The Chicago Sun-Times Editorial Board sent candidates for city treasurer a list of questions to find out their views on a range of issues facing the city and their wards. Ameya Pawar submitted the following responses (the Sun-Times does not edit candidate responses):
Who is Ameya Pawar?
He’s running for: City Treasurer
His political/civic background: I was first elected alderman in 2011 and was reelected in 2015. I was the first Indian-American and Asian American elected to the Chicago City Council.
As alderman, I have focused my legislative efforts around social justice, workers rights and economic justice, and have led on 12 major pieces of legislation, including tax-increment financing reform as well as legislation guaranteeing earned sick time, combatting wage theft, and protecting and preserving single-room occupancy housing units for Chicago’s most vulnerable.
In my ward, I launched GROW47, the City’s first comprehensive initiative to link neighborhood schools to their neighborhood high schools. GROW47 is now GROWCommunity, a stand alone non-profit working with schools across the North Side. In 2014, I authored a textbook on the connections between disaster, poverty and a socially constructed narrative around deserving and undeserving populations. I am also the Executive Director of One Illinois, a new non-profit news outlet focused on bridging the divides across race, class and geography in Illinois.
My work in public service has been driven by my own family’s story. My father emigrated to the United States more than 40 years ago. His career tracked a turbulent time in American manufacturing where offshoring, automation and the squeezing of workers meant he was trapped in an endless cycle of starting a new job and layoffs. In just 40 years, stagnant wages, shrinking benefits, union busting, and constant uncertainty have chipped away at the American Dream of prosperity and stability driven by hard work. Experiencing firsthand how income inequality impacted my family, my community, and the city inspired me to go into public service.
His occupation: Alderman for the 47th Ward
His education: I attended Missouri Valley College, where I received a bachelor’s degree in religion and philosophy. I went on to obtain a master’s degree in public administration from the Illinois Institute of Technology, and I am a two-time graduate from the University of Chicago with master’s degrees in threat and response management and social service administration. I am US State Department Critical Language Program alum and a 2012 University of Illinois Edgar Fellow. Most recently, I was named a 2018 McCormick Foundation Executive Fellow. I am currently a Fall 2018 Pritzker Fellow at the University of Chicago’s Institute of Politics.
Campaign website: pawarforchicago.com
Are the city’s funds invested in a sufficiently safe manner, while getting the best returns? How would you improve the city’s investment practices?
Ameya Pawar: The city’s funds are currently invested in a manner that seeks to provide a stable rate of return while prioritizing the securement of the underlying principal. To improve returns, I would explore further diversifying the portfolio along environmentally sustainable and good governance standards, and would work closely with the next administration, especially the city CFO and comptroller, to better forecast cash requirements to shorten the amount of the portfolio that needs to be liquid at any time. By doing so, the portfolio as a whole will be better diversified and thus better positioned to garner stronger returns on investment.
In addition to making sure our investments are safe and strong, I believe the treasurer’s office has an opportunity to ensure that our investments are a reflection of our values. I am running to be the next city treasurer to enact a bold progressive agenda to harness the power of 2.7 million Chicagoans and invest in our neighborhoods and each other.
The city treasurer is an ex officio member on the boards of all the city pension funds. How would you view your responsibility in ensuring the boards are following the most efficient investment policies?
Ameya Pawar: I view this responsibility as going above and beyond fiduciary obligations and standards of prudence. It is the obligation of the treasurer on those boards to insist not only upon responsible fiscal practices and securing returns, but also to monitor and advise on where they come from. As treasurer I would use my voice on those boards to examine the impact our investments have on our workers, communities, environment and the nation.
It has been proven time and again that investing along ESG principles — an investing mindset around environmental, social and corporate governance — is a strong investment strategy for the financial portfolio of the City of Chicago and the environmental and public health of the City of Chicago.
Additionally, as has been highlighted by the recent Sun-Times investigation into DV Urban Realty Partners, it is important that a fiscal watchdog be present to raise red flags about clout heavy deals that hurt the long-term financial strength of the pension funds. I pledge to be that watchdog, and carefully scrutinize the investment decisions of the various funds.
Even basic due diligence can inform business investment decisions to prevent bad actors from polluting our economy, environment and future.
What is the appropriate working relationship between the treasurer’s office and the mayor’s office, and between the treasurer’s office and the City Council?
Ameya Pawar: I view the role of the treasurer as one of collaborator, partner and resource. The office of the treasurer is not a platform for political advancement or legislative aspirations; it is a position of extraordinary responsibility and opportunity to shape the financial future of all Chicagoans.
No other level of government has addressed the crisis of economic equality and opportunity in a meaningful way—one that is directly related to the needs and concerns of working Chicagoans. Addressing those needs through a legislative agenda focused on workers’ rights and social justice has been the focus of my work as a member of the Chicago City Council, and the reason I have been a lead sponsor on such initiatives as Paid Sick Leave, the Wage Theft Ordinance, the Office of Labor Standards, the Fair Workweek Ordinance and the Privatization Transparency, Accountability and Performance Ordinance.
