43rd Ward candidate for alderman: Leslie Fox
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The Sun-Times Editorial Board sent the candidates running for 43rd Ward alderman a list of questions to find out their views on a range of issues facing the city and their wards. Leslie Fox submitted the following responses (the Sun-Times does not edit candidate responses):
Who is Leslie Fox?
She’s running for: 43rd Ward alderman
Her political/civic background: I was appointed by Mayor Daley to be Executive Director of the city organization that ran the World Cup Games in 1994 and then the host committee that ran the Democratic National Committee in 1996. In both instances I directed all of the city department activities overseeing multi-million dollar budgets. I orchestrated Police, Fire, and Streets & Sanitation to get things done.
Since then I have been deeply involved in my children’s public schools and recently served as elected chair of the Lincoln Park High School’s Local School Council.
Her occupation: Leading current events discussions at Self- Help Home, a senior citizen residence in Lakeview. Also, I serve as an active volunteer at my children’s public schools and in my community.
Her education: University of Wisconsin-Madison
Campaign website: foxfor43.com
What are the top three priorities for your ward?
Leslie Fox: My top three priorities have always been about reducing crime, investing in education, and making the 43rd Ward affordable and vibrant for all its residents and workers.
I am committed to keeping police officers assigned to patrol the 43rd Ward on those police beats, and not detailing officers to other parts of the city. While new police officers are in fact assigned on paper to our 18th District, the reality is that many officers are re- deployed to other neighborhoods leaving the 43rd Ward unprotected. In our business districts, I want police officers on foot so they can meet and talk with shop owners and citizens.
INVESTING IN EDUCATION
We must invest in education as a budget priority. Supporting our neighborhood schools is imperative to the stability of the 43rd Ward’s future. Strong schools create strong communities. Every school must have a dedicated social worker to support individual students, families and broader community building as well. Social workers teach problem-solving skills to teenagers who might otherwise resort to violence, transforming passion into more productive activities. This small investment can reap enormous returns, boosting educational outcomes while reducing crime. The 43rd Ward and all chicago residents would benefit by the funding of mental health clinics that were shut down by the current administration and the city council.
MAKING THE 43RD WARD AFFORDABLE AND VIBRANT
We must reduce the tax burden so that residents and businesses can afford to stay and grow in the 43rd Ward. I worry that young couples with small children, seniors and local businesses are fleeing the ward to avoid recent hikes in property taxes. Another way to improve housing affordability is to increase the minimum wage so residents can keep up with rising costs and higher taxes. Businesses, schools, hospitals and other employers and residents thrive when local workers can afford to live near their work.
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.
Leslie Fox: I have been deeply involved in my children’s public schools and recently served as elected chair of the Lincoln Park High School’s Local School Council. It was there I had to make excruciating budgeting decisions such as eliminating the position of our only librarian in order to keep our math teacher. These are unfair choices.
I have been a supporter for Raise Your Hand for Education. Before gay marriage was legal in Illinois, I helped create the campaign strategy with Equality Illinois which eventually led to the long overdue passage of Equality in Marriage Act in Springfield. Public service has defined my entire adult life. My passion for equity and my love for Chicago have compelled me to run for alderman.
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.
Leslie Fox: I believe that changing the constitution would harm working class families. The constitution should only be amended to right wrongs, not create them.
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.
Leslie Fox: While I am generally opposed to a Chicago casino as well as adding video gaming, I am re-considering that position in light of Mayor Emanuel’s proposal to locate a casino on the property of the Chicago Port Authority on the city’s far southeast side. I agree with the Sun Times that this deserves careful consideration because it would not be in a residential area, would bring jobs to an area that lost big employers with the diminishment of the port and loss of the steel industry. Additionally, The Port Authority site is accessible by auto, Metra and boat and thus would become a preferred destination over the casinos across the border in Indiana and Michigan. I would however, require that residents of Pullman play a significant role in decisions about operations and be granted job preferences.
I support taxing legalized recreational marijuana. I believe this will not only help create revenue but will ultimately also reduce costs in the criminal justice system.
A LaSalle Street tax is not something I support. My fear is that the tax would adversely impact the business community. However, I am open to listening to other viewpoints. We need a strong business community that works in partnership with government agencies to strengthen our city. Here is where my decades of experience will be useful. When the Chicago 1996 Host Committee knew it would need over 30 million dollars as part of their contract with the Democratic National Committee, we were able to successfully reach out and partner with the business community, bipartisan leadership and a republican governor to raise the money necessary in order to prevent Chicago tax payers from getting stuck with the bill. Business, labor, and government all came together to make this happen. That is what I do, I make things happen.
When I ran Chicago’s Principal for a Day Program, I was able to engage over 540 CEO’s to participate in giving up their entire day to support public education. As alderman, I intend to work to strengthen our partnerships with both labor and businesses particularly small and midsize business who feel ignored by the current administration.
I do not support a property tax increase because of the negative impact it would have on working class neighborhoods who have been taxed without reducing the cost of government.
I support a commuter tax but would like it to include incentives for clean vehicles and ride sharing programs. I support a real estate transfer tax increase but not for small and mid- size businesses. I do not support a municipal sales tax increase for the same reason.
What other sources of new revenue do you favor or oppose?
Leslie Fox: I am in favor of a new tax on luxury items that will not impact middle class taxpayers such as fur storage and dog grooming and other high end services. I am also in favor of an overhaul of our TIF system. I support a complete overhaul of the Public Building Commission and CPS capital spending programs. Often times public money is allocated without any long term comprehensive planning. This failure in planning has been illustrated in the 43rd ward where there is haphazard funding to accommodate overcrowding in some schools where other schools blocks away have empty seats. Decisions are made void of transparency or long term planning and taxpayers are then stuck with the bill. The mismanagement in spending on these decisions often results in millions of dollars of tax money wasted. At the same time, we are depriving students and teachers of vital services like a full-time social worker and nurses. I support a comprehensive review of every city government agency and would ask accountants that do business with the city to provide this service pro-bono. Then I would work with colleagues to reduce the cost of all of the redundancies and the bureaucracy that cripple the City of Chicago’s finances. I believe government wastes hundreds of millions of dollars resulting in a corruption and an incompetency tax that I will fight fearlessly to eliminate.
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?
Leslie Fox: As Alderman, I will seek a complete overhaul of our TIF system. I will initiate a complete moratorium on TIF’s until there is full transparency and accountability for a program that was originated to invest in blighted areas and is now being used to support developers that support elected officials’ campaigns. I know of a successful business in Class A space on Michigan Avenue that was awarded TIF funds for moving some back office facilities to a high rent building on LaSalle Street in the Loop. TIF funds, now in the hands of the Mayor’s Office, should be used for education and funding critical city services, like police and fire.
What will you do to rein in aldermanic prerogative?
Leslie Fox: As alderman, I pledge that aldermanic prerogative funds will be decided by the citizens of the 43rd Ward. I would provide venues for discussions and decisions on local projects but the decisions will lie in partnership with our tax payers. I support reforms that create universal standards for all developments in the ward. An elected official should not be entitled to make unilateral decisions with taxpayer money, that antiquated system, void of transparency needs to be laid to rest. As alderman, I will restore transparency and democracy. Count on it.
I support the consent decree because of the deterioration of trust between the police department and many of our neighborhoods. At the same time, I will advocate to hire more police officers and move quickly to rebuild the detective’s bureau. A key mistake of the current administration and the city council, was to adopt budgets that halted the hiring of new police officers and caused a drastic decrease in the number of detectives to investigate violent crimes. When Mayor Emanuel took office there were 1,150 detectives and by 2016 there were only 862 despite a spike in shootings and murders. There was a similar loss of evidence technicians who are crucial to solving crimes. Today, fewer than 18 percent of homicides result in arrests while the national average for big cities is over 55 percent. People in our neighborhood don’t feel safe walking around during the day. In the areas of the city that endure the worst crime rates I don’t believe sending more police is the answer. This is where I differentiate myself from those who have been in office under the current administration. In my view, they are responsible for this citywide increase in crime by closing down mental health clinics, shutting down 50 neighborhood schools and reducing library hours so the savings can go to invest in downtown businesses at the expense of our neighborhoods. The 43rd Ward is a wealthy community but we still have struggling families who are largely ignored and treated as if they are invisible. More police are not going to answer their needs but as Alderman I will fight to replenish our beat cops and make sure that cops assigned to our ward, stay in our ward.
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?
Leslie Fox: I support the consent decree because of the deterioration of trust between the police department and many of our neighborhoods. At the same time, I will advocate to hire more police officers and move quickly to rebuild the detective’s bureau. A key mistake of the current administration and the city council, was to adopt budgets that halted the hiring of new police officers and caused a drastic decrease in the number of detectives to investigate violent crimes. When Mayor Emanuel took office there were 1,150 detectives and by 2016 there were only 862 despite a spike in shootings and murders. There was a similar loss of evidence technicians who are crucial to solving crimes. Today, fewer than 18 percent of homicides result in arrests while the national average for big cities is over 55 percent. People in our neighborhood don’t feel safe walking around during the day. In the areas of the city that endure the worst crime rates I don’t believe sending more police is the answer. This is where I differentiate myself from those who have been in office under the current administration. In my view, they are responsible for this citywide increase in crime by closing down mental health clinics, shutting down 50 neighborhood schools and reducing library hours so the savings can go to invest in downtown businesses at the expense of our neighborhoods. The 43rd Ward is a wealthy community but we still have struggling families who are largely ignored and treated as if they are invisible. More police are not going to answer their needs but as Alderman I will fight to replenish our beat cops and make sure that cops assigned to our ward, stay in our ward.
What should Chicago do to reduce the number of illegal guns?
Leslie Fox: I will work with a revitalized policing program and officers on the streets to reduce the trafficking of guns. I will work across both isles in partnership with our state leaders and border states to strengthen policies that reduce and eliminate the influx of guns into Chicago. We need to collaborate with all leaders on this vital issue.
What is the appropriate role of charter schools within the Chicago Public Schools system?
Leslie Fox: Because our current public school system is inadequately funded, I would call for a complete moratorium on any future charters. A a CPS mom and former Local School Council Chair, I have experienced first hand the devastating repercussions of disinvestment in our neighborhood schools. As alderman, I will advocate to cease granting new charters until we adequately support 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?
Leslie Fox: The Chicago Board of Education should be made up of residents reflective of the communities they serve, not just the Mayor’s friends and donors. Democracy needs to be restored to our failed CPS bureaucracy. Transparency needs to be restored. Trust needs to be restored. As parents we should not be prevented from decisions that are made behind closed doors and then presented as “what’s best for us.” Real community engagement needs to be restored.
While I passionately believe the board should be elected and required to include CPS parents and students I believe for a transition period, the mayor and governor should each have a single appointee on the board. The best transition from the current autocratic system is a hybrid board that then moves into a fully elected board. Here is what I know as the only Chicago Public School parent running: the current system has failed Chicago’s children and families and continues to fail. We celebrate test scores for those succeeding but do nothing to help those students that are failing.
Fixing CPS is critical to the future of Chicago. Fixing our schools will help fix crime, quality of life, work force and future development. It seems to me that Chicago’s children that need the most, receive the least. The City of Chicago has become a city where your zip code will determine your future and that is not okay. Shame on us. My dad grew up poor on Chicago’s north side but he was not deprived a first class education and a community to support him. There is no one more driven to address this issue than me.
Is there enough affordable housing in your ward? Please explain.
Leslie Fox: I do not believe there is enough affordable housing. If we want our neighborhood to continue to grow and thrive we need to expand access to affordable housing. Our ward would be stronger if there was housing available for our teachers, policemen and more working class people. Our shops would be filled, cafes would be busy and you would not be seeing vacant storefronts on all of our retail avenues. When developers and friends of the elected officials who fund their campaigns receive zoning variances for triple lot mansions everyone loses outside of the bank accounts of the incumbents.
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?
Leslie Fox: Undocumented immigrants who live in Chicago should be welcomed and served. I support the current administration’s policies in regards to welcoming undocumented individuals and will seek ways to strengthen these policies and make sure they are being supported and administered properly.
Should the inspector general have the power to audit and review City Council programs, operations and committees? Why or why not?
Leslie Fox: Absolutely. No department of government should be immune from transparency, audit, and review. The city cannot afford to continue to protect officials and departments from scrutiny. In the last several years, an endless stream of scandals in government agencies have cost the taxpayers millions of dollars This has to end. Everyone who works in city government whether in the mayor’s office or as alderman must be held accountable for the waste, corruption and incompetence that costs our city bills we need to borrow to pay. I will advocate bolstering the budget of the inspector general. I will initiate a program that requires our partners in the accounting world that do millions of dollars of business to provide a yearly audit of a city department for pro- bono as part of their fee. The current system relies on donations from the accounting firms to the politicians. I will move the donations to the taxpayers in all areas of procurement.
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.
Leslie Fox: I would not employ staff in my office who have outside jobs or contracts. I believe it is unethical and should be illegal. This is legislation I will try and enact.
Is there a past or current alderman whom you model yourself after, or would model yourself after, or take inspiration from? Please explain.
Leslie Fox: There are two former alderman who were close friends, mentors and colleagues and I would hope to uphold their amazing standards and accomplishments. Mary Lou Von Ferstel, the city’s first woman alderman, was a mentor and a dear friend whom I admired deeply. The late, great Kathy Osterman, was my first boss at City Hall. Cathy taught me how to be fearless, delegate, advocate, and keep it real. She showed me how to laugh along the way. Chicago is a greater place because of these wonderful women whom I loved. If I am ever mentioned in the same class as them, then I will have succeeded.