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34th Ward candidate for alderman: Preston Brown Jr.

34th Ward alderman candidate Preston Brown 2019 mayoral election

34th Ward aldermanic candidate Preston Brown Jr. meets with the Sun-Times Editorial Board Jan. 17. | Rich Hein/Sun-Times

The Sun-Times Editorial Board sent the candidates running for 34th Ward alderman a list of questions to find out their views on a range of issues facing the city and their ward. Preston Brown Jr. submitted the following responses (the Sun-Times does not edit candidate responses):

Preston Brown Jr.

He’s running for: 34th Ward alderman

His political/civic background: I ran for State Representative in the 27th District in 2012.

His occupation: I am an attorney in private practice. I am an accredited attorney with the Veterans Administration.

His education: I am a graduate of Chicago Public Schools. I attended the University of Illinois where I received a Bachelor of Science in chemistry. I obtained a Master of Business Administration degree with a concentration in real estate from the University of Illinois at Chicago. I possess a Master of Educational Administration degree from Governors State University and an Illinois professional educator license with the Chief School Business Official endorsement. I also have a Juris Doctor degree from Northern Illinois University School of Law.

Campaign website: prestonbrownjr.org

Twitter: @prestonbrownjr

Facebook: @PrestonBrownJr

Top priorities

What are the top three priorities for your ward?

Preston Brown Jr.: My three top priorities for the Ward are economic development, education and public safety.

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. 

Preston Brown Jr.: I provide pro bono representation for indigent seniors and Veterans in need of legal services. I also work with various youth organizations providing mentorship and support.

Pensions

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.

Preston Brown Jr.: The pension promises made to City of Chicago employees should be honored. Benefits to current employees and retirees should not be reduced. New city employees should not enter into a pension system that creates first and second class pensioners performing the same job duties. The city should create a task force comprised of academicians, public sector and private sector representatives to study the problem and come up with solutions that do not include draconian regressive taxes.


SUN-TIMES 2019 CHICAGO VOTING GUIDE


Revenue

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.

Preston Brown Jr.: I do not favor raising revenue for the city via casino gaming or video gambling. A commuter tax would be regressive. I would support legalized and taxed recreational marijuana only if dispensaries can be owned by residents of the Ward where they are located to keep the generated revenue in the Ward. A LaSalle Street tax should be considered. A property tax increase should be out of the question and the tax of last resort.

What other sources of new revenue do you favor or oppose? 

Preston Brown Jr.: I will oppose any new tax which proves to be regressive. I believe that Chicago should have a tax structure closely aligned with neighboring communities to prevent city residents from fleeing to the suburbs or neighboring counties to do commerce for the purpose of lowering their tax liabilities.

I do favor the creation of a municipal owned bank. Let’s take the profits earned by the bank and reinvest them to benefit the residents of the city of Chicago.

TIFs

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? 

Preston Brown Jr.: The use of TIF monies should be restricted to the communities where the need for economic development is the greatest. Loopholes in the law have allowed those monies to be used in already developed communities. There is little if no evidence of these funds being utilized on the south and west sides of the city with any effectiveness.

In the 34th Ward, TIF money was given to the developer that built the Marshfield Plaza. Now the big box stores, Target and Marshalls, are closing their businesses in the Plaza. The blame for this disaster falls on the alderman who failed to link a long term agreement with the retailers before doling out TIF dollars, that cannot be recouped, to the developer.

Aldermanic power

What will you do to rein in aldermanic prerogative?

Preston Brown Jr.: I understand that the use of aldermanic prerogative has been abused. I believe that there should be limits to this power. We give the alderman this unfettered power to use for the benefit of their constituents and they use it for their own gain.

I believe that there should be additional oversight by the Inspector General’s office to deal with the abuse of the privilege.

Police reform

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? 

Preston Brown Jr.: It’s a sad day for our great city when it is necessary for the federal government to establish oversight of our police department. Police officers who do their jobs properly have nothing to fear from federal oversight.

There has to be police accountability, but we cannot tie the hands of the police to be able to do their jobs. I am reviewing the CPAC and GAPA proposals to determine what will be best for the citizens of Chicago

Guns

What should Chicago do to reduce the number of illegal guns?

Preston Brown Jr.: The Illinois legislature must strengthen the laws against “straw” purchasers that sell weapons used to perpetuate crimes.

60% of seized guns come from outside of Illinois from states that have lax gun laws. There must be national standards implemented by the federal government to regulate the sale of guns that will protect against the ease of access to guns that end up on Chicago streets.

Schools

What is the appropriate role of charter schools within the Chicago Public Schools system?

Preston Brown Jr.: I favor a moratorium on charter schools. Charter schools whose performance is deemed woefully inadequate should be dissolved. I am a big advocate of strengthening our neighborhood schools. Let’s stop experimenting on our children and let’s fully fund and strengthen our 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? 

Preston Brown Jr.: I favor an elected school board whose members will be accountable to the taxpayers who fund the school system. We do not need an elected school board full of bureaucrats that will not increase transparency and equitable educational opportunities for all students throughout the Chicago Public School system.

Affordable housing

Is there enough affordable housing in your ward? Please explain. 

Preston Brown Jr.: There is not enough affordable housing in the 34th Ward. This will be a major emphasis of my tenure as alderman to improve the economic opportunities for home ownership. We have a plethora of abandoned homes and vacant lots. No one wants to live and invest in a community where the quality of the local schools is sub par due to disinvestment, there is no place to buy fresh foods and the property values are in decline.

Immigration

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? 

Preston Brown Jr.: Chicago has always been and should remain a welcoming city for new citizens regardless of where they are from or what they look like. Undocumented citizens that live in Chicago should be given a path to citizenship. Chicago police should not detained undocumented immigrants unless they have committed a crime.

Ethics

Should the inspector general have the power to audit and review City Council programs, operations and committees? Why or why not? 

Preston Brown Jr.: Yes, the inspector general should be granted power to audit and review the actions of the City Council. With the level of corruption that runs rampant in the City Council there has to be a method of checks and balances that are created to protect the residents of Chicago from the uncontrolled, unethical activities of the Council.

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. 

Preston Brown Jr.: I would not employ staff in my office that would have jobs or contracts with entities that do business with the city. That would be a conflict of interest.

Role model

Is there a past or current alderman whom you model yourself after, or would model yourself after, or take inspiration from? Please explain. 

Preston Brown Jr.: I would take inspiration from two past alderman. Leon Despres (5th Ward served from 1955-1975) and William Cousins (8th Ward served from 1967-1976).

Alderman Despres was an independent democrat consistently opposed the policies of the late mayor Richard J. Daley. Often when the entire council would vote in favor of a Daley supported mandate, Alderman Despres would vote against it, 49-1. He was known for his liberal conscience. He was referred to as “the lone negro on the city council” while being white and there being six black alderman that were aligned with the mayor.

Alderman Cousins won his aldermanic race beating the democratic machine’s candidate. He was also a staunch opponent of the late mayor Richard J. Daley. He pushed for initiatives in his Ward that would ensure that his community would remain viable.

Both were attorneys, consummate gentlemen, politicians that focused on the needs of the people and they fought for what was right.


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