33rd Ward candidate for alderman: Katie Sieracki
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The Sun-Times Editorial Board sent the candidates running for 33rd Ward alderman a list of questions to find out their views on a range of issues facing the city and their ward. Katie Sieracki submitted the following responses (the Sun-Times does not edit candidate responses):
Who is Katie Sieracki?
She’s running for: 33rd Ward alderman
Her political/civic background: Progressive Campaign Advance Team Lead, Special Education and Clean Water Advocate
Her occupation: Managing Director of Summits at Endeavor Business Media
Her education: Bachelor’s Degree from the Honors College at Michigan State University
Campaign website: katie2019.com/
What are the top three priorities for your ward?
Katie Sieracki: I believe that the job of the alderman is to make the ward a thriving, safe, and dynamic community. To achieve that, my top three priorities for the 33rd Ward are:
1) To strengthen our schools by: advocating for an elected representative school board; making sure that each neighborhood school has funding for a nurse, librarian, and social worker; and ensuring that special education services are accessible and equitable across the diverse populations of the city.
2) To create a greener city by requiring the use of renewable energy in all city buildings, promote the use of solar panels, increase recycling and making the blue cart program efficient and effective, promote composting, and ensure safe, lead-free drinking water for all Chicago residents—work I’ve already begun in the 33rd Ward.
3) Preserve the character of the 33rd Ward as a culturally, racially, and economically diverse area by encouraging affordable housing, creating a program to preserve owner-occupied 2-4 flats as a source of affordable apartments, and help local businesses thrive in our ward.
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.
Katie Sieracki: In 2016, CPS brought in high-priced outside consultants to overhaul special education in Chicago. I went before City Council in 2017 to advocate for all children who require these services, alongside other parents who were affected first-hand. It is simply unacceptable that CPS decided to cut the budget on the backs of the students that need these funds.
Last year, I learned about CPS music teacher Timothy King’s 30 instruments being stolen from his classroom in Back of the Yards. I couldn’t stand by and do nothing. I set up a GoFundMe page to help ease the stress of trying to recover these instruments. We raised the replacement costs and were able to make an impact in the lives of Mr. King and his students.
Most recently, I spent the summer of 2018 knocking on doors throughout my ward to gather signatures to get a non-binding referendum on the November ballot, calling for hearings about the lead in Chicago’s water. I was successful in getting it on the ballot in seven precincts and it passed with overwhelming support this fall. The work is far from done, and I will continue to fight for clean, safe water for all Chicagoans and transparency from City Hall.
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.
Katie Sieracki: My father taught math in a public high school for 37 years and was a public sector union member; my grandfather was a music teacher and my grandmother was an elementary school teacher. I grew up in a union household and it quite literally runs in my blood. My parents, like many city workers, rely on their public pension. But unlike here in Illinois, they also receive Social Security.
We made a promise to Chicago’s workers that we would pay their pensions. The workers showed up to serve the public based on that promise, and every paycheck the workers made their required payment. We need to keep our end of the bargain. I will vehemently oppose any attempt to break such promises and cut pensions. The state legislature must fund pensions appropriately and work to reamortize the debt. We need to determine a payment amount that will bring the pensions back to a safe funding ratio over twenty to forty years, and then earmark the revenue to pay for it. The earmark should be done in a way that the funds go directly to the pensions, and are not subject to the budgeting process each year.
Moreover, in the past, all the proposals for paying the unfunded liability were based on paying larger amounts each year. It is no surprise that the larger payments each year meant every year we faced a budget squeeze, and every year we found it convenient to kick the can down the road. We have to set a dollar amount each year for the pension debt, and stick to it.
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.
Katie Sieracki: I oppose an increase in the property tax.
I am in favor of instituting a progressive real estate transfer tax and increasing the tax for real estate over $1 million, particularly if the funds will be used for affordable housing as suggested by the Chicago Coalition for the Homeless.
I support the legalization and taxation of recreational marijuana sales both as a revenue stream and a social justice initiative. The criminalization of marijuana failed at keeping our communities safe. It succeeded however at disproportionately destroying families, communities, and a generation of people of color. This is a long overdue reform.
I have some concerns about the implementation of a financial transaction tax if only because it becomes too easy to change the location of the transaction that would be taxed.
I oppose an increase in the sales tax rate because of its regressive nature, but I do support looking at broadening the tax base to reflect the 21st century economy.
What other sources of new revenue do you favor or oppose?
Katie Sieracki: I support amending the Illinois constitution to allow for a progressive income tax that makes the highest earners in Illinois pay their fair share. I also think that part of the additional revenue from this fair income tax must be shared with local governments.
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?
Katie Sieracki: We need a moratorium on all new TIFs until we can fundamentally overhaul the existing structure and build a real system of accountability and transparency. At present, it is nearly impossible to determine how much a TIF has collected in increment taxation, how much is projected, how much has been spent, and, most importantly, how much has been committed to being spent. This information needs to be readily available and updated on a regularized basis. We also need to hold these corporations accountable—if a corporation fails to live up to its end of the bargain there must be steep penalties and a legally binding means to recoup the cost to the taxpayers for the company’s failure to adhere to the deal’s terms and conditions. Moreover, we need to bring true transparency in the form of public input and approval on TIFs. Far too often these deals are made behind closed doors without so much as an ounce of input from the people of Chicago. Lastly, we need to sweep TIF surpluses more aggressively and look to eliminate those TIFs which do not serve the explicit purpose of redeveloping blighted areas.
In the end, we need to stop funneling our hard-earned tax dollars to large corporations and powerful special interests from funding allotted for Chicago Public Schools, maintaining our parks and roads, and other essential services. We cannot keep forking over hundreds of millions of dollars because politicians want to build pet projects and cling to their power by kowtowing to the special interest groups that pull their strings.
What will you do to rein in aldermanic prerogative?
Katie Sieracki: Aldermanic prerogative is a unique Chicago City Council tradition, giving individual aldermen almost complete control over a small number of decisions within their ward. It is a peculiar tradition, because aldermen swap their power of oversight over bigger questions of city policy for unfettered control over small issues in their ward. It is a practice rife for abuse, especially since aldermanic prerogative is not based in ordinance or written rules.
For too long, this power has allowed aldermen to maintain a system of segregation, pricing long-time residents out of their homes and enabling an alderman to shirk their responsibilities to the most vulnerable ward residents. Chicago is great because of its cultural and economic diversity. We need to make sure the 33rd ward is thriving and we can do that by welcoming responsible investments while maintaining the affordable and diverse nature of the ward.
I support efforts to limit aldermanic prerogative. I will listen and give deference to fellow aldermen about the needs of their community and how a zoning change would affect their ward. However, I will not abdicate my role in making sure that zoning decisions are made fairly and in the interest of the entire city.
Regardless of institutional changes, I am committed to a participatory zoning and planning process that presents proposals to the residents of a community first. It is vital to get the input of the those most affected, and it is vital that a developer hear the concerns of the residents. The most effective way to address the abuses of aldermanic privilege is to bring in more participation.
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?
Katie Sieracki: We need accountability and input from all communities of Chicago into police policies and practices. We need real change to our system of policing and the present top-down/political appointment based oversight is incapable of addressing the systemic failure of justice citywide. CPD has too much influence over investigations into police wrongdoing and many of the system’s failures start at the most basic level: training. I support federal oversight of police practices and would support the creation of an independent, elected oversight body.
What should Chicago do to reduce the number of illegal guns?
Katie Sieracki: The number of shootings each year in Chicago is unacceptable, and it is directly correlated to the number of guns on our streets. the problem is despite how strict we make Chicago’s gun laws, our neighbors in the suburbs and in other states will continue to sell guns that end up being used in crimes in Chicago. About 60% of the guns recovered by Chicago police were originally sold out of state, and over a ten year period 15,000 guns recovered by the police were originally sold in the suburbs.
We will never stop trying to rid ourselves of the epidemic of gun violence plaguing Chicago. We must put more resources into policing illegal gun sales and transfers. We need to create amnesty days—where people can turn in illegal weapons and face no penalties for turning those arms over. We should continue to file civil lawsuits against gun dealers who sell too many guns that end up being used in crimes in Chicago. We as a city should stand united to oppose any weakening of state and federal gun laws.
Beyond gun control, we need to rebuild trust between communities racked by violence and the police department. A more accountable and independent police disciplinary body would go a long way to securing that trust. We should also modernize our drug laws so that criminal enterprises are the ones punished, and users get the substance abuse treatment they need. We should also restore funding for violence intervention programs such as Cease Fire.
What is the appropriate role of charter schools within the Chicago Public Schools system?
Katie Sieracki: I do not support further expansion of charter schools in Chicago and I also don’t believe we should eliminate all existing charter schools, especially given how disruptive closing a school would be to many children and their families. One in five schools in CPS are charter schools. Each new charter school takes money out of CPS because of the structure of the per pupil funding formula, perpetuating a vicious cycle of underfunding school programs. I support a moratorium on new charter schools in favor of committing resources to neighborhood schools.
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?
Katie Sieracki: I fully support an elected representative school board, like the vast majority of Chicago parents. I also believe that if an elected school board cannot be achieved because Springfield does not act, the City Council should have the power to approve Mayoral appointments to the School Board. We need to give residents, parents, and educators a voice through their elected officials and take the politics of mayoral re-elections and quid-pro-quo appointments out of determining our children’s future.
Is there enough affordable housing in your ward? Please explain.
Katie Sieracki: The truth is that far too many 33rd Ward residents are being pushed out by rapidly rising rent prices. In fact, less than five percent of units in the ward meet the definition of affordable housing. We need to preserve the character of our neighborhoods and the best way to do that is by making sure that the people who already live here can continue to stay here. One idea that I believe can boost affordable housing and alleviate the pressure on our community is to help current residents purchase already existing 2-4 flats to preserve housing stock. The city would help with some down payment or loan assistance and in exchange the owner guarantees to maintain the other units as affordable rental housing for a fixed period of 15-20 years. This would help the owner’s family build equity, keep ownership within the community, and preserve affordable rental units.
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?
Katie Sieracki: I support removing carve-outs from the Welcoming City Ordinance because the City’s job is providing city services and improving quality of life for Chicago’s residents, not performing immigration control duties. Chicago was built on immigration and it continues to contribute to the fabric of this great city. I think we need to be clear that city employees should not be inquiring about immigration status unless required to do so by federal law, and that our city provides services to all its residents. Chicago PD and other authorities have too much other work to do than enforce the racially tinged views espoused by the current presidential administration.
Should the inspector general have the power to audit and review City Council programs, operations and committees? Why or why not?
Katie Sieracki: The City Council should be subject to the same outside, independent oversight as any other city agency. The inspector general needs to have the power to audit the council’s books, the power to initiate investigations (rather than wait for a complaint to be filed), and protections from political retaliation. We need a watchdog with a real bite and a vicious bark. We can’t tie the hands of an entity whose purpose is to protect the city, its employees, and taxpayers from malfeasance.
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.
Katie Sieracki: No, and I won’t.
Is there a past or current alderman whom you model yourself after, or would model yourself after, or take inspiration from? Please explain.
Katie Sieracki: I first became involved in electoral politics by supporting Ameya Pawar’s campaign for governor because I appreciated his work as alderman in the 47th Ward. For years, my family lived in Chicago and we never really questioned the status quo. Like many Chicagoans, we just accepted that aldermen decide things in the ward, and they make those decisions based on who supports them and who doesn’t. Ameya proved that we can challenge that concept of power in city government. He won by going door to door and talking to his neighbors. I will be an alderman who acts in the best interests of the ward, and not just work to curry favor with the Mayor’s office. Like Ameya, I will show the 33rd Ward a different way of being an alderman that’s about being an active voice on the City Council and truly engaging with the community and our neighborhoods.