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Elections

8th Ward candidate for alderman: Michelle A. Harris

8th Ward alderman candidate Michelle Harris 2019 mayoral election

8th Ward aldermanic candidate and incumbent Michelle Harris at a City Council meeting. | File photo

The Sun-Times Editorial Board sent the candidates running for 8th Ward alderman a list of questions to find out their views on a range of issues facing the city and their ward. Michelle A. Harris submitted the following responses (the Sun-Times does not edit candidate responses):

Who is Michelle Harris?

She’s running for: 8th Ward alderman

Her political/civic background: Committeeman, 8th Ward; several boards in the community

Her occupation: Alderman, 8th Ward

Her education: Bachelor of Arts, Chicago State University

Twitter: @aldermanharris

Facebook: @aldermanharris

Top priorities

What are the top three priorities for your ward? 

Harris:

  • Public Safety
  • Economic Development
  • City Services

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. 

Harris:

  • I worked closely with UNITE HERE Local 1 to pass the Hands Off Pants On (HOPO) ordinance, which will provide new protections for hotel workers against sexual harassment.
  • Secured funding for the State’s first indoor hydraulic track facility, which will be built in 2019
  • Welcomed new businesses, assisted new and existing business through the Neighborhood Opportunity Fund and closed several nuisance businesses, including several liquor stores.

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.

Harris:

  • We need to honor our commitment to working people and make our pension payments
  • This can’t be fully one sided – we need a balance that takes into account our commitments to both City workers and retirees as well as our commitments to the taxpayers.
  • I took the hard votes to shore up our pension funds
  • We should explore adding another tier for new hew hires that have the option for 401k style retirement plans.
  • I want to work with organized labor to ensure that their input is heard in any discussions about pension reform

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. 

Harris:

I favor the following:

  • A Chicago Casino
  • Video gambling
  • Legalized and taxed marijuana
  • Real estate transfer tax
  • We should explore these options before raising property or sales taxes

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

Harris: No response

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? 

Harris: Whether City-wide or in my ward, TIF funding has been a key part of stimulating economic development, but we need to do a better job of ensuring TIFs are used to help underdeveloped communities, as they were originally intended. We need to modernize the TIF system to account for 21st century economic development tools as well as hold businesses accountable for promises they made.

Aldermanic power

What will you do to rein in aldermanic prerogative? 

Harris:

  • Aldermen are elected to be advocates for their communities and I believe aldermen should continue to use the tools at their disposal to affect change in their community
  • As an alderman, it’s our duty to ensure we are communicating effectively with our constituents about decisions that impact the city and ward.
  • The council as a whole might need input on ward specific projects on a case by case basis as they can have a citywide impact.

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? 

Harris:

  • I support the consent decree.
  • The consent decree was negotiated with the Attorney General, CPD, and the City of Chicago at the table
  • The increased accountability reflects the values of our City while providing police with more training and more resources.
  • Reform and public safety go hand-in-hand
  • The consent decree will help ensure Chicago police officers have the training, resources and support they need to do their difficult jobs and help rebuild trust, in the
    communities they serve.

Guns

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

Harris:

  • We need to continue to stop the demand for guns by continuing to invest in underserved communities through economic development, create jobs, mentorship and job skills training.
  • We need to work with Springfield to explore all options to reducing gun violence and the flow of illegal guns into our communities.

Schools

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

Harris: I am against the expansion of charter schools because they draw from the same pool of students, pulling enrollment form existing 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? 

Harris: Yes, I support an elected school board because community participation is important, and the people voiced their opinion with the recent non-binding referendum on the ballot.

Affordable housing

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

Harris:

  • We need to continue to grow our affordable housing stock through expansion of Affordable Housing Opportunity Fund and the expansion of the Preservation of Existing Affordable Rental (PEAR) program, both of which purchase and preserve affordable housing stock in Chicago.
  • This term I opened 224 new units of affordable housing in the Montclare Senior Residences of Avalon Park in 2014 and will be opening 104 new units of affordable housing in the Montclare Senior Residences of Calumet Heights, which will begin construction in 2019.

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? 

Harris:

  • I support Chicago’s status as a “welcoming city”
  • We need to continue to offer resources for those who locate here including access to job opportunities, housing, and legal assistance/

Ethics

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

Harris: The Inspector General has proven to be a powerful resource for the City Council and should have the power to investigate when appropriate but these cases should be considered on an individual 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.

Harris: No, because this would be in violation of the ethics ordinance.

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.

Harris: My model is the late 8th Ward Alderman Lorraine L. Dixon. She was my aunt as well as my inspiration. I grew up in the same household with her and learned so from her. I have always admired her drive, focus and determination, and I have always thought that she was the epitome of what a good public servant should be.


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