50th Ward candidate for alderman: Andrew Rowlas
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The Sun-Times Editorial Board sent the candidates running for 50th Ward alderman a list of questions to find out their views on a range of issues facing the city and their ward. Andrew Rowlas submitted the following responses (the Sun-Times does not edit candidate responses):
Who is Andrew Rowlas?
He is running for: 50th Ward alderman
His political/civic background: I am running as a Democrat.
His occupation: Educator – retired
His education: Post-graduate degrees in Education
Campaign website: Rowlasforward50.com
What are the top three priorities for your ward?
Andrew Rowlas: 1. Engage people in our ward to make productive economic planning and development short and long-term plans for our ward. We need to identify the businesses and services which people say they want and need here and then work to get them here.
2. Implement participatory budgeting with the annual menu money each ward receives.
3. Establish a pan-cultural community arts center by engaging local artists and community leaders to find a space where artists can produce their works, build an audience and bring revenues into our ward.
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.
Andrew Rowlas: As chair of the West Ridge Community Organizations I initiated the re-establishment of the Warren Park Advisory Council. I worked with the LEARN Committee to get anew library facility for our community. I am working on engaging local artists and others to form a pan-cultural community arts center.
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.
Andrew Rowlas: Politicians have not fulfilled their duties to assure that these obligations are made. They have “kicked the can down the road” and we can’t do this anymore. There are revenue sources which the state has not sought and this is a political decision. Illinois has the fifth largest economy in the U.S. and the twentieth largest economy in the world. I do not favor amending the state Constitution to address this problem.
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.
Andrew Rowlas: I favor the LsSalle Street transaction tax as a source of new revenues. The average transaction on the Mercantile Exchange is about $220,000.00. Adding a dollar to each the seller and the buyer is a miniscule amount but taking into consideration the volume of sales can amount to millions of dollars in new revenues.
What other sources of new revenue do you favor or oppose?
Andrew Rowlas: I favor adding a 1% extra sales tax on houses that sell for $750,000.00 and more. This extra revenue can be used to subsidize affordable housing and housing for homeless. I also favor the implementation of a graduated income tax for the state and like NYC a smaller version for household incomes above a set amount, e.g. $250.000.00. Too many of our sources of revenue for the city are regressive and fall unfairly upon the working and middle class families.
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?
Andrew Rowlas: TIFs should be used solely for the purpose which they were originally designed – helping blighted neighborhoods develop sustaining businesses and services to help the people in these neighborhoods. TIFs have become a political liability and reform will be difficult because of the “benefits’ which politicians have been able to extract from them.
What will you do to rein in aldermanic prerogative?
Andrew Rowlas: First, I would limit aldermanic terms in office to three terms. I would also limit the chairmanship of committees to one term for each alderman. I would not limit the scope of the I.G. to investigate aldermanic practices when there is cause for concern. I think regarding zoning and development issues that each ward should have inclusionary zoning committees that look at short and long term needs of the common good to determine such policies.
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?
Andrew Rowlas: I favor this consent decree. I favor the CPAC plan for police reviews though the GAPA plan is good, too. I believe that mutual trust between the police and the community needs to be re-established and this is a good starting place.
What should Chicago do to reduce the number of illegal guns?
Andrew Rowlas: I am not sure. Illegal guns are being bought outside of Chicago and Illinois and brought in. I need to study this issue more.
On another issue of gun use I favor background checks, licensing procedures that require gun safety and usage tests (as a driver I have to do this) and outlawing guns that have military capabilities other than for hunting or safety.
What is the appropriate role of charter schools within the Chicago Public Schools system?
Andrew Rowlas: I am against charter schools. They have taken needed resources away from public schools and have become an excuse to blame public schools as poor performers. One argument used to favor charter schools is that they can be innovators. This is a poor excuse because we need to find ways for public school educators to be encouraged and rewarded to be more innovative.
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?
Andrew Rowlas: Chicago should have a fully elected representative school board. CPS is the only school system in the Illinois which does not have this in place.
Is there enough affordable housing in your ward? Please explain.
Andrew Rowlas: I believe that there is not enough affordable housing in my ward. When I was gathering signatures for my petition many persons mentioned this as a concern of theirs. This is not an issue only for low-income families as I heard from middle-income families this concern as well. People are worried about gentrification and how this could possibly drive up the costs of their own housing unduly.
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?
Andrew Rowlas: I agree with this policy especially in today’s political climate which scapegoats immigrants. Our economy depends upon immigrants who more than contribute to our society. We could help undocumented immigrants better by providing them with necessary legal and social support programs to become citizens.
Should the inspector general have the power to audit and review City Council programs, operations and committees? Why or why not?
Andrew Rowlas: I favor giving the I.A. this power. An independent inspector general can serve a great purpose in re-establishing ethics and proper behavior in our city government. There needs to oversight to assure the public that the “Chicago way” of doing business can be transparent, accountable and responsible.
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.
Andrew Rowlas: I have no office staff at this time. I would not want there to be conflicts of interests in doing the people’s business and promoting the common good.
Is there a past or current alderman whom you model yourself after, or would model yourself after, or take inspiration from? Please explain.
Andrew Rowlas: I really like two current aldermen: John Arena and Scott Wauguespack. These two gentlemen are accessible to their constituents, work overtime to assure that city services are delivered properly. They work closely with their community and communicate regularly.
Also running for 50th Ward alderman: