18th Ward candidate for alderman: Chuks Onyezia
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The Sun-Times Editorial Board sent the candidates running for 18th Ward alderman a list of questions to find out their views on a range of important issues facing the city and their ward. Chuks Onyezia submitted the following responses (the Sun-Times does not edit candidate responses):
Who is Chuks Onyezia?
He’s running for: 18th Ward alderman
His political/civic background:
- Former Aldermanic Chief of Staff
- Previous 18th ward candidate
- Channel 18, Hyper-Local information source (www.ch18.org), Founder
- Chicago Youth Center- Crown, Local Advisory Board Member
- The Neighbor local community newspaper (www.theneighbor60652.com), Publisher, Founder
- Scottsdale Homeowners Association, Member
- CAP Beat 834, community member
- Public Defender, Legal Assistance
- Illinois Civil litigation Clinic, legal representative
- YMCA Black & Latino Achievers Program, Steering Committee Member
- O’Hallaren Park Advisory Council, Committee Member
- Chicago Association of Realtors
- YMCA City Youth in Government Program, Political Research Coach
- Illinois State Bar Association
- University of Illinois College of Business, Graduate Counselor
- Illinois Upward Bound College Prep Academy, Physics Instructor
- Omega Psi Phi Fraternity Incorporated, Academic Advisor
- Cook County Bar Association Young Lawyer’s Section, Member
- Black Law Students Association, Executive Board
- Intellectual Property Legal Society, Vice President
- American Bar Association, Member
- Patent Office Professional Association, Member
- CAP Beat 614, community member
His occupation: Attorney
His education: University of Illinois @ Urbana-Champaign: Bachelors of Science (BS) Mechanical Engineering w/ Mathematics Minor, Master of Business Administration (MBA) Concentration in Finance, Juris Doctor (JD)
Campaign website: chuksforalderman.com
What are the top three priorities for your ward?
Chuks Onyezia: Our main priorities revolve around improving the quality of life for working families.
- Improved ward communications to ensure residents are kept up to date with things happening in the city, especially in terms of free city programs and events, grants for residents, and special service programs
- Best in class constituent services — our residents need to know that they can rely on the Alderman’s office to get the job done and to ensure city departments are responsive to our needs
- Economic Development — our community has seen several businesses leave in the last decade and we need a viable plan for the large retail spaces they’ve left behind.
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.
Chuks Onyezia: In 2015 after an unsuccessful run for alderman, I chose to double down on my commitment to enter public service by accepting a Chief of Staff position in another ward. In that role I gained valuable knowledge on how the city works, how to properly staff a ward office, drafting and fighting for ordinances in city council, and what it means to advocate for your community. I managed a great team and we truly made a positive mark on the ward, rolling back years of neglect. However, every night, the glass slipper came off when I returned to my ward that was lacking the growth and resources I fought for daily.
So, after 2 ½ years of service, I refocused my energy on my community where my wife and I are raising our 4-year-old son. I started creating a hyper-local information website to disseminate valuable resources and information to my ward, which is to often left in the dark. I collaborated with likeminded neighbors and hosted several community events. Our community visioning seminar identified the root causes to some of our ward’s problems and created a space for residents to collaborate and brainstorm innovative solutions. Our property tax checkup connected neighbors with a several volunteer attorneys who assisted them with applying for all viable property tax exemptions. This program saved 18th Ward residents thousands of dollars on their property taxes. I also partnered with local organizations and government offices, in hosting a probate assistance Workshop to help seniors protect their property and assets for the next generation.
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.
Chuks Onyezia: I believe it is wrong to penalize the very people that are the victims to the collective mismanagement and abuse this city has experienced. We as a city made a choice to avoid properly funding these pensions. We as a city made these brave men and woman a promise to support them after their working days are over, and we as a city should reassure them that we will not break our promises. This is a problem that we must tackle with the intention of finding the absolute best solutions that benefit the city and our city workers. We cannot and should not impair the promises already made.
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.
Chuks Onyezia: A Chicago casino, legalized and taxed recreational marijuana, a commuter tax, and video gambling are the most favorable because they provide minimal negative financial effects on our wards.
What other sources of new revenue do you favor or oppose?
Chuks Onyezia: I oppose a LaSalle Street tax and Sales tax increase for the potential negative impact.
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?
Chuks Onyezia: I would like to see better oversight on TIF spending to ensure that resources are making it to blighted areas rather than being used as incentives for developers in already vibrant areas.
What will you do to rein in aldermanic prerogative?
Chuks Onyezia: Working in a ward office I witnessed constituents systemically and economically deprived and in need of resources. I have also witnessed my 18th ward threatened with pawn shops and undesirable unwanted businesses to the point that several alderman had to fight to stop the invasion. People generally want their alderman to be able to perform miracles and for that reason the prerogative should not be reduced because of the abuse of some. The real answer is for the people to elect better alderman.
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?
Chuks Onyezia: Modern times require modern solutions. We must give our officers the resources they need to succeed while protecting the rights of the people.
What should Chicago do to reduce the number of illegal guns?
Chuks Onyezia: Focus more energy on the weapon’s origin.
What is the appropriate role of charter schools within the Chicago Public Schools system?
Chuks Onyezia: CPS’ student population has fallen every year for nearly a decade. We are consistently serving less than 400,000 students each year. In light of this, we should hold off on opening new charter schools and instead focus on improving the quality schools we currently oversee.
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?
Chuks Onyezia: There needs to be at least an elected component to our school board.
Is there enough affordable housing in your ward? Please explain.
Chuks Onyezia: Yes. The 18th ward is a modest and affordable ward.
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?
Chuks Onyezia: The immigrant experience is what makes Chicago Great, and support our “welcoming city” status.
Should the inspector general have the power to audit and review City Council programs, operations and committees? Why or why not?
Chuks Onyezia: Yes. As long as its performed in a fair and non-disruptive manner. As an elected official, you have a duty to maintain the public’s trust. Opening one’s self to examination and scrutiny is a great way to build that trust.
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.
Chuks Onyezia: No
Is there a past or current alderman whom you model yourself after, or would model yourself after, or take inspiration from? Please explain.
Chuks Onyezia: No! My ward has unique needs and challenges that will require me to develop a unique approach! Additionally, Chicago is entering a new development stage, where the tried and true systems of the past aren’t guaranteed to maintain the city. We need new leadership who can continue to innovate and put forth new ideas to meet the challenges of today and tomorrow.
Also running for 18th Ward alderman: