The Sun-Times Editorial Board sent the candidates running for 47th Ward alderman a list of questions to find out their views on a range of issues facing the city and their ward. Matt Martin submitted the following responses (the Sun-Times does not edit candidate responses):
Who is Matt Martin?
He’s running for: 47th Ward alderman
His political/civic background: Community representative on the McPherson Local School Council, Co-founded Heart of Lincoln Square Neighbors Association, Served on Alderman Pawar’s Zoning Advisory Council
His occupation: Civil rights attorney at the Attorney General’s office
His education: Northwestern, Harvard Law
Campaign website: matt47.com
What are the top three priorities for your ward?
Matt Martin: Fully funded public schools: Every elementary school in our ward is underfunded by about $1 million, and our high schools are underfunded by closer to $5 million. Some schools in the ward are able to fundraise that budget gap, but that’s just to provide the basics, like giving kids access to up-to-date technology and textbooks. I serve on the Local School Council at McPherson Elementary, where 80% of students come from low-income families. We can’t fundraise our budget gap. As a result, we have often had to make tough choices between keeping class sizes under 30 and keeping the requisite number of aides in the classroom. While the challenges McPherson faces are the exception in the ward, they really are the norm across the city. We need to make sure that every child has access to high-quality public schools. No exceptions.
Maintaining affordability: With property taxes on the rise, too many people are feeling the pinch. My property taxes have gone up 100% just since we moved into our home five years ago. Our city is relying far too much on regressive property taxes that hurt middle- and low-income families, and it’s not sustainable. By the end of 2023, we’ll have to find $1 billion in additional revenue for pensions alone, and we can’t fund that gap on the backs of residents who are least able to pay. Instead, we need to phase out our reliance on regressive property taxes and find other, progressive sources of revenue. Such revenue options include a graduated city income tax, a progressive real estate transactions tax, a tax on high-speed trading, and TIF reform.
Reforming the police department: Each year Chicago spends over $100 million on compensating the victims of police misconduct — three times the amount it spends on affordable housing. I will work to ensure that our police officers receive proper training and supervision, and that officers are consistently held accountable when misconduct occurs. Among other things, this includes aggressively implementing the consent decree and instituting a robust community oversight entity similar to what GAPA has proposed. In addition, instead of spending millions of dollars on a new police academy, I will work to ensure that additional investments are made in community policing in order to rebuild the fractured relationship between the police department and city residents.
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.
Matt Martin: I work at the Illinois Attorney General’s Office, where I have worked on issues ranging from police reform, reproductive rights, and LGBTQ rights to fair pay for low-wage workers and opposing many of the immigration and healthcare policies proposed by the Trump Administration. Notably, I led the drafting of the civil rights complaint our office filed against the City of Chicago relating to police reform, identified and helped retain the experts upon whom our Office has been relying, and helped write the consent decree. In addition, I currently serve on the Local School Council at McPherson Elementary, co-founded the Heart of Lincoln Square Neighbors Association, and served on the 47th Ward’s Zoning Advisory Council.
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.
Matt Martin: A reduction of pension benefits should not be on the table. The thousands of city employees who spent decades serving the City of Chicago should be able to retire with dignity, knowing that they did not err in relying upon their pensions when budgeting for retirement . We made a promise to these workers, and we should keep it.
That said, our pension liabilities are substantial and should be addressed swiftly and creatively. By the end of 2023, we’ll need to find approximately $1 billion in additional revenue for pensions alone—to say nothing of badly needed revenue for schools, infrastructure, and police reform. As Alderman, I will work tirelessly to change the way we bring in revenue.
We cannot fill a billion dollar budget gap with property taxes, parking tickets, and assorted fees on core city services. We must move away from our reliance on these and other types of regressive revenue, which place excessive burden on low- and middle-income residents, and enact a progressive city income tax. And while our state legislators work to amend our state constitution to allow for this to occur, we should quickly and aggressively wind down TIFs and look at other less regressive revenue sources like a tax on large real estate transactions, a tax on high-speed trading, and marijuana legalization.
