44th Ward candidate for alderman: Tom Tunney
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The Sun-Times Editorial Board sent the 44th Ward aldermanic candidates a list of questions to find out their views on a range of important issues facing the city and their ward. Tom Tunney submitted the following responses (the Sun-Times does not edit candidate responses):
Who is Tom Tunney?
He’s running for: 44th Ward alderman
His political/civic background: Alderman of the 44th Ward since 2003 and 44th Ward Committeeman since 2007
His occupation: Alderman for 15 years and owner of Ann Sathers Restaurant for 40 years
His education: Bachelor’s degree from University of Illinois and Masters in Hospitality Management from Cornell University
Campaign website: tomtunney.com
What are the top three priorities for your ward?
- Public Safety
- Economic development, including managing the redevelopment of Wrigleyville by finding balance between competing interest and needs of small businesses, the Cubs, and residents
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.
Tom Tunney: I am very proud of the work I did as Alderman to create affordable senior housing for the LGBT community in partnership with the Center on Halsted. The first of its kind in the city, this project helped LGBT seniors afford to live in the neighborhood. This development along with the continued work with Center on Halsted for homeless LGBT youth, healthcare, and the upcoming project to create an AIDS garden are some of the ways I’ve served the neighborhood recently. In addition, I’ve helped to bring in new jobs such as Target, Marianos, and Whole Foods which created a 1,000 new jobs.
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.
Tom Tunney: I oppose attempts to cut already promised pension benefits and we have already reduced future employee benefits substantially. Hard choices the City Council has made helped shored up most of the funds over the long term but in the short term we have hurdles. The city should explore auctioning off underutilized property and equipment. Any profits made from these sales can be used to pay down bond obligations or go towards pension payments. Selling the property to private entities also puts those properties back on the property-tax rolls, generating more revenue for the city each year. Also, I am open to discussing the Mayor’s pension obligation bonds. We need creative solutions to help fund our pensions and I am open to exploring 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.
Tom Tunney: I favor the legalization of recreational cannabis, casinos in the city, and real estate transfer tax on buildings worth at least $10 million. Property taxes are high and we need to explore more efficiencies and other sources of revenue before we ask the hard working people of the 44th Ward and Chicago to pay more in taxes.
What other sources of new revenue do you favor or oppose?
Tom Tunney: I believe we also need to explore video gaming and work with Springfield on a progressive income tax.
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?
Tom Tunney: We need to do a better job of ensuring that TIFs are used in blighted areas as they were originally intended and to create more transparency, something I have been working on with the Progressive Caucus in the City Council. TIF reform is needed, including limiting TIF developments to infrastructure only. This will allow some wards to use TIF dollars to revitalize their communities, while cutting back on areas that are improperly abusing the system. The 44 th Ward has seen successes with the TIF at Ashland, Lincoln, and Belmont but the area is now thriving and is attractive to businesses without a TIF. As a result, I will be allowing the TIF to expire.
What will you do to rein in aldermanic prerogative?
Tom Tunney: There needs to be a more effective city-wide plan for things like affordable housing. I’ve taken steps in City Council to bring and preserve affordable housing in my Ward, even if the community pushed back. This is why we have elections–if the community no longer feels that I am representing their needs, they have the chance to vote in a new Alderman. That being said, I am remarkably sensitive to the needs of the community and listening to all voices and work to strike a balance to make sure community needs are met.
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?
Tom Tunney: I support the consent decree. I believe we must work with law enforcement to make public safety a number one priority, but it is important that we hold them to a high standard and accountability measures are in place. There needs to be more continuous training and supervision with the latest methods of safety and technology for both police officers and the community in order to rebuild the trust of the community and ensure the safety of the officers.
What should Chicago do to reduce the number of illegal guns?
Tom Tunney: I believe we need to continue pushing for common sense gun legislation to combat the illegal trafficking of guns into the city by exploring a negligence lawsuit against Indiana. We also need to enforce a assault rifle ban in the city of Chicago, pass a gun dealer licensing bill, and work with law enforcement to get guns out of the hands of those who show threatening or unsafe behavior towards themselves or others.
What is the appropriate role of charter schools within the Chicago Public Schools system?
Tom Tunney: We need to prioritize public schools, and since becoming Alderman I have secured over $65 million for our public schools and I’m proud that all elementary schools today are Tier One schools. With the added IB and Stem Programs at Lakeview and Lincoln Park High Schools, making them a competitive option for residents. Although there are no charter schools in my Ward, I firmly believe that Charter schools need to be held to the same standard as CPS.
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?
Tom Tunney: I believe that the Mayor and the community should be held accountable for the performance of the public schools. That said, there is a need for the public’s voice at that table which is why I support a hybrid school board.
Is there enough affordable housing in your ward? Please explain.
Tom Tunney: No, however I’ve helped to increase and preserve over 500 affordable housing units including those for LGBT seniors and will continue to work on developments that offer affordable housing options. I am also working with the CTA on the redevelopment plan for the Red/Purple line which will include 20% affordable housing on site.
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?
Tom Tunney: I believe Chicago should continue to be a welcoming city. We need to offer resources for immigrants including legal aid, job opportunities, and housing.
Should the inspector general have the power to audit and review City Council programs, operations and committees? Why or why not?
Tom Tunney: The Inspector General should be an objective third party and should investigate when appropriate, which is why I believe the inspector general should be able to investigate programs, operations, and committees. This usually means when complaints have been filed, but it should be evaluated on a case by case basis.
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.
Tom Tunney: I have not employed nor will employ staff who have outside contracts with the city.
Is there a past or current alderman whom you model yourself after, or would model yourself after, or take inspiration from? Please explain.
Tom Tunney: I model myself after the late Alderman and Judge Seymour Simon. He is a former World War II Veteran, Alderman of the 40th Ward, Judge of the Illinois Appellate Court, and Cook County Board President. He was often described as someone who who was fiercely independent and always acted with integrity. Simon devoted his life to public service–he worked hard to improve the quality of life for his residents and was found at rallies for issues he believed in, such as opposing the death penalty. I had the privilege of meeting him and hope to encompass his intelligence and grace and hopefully live as long as he did as well!