45th Ward candidate for alderman: John S. Arena
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The Sun-Times Editorial Board sent the candidates running for 45th Ward alderman a list of questions to find out their views on a range of issues facing the city and their ward. John Arena submitted the following responses (the Sun-Times does not edit candidate responses):
Who is John Arena?
He’s running for: 45th Ward alderman
His political/civic background: I am finishing my second term as alderman. Previous to that, I was twice the vice president of the Portage Park Neighborhood Association.
His occupation: Alderman. Previously, I worked as a marketing and advertising director, running a small business with my wife, Jill.
His education: Bachelors of Arts, Northern Illinois University
Campaign website: Arenafor45.com
What are the top three priorities for your ward?
- Accountable and transparent government
- Economic development
- Quality public schools
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.
John Arena: As alderman, I have worked with colleagues in the Progressive Caucus, and the City Council, to pass a number of important ordinances on issues such as paid sick leave, a higher minimum wage, debt transparency and accountability, the Privatization Transparency and Accountability Ordinance, and the creation of the Office of Labor Standards. Additionally, I have been on the forefront on issues such as an elected school board, moving our city’s investments away from fossil fuels, the Fair Workweek Ordinance, TIF reform, and reform and oversight of the city’s workers compensation program.
In the ward, I’ve used a transparent participatory budgeting process to allocate aldermanic menu money for local infrastructure improvements. I’ve also worked with local chambers of commerce to bring dozens of new businesses to the ward. With the community, we’re also about to approve a master plan for the area around the Jefferson Park Transit Center. And I’ve helped to negotiate some $36 million in investments from CPS to our local schools, including to Schurz High School (new turf soccer field, roof, and some classroom renovations), an addition to Prussing Elementary School, and new turf fields at Hitch and Farnsworth elementary schools.
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.
John Arena: I am strongly opposed to amending the constitution to allow for a reduction in existing pension benefits. I’m additionally very skeptical of creating yet another tier of employees who receive benefits that are further reduced. Chicago’s public service workers have held up their end of their agreement and served our communities throughout with the expectation that their retirement would be secure. To go back on that agreement would make even more vulnerable the retirement security of tens of thousands of workers who cannot rely on Social Security. That instability could have drastic negative repercussions for our local economy and could derail middle class communities all across 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.
John Arena: I support the legalization, regulation and taxation of recreational marijuana, but also support restrictions on where dispensaries could be placed (i.e., distance from residential neighborhoods, schools, and parks), community input on the dispensary licenses, and marketing restrictions similar to the alcohol and tobacco industries to ensure that kids aren’t being marketed to. I also support efforts to ensure that cannabis dispensaries adopt labor neutrality agreements so that dispensary workers will have an unencumbered opportunity to organize and bargain collectively.
Chicago needs to create innovative solutions to the financial situation our City faces and increasing property taxes must be a last resort. I am a strong supporter of a LaSalle Street Tax. I support working with Springfield to expand sales taxes to luxury services, but I believe we should work to decrease the regressive sales tax for basic necessities, including food and necessary personal hygiene products. I support increasing the real estate transfer tax, but only for property sold for more than $1 million.
What other sources of new revenue do you favor or oppose?
John Arena: In addition to the legalization and taxation of recreational marijuana, I support a progressive local income tax that asks the very wealthy to pay their fair share. Further, I have long advocated for the City to allocate more Law Department personnel to focus on appealing low assessments on valuable properties, especially downtown, that have robbed our city of needed property tax revenue during the Joe Berrios regime.
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?
John Arena: I am a strong supporter and lead sponsor of the Back to Basics TIF Reform Ordinance. TIFs should only be used for private development in locations where, but for the TIF investment, private development would not happen. Too often, TIF funds are used to subsidize already-profitable projects in unblighted neighborhoods as a sweetheart deal. I also support the Garza-Cardenas TIF surplus reform ordinance.
What will you do to rein in aldermanic prerogative?
John Arena: I am a supporter of the Affordable Housing Equity Ordinance, which would limit aldermanic prerogative regarding developments that have an affordable housing component.
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?
John Arena: I support the consent decree and the appointment of a federal monitor. I also support the Community Commission for Public Safety and Accountability Ordinance, which was introduced by Ald. Sawyer in consultation with the Grassroots Alliance for Police Accountability. Finally, I strongly believe we need to continue to ensure that the recommendations of the Police Accountability Task Force and the Obama Department of Justice are implemented so that we can continue to build trust between our communities and the CPD.
What should Chicago do to reduce the number of illegal guns?
John Arena: Despite our best efforts, guns bought by straw buyers in the suburbs and Indiana still flow into Chicago. We need to work with our federal law enforcement partners to make sure more straw buyers are identified and prosecuted. Gun traffic is also fueled by poverty and a lack of economic development and employment opportunities in impacted communities. I believe we need to ensure more investment in the social safety net and in economic development in communities most plagued by gun and gang violence.
What is the appropriate role of charter schools within the Chicago Public Schools system?
John Arena:I do not support charter schools, which drain resources and cherry pick students from neighborhood schools. I support efforts to unionize teachers in existing charter 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?
John Arena: I fully support an elected, representative school board and worked to get a referendum on the issue on the ballot. Parents and neighborhood residents deserve a voice in public schools and an elected school board helps to hold officials accountable to voters.
Is there enough affordable housing in your ward? Please explain.
John Arena: No. My ward has not yet suffered through the gentrification we have seen to our south and east, but we see signs that it is coming. That is why I am asking private development to go above and beyond the existing affordable requirements. Additionally, I am requiring developers to fulfill their affordable housing on site in almost all circumstances. While while I have been alderman, I have shepherded through the approval of more than 200 units that are affordable to community residents. I will continue those efforts.
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?
John Arena: I support the Welcoming City policy and support an Inspector General audit to ensure it is being followed in all City departments.
Should the inspector general have the power to audit and review City Council programs, operations and committees? Why or why not?
John Arena: Yes! No city employee, including city council members, should be exempt from IG oversight. I joined many of my colleagues in 2016 in an effort to make sure city council committees were subject to Inspector General oversight. Additionally, I recently introduced an ordinance which would move the workers compensation program to the Law Department, in part, so it would be subject to IG oversight. Chicagoans deserve to know that their city council is operating in an transparent, ethical and efficient manner.
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.
John Arena: No.
Is there a past or current alderman whom you model yourself after, or would model yourself after, or take inspiration from? Please explain.
John Arena: I often turn to the career of Leon Depres, who is an inspiration both for his fights for social and economic justice, as well as his determination to stand up to an intractable mayoral administration.
Also running for 45th Ward alderman: