2nd Ward candidate for alderman: Brian Hopkins

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Brian Hopkins, 2nd Ward alderman shown here in 2015, is in an uncontested aldermanic race. | Richard A. Chapman/Sun-Times file

Complete coverage of the local and national primary and general election, including results, analysis and voter resources to keep Chicago voters informed.

The Sun-Times Editorial Board sent aldermanic candidates a list of questions to find out their views on a range of issues facing the city and their wards. Ald. Brian Hopkins, who is running unopposed in the 2nd Ward, submitted the following responses:

Who is Brian Hopkins?

He’s running for: 2nd Ward alderman His political/civic background: City of Chicago – Alderman, 2nd Ward (2015-Present) Cook County Government – Office of County Commissioner John Daley (1994 – 2015) Downstate Field Director – Dawn Clark-Netsch for Governor (1994) Illinois Coalition to End Homelessness (1991-1993) Illinois Senate Democrats, legislative staff Democratic Party of Illinois, press secretary His occupation: Alderman of Chicago’s 2nd Ward His education: University of Illinois-Springfield, B.S., Political Science Campaign website: hopkinsforchicago.com Twitter: @ReElectHopkins Facebook: facebook.com/HopkinsforChicago

Top priorities

What are the top three priorities for your ward?

Brian Hopkins:1) Building safer communities: Chicago is a city defined by its neighborhoods – neighbors identify with and take pride in the section of Chicago they call home, and it is vitally important that they feel safe in their own neighborhood. As a longtime CAPS volunteer, I understand the importance of community involvement in law enforcement, and will make neighborhood safety a top priority.

2) Strengthening ethics and transparency practices within city government: I have worked to ensure that residents of the 2nd Ward have more access and opportunity to voice opinions towards programs, projects, and developments that impact our neighborhoods. Opening government decision making to greater transparency will further hold elected officials accountable to Chicago’s residents. I co-sponsored the ordinance to require all city council meetings to be live streamed.

3) Investing in stronger public education: I support efforts that will better fund public education, hiring more teachers to help reduce classroom size, and supporting the expansion of early childhood education.

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.

Brian Hopkins:Serving as Alderman of Chicago’s 2nd Ward has been an honor and an opportunity to directly impact the quality of life of thousands of Chicagoans. A few of the accomplishments I am most proud of include:

1.) Improving neighborhood safety by securing new police officers to patrol the 2nd Ward and perform neighborhood security assessments

2.) Clearing the years-long backlog of city service requests (CSRs), resulting in the fulfilling more than 45,000 CSRs over the course of 4 years and the resurfacing of dilapidated streets across the 2nd Ward

3.) Passage of the North Branch Modernization Framework as step one of the Lincoln Yards project, which re-zoned an industrial corridor to accommodate for mixed-use development, negotiated 12 mandatory acres of park space, and guaranteed that 70 percent of all Impact Fees to remain local

4.) Taking on General Iron, which has been polluting the environment in a heavily residential neighborhood for years

5.) Securing the development of One Chicago Square, which will bring an estimated 1,400 jobs and millions in tax revenue to the 2nd Ward, as well as long-needed improvements to Chicago Avenue

Pensions

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.

Brian Hopkins:I oppose a constitutional change to reduce pension benefits for current or retired city employees. City employees past and present with pensions deserve to receive the full extent of the benefits that they worked hard for, paid into, and were promised as compensation for their service. While I am open to pension changes regarding incoming hires, a constitutional change impacting retirees and current employees would unfairly renege on the promises made to them when they were first hired.

Revenue

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.

Brian Hopkins:Chicago Casino: Support

Legalized and taxed recreational marijuana: Support, so long as the revenue generated is put towards restoring shuttered mental health facilities in Chicago.

LaSalle Street tax: Oppose

Commuter tax: Oppose – the tax is regressive and will impact working families the hardest.

Property tax increase: Oppose

Municipal sales tax increase: Support

Real estate transfer tax increase: I would support a moderate and incremental real estate transfer tax increase, but the rate currently being proposed in City Council is too steep and implements the increase too quickly.

Video gambling: Oppose

What other sources of new revenue do you favor or oppose?

Brian Hopkins:I would consider a plan to generate new revenue from an increase in sales tax for certain luxury goods and services that would draw additional revenue from the tourism industry.

TIFs

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?

Brian Hopkins: The TIF program must be reformed to bring it back into compliance with its original purpose: to promote recovery in economically blighted areas. I support reforms that add objective criteria and formula-driven designations for what constitutes economic blight. I also support reforms that help protect taxpayers from subsidizing projects that would have occurred even without the subsidy. Further, I believe that a single TIF in a specific geographic area should not be subject to renewal.

At the December 2018 Council Meeting, the Mayor put forward an ordinance to sunset a TIF in the 2nd Ward – the Halsted/Weed TIF – which was sitting idle and not being used for any public benefit. Sunsetting the TIF, which was designated in January 2008 and would have expired in December 2032, shows a balance of $1.25 Million at the end of FY ’17. While this may not be the largest TIF to be sunset in Chicago, Aldermen do have the ability to work with the Mayor’s office to close other TIF Districts that have been inactive for a significant period and have those funds returned to the city’s General Fund.

Aldermanic power

What will you do to rein in aldermanic prerogative?

Brian Hopkins: While I believe that City Council needs to clarify some of the vague language and loopholes in zoning regulations to prevent elected officials from blocking affordable housing development, for example, I disagree with the notion that aldermanic prerogative should be discarded. In my negotiations with Sterling Bay regarding the multi-million dollar Lincoln Yards development, aldermanic prerogative has been an important tool to help me gain additional leverage on behalf of the people I represent, to make sure that this development is community-driven and for the benefit of my constituents. As a freshman alderman, aldermanic prerogative has allowed me to stand up to powerful, well-capitalized interests and firms who may not prioritize the needs of 2nd Ward residents in the same way that I do.

Police reform

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?

Brian Hopkins: I support the consent decree. As laid out in reports from the Obama administration’s Justice Department, Chicago Police Department training and practices were long overdue for reforms. Our job now is to make sure that the new police training academy is adequately funded and provides training reforms that meet the standards laid out in the consent decree, such as better response to individuals with mental health issues, reforms to standards for use of force and alternative responses to threats (such as Tasers), and training on proper use of police body cameras. We must work to change the harmful aspects of CPD culture uncovered by the Justice Department, and also make sure that CPD officers are provided with all of the information and training they need to comply with the consent decree.

Guns

What should Chicago do to reduce the number of illegal guns?

Brian Hopkins: Chicago’s illegal gun market is in large part result of statewide gun control issues. Chicago’s elected officials – me included – must work with the state representatives and senators whose districts cover Chicago to pass sensible gun control measures at the state level. I would support legislation that:

1.) Expands the no concealed-carry zones

2.) Places restrictions on the number of guns that an individual can purchase over a set period

3.) Restricts the ability of suburban gun dealers to sell guns to “straw purchasers” who re-sell them on the streets of Chicago

Schools

What is the appropriate role of charter schools within the Chicago Public Schools system?

Brian Hopkins: I am not opposed to Charter Schools within the Chicago Public Schools system, so long as educators and staff are not prevented from the opportunity to organize, and so long as annual expenditure reports clearly detail how public funding is used. Charter institutions that engage in shell games with their funding – in that money is diverted to other programs that take away from educating Chicago children – should not be tolerated, and should be investigated and if necessary, prosecuted to the full extent of the law.

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?

Brian Hopkins: I support an elected school board, with a hybrid modification to ensure continued mayoral accountability. Chicago residents should be given the opportunity to elect members to the Board. The mayor should retain some participation in the process by appointing a Board President, so that there is accountability shared between the Mayor’s Office and the Board. Elected officials become accountable to the citizens they represent – and keeping some appointment powers with the Mayor’s Office ensures that the Mayor and the Board are accountable to each other.

Affordable housing

Is there enough affordable housing in your ward? Please explain.

Brian Hopkins: No, and not only is there a shortage for Chicagoans seeking opportunities in my Ward, but it’s an issue across the City. With millions in Affordable Developer Buyout Fees paid into the city’s Affordable Housing Opportunity Fund, but very little being done in terms of building 100% affordable housing across the city, we need a better understanding for what these funds are being used for, and a better plan put in place to invest these funds into future ARO development.

Immigration

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?

Brian Hopkins: In order for our police officers to effectively fight crime, it is crucial that everyone feels safe calling and cooperating with the police if they are the victim of a crime or witness a crime, regardless of their immigration status. Chicago’s status as a welcoming city strikes an appropriate balance because it draws a clear line between CPD and Immigration Customs & Enforcement (ICE), while still allowing police to cooperate with ICE when ICE has a criminal warrant signed by a federal judge. This ensures that police maintain trust with the immigrant community, and that limited police resources are devoted to keeping our city safe from criminals – not going after law-abiding immigrants who are working, paying taxes, and contributing to Chicago’s economy.

Regarding other policies with respect to undocumented immigrants, I voted in 2016 to create the Chicago Legal Protection Fund, which provides funding for Know Your Rights trainings and free or reduced-cost legal aid to immigrants and refugees regardless of legal status. I support the continued funding for this program. Chicago is home to an estimated 140,000 undocumented immigrants – many of whom are working at Chicago businesses and have American-born children who attend our schools – so while the federal government continues to stall on comprehensive immigration reform, we need programs like the Chicago Legal Protection Fund to help prevent disruptions to our economy, communities, and families.

Ethics

Should the inspector general have the power to audit and review City Council programs, operations and committees? Why or why not?

Brian Hopkins: I do not believe that should be the responsibility of the inspector general. Instead, I support expanding the scope of engagement of the city’s annual audit to require a review of all aldermanic offices and committee functions, including the finance committee.

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.

Brian Hopkins: No.

Role model

Is there a past or current alderman whom you model yourself after, or would model yourself after, or take inspiration from? Please explain.

Brian Hopkins:While I admire the work of many City Council members past and present, I would say that the individual I model myself after most as a leader is Dawn Clark-Netsch, whose gubernatorial campaign I worked for in 1994 as Downstate Field Director. Her values and ethics made a lasting impact on me and shaped my philosophy towards governance through honesty and fairness. I strive to live out these values every day in my work as 2nd Ward Alderman.

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