I also intend to establish an Office of Economic Empowerment to address, reform and educate on the issues that are most central to economic stability: housing, debt, and employment among them. My vision for the office is one of a resource to all Chicagoans on issues of economic inequality, but especially to those in direct need of education and programming. It is my hope that the mayor and City Council will engage with the office to develop solutions to economic inequality in Chicago.
Would you accept or have you accepted campaign donations from financial firms that do business with the city?
Ameya Pawar: As the designated fiduciary for the City’s bank accounts and investment portfolios, the treasurer must alway avoid conflicts of interest. That is why I refuse to accept contributions from any firm engaged in business related to the Office of Treasurer.
What are your thoughts on a proposal to create a municipal-owned public bank?
Ameya Pawar: I strongly support a municipal-owned bank and am committed to the development and implementation of one in Chicago. For too long, big banks have been able to take advantage of Chicago taxpayers through predatory service fees, unpredictable changes in interest rates, and other bad deals that have cost us dearly. A public bank could remove the stranglehold big banks have had over our city for decades, and would allow us to wrest back control over our own financial future.
The goal of a public bank should be two-fold: to generate revenue for the public entity, and to responsibly loosen credit markets. Creating a City Bank of Chicago must be founded on solid fiscal principles that provide strong returns, prevent political control, and meet a significant and specific public demand. As a centralized bank, the City Bank of Chicago must have a clear lending directive along with a well-balanced structure. It will also be essential to adopt lending terms that have a proven track record of avoiding and discouraging predatory lending while maintaining solvency for the bank.
Using the city’s assets to allow better access to credit will make it easier for Chicagoans to live here and participate in the economy by getting small business loans where they are needed most, while also maintaining a protected financial approach so we are not putting the city’s finances at risk.
Should the city’s investment portfolio be carbon-neutral by 2020? Please explain.
Ameya Pawar: We are at a critical juncture in history that will determine the length and quality of our survival on this planet. There is no understating the urgent obligation of every government and corporation to make drastic and immediate changes to investment and spending decisions for the betterment of our planet and our economy. It is time to move away from reactive measures and effect the changes that will create a brighter future for Chicago.
In the face of this crisis, it is incumbent upon governments to bring labor and environmental groups together to shape and effect a Green New Deal. It will take the strength of this coalition to move away from investment in fossil fuels and direct those resources to investments that:
(a) Provide equal or greater returns,
(b) Develop and further the creation of a fully green economy that provides jobs for all Chicagoans, and;
(c) Actively improves the environmental health of the city, which will in turn benefit public health. The amount spent on public health directly corresponds to relieving the detrimental health effects of pollution.
I am committed to bringing this coalition together and to ensuring that our communities and planet are not harmed by our investments. In the first 100 days in office, I will assemble and release a report on a Green New Deal for Chicago. This report will analyze our city investments and pensions, and how they can be enhanced by further ESG investments that will better serve the economy and environment of Illinois.
The recent climate report also suggests that there will be a massive influx of people moving to the Chicagoland area in response to climate change because of its access to fresh water and its location away from coastal flooding—serious action must be taken now to prepare for Chicago’s financial future in the wake of such change. Today’s investments must build a future that can support all Chicagoans and put its money to best use.
Chicago was the first city to join the United Nation’s Principles for Responsible Investment. Will you maintain that? Please explain.
Ameya Pawar: I will stick to the principles and promise to take them a step further. We must codify the principles so that the Office of the Treasurer is legally held to those standards. I will work with the mayor and the City Council to accomplish this goal.
Outgoing Treasurer Kurt Summers established a $100 million investment fund for neighborhood projects. He also set up a system, as part of making investment decisions, to evaluate companies as good corporate citizens on environmental and social issues. How would you expand, shrink or maintain those programs?
Ameya Pawar: I fully support the investment fund programming established by TreasurerSummers. I would like to expand this program, both by increasing available funds, expanding the means through which we allow community investment and through ensuring the criteria for investment are ethical, efficient, transparent and in keeping with best practices.
We need to ensure that the resources granted to delegate agencies and programs such as Neighborhood Business Development Centers are used appropriately and are granted to a diverse array of projects in real need of capital and investment.
Further, I would expand neighborhood investments through collateralized linked deposits and access to capital programs, wherein the office would take a portion of its deposits and place them into approved depositories in disenfranchised communities around the city in order to develop inexpensive lending in underserved areas, instead of holding the assets without direct city benefit.
Such time deposit programs would be protected from risk through standard collateralization agreements, similar to the Ag Invest program on the state level, which would allow the city to protect its capital in the event that the borrower is unable to repay the loan. Essentially, the city can get a return on its portfolio of deposits and still help out the most vulnerable, while still avoiding risk.
Both linked deposits and access to capital programs are specifically built to help lower income and disenfranchised communities through access to funds, which in turn increases the money velocity and community’s fiscal health.
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