16th Ward candidate for alderman: Stephanie Coleman
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The Sun-Times Editorial Board sent the candidates running for 16th Ward alderman a list of questions to find out their views on a range of important issues facing the city and their ward. Stephanie Coleman submitted the following responses (the Sun-Times does not edit candidate responses):
Who is Stephanie Coleman?
She’s running for: 16th Ward alderman
Her political/civic background: I am the current Democratic Committeeman of the 16th Ward in the city of Chicago and was elected in 2016. I have served as the City Vice-Chair in the Cook County Young Democrats since 2016.
Her occupation: Outreach Director
Her education: Emannuel Christian School; Chicago Military Academy High School; Robert Morris University(B.A. Business Management); Spertus Institute of Jewish Studies( M.S. Non-Profit Management)
Campaign website: stephaniedcoleman.com
What are the top three priorities for your ward?
Stephanie Coleman: My top priorities are economic development, safety and education. I believe that these three issues are intertwined and will solve many of the challenges facing my community. The 16th Ward has lost many residents due to challenges with economic development and safety which has led to declining enrollment in neighborhood schools and the closing of many schools in our community. I believe that we can partner with small business focused chambers of commerce to use tools like Opportunity Zones and Neighborhood Opportunity funds to develop locally focused business districts that can draw people from throughout the city. By working with the growing Urban Agriculture infrastructure that has a strong start in the 16th Ward, we can provide opportunities in business, art, and of course STEM that can be the basis of our school system.
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.
Stephanie Coleman: After being elected Committeeman in 2016, I registered over 1,200 voters and was awarded the Democratic Champion of Cook County. I’ve also chartered the 16th Ward Young Democrats to help our young adults (18-35) become civically engaged. I am an active CAPS member in the 007th District. I’m a member of the Resident Association of Greater Englewood and serve as Vice-President for the Moran Park Advisory Council. I host an annual Valentine’s Day Luncheon for seniors and veterans in the 16th Ward. I also host an annual Back to School and Christmas Toy Drive for all of the youth in the 16th Ward.
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.
Stephanie Coleman: Pensions amount to a promise made by the government to its employees, just like any other contract it should not be able to be diminished because the government was irresponsible with funding for so many years. I would not favor changing the Constitution to put the cost of failed political leadership on the working people and retirees of this city. In communities like mine in the 16th Ward, specifically, cutting retirement income with no plan will further decimate an already struggling customer base for small businesses. I favor plans similar to those that have been floated by Governor – elect Pritzker and Mayor Emanuel to identify a dedicated source of funding to pay substantial payments of the past debt. As we know you can’t get out of debt making only minimum payments. Moving forward, I think we need to recognize that pension promises are a form of compensation. While it is not my preferred option to change benefits, if we would like to reduce them for new employees they would have to have increased compensation while working so that they at least had the opportunity to save for retirement.
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.
Stephanie Coleman: I support the legalization and regulation of marijuana in the State of Illinois. I am very concerned about the effects of the revenue and where that investment will go. The war on drugs and marijuana has decimated Black and Brown communities and we deserve a part of that investment commiserate to the size of the damage done. This means making real investments in violence reduction and mental health and providing economic opportunity to those that those communities that are most at risk. I support a Chicago casino. It will require responsible management but we lose too much money sending people to Indiana. I know there are concerns on targeting the community but our community is crossing the border weekly for giving away revenue that has no chance of impacting our community while we raise property taxes. I would need to see the details of a commuter tax but we are going to have to deal with the fact that many people live in the greater Chicago area and enjoy working and entertainment downtown but don’t want to pay for the upkeep of the city services. Whether that solution is some region revenue sharing or increased entertainment fees for non city residents you can not have a region of 4 million people being supported by 2 million people many of whom are disproportionately lower income.
What other sources of new revenue do you favor or oppose?
Stephanie Coleman: I am open to discussing all revenue options that are not fundamentally regressive and would harm my community.
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?
Stephanie Coleman: I believe that there needs to be more transparency in the TIF program but that it is too important of a program for communities like mine. We need to remember the fundamental purpose of TIFs and ensure that we are actually supporting development in the communities that need it the most. I have my doubts about programs that would automatically send money back to the original taxing bodies while so many communities are suffering from lack of investment.
What will you do to rein in aldermanic prerogative?
Stephanie Coleman: I learned from my mother that Aldermanic prerogative is an important tool for maintaining balance in the community. I am certain that there are many well meaning people in City Hall and in the police department that would get to weigh in on development decisions but none of them have been chosen to represent the people of the community by the people of the community. It’s problematic to have outside groups determining what one neighborhood needs versus another, but development also must be led by a philosophy that is focused on growth and opportunity and not just maintain the status quo. I would support more transparency in the process and perhaps a centralized review to rebuild trust with constituents.
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?
Stephanie Coleman: I want to be clear that I have worked with some amazing Chicago Police officers that consistently go above and beyond for the communities that they work in. However, there are serious reforms that are needed to rebuild trust with the community. In my view, it has been the breakdown of trust with the community that has complicated the ability of police to do their job more than any reforms could. The clearance rate for murders is extremely low but every time there is a civil rights violation I don’t know how you can ask the community to just trust the police with information. Until these relationships are restored and there is real accountability, particularly with officers who think the people they are serving are beneath them we will have challenges.
What should Chicago do to reduce the number of illegal guns?
Stephanie Coleman: The city of Chicago should work with the State’s Attorney and Attorney General to target straw purchasers coming into the community. We also need to focus on how there seem to be so many massive gun thefts in my community with less predatory practices than trap cars that target struggling or scared young people that are not an institutional part of the pipeline that bring guns into poor Black and Brown communities.
What is the appropriate role of charter schools within the Chicago Public Schools system?
Stephanie Coleman: I am the product of a private and public education. The role of all schools in the city of Chicago is to provide a quality education. I will fight to make sure our youth receive the high level education they deserve.
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?
Stephanie Coleman: I support efforts in the Illinois General Assembly to create an elected school board for the City of Chicago.
Is there enough affordable housing in your ward? Please explain.
Stephanie Coleman: I support the balanced distribution of affordable housing. While some long term residents, mainly seniors need high quality affordable housing we need to have a focus on creating market rate opportunities that can drive the growth of property values and rebuild the community.
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?
Stephanie Coleman: I support the welcoming cities ordinance. I do not believe there is any great interest served to the people of Chicago by detaining people who are going to work everyday, paying taxes and trying to support their families. I support the city ID program. The goal should be to bring people out of the shadows and encourage growth in the city in all of its communities.
Should the inspector general have the power to audit and review City Council programs, operations and committees? Why or why not?
Stephanie Coleman: I think we need to be careful of doing too much to create additional layers of bureaucracy in the city council. I agree with the need for more accountability in city government but I also believe that many problems with city council programs can be traced to the lack of funding for City Council focused legal and professional staff. This has concentrated power in the wards of prolific fundraisers who can afford to pay additional funds to add lawyers and professional staff, or are forced to lean on the Mayor’s office to complete their duties. Given the work that occurs in many ward offices it seems that opening additional levels of investigations that need to be responded to, without additional staff creates a bottleneck for city service.
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.
Stephanie Coleman: No.
Is there a past or current alderman whom you model yourself after, or would model yourself after, or take inspiration from? Please explain.
Stephanie Coleman: So many women have been elected to public office in record numbers this year. But there are two past alderman who have been breaking barriers since I was a child and gained inspiration from. Of course, my mother, Alderman Shirley A. Coleman who served in city council for 16 years. But, also, Alderman Lorraine Dixon who was the first woman to preside over the Chicago City Council as President Pro Tempore, headed the Budget Committee and served as chairman of Human Relations. They both had great tenacity and represented women well when it came time to make tough decisions.
Also running for 16th Ward alderman: