population over the past 10 years and there are many available properties for housing developments in the 27th Ward, there is not enough affordable housing in our Ward today. As a residential real estate broker today, I know this issue firsthand. As alderman, building new affordable housing will be one of my highest priorities.
First, the property taxes in our Ward are too high, the most important factor in the declining availability of affordable housing. In 2015, Mr. Burnett supported the $586 million property tax increase, the single largest property tax increase in Chicago history. Mr. Burnett’s vote made life more difficult for Chicago’s working families and those seeking affordable housing. By contrast, I support freezing property taxes immediately to allow affordable housing.
Second, in order to promote affordable housing across our Ward, I will utilize TIF funds and Neighborhood Opportunity Funds to incentivize developers to build quality, affordable housing throughout our Ward. This is why conserving TIF funds is so important.
Third, unlike Mr. Burnett, I will follow the citywide affordable housing ordinance that requires 10% affordable housing units for new developments or financial buy-outs by developers. It is essential to have consistent citywide standards, in order to court maximum investment to our city and our Ward.
Mr. Burnett claims to be an affordable housing supporter. However, according to The Real Deal Chicago Real Estate News, in the ARO 20% affordable-unit zones that encompass the West Loop and other parts of the 27th Ward, city applications for new housing construction over the past two years show a steep drop-off in those areas. The number of proposed housing units fell by 27 percent and the number of affordable units dropped by 47 percent.
Further, together with my colleagues, I will conduct annual assessments of the citywide 10% affordable-unit requirement and the financial buy-out option. If these ratios are insufficient to gain enough affordable housing in our Ward, I will request higher citywide rates to be established.
Chicago, by ordinance, is an official “welcoming city.” This means the Chicago police are generally prohibited from detaining undocumented immigrants on behalf of federal immigration authorities. What’s your position on this policy? What more — or less — should be done with respect to undocumented immigrants who live in Chicago?
Cynthia Bednarz: I support Chicago being a “welcoming city”. As Alderman, I will urgently lobby Congressman Davis, Senator Durbin and Senator Duckworth to gain an Immigration Amnesty Bill that provides a path to citizenship for everyone in this country and sets future immigration requirements.
While I welcome new amnesty provisions, I will also prioritize service to existing Ward residents who are underemployed or disadvantaged. I will request new TIF programs to match TIF residents with jobs and comprehensive job training, placement and retention services. I will also support our City Colleges to help residents find jobs and careers.
Should the inspector general have the power to audit and review City Council programs, operations and committees? Why or why not?
Cynthia Bednarz: Yes, the inspector general should have the power to audit and review everything: all city programs, contracts, operations, committees, patronage hires, nepotism hires and more.
As reported by a December 2018 Chicago Tribune editorial, it is an outrageous travesty that Mr. Burnett voted in February 2016 to exempt Alderman Ed Burke’s finance committee from the Inspector General’s oversight. With millions and millions of dollars at stake over workers’ compensation decisions, Mr. Burnett voted for financial secrecy for Mr. Burke, instead of voting for public transparency for the voters of the 27th Ward and Chicago. Today, the federal government indicated Mr. Burke for wrongdoing.
Would you employ, or have you employed, staff in your office who have outside jobs or contracts with entities that do business with the city? If so, please explain.
Cynthia Bednarz: I would not employ anyone in my office who has an outside job or a business contract with any entity that does business with the city. As Alderman, I will do my best to prevent any conflicts of interest that are presented.
Is there a past or current alderman whom you model yourself after, or would model yourself after, or take inspiration from? Please explain.
Cynthia Bednarz:I admire 32nd Ward Alderman Scott Waguespack. He served in the Peace Corps before becoming alderman, and he has served with the highest ethical standards and the utmost drive for government accountability, transparency and progressive solutions that improve the lives of working families.
Above all, I am inspired by President Barack Obama who declared that his administration would be the most transparent, accountable and accessible in American history. The same would be true of my aldermanic office: I will make decisions in public view without secrecy and with full accountability to the residents, businesses and taxpayers of the 27th Ward.