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. Gery Chico submitted the following responses Dec. 23 (the Sun-Times does not edit candidate responses):
Who is Gery J. Chico?
His political/civic background: I grew up in Chicago, attended Kelly high school, UIC and Loyola University Chicago Law School. I started working at City Hall in the Planning Department,and worked in the Finance Committee. I later left for the private sector, where I worked at Sidley and Austin for a few years, until the new Mayor of Chicago Richard M. Daley recruited me to be his Chief of Staff.
In 1995, the General Assembly put the Chicago Public Schools under the mayor’s office, and Mayor Daley asked me to chair the new appointed board. While there, I helped lead a turnaround that was nationally recognized. When I left CPS pensions were funded at 92% and we had signed two four year contracts with the CTU which increased wages and benefits.
In 2004, I ran unsuccessfully for the democratic nomination to the US Senate, losing to former President Barack Obama. I was then asked by Mayor Daley to chair the Chicago Park District Board, where I helped lead modernization efforts that brought new playgrounds, improved facilities and services to parks all across the city.
In 2010 Mayor Daley asked me to chair the City Colleges of Chicago and lead a reinvention of their programming. In 2011, I ran for Mayor of Chicago. Although unsuccessful, I am proud of the campaign we ran.
I have run my own law firm for a number of years, and have been very active civically. In addition to my work with the City of Chicago and its departments, I served as the chair of the Illinois State Board of Education where I helped begin the process of working on a funding formula for schools in Illinois that eventually became Senate Bill 1 passed just last year.
His occupation: Attorney
His education: Kelly High School, UIC undergrad, Loyola Law School
Campaign website: chicoformayor.com
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.
Gery Chico: I do not believe the state Constitution should be amended to allow a reduction in pension benefits for retirees or current employees.
Of the following often proposed sources of new revenue for Chicago, which of the following do you favor, and why?
Sources of revenue Gery Chico favors are in italics
- A Chicago casino
- Legalized and taxed recreational marijuana
- A LaSalle Street tax — opposes
- A commuter tax — opposes
- A property tax increase — opposes
- A municipal sales tax increase — opposes
- A real estate transfer tax increase
- Video gambling
What other sources of new revenue do you favor or oppose?
Gery Chico: To be clear, Chicago faces great fiscal challenges and no one should say “never” when talking about revenue. However, recent tax hikes have hit the families who can afford it the least, leading to our neighborhoods hollowing out while the city center gets richer. We need progressive solutions for revenue. I am interested in a legal tax of Internet sales such as with Amazon stores. We also need to modernize our property taxes, in which the wealthy pay lower taxes with politically connected lawyers. I will look into a rate based property tax that fairly charges properties that are growing wealthier while providing relief to working families.
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?
Gery Chico: The consent decree is a good first step, and as mayor I will codified into law to protect Chicago from the neglect and malice of the Trump Justice Department. New steps should be taken to establish trust with the community and to help our police officers protect our city, as most of them work to do every day.
What should Chicago do to reduce the number of illegal guns?
Gery Chico: Gun buyback programs are an effective solution to reduce the number of guns on the street, and as mayor I will pursue this program. We also need to face the fact that Chicago’s metropolitan area borders two states, which often have very different public safety priorities, then our city. Like it or not, the next mayor must work together with the governors of Indiana and Wisconsin to enact gun policies that actually work and don’t stop at the state border.
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?
Gery Chico: The next mayor needs to address this problem to have any hope of bringing crime down in the long term. Every politician promises to get tough on crime. As mayor I will get tough on its causes. I’ll sue the state of Indiana for its failure to enforce its own gun laws. And push legislation in Springfield that requires gun dealers to safely store firearms, and make copies of FOID cards or IDs and attach them to documentation detailing each gun sale. New legislation should also require dealers to open their places of business for inspection by state and local police.
What is the appropriate role of charter schools within the Chicago Public Schools system?
Gery Chico: It is no secret that I have been involved with and helped found many charter schools throughout the city. I believe charter schools can be an effective tool to address situational needs in individual neighborhoods. Recent events have cast doubt on many of the city’s charter schools, and I would order a full review of all charters before opening new ones.
I believe that every parent who wants to send their child to public school should have access to high quality schools in a predictable way. Now, every year, there are parents who dread the process of sending their kids to high school because of the lottery system. It’s like playing high school roulette. No parent should have to fear that their child won’t get into a good school based on chance alone. As Mayor, I would expand CPS’ capacity to meet parents’ and students’ needs.
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.
Gery Chico: Our public schools have many problems with a simple cause: the state controls and restricts its revenue, and until very recently CPS has been starved to the point of bankruptcy. A hybrid elected school board is a good first step towards community engagement with our school district, but our school board also needs to be able to advocate adequately fund our schools without interference from Springfield. I support a public school system that both represents Chicago and can solve its own problems.
What else would you do as mayor to improve the quality of public school education?
Gery Chico: I will work on building a better relationship with Chicago Teachers Union so we can move past the damaging, and at times personal, fights of the past that have been a distraction to improving CPS.
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?
Gery Chico: Let me be clear: what is happening to migrants and refugees to this country is an atrocity. As mayor I will fight it with every tool available. The city should not act with or on behalf of of Trump’s immigration enforcers in any way. Additionally, to the extent that we can do so, we must provide effective oversight and resources for migrant children who are brought to Chicago. This is an ugly chapter in our country’s history, and the next mayor has a moral duty to fight it.
What are the top three environmental concerns facing the next mayor of Chicago?
Gery Chico: Chicago is facing a crisis with lead in our water and cannot afford to become the next Flint Michigan. As mayor I will overhaul the city’s water system starting with our badly neglected pipes at CPS. No child deserves to drink poisoned water in the place of learning.
Second, the simple fact is that the federal and state governments have failed us when it comes to clean-air regulation. Whether it be asthma from coal plants that need to be shut down or petcoke facilities poisoning nearby air and ground, we cannot wait for a sometimes hostile federal government to our families and vulnerable neighborhoods. I will enact strict local regulations and penalties for polluters and begin a real cleanup process in the city.
It is widely known that the ecosystem of Lake Michigan is in grave danger from encroachment of the Asian carp. As mayor I will take all measures possible to fight and eliminate this invasive species.
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?
Gery Chico: Let’s call this problem what it is: Chicago is heavily racially segregated, and many communities have been and remain underserved and neglected. Changing hearts and minds is a question many people have wrestled with. What I can and will do as mayor is to create equality of opportunity wherever I can. CPS needs a real school capital plan, not haphazard school closures amid political games. The Chicago fire and police departments need to be representative of our communities. We need community investment, including TIF funds, and the neighborhoods that need it most. Bridges will never be built if some people can’t afford to cross them.
What past or present Chicago mayor would you model yourself after or take inspiration from? Please explain.
Gery Chico: I have always thought that Richard J. Daley deserves a lot of credit for his vision and ability to see Chicago as a world class city, and starting that process. The other mayor I would look to for inspiration is Harold Washington, who through perseverance and skill began the difficult process of pulling Chicago together from our separate neighborhoods. I hope that as mayor I can help to finish his work by finally helping to make Chicago a world class city in every neighborhood, for every citizen.
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.
Gery Chico: I have a several copies of the Daniel Burnham’s Plan of Chicago, and I regularly look back at them. He was a visionary planner, and I got my start in government in the Planning department of City Hall. So many of the great things we take for granted in our City, came from Burnham’s Plan. I encourage every Chicagoan to read the Plan at least once, you will be amazed to learn that many of the streets in Chicago today are still following his plan.
Also running for mayor: