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47th Ward candidate for alderman: Jeff Jenkins

Jeff Jenkins 47th ward alderman candidate 2019 mayoral election rich hein

47th Ward aldermanic candidate Jeff Jenkins at the Sun-Times Jan. 21. | Rich Hein/Sun-Times

The Sun-Times Editorial Board sent the 47th Ward aldermanic candidates a list of questions to find out their views on a range of issues facing the city and their ward. Jeff Jenkins submitted the following responses (the Sun-Times does not edit candidate responses):

Who is Jeff Jenkins?

He’s running for: 47th Ward alderman

His political/civic background: Local School Council Member/Coonley Elementary – 3 Terms, Founding Board Member Raise Your Hand Action, active w/ Raise Your Hand, GROWCommunity, Friends of Amundsen, North Center Neighborhood Assoc. Zoning Committee Member, volunteer Chicago Animal Care and Control

His occupation: Executive Director, Midnight Circus in the Parks – Citywide non-profit that brings communities together and raises funds for park improvements and programming. Animal Welfare Work – Various organizations: The Anti Cruelty Society, Canines & Company and Found. Focus of work is engaging young people through hands on canine programs involving rescued and rehabilitated dogs, and demonstrating/teaching empathy and kindness through positive reinforcement training.

His education: High School Graduate. Lifelong community activist and leader.

Campaign website: jeffjenkins47.com/

Twitter: @JeffJenkins312

Facebook: facebook.com/JeffJenkins47/

Top priorities

What are the top three priorities for your ward? 

Jeff Jenkins: First, affordable housing. As long-time residents, seniors and those on fixed incomes are priced out, and new residents cannot afford to move in, affordable housing is a top priority. I will fight for affordable housing options by requiring large new developments to increase affordable units from 10% to 20%. I will work to balance the stock of housing to meet the needs of our diverse 47th Ward residents. Townhouses, transit-oriented development, two-flat preservation and coach houses should all be part of the solution and I will engage the community in robust conversations as new housing is considered for the ward. I will also work with other elected officials to ensure that our new Assessor delivers on his promise of reform, and that includes a fair and transparent property tax system for businesses and homeowners. We need a fair, effective, transparent property tax system to plan for the future.

Second, education. I will continue my outspoken advocacy and relentless fight to ensure full funding for each and every neighborhood school – in the 47th Ward and throughout Chicago. I will expand investments in Amundsen and Lake View High Schools and ensure their continued success as schools-of-choice for ward families. I will demand an Elected School Board, a fight I have led since 2012. I will advocate for a moratorium on opening new charter schools – another fight I led in the ward – and closing public schools. I will also continue to support GROWCommunity and encourage other alderman to replicate this model around the city to build a high quality K-12 neighborhood school system in every ward.

Third, constituent engagement. I will be present, active and accessible in the ward. I will give constituents more opportunities to engage with me as their alderman through Ward Days, Ward Nights, Town Halls, Small Business Meetups and community surveys. I will continue Alderman Pawar’s commitment to use TIF funds for our schools, parks and public infrastructure and reinvigorate the participatory budgeting process. I will establish a youth governance council to give young people a voice in decision-making throughout the ward. I will address storefront vacancies by connecting landlords, small businesses and aspiring entrepreneurs to each other, provide important resources to help them thrive, and offer guidance so they can successfully navigate the complexities of city permits and rules to join our vibrant small business community.

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.

Jeff Jenkins: I have been a resident of Chicago’s 47th Ward for nearly 20 years. A homeowner, small business owner, a husband, father, artist and active community leader who is engaged on many levels of service for our schools, our parks, animal welfare and more.

My wife Julie and I founded Midnight Circus in the Parks in 2007, our citywide non-profit based right here in the 47th Ward. This program reaches 20,000 Chicagoans each year all across our city, and has raised over $300,000 for 47th Ward parks alone, and $1 million for Chicago parks citywide since its creation. In 2018 we expanded the program to include more parks and more communities across Chicago.

In 2017, when Puerto Rico was devastated by hurricane Maria, we felt compelled to help. We worked with elected officials from across the city and state, the Mayor’s Office, Chicago Park District, Park Advisory Council Members and local community leaders to host a Benefit Performance of Midnight Circus for the American Red Cross of Chicago and Northern Illinois – raising $18,000 in one day for families in Puerto Rico and families evacuated to Chicago.

I have been active in the fight for public education in our ward and across Chicago for many years and continue this work today. As a founding board member of Raise Your Hand Action and an active member of Raise Your Hand, I continue to fight for equitable funding and resources to neighborhood schools across Chicago. I am also active with Friends of Amundsen, Friends of Coonley, GROWCommunity and I am also a member of the North Center Neighborhood Association’s Zoning Committee.

My work in animal welfare dates back nearly 20 years all across Chicago. As co-founder and lead trainer of the Humane Society of the United States – End Dogfighting Campaign, I helped young men on the south and west sides of Chicago build positive human and animal bonds through weekly positive reinforcement training classes and an influx of animal wellness resources. I continue this type of work today, along with my rescued Bully Breed dogs Junebug and Rose Rae, with a number of organizations in Chicago including the Anti Cruelty Society and their After School Advocates Program, Canines & Company, Illinois Youth Corrections, and Chicago Animal Care and Control.


SUN-TIMES 2019 CHICAGO VOTING GUIDE


Pensions

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.

Jeff Jenkins: Amending the Constitution to allow a reduction in pension benefits for current employees or retirees is something I would not support. I believe that we have to support our workers with the pension that they paid into and were promised at the onset of their city service.

Going forward, I would make it a top priority to work with labor unions and the city to fulfill promises and make sure the city can responsibly meet future pension obligations on solid footing. I would consider graduated reforms for new employees as long as those reforms are coupled with progressive revenue streams at the city and state level.

As alderman, I would stand with the Progressive Caucus to generate new revenue ideas to address the pension crisis including a financial transaction tax, a luxury goods tax and a municipal tax on legalized marijuana sales in Chicago. But most importantly the state must pass a progressive income tax. We are coming to a critical point in this crisis and it is must be a top priority for Springfield With a new governor and newly elected members of the General Assembly, I am hopeful progress can be made.

It is also important that we look to reform our pension system to root out fraud and waste. We can explore legal changes to end the practice of “double dipping” and dramatic increases in earnings just prior to retirement through overtime or promotion. The goal is to sustain a strong and vibrant working class, keep Chicago thriving, and allow those employees to retire with dignity and security at the end of their service.

Revenue

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.

Jeff Jenkins: A Chicago casino NO, legalized and taxed recreational marijuana YES, a LaSalle Street tax YES, a commuter tax NO, a property tax increase NO, a municipal sales tax increase NO, a real estate transfer tax increase YES, video gambling NO.

A LaSalle Street tax: I support a financial transaction tax on trades. While this requires state legislation, I believe this is a feasible solution that imposes a tax on the wealthiest of Chicagoans. I would work with my state representative and state senator to advocate for its passage in the Illinois General assembly.

Real estate transfer tax increase: Yes, I support a real estate transfer tax increase on properties of $1 million. This tax would be used to support development of affordable housing and programs to reduce homelessness.

What other sources of new revenue do you favor or oppose? 

Jeff Jenkins:

Favor

TIF Reform: As alderman, I will work with my colleagues and call for a full audit of our TIF system. The audit will be data-informed to see if we need to close TIF districts not located in areas of blight. The audit will help the council understand which funds can be returned to their original taxing bodies such as our school system and park district. Overall, as a city, we also need to reduce the city’s reliance on TIFs and limit the creation of new TIF districts. TIF reform could free up over $400 million for schools, parks, mental health clinics, first responders and more.

Prioritizing debt: As alderman, I will work with my colleagues to get control of our debt. An external audit, regular hearings with administrative heads, and close examination of the budget and our debt obligation will provide a realistic idea about what the city owes and how debt payments will increase over the years. I will work with the city treasurer to make sure our debt obligations are met and bills are paid in a thoughtful, transparent manner – always prioritizing taxpayers over financial institutions. My priority as alderman is to bring proposals to the community and have open, honest conversations about where we are at and choices that need to be made. I will not avoid the hard conversation.

Other Revenue: With a new governor, new mayor and many new alderman taking office in 2019, I am hopeful we will see a progressive income tax, which I fully support. I also support imposing a financial transaction on trades and a tax luxury tax on high value nonessential goods as too many taxes are currently regressive – hurting those who are least able to afford new taxes. I support legalizing marijuana and would advocate for a fair proportion of taxes to come to Chicago from Springfield. I’d support a municipal tax on marijuana sold in Chicago as well. Last, I strongly support efforts by the city council to collect the money the city is already owed. For example, large downtown buildings have had their assessments reduced to a third or half of their actual value. The city is losing hundreds of millions of dollars in property taxes from these downtown businesses alone. I would work to advance these changes to bring in much needed revenue to address our pension problem.

Opposed

Casinos are a morally questionable source of revenue. I would like to see feasibility studies that show casinos would generate sustained revenue for the city without harming low income and working class residents.

Gas taxes are regressive. Individuals who are least able to afford the tax are hardest hit. Unintended consequences of a gas tax is increased revenue for border counties and states with lower gas prices. People will travel to pay less for gas.

Commuter tax is not good for Chicago. We should not punish people for coming into our city to work and spend their hard-earned money at our restaurants, theaters, stores and more. Chicago needs to welcome people with open arms. This could also start a commuter tax war with suburbs and nearby cities.

TIFs

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?

Jeff Jenkins: As alderman, I will work with my colleagues and call for a full audit of our TIF system. The audit will be data-informed to see if we need to close TIF districts not located in areas of blight. The audit will help the council understand which funds can be returned to their original taxing bodies such as our school system and park district. Overall, as a city, we also need to reduce the city’s reliance on TIFs and limit the creation of new TIF districts. TIF reform could free up over $400 million for schools, parks, mental health clinics, first responders and more.

Aldermanic power

What will you do to rein in aldermanic prerogative?

Jeff Jenkins: When left unchecked, the practice of aldermanic prerogative has resulted in continued segregation, greater inequality and reduced access to affordable housing for people in our city – ultimately, harming the entire city. Anytime an alderman wants to use aldermanic prerogative to prevent the development of affordable housing in their ward, I would call for committee and public hearings to shine a light on this decision.

I’m opposed to unilaterally dismantling aldermanic prerogative, however. When used properly it can serve as a check and balance on developers who wield an enormous amount of power in Chicago. Alderman should use this privilege sparingly, responsibly and always get broad community input, not simply relying on a small but vocal contingent of people.

Police reform

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?

Jeff Jenkins: I fully support the consent decree. Chicago has paid millions of dollars in payouts and settlements for police misconduct. Provisions in the consent decree to include officer wellness and mental health support, crisis intervention training, increased transparency and reporting, and more fairness in hiring are key to Chicago building a world-class police force. We need to ensure police officers receive proper support and training to keep the city safe, while also being held to the highest standards in policing.

Guns

What should Chicago do to reduce the number of illegal guns? 

Jeff Jenkins: A multi-pronged approach is necessary to reduce the number of illegal guns. First, I would make it a priority to work with the mayor, the police superintendent, and other municipalities to slow the flow of guns between our border states and municipalities, close loopholes and ensure criminal background checks are being enforced.

Second, as a city, we need to invest in our struggling communities to make owning a gun less attractive. I support bringing serious economic investment to the south and west sides of the city, equitable funding for schools, mentoring and anti-violence programs, job training and more mental health resources. In addition we need to fully fund and resource our neighborhood parks so that young people have positive, productive and creative outlets to express themselves.

Last, I also support stricter sentencing for repeat offenders and working with the state’s attorney to see that when someone breaks the law, they are held accountable.

Schools

What is the appropriate role of charter schools within the Chicago Public Schools system?

Jeff Jenkins: There’s no evidence that charter schools outperform traditional schools, and the proliferation of charters over the past twenty years in Chicago has been divisive, chaotic and at times scandal ridden. Charters do not have the same sunlight on their finances and I support a charter moratorium for any financially distressed district. I am also in full support of the unionization of charter school members.

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?

Jeff Jenkins: I have been a strong proponent of an elected representative school board and have been an outspoken advocate on this issue, canvassing starting in 2012 with Raise Your Hand and CTU/GEM, leading actions with my community, and bringing attention to the need for more democracy in our education system here in Chicago and in Springfield. This is a top priority of mine.

Affordable housing

Is there enough affordable housing in your ward? Please explain. 

Jeff Jenkins: No, as a working class family leading a humble life in a modest home for 20 years, these issues are policy-related and personal. Our property taxes will soon surpass our mortgage, which is not sustainable. My family was fortunate to purchase a home in the now-thriving North Center community when two working artists could afford to do that. Now, many families and individuals who have placed their roots in our community simply cannot afford to stay. As a family, we worry that we will be priced out as well.

As alderman, I will fight to increase affordable housing options and require large new developments to include 20% affordable units, up from 10%. I will work to balance the stock of housing options to meet the needs of our diverse 47th Ward residents. Townhouses, transit-oriented development, two-flat preservation, and coach houses can all be part of the solution.

Immigration

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? 

Jeff Jenkins: My position is that Chicago is a world class city with world class diversity. When one in five Chicagoans is an immigrant, I support Chicago’s bold position to pass the “welcoming city” ordinance. The city ordinance is clear – we cannot allow Chicagoans, regardless of immigration status, to fear retaliation for reporting a crime. The safety of our streets is paramount to a thriving city. All Chicagoans – whether or not they are documented – must be able to trust law enforcement and feel safe when reporting a crime.

In terms of what more – or less – should be done with respect to undocumented immigrants, all children should have access to preschool, elementary and high school regardless of their immigration status. Families should not live in fear and children should not have to go uneducated. Chicagoans, regardless of immigration status, should have access to a municipal ID, which is why I support the CityKey. It provides much needed access to a government-issued ID.

Ethics

Should the inspector general have the power to audit and review City Council programs, operations and committees? Why or why not?

Jeff Jenkins: We should demand high standards from all of our elected officials and public servants – things like integrity, transparency, and effectiveness. I absolutely believe the inspector general should have the power to audit and review City Council programs, operations and committees unimpeded. It’s good for democracy and good for the taxpayer.

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.

Jeff Jenkins: I have been an outspoken critic of elected and appointed officials having outside jobs that pose conflicts of interest. This erodes the public trust and creates opportunities for cronyism and corruption. It is no different for employees working in the offices of said officials.

The practice of employing people who have jobs with city contractors creates unfair advantage. This undermines a competitive marketplace for hardworking Chicagoans who would like to contribute their skills to making the city a better place to live and work. I am strongly opposed to this practice and would not employ anyone in this manner.

Role model

Is there a past or current alderman whom you model yourself after, or would model yourself after, or take inspiration from? Please explain.

Jeff Jenkins: Scott Waguespack, Chairman of the Progressive Caucus, is an alderman I take inspiration from. Alderman Waguespack is a tireless advocate for transparency and accountability in City Hall and beyond. Additionally, he is a strong independent voice who prioritizes the public good over personal and political gain.


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