Jennifer Zordani, Illinois House 47th District Democratic nominee profile
Her top priorities include small business financial assistance, a ban on chemical pollutants and red-light camera removal.
Running for:State Representative Illinois House District 47
Political party affiliation:Democrat
Occupation:Lawyer, Zordani Law, P.C. (primary practice area: financial services, securities regulation and compliance for trading firms and traders)
Education:University of Chicago, B.A. 1985, IIT-Chicago Kent College of Law, J.D.-1994
The Chicago Sun-Times Editorial Board sent nominees for the Illinois House of Representatives a list of questions to find out their views on a range of important issues facing the state of Illinois and their districts. Jennifer Zordani submitted the following responses:
The COVID-19 pandemic has hammered the finances of Illinois. The state is staring at a $6.2 billion budget shortfall in this fiscal year. What should be done? Please be specific.
The pandemic has hammered the finances of every state. Governors are acting reasonably and responsibly when they seek Federal funds to address budget shortfalls caused by the pandemic. Illinois is one of the least Federally dependent states and has been a net payer into the Federal system for decades (to the tune of about $4 billion a year recently). It’s reasonable for Illinoisans to expect Federal funds to help our state recover from this situation. It benefits all Illinoisans to change the Federal requirements and permit funds to be used to cover lost tax and other revenues. Extreme right partisans that are seeking to withhold Federal funds for recovery are only making a bad situation worse. The proven benefits from Federal stimulus programs during severe recessions is well known and we only need to look back to the 2008 meltdown as a reminder.
Illinois must continue on the path of responsible re-opening. There are certain revenue sources, like travel and tourism, that will remain dismal for at least a year and the loss in revenue will be difficult to recover until the pandemic is over. We must keep our Covid-19 positivity rates low to permit stores and businesses to continue to function to the greatest extent possible and to be best positioned to take advantage of increased consumer demand at the earliest safe opportunity.
Covering our budget shortfall is going to be expensive because it is not possible to roll back expenditures to cover the shortfall, and our borrowing rates are high. I am open to suspensions of expenditures that do not increase the existing harms from the pandemic and these can be considered line by line. I will prioritize the most urgent needs, and these will include emergency relief to small businesses and other avenues to increase employment.
What grade — “A” to “F” — would you give Gov. J.B. Pritzker for his handling of the coronavirus pandemic? Please explain. What, if anything, should he have done differently?
A. Handling the pandemic was a group project and Governors in both parties that recognized the risks and effects, like Governor Pritzker, should receive the top grades. Recognizing that the Federal administration was unwilling to coordinate a realistic or effective plan, Pritzker worked tirelessly to navigate the known and unknown. His willingness to lead press conferences with health experts and to include elected officials from across the region helped inform and motivate Illinoisans to respond to the pandemic as the threat it is. When Dupage County experienced a swath of cases at a congregate care facility, our County Board Chairman was front and center with the Governor united in the goal of improving the outcomes in our area. Dupage County has received resources that help support a Covid-19 testing facility which is very important to the residents in my Illinois House District 47.
The mayors and managers in our area disagreed with the regions initially developed by the Governor and his team, which they felt lumped too many towns with Chicago, and Governor Pritzker reviewed and agreed that there should be adjustment.
We know we’ve had significant problems with the overloaded Illinois Department of Employment Security and, for the unemployed, those problems can cripple their ability to meet their living expenses. As a legislator, I’d like to form a working group to evaluate what we’ve learned about the ability of our government to function remotely, our systems and our responsiveness to our residents. While we hope this is the only pandemic we see for at least another 100 years, we’d be short-sighted and irresponsible not to use what we’ve learned to be better prepared for another pandemic and to improve our state government operations regardless.
In the wake of the death of George Floyd in Minneapolis, legislatures in some states have taken up the issue of police reform. Should Illinois do the same? If so, what would that look like?
Definitely. Illinois passed meaningful police reform in 2015 which ended stop and frisk and eliminated chokehold training. It also set guidelines for body cameras. When I’ve spoken with residents in my district, everyone — regardless of their party — agrees George Floyd was murdered and the police officers on that stop deserve to be held accountable. Residents in my district also appreciate the growing body of learning that confirms wrongful deaths in policing can be prevented, discrimination in policing can be reduced and violence can be de-escalated. The conversations become tougher when we talk about the extent to which we should make change.
The Illinois Attorney General has raised the prospect of licensing our officers and I’m open to that possibility. Recently, a Mayor of a large town near my district noted that the legislature is responsible for addressing the disciplinary structure in the police union contracts and I’m also open to that possibility. I support a process where persons who understand the demands of the job are involved in disciplinary determinations, but this should include civilians independent of law enforcement.
Should the Legislature pass a law requiring all law enforcement officers to wear body cameras? Why or why not?
The goal should be for all law enforcement officers to wear body cameras for the protection of officers and civilians. The police reform bill from 2015 recognizes the benefits of accountability and transparency from the use of body cameras along with their evidentiary value. It also establishes standards for the use of body cameras.
The difficulty with implementing a state-wide mandate requiring cameras is the cost. It is not only the body cameras but also associated technology and training for departments.
As a legislator, because of the costs, I would consider whether implementation might only be mandated based upon a showing of a need for enhanced accountability or transparency in a particular jurisdiction. The standards for such a showing should be determined by experts familiar with red flags for departments. I also would consider requiring towns to vote on whether to require cameras (with subsequent votes being required from time to time if the town declines to require cameras). We also might phase in the requirements to facilitate obtaining Federal grants.
Federal prosecutors have revealed a comprehensive scheme of bribery, ghost jobs and favoritism in subcontracting by ComEd to influence the actions of House Speaker Michael Madigan. Who’s to blame? What ethics reforms should follow? Should Madigan resign?
The facts admitted by Commonwealth Edison is the play by play of insider politics and there is plenty of blame to go around. Voters I talk with - in both parties - recognize it may be their party this week and the other party next week. Illinoisans are so tired of corruption, and they recognize it affects all levels of government and it imposes real costs on our state.
ComEd’s admissions in the deferred prosecution agreement along with the recommendations provided to the Joint Commission on Ethics and Lobbying Reform earlier this year give me a playbook I can use for reform. Some of the best recommendations include changing some of the ethics “guidelines” to requirements, restricting lobbying activity by legislators, requiring more disclosure by legislators of conflicts and contacts with lobbyists and giving the Legislative Inspector General autonomy and authority.
Corruption in Illinois is not limited to one person or one party. There have been issues in recent years from the highest levels of government down to our local municipalities. Whether one individual resigns from their role or not, that will not solve the deep-rooted ethical problems that our state faces. From the very first day in office, I will commit to working for the people in my district – not for ComEd, not for anyone in leadership, not for any lobbyists – only the constituents that I serve.
Please tell us about your civic work in the last two years, whether it’s legislation you have sponsored or work you have done in other ways to improve your community.
In my hometown, Clarendon Hills, we have a caucus process where members of the community can serve to select a slate of candidates for the municipal election. I served on the committee to select village Trustees. Our village board and President serve on a volunteer basis, but it can become a highly politicized process. I intend to model my behavior in office on the good people in my community who step up to serve.
Please list three concerns that are specific to your district, such as a project that should be undertaken or a state policy related to an important local issue that should be revised.
First, small businesses want to be heard. I’m committed to providing emergency funding and other lifelines to small businesses. Aside from crisis relief, we need a fresh look at fees and state licensing to right size fees, oversight and consumer/resident benefits. Small businesses get lumped with large businesses too often and, if we do a better job of scaling requirements appropriately, we can help small businesses greatly and help them grow revenues and employment.
Second, residents want comprehensive changes to stop companies from spraying the air with the cancer causing chemical ethylene oxide (EtO). Activist residents in my district and nearby fought to close the Sterigenics facility and demanded legislative action. The bill my opponent claims as her victory against Sterigenics actually permitted the facility to reopen and she failed to support legislation that would stop chemical polluters like Sterigenics. The Sterigenics facility did not reopen only because residents made clear they would not give up. We have to rebuild the Illinois EPA to give it the resources to shut down chemical polluters like Sterigenics and we have to pass a bill to protect Illinois residents from cancer causing EtO.
Third, residents want red-light cameras removed from the intersection of Route 83 and 22nd Street and other locations across our district. Across the country, states are banning red light cameras. Red-light cameras were once viewed as part of legitimate traffic enforcement and safety, but they have been misused for revenue raising rather than increasing safety. In Oakbrook Terrace, the cameras were installed allegedly as part of an influence peddling scheme at multiple levels of government. That reason alone should support quick removal. Some officials seek to ban red-light cameras only in non-home rule jurisdictions. I support banning red light cameras statewide.
What are your other top legislative priorities?
Ethics Reform as I’ve addressed in other questions is a top priority.
Budgeting and appropriations that move Illinois away from its reliance on property taxes is a high priority. I don’t underestimate how difficult it is to choose between school funding; helping foster children and abused children in the Department of Child and Family Services and providing our workers with decent transportation infrastructure, but I’ll make those choices responsibly and with a view to making every dollar we collect provide value to our residents.
Working on consolidation of government taxing units. For example, I support enabling local school districts to withdraw from the Lyons Township School Treasurer. I also would like to evaluate eliminating the Highway Commission from Township government in areas where there is limited need and an ability for those services to be provided by other jurisdictions.
What is your position on Gov. J.B. Pritzker’s proposed graduated income tax? Please explain.
The proposal for a graduated income tax will be decided by Illinois voters. The choice voters are making is whether middle class families continue to pay more than they can afford as a proportion of their income or ultra high net worth earners pay more.
If Illinois voters pass the fair tax proposal, my commitment is to honor the promises made by others that this is not going to lead to tax increases on the middle class. My goal is to use any new dollars to get Illinois’ financial house in order, which means paying our old bills and supporting the services Illinoisans need, like public education, health care and child safety.
Illinois continues to struggle financially, with a backlog of unpaid bills. In addition to a progressive state income tax — or in lieu of such a tax — what should the state do to pay its bills, meet its pension obligations and fund core services such as higher education?
The reality is that Illinois residents, businesses and the financial community want to see a commitment to responsible budgeting over the long-term. The budgets passed since the impasse, certainly were not perfect in anyone’s view, but they started to chip away at unpaid bills and move Illinois in the right direction.
I think the state needs to show a real commitment to paying old bills and meeting our contractual obligations with any new revenues we see from gambling, cannabis and if passed, the graduated tax, and I’ll be open-minded to solutions for this ongoing struggle.
Residents in my district want stakeholders to get together and find some solutions because none of them want to look at their kids’ teachers, who’ve contributed to retirement for decades, and tell them they’ll have no retirement and no healthcare when they’re 65. When people read about a constitutional amendment or declaring bankruptcy for Illinois, those options are presented as easy fixes, when the reality is they are painful, litigation filled, feeding frenzies for lawyers that will throw Illinois into complete chaos. That said, people recognize if we don’t get to viable, long-term negotiated solutions pretty quickly, we might be there anyway.
Should Illinois consider taxing the retirement incomes of its very wealthiest residents, as most states do? And your argument is?
No. Talking to voters in our community, I constantly hear from older residents who are overburdened by increasing costs of prescription medication, property taxes and so many other taxes and fees that make it difficult to pay their bills. I do not support adding to that burden with a tax on retirement income.
What can Illinois do to improve its elementary and high schools?
Looking at the big picture, Illinois has to work harder on its finances so that it can provide more funding to the schools and decrease the reliance on property taxes. The goal has to be solid funding for districts to provide our kids with solid education.
In our district, telecommunications companies are trying to install 5G towers, usurping municipal control and running roughshod over residential property values, making part of the argument that schools need this upgrade. Our local schools have good technology and rather than providing hidden subsidies to telecommunications companies, we should focus on providing internet access across Illinois so all schools and families have access to education.
COVID-19 has created brand new challenges for elementary and high school education. As a legislator, I will work with all stakeholders - educators, local parents, school administrators, and community organizations - to ensure that our local schools have the resources they need to provide quality education to all students in this new environment of teaching, whether that is in the classroom or remote.
Mass shootings and gun violence plague America. What can or should the Legislature do, if anything, to address this problem in Illinois?
The majority of Americans support common sense gun laws such as background checks that would have prevented senseless gun violence here in Illinois including the mass shooting in Aurora and the murder of Commander Bauer in Chicago. I support Illinois’ efforts to honor the rights provided by the Second Amendment and to develop laws that lessen gun violence.
I support the Block Illegal Ownership (BIO) Bill that requires a point of sale background check for all gun sales; requires FOID applicants to apply in person with the State Police and submit fingerprints; requires the State Police to take action to remove guns when a FOID card is revoked, reduces the FOID card duration from 10 to 5 years and strengthens the concealed carry process. Responsible gun owners support blocking felons and other illegitimate gun owners from having weapons, but they are asking for better procedures and faster turnaround for licensing. I think it’s fair for FOID card holders to be given better service when they are applying and seeking answers from the state about their FOID cards.
We also need better reporting of events and coordination between agencies and jurisdictions when events occur that prohibit an individual from possessing a firearm.
I also support funding for intervention and gun violence reduction programs, which are shown to decrease violence.
Do you favor or oppose term limits for any elected official in Illinois? Please explain.
Candidly, I don’t favor or oppose. I have understood term limits to be a disincentive to voting (because voters then think change will happen anyway) and I want more people to vote, not less. On the other hand, voters regularly ask for term limits and do not want legislators to stay in office for lengthy periods, so I’m open to implementing term limits.