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.
Matt Martin: Chicago Casino and Video Gambling: Casinos and video gambling will not solve our revenue crisis. Instead, they represent another bandage on a what is estimated to be a billion dollar budget gap from pensions alone by 2023. Disproportionately, these industries would take money out of the pockets of middle- and low-income folks, and run the risk of creating numerous problem gamblers — especially if they are located outside of downtown. While I am not outright opposed to a gambling industry, I view the benefits as primarily recreational, and we should not view it as a solution to our revenue problems. I would prefer that we look at more progressive revenue sources, from which we have many to choose.
Recreational Marijuana: This should be common sense. We should legalize recreational marijuana, in the short-term to increase revenue, and, in the long-term, to address the criminalization of drug use. Moreover, overpoliced and underserved communities should receive priority when it comes to who is permitted to cultivate and sell marijuana.
LaSalle Street Tax: I would prefer we consider taxes like the LaSalle Street tax. Compared to many other proposals, this would be less regressive, help us meet our pension obligation and fund city services without pinching middle- and low-income residents. I understand, however, the concerns that a tax like this may push some trades out of the city, resulting in less revenue than currently projected. Accordingly, I support setting the tax at a rate below the $1-to-$2 fee discussed during Illinois’s recent gubernatorial elections.
Commuter Tax: This would not only affect wealthy people commuting from the suburbs, but also endanger the livelihood of working class folks who increasingly live in public-transit-poor suburbs and commute into the city. A commuter tax is not on the table for me.
Property Tax: The City of Chicago relies far too much on regressive property taxes, which have pushed numerous seniors on a fixed income and working class individuals and families out of neighborhoods within and outside of the 47th Ward. In City Council, I would fight for progressive revenue sources and to reduce our reliance on property taxes.
Municipal Sales Tax: We have tried similar taxes, like the soda tax, and it is clear that Chicagoans will not tolerate another regressive tax that pinches middle- and low-income residents. We need to change our perspective, stop looking to temporary solutions, and look to more progressive revenue sources that reflect the shift in our economy from manufacturing to services.
Real Estate Transfer Tax: This is one of my preferred solutions. Individuals and corporations engage in real estate transactions over $1 million generally are well-positioned to help Chicago navigate our growing pension crisis. These individuals and institutions — many of which are located in or around downtown Chicago — have weathered the Great Recession better than most and, thus, are best able to help Chicago avoid bankruptcy in the coming decades.
What other sources of new revenue do you favor or oppose?
Matt Martin: Progressive City Income Tax: This is another one of my preferred solutions. By reducing our reliance on property taxes, and instituting a progressive city income tax, I believe we can address our pension obligation and fully fund city services. Many other cities including New York and Washington, D.C. have instituted a similar tax with much success. While our state legislators work to amend the state constitution, I would consider the options I laid out with a preference for those that are least regressive.
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?
Matt Martin: Approximately $660 million of city property taxes go directly into TIFs, many of which aren’t located in “blighted areas,” as was the original intent of TIFs. As a result, money is being siphoned away from infrastructure, schools, and pensions, and, too often, is dedicated instead to developments that are not a priority for our communities.
TIFs are not an efficient or effective means of improving city infrastructure and should be phased out as soon as possible. We should not provide developers with taxpayer money to line their pockets with new developments, especially those that lack a large set aside for affordable housing. In City Hall, I would support the Cardenas-Garza TIF Surplus ordinance, the TIF reform ordinance brought forth by the Progressive Caucus this month, and support an ordinance to require Aldermen to post up-to-date information about the location and amount of money distributed by any TIFs in their wards.
What will you do to rein in aldermanic prerogative?
Matt Martin: Aldermanic prerogative has been used to perpetuate segregation and deepen the racial divide in Chicago. City Council has the opportunity to address big problems: making sure our neighborhoods are affordable, ensuring our schools are fully funded, and reforming our police department. If we want to address those problems directly and comprehensively, we need to come together and find bold solutions that work for our ward as well as the city as a whole. Aldermanic prerogative is an example of the old-school ways of doing things, which allow Aldermen to view their role, essentially, as mayor of their fiefdom.
I support instituting checks on aldermanic prerogative, like creating a city-wide development plan, implementing a racial equity impact assessment, and revising the Affordable Requirements Ordinance to mandate that a higher percentage of affordable housing be built — and without the opportunity for developers to pay into the fund. Until those checks are implemented, in my own ward, I commit to a transparent and community driven decision-making process when it comes to new developments and zoning. To that end, one of my first goals as Alderman will be sitting down with chambers of commerce and neighbors associations to craft separate, long-term development “visions” for each part of our ward that is poised for transition and transformation.
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?
Matt Martin: As the events surrounding the murder of Laquan McDonald laid bare, our police department badly needs reform. Beginning with the Blue Ribbon Report commissioned by Rep. Ralph Metcalfe in the early 1970s, Chicago has repeatedly failed to grapple with the need for improved officer training, supervision, and accountability. The results have been disastrous. Faith in CPD to collaborate constructively with Chicago residents is weak, as evidenced by homicide- and gun-violence-clearance rates that are among the lowest in the country. And every year, City Council approves over $100 million to compensate the victims of police misconduct — three times the amount we spend on affordable housing.
My work at the Illinois Attorney General’s Office has given me a unique perspective regarding the pitfalls and potential of police reform. While working at the Office, I drafted the complaint we filed against the city, found the experts upon which our Office has relied, and wrote much of the first draft of the consent decree. Through this work I see a department that is structurally unsound. Leadership has repeatedly failed to train and supervise officers on how to interact appropriately with residents, to hold officers accountable when misconduct occurs, to provide officers with ready access to mental health resources, and to acknowledge that the department suffers from a code of silence.
We need a sustainable plan for police reform, and the consent decree is a sorely needed step in the right direction. To that end, we need and deserve a City Council that is actively engaged in reform, one that will stop deferring to the political winds within City Hall.
What should Chicago do to reduce the number of illegal guns?
Matt Martin: Approximately 60% of recovered firearms in Chicago have been traced back to other states, underscoring how difficult it is for Chicago to unilaterally address illegal guns. However, Congress and nearby states — especially Indiana — have failed to address an increase in mass shootings and implement common sense gun-safety policies. Accordingly, it is more important than ever for our city government to address gun crime aggressively and innovatively.
As Alderman, I will work with our state legislators to pass laws implementing comprehensive background checks and gun-dealer licensing, thereby allowing us to enforce common-sense regulations like video surveillance and training for employees. Notably, two shops in the south suburbs of Chicago are responsible for selling more than 10% of guns used in gun crimes. They must be held accountable, and city officials must help lead the charge.
More generally, I support a holistic approach to public safety that addresses the root causes of gun violence by investing in education, employment, housing, and mental-health services. Too many Chicagoans — especially youth — pick up guns because they perceive that to be their best option for safety and economic security. That belief has been decades in the making, and it will take Chicago coming together and enacting bold, transformational policies to interrupt this tragic status quo.
What is the appropriate role of charter schools within the Chicago Public Schools system?
Matt Martin: I support a moratorium on the expansion of charter schools, which have diverted sorely needed resources from our neighborhood public schools. Notably, every elementary school in the 47th Ward is underfunded by approximately $1 million, and our high schools are underfunded by closer to $5 million. We need every public dollar we can find.
Twice, 47th ward residents stood up against the Noble Network to stop them from expanding just outside our ward. Community members were worried that expansion would be disastrous for Amundsen and Lake View High Schools, two schools who are improving by the day and whose enrollment is rising. A new charter school would decrease enrollment at those schools, cost more money per pupil, and reverse the progress we have worked so hard to achieve. The same reasons we have resisted charter schools in our ward are the reasons why we have to stop charter expansion across the city. Instead, we should focus on fully funding and adequately overseeing our neighborhood schools.
As for the charter schools that already exist, I support educators’ efforts to organize and improve working and learning conditions. Many charter educators acknowledge that staff turnover in these schools is much higher than our neighborhood schools, which is bad for students and teachers. We should ensure our public dollars are used efficiently, and invested in the classroom.
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?
I support an elected board, instead of one appointed by the mayor. Recently, CPS has endured several high-profile scandals involving a lack of cleanliness at schools, sexual misconduct, and students being denied access to the special education resources to which they are entitled by law. Rather than acknowledging and tackling these problems swiftly and directly, the current School Board acted slowly or not at all. We can no longer tolerate that.
Many, if not all, of the 47th Ward candidates support an elected school board, as do most Chicagoans. We must ask ourselves why, in the face of such overwhelming support, an elected school board remains elusive. The answer lies with a mayor who is preoccupied with stockpiling power, and with dozens of aldermen who lack the courage to stand up for their constituents. In City Council, I will help bring bold, independent leadership to make sure we actually get what we deserve and demand — an elected school board.
Is there enough affordable housing in your ward? Please explain.
Matt Martin: There is not enough affordable housing in the 47th Ward. Frequently I talk to neighbors who are feeling the pinch from property taxes and who are struggling to pay the rent. And the number of affordable units is steadily diminishing: between 2000 and 2017, the 47th Ward lost approximately 4,000 rental units, and scores of two- and three-flat buildings have been converted into single-family homes. As Alderman, I will require that new developments include at least 25% affordable units, and will advocated for the distribution more vouchers to middle- and low-income neighbors to offset the rising costs of rents. I also support modifying the zoning code to permit granny flats and coach houses.
The decrease in affordable housing has also resulted in a loss of density and foot traffic, causing many small locally owned businesses to struggle and, in some cases, shutter. New developments should work for our residents, not the other way around. To that end, if developers can clearly demonstrate an inability to satisfy high affordability benchmarks, city government can provide assistance in the form of low- and no-interest loans, long-term leases, and outright purchases by CHA.
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?
Matt Martin: No one benefits when our undocumented neighbors are living in fear of immigration enforcement. As the White House stokes fears and works to divide us, it is up to cities like Chicago to build neighborhoods that bridge the gap between our shared values and how our government functions. I support maintaining and expanding our welcoming city ordinance, starting with preventing immigration officials from entering schools and courthouses to conduct immigration activity. In addition, we should completely reconstitute the CPD gang database, which can be used by ICE to unfairly detain our undocumented neighbors.
Should the inspector general have the power to audit and review City Council programs, operations and committees? Why or why not?
Matt Martin: Yes. Ed Burke’s Finance Committee and the workers compensation program he oversees desperately need independent review and accountability. The fact that our previous Legislative Inspector General, Faisal Khan, has yet to be replaced is further evidence that City Council is not taking good governance seriously. If City Council has nothing to hide, it has nothing to fear from an independent audit or review.
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.
Matt Martin: No.
Is there a past or current alderman whom you model yourself after, or would model yourself after, or take inspiration from? Please explain.
Matt Martin: Broadly speaking, I would align myself with and join the Progressive Caucus. I believe City Council desperately needs bold, independent leadership to take on big challenges like our mounting pension debt, fully funding public schools, and reforming our police department. Similar to Aldermen Waguespack and Alderman Arena, I would provide thoughtful, independent leadership, build coalitions where I can, and stand up against the political machines and money to get things done.
With specific issues in mind, I admire Alderman Waguespack’s advocacy for a budget that reflects our values; Alderman Arena making sure new developments work for our communities and not the other way around; and Alderman Garza being a tireless advocate for education.
Also running for 47th Ward alderman: