40th Ward candidate for alderman: Maggie O’Keefe
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The Sun-Times Editorial Board sent the candidates running for 40th Ward alderman a list of questions to find out their views on a range of issues facing the city and their ward. Maggie O’Keefe submitted the following responses (the Sun-Times does not edit candidate responses):
Who is Maggie O’Keefe?
She’s running for: 40th Ward alderman
Her political/civic background: As a passionate voting rights advocate, I have organized deputy voter registrar trainings for over 500 people in Cook County, hosted voter drives at over three dozen high schools, street festivals and events, and registered thousands of new voters in the Chicagoland area in the last two years.
My company and I have consulted multiple campaigns in the previous election cycle, including Ameya Pawar for Governor, Fritz Kaegi for Cook County Assessor, and three winning races for judge. Additionally, I was the acting interim political director for the 47th Ward Democrats for the 2018 primary election. I am also an active board member on the Gross Park Advisory Council.
Her occupation: I am the Founder and President of Maggie the Marketer, a digital marketing company. I founded my company four years ago with no capital investment with the goal to create part-time employment that paid a generous hourly wage to support people working in the gig economy.
Her education: Columbia College, 2011
Her campaign website: maggie2019.com
What are the top three priorities for your ward?
1.) Increase Active Community and Civic Engagement
A truly sustainable community is one empowered by active engagement by neighbors and not by promising to personally solve city-wide issues that no single person can fix. The current 40th Ward alderman has been in office for 35 years – in that time, he’s built a career plunging the city into debt and keeping the community uninformed and uninspired. I’m running as a real public servant, one that will serve as both her neighbors’ organizer and their voice in City Council.
2.) Equity in Education for Equal Opportunity
Our local public schools have been improving thanks to the hard work of parents and students in the ward. But increasing property taxes and rising housing costs threatens this progress. Too often, families are pitted against other families in a fight for resources. Since February, I’ve talked with principals, parents and staff at our public schools all across the ward. And what I hear from them is our current way of funding public education is unsustainable. Each child enrolled in Chicago Public Schools deserves equitable funding, no matter where they live.
The school day does not end when the bell rings, and it’s essential that we make after-school programming available for all, especially our ward’s working families. Currently, programming in the 40th Ward does not have a sliding scale for families who can not afford to pay $300+ a month per child, nor does our current programming offer extended hours.
The future of Chicago Public Schools relies on an elected school board, which 40th Ward residents overwhelmingly support. As alderman, I will work with the new mayor in making this a priority and work with our state legislators in Springfield.
3.) Community Safety
Cohesive communities are safer communities. Our local government and representatives must provide the resources to truly keep our neighborhoods connected, healthy, and safe. Since February 2018, our campaign has met with constituents, business owners and nonprofit & community leaders to get feedback and incorporate their ideas into our 40th Ward Community Safety Plan which will modernize our public safety networks and be driven by neighbors and local businesses. Our priority goal will be to create new Online Block Clubs, where residents can report safety issues and infrastructure needs and recruit Block Club Captains who will provide reports to the 40th Ward Office and better track progress.
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.
Maggie O’Keefe: Like many Americans, the 2016 election was a call to action for me. Low voter turnout in marginalized communities motivated me to become a deputy voter registrar. And while I entered the workforce during the recession, that didn’t stop me from founding my own company or getting active in my community, or from finding my passion to protect our parks and our city’s natural resources. In my role at Gross Park Advisory Council, we recently raised over $2,500 for upcoming events in 2019.
And since February 2018, the Maggie 2019 campaign has organized several civic events throughout the 40th Ward, including: raising over $20K in clothing donations for children and expectant mothers; arranging multicultural and political playdates for 40th Ward families at libraries and schools; organizing curb raking and sewer cleaning to prevent neighbors’ blocks from flooding; and hosting environmental sustainability events in the community, including with new MWRD Commissioner Cam Davis.
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.
Maggie O’Keefe: As I enter into City Council, working towards fully-funding our pensions will be a top priority. Cutting worker benefits is not going to solve the pension crisis, and try as legislators might, I don’t think that an amendment to do so will pass in Illinois. City council members will need to get innovative to create additional revenue streams to fully fund our pension system while remaining accountable for the debts owed.
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.
Maggie O’Keefe: I am 100% for legalizing marijuana (and taxing it accordingly) as soon as possible here in the state of Illinois – though it must come tied with conviction expungement, which is not only fair but will also create less stress on Chicago taxpayers and our overcrowded Cook County prison system.
I also support the proposed Real Estate Transfer and LaSalle Street taxes – these industries can pay their share like the rest of us. Instead of continuing to balance our budgets on taxes and tickets aimed at low-income Chicagoans and small businesses, now is our chance to create a more equitable tax system in our city.
What other sources of new revenue do you favor or oppose?
Maggie O’Keefe: I think the most important way we can increase our revenue base is to reverse the ongoing population decline in our city by properly investing our own resources back into our neighborhoods. I fully support the proposed public bank that can help loan funds to expand small businesses, increase affordable housing options, fix decaying infrastructure, and refinance student loans to help Chicagoans stay in the city while attracting new residents to move here.
While I support making sure that every person who paid into a pension receives what they were promised, a Chicago casino would require oversight to avoid public corruption. This would need to be a multi-year process to get it right, and I don’t see instituting gambling and profiting from others losses as a positive or particularly innovative strategy to achieve a sustainable future for all Chicagoans.
