5th Ward candidate for alderman: Leslie A. Hairston
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The Sun-Times Editorial Board sent the candidates running for 5th Ward alderman a list of questions to find out their views on a range of issues facing the city and their ward. Leslie A. Hairston submitted the following responses (the Sun-Times does not edit candidate responses):
Who is Leslie Hairston?
She’s running for: 5th Ward alderman
Her political/civic background: I have practiced law both publicly and privately. I served as an assistant attorney general for the state of Illinois and was staff attorney and special prosecutor for the State’s Attorney’s Appellate Prosecutor’s Office, where I argued before the Illinois Supreme Court. I also was an associate with James D. Montgomery & Associates.
I was first elected alderman in 1999 and Democratic Committeeman in 2000 and have been re-elected to both positions in the subsequent election cycle.
In the City Council, I am the vice-chair of Economic, Capital an Technology Development and sit on the committees for Budget and Government Operations; Rules and Ethics; Finance; Health and Environmental Protection; and Special Events, Cultural Affairs and Recreation.
I have remained an active member of the Illinois State Bar, Cook County Bar and Black Women Lawyers Associations. In addition to my professional activities, I am a long-time member of the South Shore Cultural Center Advisory Council, Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority Inc., as well as serve as a board member for Kaleidoscope Inc. and Loyola Law School Diversity Council and True Star.
Her occupation: Alderman of the 5th Ward
Her education: I earned my BA at the University of Wisconsin, Madison and JD from Loyola University School of Law.
What are the top three priorities for your ward?
Leslie Hairston: To create a viable diverse community with full accessibility to quality schools and housing, open a job intake and training center and initiate a neighborhood stabilization (funded) program to address costs due to redevelopment. I see these goals as critical to also mitigating crime and nuisance behavior.
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.
Leslie Hairston: Please see political/civic information above.
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.
Leslie Hairston: No, I do not believe the Constitution should be amended or benefits reduced to address the pension situation. I would look at increasing those revenue streams through strategies that take in more funds from corporations and institutions that can afford it. A minor percent increase could mean millions to support necessary services. We should also examine the structural and management causes for budget shortfalls, developing mechanisms for long-term solutions that do not deplete our assets.
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.
- Chicago casino: I am not totally opposed, because of the potential revenue generation. However, I also recognize the negative aspects on communities that are already financially stressed.
- Legalized and taxed recreational marijuana: YES
- LaSalle Street tax:- Yes
- Commuter tax: Yes
- Property tax increase: Only as a last option
What other sources of new revenue do you favor or oppose?
Leslie Hairston: Recent administrations have also funneled money to major projects downtown, to shoring up Midway and O’Hare — almost completely ignoring infrastructure opportunities to finally give attention to the South and West Side neighborhoods withering from decades of disinvestment. I am a proponent of completing the South Suburban Airport, which is the last and best hope for long neglected communities as well as for the city, state and region. It has the physical and economic capacity to generate good labor and service jobs, small businesses and city revenues into the next century. The FAA recommended building a third major Chicago airport over 20 years ago. Our last two mayors fought the SSA for political reasons. I hope our next mayor will embrace it as the economic engine we desperately need.
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?
Leslie Hairston: The allocation process definitely needs more transparency, fair distribution, oversight, and adherence to the original intention. Rather than address “blighted” areas, the program has been concentrated in downtown areas at the expense of neighborhoods that truly need to stimulate development. I have supported legislation outlining such reforms.
What will you do to rein in aldermanic prerogative?
Leslie Hairston: Aldermen get $1.3 million to spend on such infrastructure needs as potholes. We shape development in the ward, primarily through zoning. Those are the kind of basic local decisions people elected me to be informed about, protect in their name and which I approve only after extensive public meetings with them.
To me the issue is more reigning in city administrations that try to override, diminish or even take away aldermanic prerogatives to suit the needs of interests outside the ward. If there is a delay on a project favored by the mayor, it’s usually because residents oppose it.
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?
Leslie Hairston: Two years ago, I authored an ordinance for a civilian review board precisely because I believe that to be a necessary first step in support of the reforms called for in the consent decree.
What should Chicago do to reduce the number of illegal guns?
Leslie Hairston: This is one area where Chicago did its best to pioneer. Gun enthusiasts like to say Chicago has the strictest gun laws but some of the highest homicide rates in the nation. The latter statement may be true, but not the former, thanks to weakening of our laws by the Illinois General Assembly. About all that’s left is the ban on assault weapons. And not being able to buy guns in Chicago hasn’t helped, since law enforcement officials say 40 percent of guns confiscated on the streets of Chicago come from suburban Cook County and nearby suburbs and 60 percent from Indiana, Wisconsin and Mississippi.
New York and Los Angeles, which now have stricter laws on the books than Chicago, have seen historic lows in their homicide numbers. As long as we’re at the mercy of easily accessible gun-supporting states, we must lobby our state government to restore the teeth in our municipal regulations.
What is the appropriate role of charter schools within the Chicago Public Schools system?
Leslie Hairston: I fundamentally oppose the creation and promulgation of charter schools for many reasons, including lack of regulation, transparency and oversight, inappropriate use of taxpayer dollars for what amounts to private education and the furtherance of a for-profit education system that serves the financial interests of its investors rather than the well-being and education of the people. Yet, charter schools are a part of the educational landscape at present. I work with those in my ward to ensure they offer a quality education and alternative to neighborhood schools, which in most cases are being given the same level of investment.
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?
Leslie Hairston: I have long stood for an Elected School Board and am open to a hybrid that includes appointees. Chicago Public Schools cannot truly represent the interests of teachers, students and their families without an elected governing body. Such a body should also be the only space wherein such major decisions as school closures or other major decisions are made. Unilateral school closings are unacceptable and historically discriminatory.
Is there enough affordable housing in your ward? Please explain.
Leslie Hairston: I have the highest stock of section 8 housing in the city. My main focus is ensuring adequate supportive service for the many former public-housing residents and that landlords adhere to proper maintenance and legal requirements.
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?
Leslie Hairston: I support Chicago’s stance, as well as forms of ID that enable immigrants to access critical city services and opportunities.
Should the inspector general have the power to audit and review City Council programs, operations and committees? Why or why not?
Leslie Hairston: I agree in principle. My caveat is that the position be truly independent of the mayor and others who might use it to intimidate potential dissenters.
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.
Leslie Hairston: No.
Is there a past or current alderman whom you model yourself after, or would model yourself after, or take inspiration from? Please explain.
Leslie Hairston: Leon Despres, the longest serving 5th Ward alderman and often the lone independent voice during Richard J. Daley’s reign. A tremendously helpful mentor, he impressed on me the importance of standing up for progressive values, representing and negotiating the best deal for his constituents and adhering to the highest ethical standards. He warned me not to get caught up in the trappings of politics. For example, before there were limits imposed on how much someone could spend on an alderman, back then he wouldn’t let anyone pay more than $10 for lunch.
Also running for 5th Ward alderman: