The Chicago Sun-Times Editorial Board sent mayoral candidates a list of questions to find out their views on a range of issues facing the city. Robert “Bob” Fioretti submitted the following responses Dec. 25 (the Sun-Times does not edit candidate responses):
Who is Bob Fioretti?
His political/civic background: Former 2nd Ward Alderman, former 2nd Ward Democratic Committeeman
His occupation: Civil Rights Attorney
- Bachelor’s degree from University of Illinois-Champaign Urbana
- JD from Northern Illinois University
Campaign website: bobforchicago.com
Twitter handle: @BobFiorettiChi
Facebook page: facebook.com/BobFiorettiChi
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.
Bob Fioretti: I am not for reducing pension benefits for current city employees or retirees, either by Constitutional Amendment or by any other means. As the Supreme Court has ruled many times, these promises must be honored. I agree with those rulings. There already have been some reductions in pension benefits for new employees and I would pursue that avenue working with the unions to ensure that the pension funds always remain solvent.
Of the following often proposed sources of new revenue for Chicago, which of the following do you favor, and why?
- A Chicago casino
Bob Fioretti: Yes, Chicago should have had a casino long ago. While I am not a huge fan of gambling, it is unconscionable to watch tens of thousands of Chicagoans regularly travel to Indiana or casinos in other Illinois towns. Chicago needs to keep that revenue in the city.
- Legalized and taxed recreational marijuana
Bob Fioretti: Yes, I was the only Mayoral candidate four years ago to advocate for this. As with gambling, I’m not a fan of using marijuana, but this train has left the station, and Chicago needs the revenue that will come with it.
- A LaSalle Street tax
Bob Fioretti: No, it isn’t doable or realistic.
- A commuter tax
Bob Fioretti: Yes, I advocated for a small commuter tax four years ago. With a balloon pension payment of nearly $400 million due within a year of the new Mayor taking office, the money will have to come from somewhere. If a candidate is against this, then they will be for a property tax increase.
- A property tax increase
Bob Fioretti: No. There will be no property tax increases in a Fioretti Administration. Too often, previous Administrations have used property owners as ATM machines. No more.
- A municipal sales tax increase
Bob Fioretti: No. Because of Cook County’s additional sales tax added by Toni Preckwinkle, Chicago and Cook County already has the highest sales tax in America and it is a hugely regressive tax hitting those at the bottom of the income scale the hardest.
- A real estate transfer tax increase
Bob Fioretti: No. As with the property tax, an increase in this tax will simply do more to drive residents out of Chicago. We should be welcoming people into Chicago, not taxing them out.
- Video gambling
Bob Fioretti: Yes. Again I want to emphasize that I am not a fan of gambling, but other cities and villages in Illinois realize vast revenue from this source, without the recognizable problems that anti-gambling activists have warned about. The time has come to lift the ban in Chicago on video gambling.
What other sources of new revenue do you favor or oppose?
Bob Fioretti: I would be more aggressive in joining in appeals of egregious errors in property tax assessments. Under-assessments cost every other taxpayer when they have to make up the difference from the error in assessment.
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?
Bob Fioretti: Federal consent decrees seem to follow Garry McCarthy around like the plague. The decree will cost the city $25 million in the first year. We can call that the “McCarthy tax.” It is clear some reforms were needed, especially as regards to training and use of force guidelines. Strong leadership from City Hall, which has been sorely absent, working with all stakeholders could have formulated these changes without the need of monitoring by the federal government. Another concern I have is that this was driven by politics and not policy. What was the rush to get this done before a new Mayor takes office? The Mayor seems more concerned with a “legacy” than with getting it right.
What should Chicago do to reduce the number of illegal guns?
Bob Fioretti: I support the recent legislation increasing maximum prison sentences for those who use illegal guns to commit violent crimes. Due to Supreme Court rulings, we must look to Springfield and Washington for help in limiting the number of illegal guns that come into our city from other states or other parts of Illinois. Laws that affect the trafficking of illegal guns including limiting bulk gun sales, cracking down on straw buyers, and toughening enforcement against “bad apple” gun dealers (90% of guns used in criminal acts can be traced to 5% of gun dealers. This is no coincidence), and closing the loopholes in buying guns without a background check, must be done at the state and federal level.
In addition to your thoughts on how to stem the problem of illegal guns, what else should the next mayor of Chicago do to reduce the rate of violent crime in our city?
Bob Fioretti: It is a complex problem, not just limited to illegal guns. The solutions are also complex. The most important thing is to invest in our neighborhoods, ensuring excellent schools and good jobs are not limited to the downtown area. Next, is re-opening the mental health clinics that were closed in a short-sighted effort to save a relatively small amount of money. I was a sharp and vocal critic of those closings. We also cannot continue to have a shortage of law enforcement personnel. The current Mayor promised to hire 1,000 new police officers when he first ran. Eight years later, we still have not done that.
I voted “No” on six of eight budgets while I was in the City Council largely because they did not provide enough resources for law enforcement. Finally, as Mayor, I would seek to open a new crime lab to reduce the unacceptable backlog of unsolved cases. One reason for the low clearance rate of violent crimes is that law enforcement is forced to wait months for evidence to come back from the state crime lab. Other large cities have their own crime labs. In partnership with other law enforcement agencies in the Chicago area, so should we.
What is the appropriate role of charter schools within the Chicago Public Schools system?
Bob Fioretti: Charter schools have a role to play in that parents who are unhappy with their educational choices should have an opportunity to choose a different school for their children. I support, however, the current recommendation for a moratorium on new charter school applications until at least a new Mayor has been chosen and a comprehensive education strategy can be implemented.
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? Please explain.
Bob Fioretti: Chicago voters are overwhelmingly for an elected school board. So am I. I am for a hybrid school board, with some members elected, and some appointed. Chicago is the only school district in Illinois where the voters have no say on who sits on the school board. At the same time, the Mayor needs to retain some accountability to counterbalance what would likely be a school board dominated by special interests.
What else would you do as mayor to improve the quality of public school education?
Bob Fioretti: As with solving crime, this is a complex issue with many moving parts. We need to continue the trend to allow principals to have more influence in hiring teachers and running their school. Each school in Chicago is unique and should be treated as such. We need to launch a campaign to try to lure more young people-particularly people of color-into the teaching profession. The number of African-American teachers continues to fall. Students deserve to be taught by a diverse staff.
Not everyone wants to or even should attend college. Chicago Public Schools must do a better job of preparing students to survive in a job market without a college education. Greater emphasis on teaching students about trades and other professions that do not require a college degree is needed.
Greater emphasis needs to be given to encourage parents to get involved in their children’s education. Initiatives such as parent engagement centers, parent support centers, parent university, parent board of governors, community action councils, as well as many faith-based initiatives need to be enhanced and expanded. Local School Councils also need to be upgraded.
Chicago Public Schools have shown an overall increase in graduation rates and the percentage of students enrolling in college, but there is much more work to be done. Thirteen fewer Chicago schools made received the highest possible rating of Level-1 plus than last year. Fully twenty percent of Chicago schools received the lowest ratings. This means that nearly 75,000 students are daily in schools that fail them.
Our goal must be to provide all children in Chicago with access to a world-class education in every community, so they can graduate from high school ready for college and a good career. Unfortunately we are nowhere near meeting that goal.
As always funding is a concern. Class sizes are still too large. Some schools are forced to choose between a librarian and a nurse. While state funding has improved over the past few years, Chicago must still continue the fight to get equitable funding from Springfield as opposed to the rest of the state.
Most importantly, every school in the city needs to be on an equal footing with every other one. Schools and their students on the south and west sides can no longer be treated as second class citizens. As Mayor, I will make it a priority to pursue excellent schools in every part of the city.
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?
Bob Fioretti: I am not for Chicago police doing the work of ICE agents. As a long-time civil rights attorney, I support the current policy that unless there is a valid warrant to hold detainees, it is a violation of that person’s civil rights to detain them.
What are the top three environmental concerns facing the next mayor of Chicago?
Bob Fioretti: The number one environmental concern in Chicago has to be brain damaging lead found in the tap water in Chicago homes, schools, parks and businesses and the effort to downplay or cover up its discovery by the current Administration. The city has failed residents of the Southeast Side of Chicago which has a lingering problem with soot, or manganese, which is also brain-damaging and also creates a myriad of breathing and lung problems. Another huge concern is the ongoing effort to keep the devastating Asian carp out of Lake Michigan.
Chicago is famously a city of neighborhoods, which is part of its charm, but also in some ways a weakness. It can make it hard to build bridges across racial, ethnic and social lines. What would you do to build those bridges?
Bob Fioretti: As a Civil Rights attorney who has always supported law enforcement (these are not mutually exclusive), I am the only candidate for Mayor who has credibility with all stakeholders in the efforts to reduce violent crime and help re-build the trust between the Chicago Police Department and communities on the South and West side who sometimes feel law enforcement is not always on their side. In my last race, for County Board President, I was endorsed both by Black Lives Matter and every law enforcement group in Cook County. This is because they know that when it comes to law enforcement, I can bring everyone together.
What past or present Chicago mayor would you model yourself after or take inspiration from? Please explain.
Bob Fioretti: Harold Washington, who truly had a unique ability to reach across centuries old divides to put coalitions together not only to win elections, but to govern a city.
Other than “Boss” (because everybody says “Boss”) what’s the best book ever written about Chicago, non-fiction or fiction. There are no wrong answers, of course, so we hope you’ll have some fun.
Bob Fioretti: “American Pharaoh,” by Adam Cohen and Elizabeth Taylor
This book chronicles the rise and reign of Mayor Richard J. Daley, warts and all. It was a different time, and the authors do a thorough job presenting a biography of a man whose decisions led to many achievements but also to many of the problems we still face today of a racially and economically divided city. “American Pharaoh” is a must-read for anyone who Ioves this city and wants to better understand how we arrived where we are today.
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