11th Ward candidate for alderman: David Mihalyfy
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The Sun-Times Editorial Board sent the 11th Ward aldermanic candidates a list of questions to find out their views on a range of important issues facing the city and their ward. David Mihalyfy submitted the following responses (the Sun-Times does not edit candidate responses):
Who is David Mihalyfy?
He’s running for: 11th Ward alderman
His political/civic background: My civic work mainly consists of labor activism and freelance writing on higher ed reform, including financial investigative reporting. Due to the decline of full-time jobs with benefits, I have worked multiple short-term and low wage jobs a year. During this time, I’ve fought in a number of unionization campaigns, including 2 recent drives that brought 2500+ workers into AFT-IFT and 200+ workers into Teamsters Local 743.
Since my time teaching freshman writing, I’ve been investigating misuse of money at colleges and universities that receive public funds. Most notably, my 2014 article “Higher Education’s Aristocrats” demonstrated how 8 University of Chicago administrators received $7.6 million in pay raises over 5 years, even as the school was heading towards a credit downgrade. These numbers were confirmed by Crain’s Chicago Business and used in their reporting on the school’s financial management.
His occupation: Assisted living aide, after mid-life career shift from working as a freshman writing teacher due to decline of full-time jobs with benefits.
His education: Most recently, various assisted living certifications and courses, after MA/PhD as part of previous higher education career path.
Campaign website: letourlightshine11thward.com/
What are the top three priorities for your ward?
David Mihalyfy: The two main areas where the 11th Ward could be doing better is more investment in youth, and helping people with cost of living.
With youth, we could have more activities to provide them with positive paths, and we could undertake improvements with neighborhood high schools. This means uplift of existing schools, and advocacy for a new high school up towards the Chinatown and University Village part of the ward.
Since cost-of-living is really going crazy, we should join other cities and become a leader in ‘free installation’ home solar programs that lower utility bills immediately and let the city recoup its outlay over time. We should also definitely be fighting for fairer taxation, where we tax big banks and luxury goods first, before working people pay any more.
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.
David Mihalyfy: During the last two years, I’ve continued to fight in unionization drives, and to write on higher ed reform.
With unionization, I most recently did basic legwork in one wing of an educational non-profit where I briefly tutored, and handed off that work to Cook County College Teachers Union Local 1600.
With advocacy writing on higher ed and student debt, I’ve most notably been drafting a “big picture” administrative bloat article that’s been accepted for publication at Inside Higher Ed. My research points out gaps in federal statistics keeping and guesstimates how much we could save each year at schools that receive public funds by instituting civil service pay caps and cutting back excessive growth in positions (tentative findings: $18 billion a year at minimum, an amount that justifies more oversight and quantification of administrative expenses).
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.
David Mihalyfy: We must honor our pension obligations, and as part of that we should amend the Illinois Constitution so that we can more easily tax financial speculation and make the wealthy pay their fair share of taxes.
As we seek to honor our pension obligations, we should also fight in tandem for workers in low-wage and unstable positions, by further raising the minimum wage and reining in exploitative part-time and on-call jobs. Since we are all in this together, we must act in solidarity across generational fault lines to change a system that’s increasingly rigged for the wealthy and destroying anything that resembles a middle class.
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.
David Mihalyfy: Since our current budgets are unfairly balanced on the back of working people and people are getting stretched thin, we must prioritize taxing big banks and luxury goods (e.g. financial speculation under the “LaSalle Street tax,” or property taxes that are narrowly defined and target the wealthy).
We should consider options like the casinos, video gambling, and legalized and taxed recreational marijuana, so long as we double check research and get non-partisan estimates that they’re not actually “penny wise pound foolish” measures that cost us more in the long run.
A city sales tax or a broad property tax is the least desirable way to go, since it’s another measure that hurts everyday people, like the 2015 monthly garbage collection tax and property tax increase that were supported by our current representative Patrick Daley Thompson.
What other sources of new revenue do you favor or oppose?
David Mihalyfy: In general, we should prioritize taxing big banks and luxury goods.
One good option is taxing bank-held vacant foreclosed properties. Such a tax will ensure that they either provide revenue to the city, or are rented or sold and thus put downward pressure on housing costs.
We should also implement taxes on empty condos held as investments by global elites, the so-called “zombie flats” of London taxation proposals. Very likely, many such properties exist here in Chicago.
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?
David Mihalyfy: On the whole, our development funds lack oversight and become slush funds to give huge handouts to the well-connected. In conjunction with lobbying our federal government to ban “race to the bottom” corporate subsidies, we must stop massive diversion of funding away from schools and parks and dial back usage so that funds go to blighted areas and development that truly “but for” those funds would not have occurred.
It should be noted that my ‘free installation’ home solar proposal modeled after other cities’ policies falls into this use of developments funds; where it makes financial sense, it helps people “get over the hump” of steep installation costs, with the added benefit that the city is contractually guaranteed to be paid back from electricity savings over time, since even this far north home solar pays for itself over the lifespan of the warranty.
What will you do to rein in aldermanic prerogative?
David Mihalyfy: In broad outlines, aldermanic prerogative can be a good thing, since it allows a community to elect a representative to shape a shared development vision for a distinctive region of the city.
Its common connection with the expectation of regular donations from local businesses is unethical and unseemly, however, since city services should be rights and not favors. As an individual candidate, I am not taking money from corporations and businesses, so as to avoid even the appearance of conflict-of-interest; I will consider zoning and other decision out of respect for entrepreneurs and business owners and with an eye toward the broader community, not due to some narrow personal financial interest in a project getting passed. If elected, I would seek to maximally ban such corporate and business donations to representatives.
We also need to create better systems, so that discrimination cannot easily be hidden behind any pretext of aldermanic prerogative. In collaboration with other aldermen and with community leaders and stakeholders, we should formulate more transparent approval procedures for both major and minor projects, to ensure equitable outcomes while respecting local communities’ needs.
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?
David Mihalyfy: The consent decree helps correct our failure of duty to both officers and to the city as a whole, by providing our officers with better training in areas like crisis intervention.
We must also prioritize broader community well-being initiatives like reopening mental health clinics; these basic resources are important not only for people with mental illness, but also for our officers as well, since it’s unfair to expect them to take the place of social workers and clinicians.
Youth activities to keep kids out of gangs and reopening mental health clinics are major concerns of many 11th ward officers and veterans who I’ve spoken with, and I would do my best to form and work within citywide coalitions so we can create positive change in these areas.
What should Chicago do to reduce the number of illegal guns?
David Mihalyfy: Unfortunately, there is no single easy solution to the number of illegal guns in our city, but we can create positive change in a number of ways.
Since most guns come from out-of-state, we can learn from places like New Jersey and more greatly popularize statistics on the origins of guns used in crimes, to “name and shame” the states who don’t do sufficient oversight and allow guns to flood our streets.
Since much of the larger crisis stems from gun manufacturers’ undue influence over our federal representatives, both to pass unhealthy laws and to block sensible, we should also recognize that increased attention to the problem of money in politics can raise consciousness and set the stage for longer-term change here too.
Within community safety and well-being considered more broadly, we should recognize that quality jobs and investment in youth are the best ways to shift people into better paths, and away from crime and violence.
What is the appropriate role of charter schools within the Chicago Public Schools system?
David Mihalyfy: Due to administrative profiteering off of public funds and the statistically questionable benefits to students, we must halt CPS charter school expansion and pursue interim measures to improve transparency, accountability, and educational quality. For example, we should pass sunlight laws so that we can access records of charters and their parent organizations just like we can access CPS records through FOIA. We should also support and encourage teacher and paraprofessional unionization like in the UNO/Acero network, to end the revolving door of staff.
After we help restore regular CPS funding streams by cracking down on diversion into misused city development slushfunds, we should have a larger conversation about reducing the number of charters and migrating students back into CPS, especially since we shouldn’t be funding discrimination like the all too common poor support of students with disabilities.
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?
David Mihalyfy: Our city deserves an elected school board, since situations of favoritism are more likely to occur when we do not have the check-and-balance of a vote over officials at the highest levels.
The now-defeated elementary-to-high-school conversion proposal for National Teachers Academy is a perfect example of how favoritism occurs in the absence of an elected school board. The long-standing, reasonable demand of the Chinese-American community for a neighborhood high school near Chinatown had been ignored. Then, a top-performing elementary school that was 80% black and 70% low-income was going to be sacrificed, for a high school to serve more recently emerging needs of wealthier lakefront residents.
With an elected school board, we likely would have had better outcomes in these areas, both in terms of a newly built neighborhood high school serving the area around Chinatown, and avoiding the whole NTA mess, which needlessly disrupted the lives of so many families for so long.
Is there enough affordable housing in your ward? Please explain.
David Mihalyfy: Perhaps the biggest issue in the 11th Ward is how families are feeling stretched thin by cost-of-living. Much of this is the recent radical jump in property taxes and thus housing and rental costs due to unfair taxation, but a lot of this stems from other factors ranging from wage stagnation to price-gouging by companies like Peoples Gas.
Although we should discuss the function and adequacy of current affordable housing stock, the bulk of people’s problems are separate from affordable housing so narrowly defined, and our attention should mainly focus on measures like fairer taxation; better labor laws that correct abuses of the increasing number of exploitative short-term and low-wage jobs; and working with our state and federal representatives to break up monopolies and curb the other powerful companies who are increasingly taking advantage of us.
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?
David Mihalyfy: We need a fair and orderly immigration process at the federal level, while community well-being at the city level demands these types of ordinances that clearly separate out federal and city responsibilities; crimes from gang-related activity to spousal and child abuse fester and spread when residents are afraid to speak with municipal authorities.
We must also recognize that undocumented immigrants are the subject of massive scapegoating by think tanks and media outlets funded by the mega-rich. For example, research has established that undocumented immigrants are net contributors to public revenue, and the typical argument to the contrary is an inaccurate explanation purposefully fostered by the wealthy interests currently benefitting from the destruction of the middle class and the unfair taxation schemes passed by the representatives over whom they hold undue influence.
Should the inspector general have the power to audit and review City Council programs, operations and committees? Why or why not?
David Mihalyfy: Both within City Council and in other realms like higher education, we need Inspectors General with robust powers of auditing and reviewing all operations.
The need for greater oversight has been pointedly demonstrated during my current campaign. Although the ultimate outcome of reports to authorities is still uncertain, research stemming from my campaign pushed further investigative reporting into financial malfeasance at the failed Washington Federal Bank for Savings, uncovering that the Daleys’’ 11th Ward Organization received an atypical “mortgage on property” loan that did not require fees and monthly interest payments. If a legitimate explanation exists – and it should be cautioned that one very well still might – it’s clear that at least the right question has now been asked, in a situation where many people lost money and our federal government had to undertake expensive investigations with resources that could have been applied elsewhere. Although I will gladly apply this level of scrutiny to any situation that I encounter in office, including by holding hearings, this sort of review should be institutionalized and regularly occur within our government, and not be left to the chance findings of candidate research.
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.
David Mihalyfy: I would keep my life and my office free of conflicts-of-interest and the appearance of conflicts-of-interest, so that the community can more easily have faith in its representative. I would also push for stronger restrictions, to prevent these grey area situations that all too often occur.
Is there a past or current alderman whom you model yourself after, or would model yourself after, or take inspiration from? Please explain.
David Mihalyfy: With current alderman, I particularly admire Scott Waguespack’s calm judiciousness and methodical approach to budgets, and Brendan Reilly’s work on establishing an office of financial analysis that would produce non-partisan estimates of the cost of legislation (such an office would have saved us from the parking meter deal).
Apart from city council, I very much admire Mother Mary Lange, the founder of the Oblate Sisters of Providence. Her dedication to education and equality is profoundly moving, and even more so in light of the many years when she had to struggle without official recognition or support. I learn best by parsing the example of people whose achievements I admire, and she is someone whose life I’ve learned much from.
Also running for 11th Ward alderman: