46th Ward candidate for alderman: Erika Wozniak Francis
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The Sun-Times Editorial Board sent the candidates running for 46th Ward alderman a list of questions to find out their views on a range of issues facing the city and their ward. Erika Wozniak Francis submitted the following responses (the Sun-Times does not edit candidate responses):
Who is Erika Wozniak Francis?
She’s running for: 46th Ward alderman
Her occupation: CPS Schoolteacher, 5th Grade
Campaign website: erikafor46thward.com
What are the top three priorities for your ward?
Erika Wozniak Francis: Well-resourced public schools: every child deserves the right to a quality public education. Public safety: preventing crime before it happens through better access to education, social services, physical and mental health services, stable jobs and a healthy environment. Equitable and ethical development without displacement.
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.
Erika Wozniak Francis: I have been a Chicago Public School teacher since graduating from DePaul University in 2004. I was chosen as the American Federation of Teachers “Everyday Hero” Award winner in 2016, a national teaching award that is given out every two years to honor outstanding teachers throughout our country. Since 2016, I have been a co-creator, co-producer and co-host of The Girl Talk, a monthly live talk show which highlights issues facing our city, state and country by interviewing women who are at the forefront of those movements. I also proudly serve on the Chicago Votes Board of Directors as well as the State Educator and Preparation Licensure Board for the Illinois State Board of Education. Throughout the past two years I have continued to be a fierce advocate for fair funding and education equality for all students in Chicago, by being an active member and delegate of the Chicago Teachers Union and a leader in the resistance of the use of public tax (TIF) dollars for private institutions.
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.
Erika Wozniak Francis: Absolutely not. A pension is a commitment that is depended upon by employees and retirees. We cannot go back on promises made to those who dedicated their careers to civil service – particularly as they cannot rely on social security. Retired public servants also make up a critical component of our middle class communities, and destabilizing their retirements in this way would, in effect, destabilize entire local economies. We must instead seek progressive revenue solutions to fund our pension deficit by ensuring the very wealthy and large corporations are paying their fair share in taxes.
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.
Erika Wozniak Francis: I am most in favor of legalizing and taxing recreational marijuana and the LaSalle Street Tax. Until there is a constitutional amendment to allow for progressive taxation, it is essential that legislators work to implement the least regressive taxes available to fund our pensions and debts. Taxing marijuana and the LaSalle Street tax have the most promise to provide significant revenue without hurting working class Chicagoans.
I recognize that Chicago’s debt and pension crisis requires that every option for raising revenue be explored, but I will not support measures that continue to disproportionately harm vulnerable Chicagoans.
What other sources of new revenue do you favor or oppose?
Erika Wozniak Francis: Before we spend time and resources looking for additional sources of revenue, a smarter measure is to maintain pressure on state legislators to pass a constitutional amendment to provide for a fair, progressive state income tax. It is the single most important step towards supporting a solvent and economically sustainable Chicago.
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?
Erika Wozniak Francis: I support the Progressive Reform Caucus’ “Back to Basics” TIF Ordinance, with the goal of limiting the use of tax increment finance dollars to redevelopment projects in blighted areas – in which the property in question is vacant and/or obsolete – and in cases where the project would be unable to move forward without TIF support. Currently, TIF dollars are often handed out to developers that could adequately finance the projects in question through private means. I also support the Garza-Cardenas TIF surplus reform ordinance to ensure TIF surplus funds are directed to CPS when the system is considered to be in a state of financial distress.
What will you do to rein in aldermanic prerogative?
Erika Wozniak Francis: Aldermanic prerogative has often been used to control development and zoning in wards to prevent construction of housing that is affordable. In some cases, that has been driven by racial or other bias. To prevent that inappropriate use of aldermanic prerogative, I support both the Homes for All and the Development for All Ordinances, which would work to provide more comprehensive affordable housing while also prohibiting aldermanic interference with the development of housing that is affordable.
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?
Erika Wozniak Francis: The City of Chicago and the Chicago Police Department have consistently failed to address the culture of abuse of power, secrecy and discrimination that has plagued the CPD. The consent decree was a consequence of the failure to make the necessary changes to education, training and protocol necessary to address the institutional racism and discrimination that has eroded public trust in law enforcement. I support the consent decree, and will continue to fight for reform and change within all levels of law enforcement so that the relationship between the residents of Chicago and those tasked with their protection can rebuild trust.
What should Chicago do to reduce the number of illegal guns?
Erika Wozniak Francis: Chicago cannot tackle the issue of illegal gun sales in a vacuum. It is essential that we work with state and federal authorities to develop and implement effective gun control measures including extensive background checks, waiting periods and a gun owner registry.
What is the appropriate role of charter schools within the Chicago Public Schools system?
Erika Wozniak Francis: As a public school teacher, I am firmly opposed to the operation and proliferation of charter schools. I do support efforts of current charter school teachers to unionize.
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?
Erika Wozniak Francis: It is imperative that our school system join the other 99% of school boards in America in having an elected, representative school board.
Is there enough affordable housing in your ward? Please explain.
Erika Wozniak Francis: Homelessness is a serious issue in the 46th Ward. There are not enough options for those in need of economically diverse housing. As mentioned above, I support the Housing for All and Development for All Ordinances. It is essential that we require developers to provide a minimum percentage of affordable housing that is accessible and diverse in capacity.
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?
Erika Wozniak Francis: I support the Welcoming Cities Ordinance, but it must be expanded to remove the carve outs that continue to allow for cooperation between law enforcement and ICE. Chicago calls itself a sanctuary city, but in an age when the federal government is engaged in activity which targets immigrants and undocumented citizens, we have not earned that title until we have taken all available legislative action to protect targeted communities.
Should the inspector general have the power to audit and review City Council programs, operations and committees? Why or why not?
Erika Wozniak Francis: Yes. An effective Office of the Inspector General is essential to an ethical government. Currently the Chicago Inspector General does not have full audit and subpoena powers over all aspects of the City Council, and it is indicative of the lack of transparency and accountability that is still prevalent in Chicago politics. If elected, I will work to expand the duties and authority of the IG.
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.
Erika Wozniak Francis: No. That would be a conflict of interest.
Is there a past or current alderman whom you model yourself after, or would model yourself after, or take inspiration from? Please explain.
Erika Wozniak Francis: I take inspiration from Susan Sadlowski Garza. She is a the daughter of union activist Edward Sadlowski, and union activism also goes back generations in my own family. While being a school counselor at Jane Addams Elementary School, Ald. Sadlowski Garza went on to become the area Vice President at the Chicago Teachers Union. I have also served 15 years as a delegate to the CTU. Sue personally told me that one reason she ran for alderman was because she wanted to have a bigger impact on children’s lives. This is also a primary reason why I am running for alderman: there is not one teacher out of 50 alderman on the City Council. A teacher needs to have a seat at the table when it comes to making decisions about education and policy that will affect our families for generations to come.