26th Ward candidate for alderman: David Herrera
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The Sun-Times Editorial Board sent the candidates running for 26th Ward alderman a list of questions to find out their views on a range of issues facing the city and their ward. David Herrera submitted the following responses (the Sun-Times does not edit candidate responses):
Who is David Herrera?
He’s running for: 26th Ward alderman
His political/civic background: Some of my neighborhood and civic involvement has included serving on non-profit junior-boards in the community. I also consider running for public office as a civic initiative that helps move our community forward.
His occupation: Entrepreneur
His education: Loyola University – B.B.A. with dual degrees in Economics & Finance
Campaign website: herrerafor26.com
What are the top three priorities for your ward?
David Herrera: I have four overall priorities for the Ward:
1. Education – In order to have growing, thriving and sustainable communities we need good schools that lead to job/skills-based training, or schools that have a pathway to higher education. The incumbent Alderman has neglected the locals schools. Three public schools were shuttered during his tenure: Lafayette, Duprey, and Von Humboldt. Von Humboldt is the namesake school of the community, and with a rich history (completed in 1894), was a travesty to see it close. The incumbent didn’t fight hard-enough for this school as it was redistricted out of the 26th Ward in 2010. If possible I would like to reopen Von Humboldt and have it redistricted back into the Ward in 2020.
I’m also a big advocate for pre-school, after-school and summer programs. I personally had the benefit of experiencing all three types of programs growing-up in the Ward. Those experiences were fundamental foundation for success into adulthood. After-school and summer program options would include a mix of technology, arts science and athletics. We have a 207-acre park (Humboldt Park) which currently serves as our playground but can also serve as a tech and science lab for future generations to come. I’ve spoken with Berwyn Tech Entrepreneurship Center about opening up a new campus in Humboldt Park for the youth in the community. Currently, minority populations lag behind non-minority populations in terms of educational attainment. There is a clear educational and skills gap, which I intend to narrow as we focus on upgrading educational opportunities within the ward. We need to revamp our educational and skills based training so that our youth have sustainable employment opportunities going forward.
2. Economic Growth and Job Creation – There are parts of the ward that are economically blighted. I intend to provide a mix of policy to revitalize neglected business districts within the ward. Grand Avenue (between Damen and Western Avenue) has access to a Metra train station at Western and Hubbard and a 2nd train station to be opened in 2020 at Damen and Lake Street. I would like to relieve some of the zoning within this district to allow for light manufacturing and work-live housing/development.
Additionally, the business district known as Paseo Boricua on Division Street between Western and California has been neglected for far too long. We need new infrastructure improvements on the strip that would include: new sidewalks, new bench and seating areas, and repainting of the Iconic Puerto Rican flags. I would like to dedicate this area as and arts and cultural district but would like to augment the experience with more shops versus the empty retail storefronts that currently exist. I’d like to make this business district an economic empowerment zone, which would provide pro-business and job creating incentives. An example would be a $3,000 tax credit to business owners for hiring local residents.
Finally, I would like to implement an SSA (Special Service Area) from Western to California on Division Street and South to Iowa Street. An SSA would provide essential maintenance and beautification efforts to proposed business districts.
3. Housing – It is a hot button issue and affects us all. There is greater demand to live within the ward, which has to be met with additional housing supply. The incumbent has failed as he has been anti any development. In short, the existing and older housing supply (generally affordable) is being cannibalized, upgraded and re-marketed as newer market rate housing. The existing policy stance isn’t working. New demand to live in the Ward has to be met with new supply.
Alternatively, I don’t believe in a laissez-faire approach but instead believe a policy-mix works best to tackle this issue. We need to welcome new development while also provisioning for the development of affordable housing along-side market rate housing.
I intend to enforce the current affordable housing ordinance and would like to see it expanded to include 20% affordable housing on-site for new developments where zoning relief is provided. I would also eliminate the current loophole that allows developers from buying-out of the affordable requirement or often times relocating the affordable housing off-site. I would argue that the City of Chicago and its residents need the additional housing versus a buy-out option that often leads to bureaucratic waste and mismanagement of funds.
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 Herrera: I decided to leave the private sector in order to pursue opportunities closer to home, as a minority business owner. I’ve always been fascinated with architecture, and I developed Chicago’s first all co-living building – a new form of housing in Chicago. As a finance and real estate expert, I’ve gained great insight on systemic issues currently burdening our communities. The current reckless real estate tax hikes are driving out and displacing long-term residents, which are the very fabric of our communities. I intend to continue working closely with our community’s stakeholders, business owners, residents and elected officials to make sure everyone can live comfortably within their own homes, in the 26th Ward.
Some of my neighborhood and civic involvement has included serving on the non-profit junior-boards for Breakthrough Urban Ministries (2015-2017), By The Hand Club for Kids (2015-2017), and as the Treasurer of the Ukrainian Village Neighborhood Association (2017).
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 Herrera: Before we look at getting rid of the pension amendment altogether, we should look at reforming the clause. I believe we should add new language that better defines a COLA (Cost of Living Adjustment) and pegs the COLA to inflation. The purpose of a COLA (Cost of Living Adjustment) is to retain purchasing power over-time. A reduced COLA is not a reduction in benefits but instead a more realistic approach to purchasing power fluctuations.
We need a mixed-policy approach to tackle our current pension fund liabilities. For retired and/or currently vested employees I would like to offer a buyout of vested benefits to-date. Some retirees or vested employees may prefer the upfront cash payment from a buyout versus the cash-flow revenue stream of the pension. Other benefit holders might feel they can outperform the 3% COLA with greater returns in the market-place (i.e. 5%, etc), while others might take a partial buyout (i.e. 50%), Having a buyout provision would shrink our longer term pension liabilities. We can fund pension buyouts through the issuance of pensions bonds versus exposing pension bond proceeds to stock and bond market fluctuations (i.e. greater risk).
For new employees, we should establish an entirely new retirement program – one that is more sustainable over the longer term. Moving retirement plans to transferrable 401Ks can save the state billions while also potentially providing greater returns for our state and city employees.
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 Herrera: Chicago Casino Tax – I would favor only in limited zoning and land-use districts (e.g. entertainment districts), like the current proposal near the McCormick Place Convention Center and Hotel.
Legalized Recreational Marijuana – I would favor legalization and a taxation on the recreational consumption of marijuana. The increase in revenue could be used or earmarked for infrastructure improvements, or even tackle our pension fund liabilities.
Commuter Tax – Other major cities have commuter-based taxation and/or pricing. I believe in instituting transit zones with a tiered payment structure – it is a progressive policy that allows the municipality to properly price commuting based on distance instead of a regressive flat rate policy. Instead of paying a flat rate no matter the usage those commuting into the cities from the suburbs continue to gain a “free ride” without paying their share into maintenance of the Chicago public transit system.
Property Tax – No new taxes.
Municipal Sales Tax – No new taxes.
Real Estate Transfer Tax – I would only propose a commercial real estate transfer tax for properties trading at prices above $10 million. A 50 basis point transfer tax for sales prices in excess of $10MM. I would also like to propose a TIF recycling program – where if the investor is looking to exist/divest a TIF funded property – the city would recoup 50% of TIF provided toward the vertical development of that asset.
What other sources of new revenue do you favor or oppose?
David Herrera: Recycling Tax – I support a recycling tax on disposable plastic usage from high volume retailers and consumers, and implementing a metered recycling rebate pilot program by assigning a tiered value system to recyclable materials.
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 Herrera: The entire TIF program needs reforms. We have a $1.5BN surplus in under-utilized TIF proceeds. I propose the following reforms to TIF:
1. TIF proceeds can only be reinvested in underdeveloped communities for both infrastructure and vertical brick and mortar improvements.
2. If TIF proceeds are needed in a developed or stable part of town (ie. Lincoln Park) the proceeds can only be used for infrastructure improvements: new sewer lines, new roads, new parks, new sidewalks or cosmetic improvements to the above. But cannot and should not subsidize the vertical development of those projects. If there is a vertical development subsidy it should be in exchange for an equity interest in the said vertical project.
3. I would propose an immediate 50% draining of all TIF funds. I’d like to see 10% of the funds diverted to tackle homelessness by providing housing. The remaining 40% should be diverted to improve infrastructure, existing educational facilities and develop new affordable housing throughout the city.
4. Currently, 100% of new tax revenue in TIF districts goes to the TIF fund controlled by the mayor. I’d like to propose that 50% of the new tax revenue gets diverted to the City’s General Fund or to fund pension obligations.
What will you do to rein in aldermanic prerogative?
David Herrera: There are two lenses through which I view Aldermanic prerogative. I understand the belief that small ward level projects are better held by elected representatives of our communities. I feel the sentiments that Aldermen are the ones closest to the community, the ears on the ground so they are the ones in the best position to tackle issues of community growth or development. But nonetheless, aldermanic prerogative has been used in the past to discriminate against minority business owners, house owners and against those in affordable housing. This discrimination has come at the expense of smart-development, business and economic growth and city-wide safety.
So therefore, the issue is a difficult one to solve, and as Alderman, I intend to tackle it head-on. I believe in creating a streamlined community development office that approves developments with 4 units or less; this would prevent unnecessary financial and discriminatory issues. 1-3 unit and single family homes, affordable housing units, small business development can all be approved by a professional civic service office focused on what is best for the community and the city overall. Both sides of the coin merit consideration and I propose a smart policy oriented solution to focus on what is best for communities and the city overall.
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 Herrera: Police reform is a difficult issue, and one that touches the lives of many people around the city. Chicago remains a radicalized city and without an alderman to lead us through times of division, and thus the 26th ward reflects this paradigm. I believe that the incoming mayor should agree to stick to the consent decree agreed upon with the Obama administration in 2016. I believe that we need better communication between community members and the police. I have been to many CAPS meetings over the last several years, and have only seen the current Alderman once or twice over the last three-year period. I will use my office to highlight opportunities that community members can take to engage with members of law-enforcement. Dialogue and leadership are sorely lacking in the 26th Ward. As Alderman, I will push for better relations and continue to honor our law-enforcement as crucial public servants.
What should Chicago do to reduce the number of illegal guns?
David Herrera: Gun violence has been an issue in the 26th Ward for far too long. There has been multiple proposals on the current Governor’s desk that could be used to prevent illegal guns from coming into the city from neighboring states and suburbs. IL-SB 1657 is an example of such a bill, by requiring Illinois gun dealers to register with the state, we can better track straw purchasers and prevent them from selling on the streets. Another initiative to combat gun violence could be to reinvest in anti-gun violence programs. Humboldt Park and Logan Square saw a reduction of violence by 25% when violence prevention programs were instituted, but because of our current alderman not fighting for funding they were unfortunately cut. I will strongly advocate for programs that can decrease violence and improve the lives of 26th ward residents.
What is the appropriate role of charter schools within the Chicago Public Schools system?
David Herrera: Humboldt Park has been a victim of the incumbent’s effort to systematically close schools in the ward. Von Humboldt had 392 students when it was closed – there is no reason for its closer. I will propose an immediate 4 year moratorium while looking at potentially re-opening neighborhood schools where possible.
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 Herrera: When it comes to educational reform, the concentration of power given to the mayor allows him to dictate the process without much discretion given to either aldermen or the people. I want to open up the process, but unfortunately this opens up the school board to special interests in an area that needs expertise and people looking out for the community’s students. Creating a hybrid board of 9 members from 4 newly created school districts with each district getting two members: 1) Aldermanic vote in that district and 2) One elected member through the constituency and 3) One mayoral appointment will make sure the right amount of parity in the school board proceedings and ultimately make the board more responsive to those in the community.
Is there enough affordable housing in your ward? Please explain.
David Herrera: Humboldt Park is on the front lines for the fight for affordable housing in Chicago, and it’s time for a leader with not only the know-how but the experience to lead us through this period of housing prices skyrocket led by the Maldonado regime. The facts are simple during the past 8 years of his leadership, Humboldt Park has seen skyrocketing housing prices, and it is simple economics. He has refused development of affordable houses to make sure that there is a shortage of housing which drives up prices for homeowners, renters and lining the pockets of himself and his own private property. We need mixed policy stance of both affordable and market rate housing.
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 Herrera: Humboldt Park is a community of immigrants. Puerto Ricans, Ukrainians and so many others coming together and living in harmony has been the vision of the 26th ward for decades. It’s sad our national leaders have chosen to divide us on issues rather than bring us together, but as alderman I would work to ensure proper documentation (through City of Chicago ID program) for those working class immigrants looking for ways to work in our community. Immigrants are some of our more vulnerable populations and working towards building non-classification documentation programs to allow immigrants to work without fear in Humboldt Park.
Should the inspector general have the power to audit and review City Council programs, operations and committees? Why or why not?
David Herrera: Yes. 100% without a doubt. The city has been rated number one for corruption. Any candidate that says an Inspector General is unnecessary doesn’t understand what is needed to modernize our city government.
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 Herrera: Nope. I never have and never will.
Is there a past or current alderman whom you model yourself after, or would model yourself after, or take inspiration from? Please explain.
David Herrera: Although there are many qualified alderman and candidates who are looking to represent their respective wards, I do not have any past or current models. I simply believe that I am uniquely qualified for the position. While I am looking forward to building relationships with them as we progress our city forward, I know that my skill set, policies, and vision for the 26th are positive and forward thinking.