As an alternative, I would strongly consider a plan to terminate legislative pensions in Illinois. While I view the requirements of serving as a State Representative as a nearly full time job, it is established as a part-time position. Legislators work other jobs making significant income that permits them to save for retirement and/or collect social security. Former legislators are collecting pensions while making hundreds of thousands of dollars from other pensions and current work. Offering retirement benefits to state legislators does not seem to align with voters’ expectations and removing those benefits might remove one of the incentives for men and women to hold the job for too long.
Everybody says gerrymandering is bad, but the party in power in every state — Democrats in Illinois — resist doing anything about it. Or do we have that wrong? What should be done?
You don’t have it wrong. There needs to be significant action at the Federal level, and in the meantime Illinois can help give residents their voice and their vote by creating a transparent process that takes into account the ethnic, gender and racial demographics of our state and restricts lobbyists and others with conflicts of interest from drawing our maps. I support efforts to reform redistricting such as Terra Costa Howard’s Fair Maps Amendment. Residents should choose their elected officials, not the other way around.
The U.S. attorney’s office in Chicago is investigating possible official corruption by state and local officials. This prompted the Legislature to pass an ethics reform measure to amend the Lobbyist Registration Act (SB 1639). It was signed into law in December. What’s your take on this and what more should be done?
It was a decent move towards transparency, but it’s important that the legislature take additional action, such as:
- Require a revolving-door cooling-off policy so legislators have to wait at least two years after leaving office before becoming lobbyists. Most states have this type of prohibition and some restrict lobbying for up to 6 years.
- Require lobbyists to disclose how much they actually are raising for candidates and political action committees and whether they are serving as bundler fundraisers.
- Prohibit state lawmakers from lobbying (not just disclosing) local governments.
When people use the internet and wireless devices, companies collect data about us. Oftentimes, the information is sold to other companies, which can use it to track our movements or invade our privacy in other ways. When companies share this data, we also face a greater risk of identity theft. What should the Legislature do, if anything?
The patchwork of privacy laws across the country and internationally are difficult for everyone to navigate or rely upon. The Federal Trade Commission is charged with protecting individual privacy rights, but clearly has not kept pace. We do not have a comprehensive clear approach to privacy in our country. States are filling the gap and private citizens who are suing to protect their rights essentially act as an enforcement mechanism standing guard for others.
Illinois was a leader in addressing privacy when it passed the Biometric Information Privacy Act in 2008. Since then Illinois has been a leader on seeking to protect consumers from breaches of their privacy rights. Multiple bills will be proposed again in the upcoming session and I’ll review them with the view that individual rights and consumer based protections are vital to give our residents a sense of security as they conduct their lives and businesses online.
The number of Illinois public high school graduates who enroll in out-of-state universities continues to climb. What can Illinois do to make its state universities more attractive to Illinois high school students?
Illinois families want public colleges and universities to be affordable. I’ve heard too many stories of kids selecting out of state schools only because they were more affordable than our public colleges or universities. Our universities should be priced so our residents can get through school without incurring huge debt. We need to restore Illinois schools as top choices for residents. We should not be letting other states poach our kids because when they leave, there’s less likelihood they come back.
What is your top legislative priority with respect to the environment?
I support the Clean Energy Jobs Act (CEJA) which will help Illinois continue to reduce carbon emissions and move towards greater renewable energy. It will build skills and jobs for the new economy and help transition workers who have been displaced or who traditionally have been disadvantaged or disenfranchised. There are complexities in terms of rates and capacity, and the bill should get a fresh look because of ComEd’s actions. Illinoisans recognize the urgency of climate change and the need to take action and this bill is responsive to many challenges.
What historical figure from Illinois, other than Abraham Lincoln (because everybody’s big on Abe), do you most admire or draw inspiration from? Please explain.
Bernie Sahlins, the founder of Second City was smart, innovative and helped build Chicago’s artist community. Providing the stage and the training at Second City, to support actors, musicians and comedians seemed so much more than business, but as we see venues shutter and the live entertainment sector of our economy falter because of the pandemic, I have a great appreciation for those who have built lasting entertainment venues. Second City gave me many nights of laughs and gave the world comedians like Bill Murray and John Belushi who brought Chicago to light - hilariously!
What’s your favorite TV, streaming or web-based show of all time. Why?
Brady Bunch. I remember the excitement of waiting for the show each week and how much we loved each episode. The joy of family, the “life lessons”, even if idealized, just made us so happy to watch.