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?
Maggie O’Keefe: The term “blight” has been over-and-misused to expand districts covered by this funding, especially in our downtown TIF districts. I support the proposed “Back to Basics” TIF reform ordinance put forth by the Progressive Caucus. It’s a great start to making a more sustainable and trustworthy system. We need to make this a more transparent process, informing homeowners that they live within TIF districts and how their property taxes are being spent is of utmost importance.
What will you do to rein in aldermanic prerogative?
Maggie O’Keefe: The too-close relationship between aldermen and their donors who want to influence ward development and city decisions is the main reason why aldermanic prerogative erodes public trust. In my campaign, I’ve pledged not to take donations from developers, architects, real estate lawyers, contractors and others who seek to do business with the city.
Alderman O’Connor is a prime case study in the harms of abusing aldermanic prerogative. One of the biggest things I hear when knocking on doors is how neighbors want to have more transparency and community-driven development in the 40th Ward. In addition to the creation of new community groups, our proposed network of block captains will help us create a fair and equitable zoning system in our neighborhoods.
We will also work together to bring participatory asset mapping to the ward, something we should focus on doing across our city to better determine real infrastructure and economic development needs within each neighborhood.
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?
Maggie O’Keefe: I fully support the proposed consent decree and believe it will be beneficial to both the Chicago Police Department and the Chicago communities they serve. I also support the focus on better mental health services for police officers (to help alleviate the stresses of the job) with additional training on interacting with individuals undergoing mental health and other crises.
Knowing that the safety of Chicago is a shared responsibility is another reason why our campaign has worked with constituents, businesses and nonprofits to create the 40th Ward Community Safety Plan, in order to capitalize on new and existing resources to better connect and protect our neighborhoods.
What should Chicago do to reduce the number of illegal guns?
Maggie O’Keefe: Violence is a symptom of disinvestment and disengagement from our local government. Illegal guns have become more available and easily accessible than quality education, after school programming and job opportunities. The Chicago City Council needs to provide adequate resources for our communities hit the hardest with gang violence, lack of jobs and disproportionate disinvestment of economic development. I fully support counteracting violence by implementing universal pre-k, funding our schools and afterschool programming, investing into communities that have been historically divested from and increasing job training and placement in green energy careers.
What is the appropriate role of charter schools within the Chicago Public Schools system?
Maggie O’Keefe: The original role of charter schools was to provide education that our currently underfunded neighborhood schools were failing to provide. However, the way charter schools are set up – to receive the benefits and funding as de facto public schools – are not working for all students, nor is there transparency in how they are using their funding. And if charter schools are not providing a better quality education, then why are they continually singled out for special treatment?
The overwhelming majority of community members in the 40th Ward are strongly opposed to new charter schools and I stand with them in their opposition. Our focus moving forward ought to be to provide resources to our existing neighborhood public 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?
Maggie O’Keefe: Chicago deserves an elected school board. It should be on the same cycle as the regular Chicago municipal elections.
Is there enough affordable housing in your ward? Please explain.
Maggie O’Keefe: No – and it is one of the greatest challenges for working families and seniors trying to stay in the community they helped build. The 40th Ward has the potential to be a welcoming place with housing that represents all incomes. Due to decades of misrepresentation, lack of community input and contributions from major developers within our ward, we have seen the rise of single family homes and a shortage of multi-units that support affordable housing for all. For our ward to continue to grow as a community that truly welcomes all people – regardless of their income – this must change immediately.
I also support the Development for All ordinance which would eliminate “in lieu of” fees and require developers to include 30% affordable units on site. I would also work with the Progressive Caucus to create new policies that support a consistent supply of affordable family-sized units available to families.
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?
Maggie O’Keefe: Officially, we are a “welcoming city,” but we are not following the ordinance and there are many loopholes. For example, CPD officers are still permitted to cooperate at their discretion with Immigration and Customs Enforcement on raids and enforcement. That’s why so many immigrants fear that cooperating with law enforcement could lead to deportation for their family members, which keeps communities across Chicago less safe. We must work to close these loopholes in the ordinance and continue to stand up to the Trump Administration’s cruel immigration policies.
Should the inspector general have the power to audit and review City Council programs, operations and committees? Why or why not?
Maggie O’Keefe: Yes – while part of this relies upon an Inspector General who retains the public trust, I support increased oversight and regular audits of all aldermanic offices, city council programs, operations and committees. If city officials have nothing to hide, then they have nothing to be afraid of.
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.
Maggie O’Keefe: No – and I will lead by example. I will have one, and only one, job: to be a true public servant to the 40th Ward. Like our current alderman has shown, holding another job (especially one where decisions are made that can influence one’s own business) is a recipe for public corruption and I will not stand for it.
Is there a past or current alderman whom you model yourself after, or would model yourself after, or take inspiration from? Please explain.
Maggie O’Keefe: There are many progressive aldermen that I admire in this current city council – but I think it would do a disservice to say that I want to model myself or my community’s leadership on one single person. There’s too much focus on “me” and not enough on “we” in politics. So much of our city council’s problems stem from aldermen refusing to honestly engage with their constituents and organize them into meaningful action. As 40th Ward alderman, I would serve as my neighbors’ organizer and be their voice in city council.