43rd Ward candidate for alderman: Rebecca Janowitz
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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 ward. Rebecca Janowitz submitted the following responses (the Sun-Times does not edit candidate responses):
Who is Rebecca Janowitz?
She’s running for: 43rd Ward alderman
Her political/civic background: I have worked for Alderman Toni Preckwinkle, the Chicago Public Schools, the Cook County Sheriff’s Office and most recently for the Cook County Justice Advisory Council. I founded the 57th Street Children’s Book Fair now the Children’s Book Fair, and served on the board of Directors of Illinois Citizens Against Handgun Violence. I served on Local School Councils at Ray Elementary School and Kenwood Academy High School. I graduated from the IWIL training program as a member of the class of 2006.
Her occupation: Lawyer, Civil Servant
Her education: University of Sussex, BA – Loyola University Chicago, JD – University of Chicago, Harris School of Public Policy, MA
Campaign website: RebeccaJanowitz.com
What are the top three priorities for your ward?
Rebecca Janowitz: My first priority to run a responsive, full service ward office that meets the needs of residents from all walks of life.
My second priority is to address the recent spike in crime in the ward. Violence is unacceptable and must be addressed. I will insist that the Chicago Police Department have strong accountable and professional leadership. We have to be tough on crime and tough on the preventable causes of crime including disinvestment and lack of opportunity. When the Mayor and City Council do their work well, every community will be stronger and safer due to increased employment and improved education at all levels, better housing, shopping and recreation and effective law enforcement.
My third priority is more openness and honesty in budgeting and taxation. New opportunities such as taxing marijuana will not help balance the books if the overall approach to financing city government does not change. Cook County has improved the information about the budget available to the public and regularly provides for public comment on expenditure. The city should do the same. TIFs must be reined in. New parks are needed but should not be tied to particularly private development, especially if that is used as an argument to justify spending public money on private projects.
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.
Rebecca Janowitz: At the Justice Advisory Council over the last two years I have focused on developing the Career Launch program which provides job training and other supports to at risk youth in Chicago. I have continued to work on reducing both the number of people held in the jail and the likelihood that they will return to detention.
I have continued to support the Children’s Book Fair, a not for profit that is now in its 33rd year.
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.
Rebecca Janowitz: It is not clear that amending the state constitution would have any retroactive impact, given the current composition of the Illinois Supreme Court. However, I propose a three point plan that would increase the city’s ability to meet its pension obligations while providing good opportunities for current and future city workers. First, I would limit the TIF programs that have taken up so much money out of the overall budget process. Second, I advocate for a more efficient budget that directly addresses the needs of the community. Third, I would support amending the constitution to create a statewide graduated income tax that would bring desperately needed funds to the city.
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.
Rebecca Janowitz: I favor a tax on recreational marijuana, video gambling, and I’m eager to see what a more fair property tax levy produces for the city. I vehemently oppose a commuter tax, and I oppose the creation of a casino in the city due to its negative connotations. I do believe we should explore tighter budgeting before we consider an increase in property transfers and sales tax.
What other sources of new revenue do you favor or oppose?
Rebecca Janowitz: I favor the creation of a statewide, progressive income tax. The current flat tax system puts a majority of the burden on the state’s middle and lower classes, while at the same time keeping desperately needed funds from the numerous social services across the state. In other words, it is neither fair nor efficient. In contrast, a progressive income tax would open up vast sums of money to those services while at the same time alleviating the burden placed on the state’s middle class, especially those living in Chicago. The city of Chicago can play a large role in the creation of such a system, and if elected, I would do everything in my power to advocate for the creation of such a system.
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?
Rebecca Janowitz: I believe too much money is going into TIFs with too little benefit for the city. We need to restructure and appropriately limit the TIF program.
What will you do to rein in aldermanic prerogative?
Rebecca Janowitz: I would work to foster community involvement and community debate over important land use decisions. I would also explore the creation a local land use body, such as a Community Coordinated Council (CCC), that would review all land use and zoning decisions within the ward. This would mean that local land use decisions reflects more than an individual’s exercise of his or her prerogative.
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?
Rebecca Janowitz: Generally I support the consent decree. However the decree places great emphasis on additional training for police officers without addressing key issues. The decree is based on the idea that increased training will facilitate community policing which in turn will reduce the racial inequities that pervade the system. Only chokeholds and intimidating people by taking them to neighborhoods they fear are specifically forbidden. I believe effective, equitable policing requires stronger leadership, a system that addresses stress and declining morale among officers holistically, and recognition of the role played by enormously inequitable investment in communities. I think the faith the decree places in the use of an algorithm to predict police misconduct is misplaced and inherently unfair. This provision should be dropped.
What should Chicago do to reduce the number of illegal guns?
Rebecca Janowitz: Guns used for crime in Chicago often come from Indiana. I look to out newly elected attorney general, Kwame Raoul, to sue the state of Indiana to stop the flow of illegal guns into our city once he takes office. I’m also concerned with the problem of guns being stolen from freight cars as they are being transferred through Chicago.
What is the appropriate role of charter schools within the Chicago Public Schools system?
Rebecca Janowitz: Charter schools are best suited to serve populations that are presently under served. An example of this would be the Youth Connections charter schools which serves at risk youth. Charter high schools may be well situated to help a population that is older than traditional high school students, aged 19 to 24, complete their diplomas and participate in the work force. All teachers that serve our children whether in the charter or non-charter0 schools should belong to the same union. The prospect of once again having two teachers’ unions in Chicago is a nightmare.
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?
Rebecca Janowitz: I believe the best compromise between mayoral appointment and electing officials to the school board would to have mayoral appointments made on the basis of recommendations made by community representatives. Employing the system of checks and balances, this would ensure that local and community priorities are represented on the school board, while at the same time ensuring that the school board can achieve citywide priorities when it comes to education.
Is there enough affordable housing in your ward? Please explain.
Rebecca Janowitz: Overall, the city has suffered a great loss in affordable housing. I certainly would support the 43rd ward’s participation in plans to ensure that there is affordable housing for young people just starting their careers and working families. Diversity benefits everyone, and helps sustain the economic health of a community, and affordable housing is a part of that diversity.
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?
Rebecca Janowitz: The city of Chicago needs to be welcoming to all those who wish to be productive members of American society; we cannot be a world class city without accepting the world in our city. Immigrants have contributed so much to our city, and they will continue to do so. As such, the city should maintain its status as a “welcoming city,” and, where possible, provide the necessary legal resources for ensuring that those who live here are not forcibly removed from the city they call home by federal authorities. This city has power to be at the forefront of fighting the current White House administration’s immigration policy, and if elected, I would do everything in my power to ensure that it does so.
Should the inspector general have the power to audit and review City Council programs, operations and committees? Why or why not?
Rebecca Janowitz: Yes, independent oversight is a necessary and vital part of tackling corruption within our city government. If elected, I would support measures that strengthen the investigative powers of the Inspector General’s office.
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.
Rebecca Janowitz: Absolutely not.
Is there a past or current alderman whom you model yourself after, or would model yourself after, or take inspiration from? Please explain.
Rebecca Janowitz: I remember Leon Despres who was alderman for the Fifth Ward during my childhood in Hyde Park. Everyone respected Alderman Despres. He moved easily among scholars, artists, and working people. When I asked what he did, my parents explained that he fought for our community and for our city. He never controlled a powerful committee but he left a legacy that is still meaningful. When Martin Lurther King marched for open housing in Chicago, the first Mayor Daley was able to force every alderman except Despres to vote for an ordinance condemning his efforts. This included Chicago’s six black aldermen. When my grandson studies that sad chapter in Chicago’s history, he will learn that at least one voice was raised in protest.