We are looking for courage.
Had Chicago’s City Council and former mayors shown more courage in the past, coming up with more money to adequately fund its employee pension systems and holding the line on benefits, our city would not now be in desperate financial straits.
But here we are. Chicago’s public pension systems are underfunded by more than $20 billion. If nothing bold is done soon, all four systems will go bust within a decade or two. City Hall must act immediately just to find $550 million to make a payment due in 2016 into the police and fire pension systems.
It is with that in mind — that overriding threat to Chicago’s future — that we are making endorsements, beginning today, in 43 contested aldermanic races. We are looking for smart, accomplished, hard-working and independent-minded men and women to sit in the next City Council. But above all, we are looking for people ready to deliver the bad news on pensions and taxes — something has to give.
The first hard truth is that pensions will have to be reworked, with current employees paying in more and getting reduced benefits, if those pensions are to survive at all. No one can be exempt, even current retirees. The second hard truth is that taxes — almost certainly property taxes — still will have to be increased significantly if the city is to meet its end of the bargain. Painful shared sacrifice is the only way forward.
Just about every alternative — though unfortunately proposed by dozens of aldermanic candidates — such as a tax on suburbanites who work in the city or a tax on La Salle Street trades, dwells in the land of fantasy. No independent analysis has shown that any of these schemes would come close to generating the revenue needed, though they could drive jobs right out of the city.
Here, then, are our first 10 endorsements for alderman. More endorsements will follow on Thursday, Friday and Monday.
Near Northwest Side
Proco Joe Moreno is a hard-working alderman who effectively represents a ward of economic and social extremes, from working-class Latinos to Logan Square hipsters to comfortable white professionals. He’s also a piece of work. Our beef with Moreno is that he can be arrogant and abrasive, and he’s not always inclined to respect the smaller rules, such as where to post campaign signs. We got a direct taste of that a couple of years ago when he hung up on an editorial writer who had called to ask some tough questions about a plastic bag ordinance he was pushing. He said he had more important people to talk to. But here’s the thing: It was a good ordinance. We supported it, despite his incivility, just as we are supporting him today. Moreno, appointed alderman in 2010, has worked to bring new development to his ward, cracked down on dangerous unlicensed music clubs and reached beyond his political base to others in the ward, which includes parts of Wicker Park, East Humboldt Park, Ukrainian Village, East Village and Logan Square. Is Moreno terrific on the issue of city finances? Not really. He won’t commit to restructuring pensions or raising property taxes, and his preferred solution — a sales tax on services — won’t solve the problem. Then again, Moreno’s opponents in this race, marketing consultant Ronda Locke, civil rights attorney Anne Shaw and lawyer Andrew Hamilton, show no greater courage on the issue. Our endorsement goes to Moreno, along with a request that he dial down the arrogance.
Near North Side, North Side
Alyx S. Pattison thinks like a lawyer, the good kind. She digs into an issue, works through the options and takes a considered stand. Case in point would be Pattison’s argument in favor of cutting the size of the City Council. Agree with her or not, it’s hard not to be impressed by how she rolled out her arguments — a smaller council would be less of a rubber stamp, less vulnerable to gerrymandering, more inclined to work across ward boundaries and create more demographically diverse wards. Pattison, who is in fact a lawyer, is a former aide to U.S. Rep. Jan Schakowsky, who is supporting her candidacy. She is a local school council member, on the board of the Chicago Bar Foundation and a member of the Cook County Commission on Women’s Issues. The new 2nd Ward is a horseshoe-shaped monstrosity of gerrymandering that cuts through the Gold Coast, Old Town, Lincoln Park, Ukrainian Village, Wicker Park and Bucktown. The current alderman, Bob Fioretti, is running for mayor. Pattison favors a sales tax on services as the first step toward generation new revenue to pay pensions; she says property taxes should be raised only as “a last resort.” We wish she agreed bolder action is necessary, but she is the most promising candidate in a strong field of six.
Near South Side
Ald. Pat Dowell has been a force for good in her ward and at City Hall and is enthusiastically endorsed for another term for a ward covering Bronzeville and parts of South Loop and Washington Park. A true professional, Dowell has taken a leadership role in the effort to create an independent budget office for aldermen, has skillfully supported development in her ward and has been a leader in pushing for affordable housing and ensuring that lenders maintain foreclosed properties. She is pragmatic and honest on the stark choices the city faces regarding its dire finances. Dowell, a former city planner, is our pick over former Water Reclamation District commissioner Patricia Horton.
Near South Side
Smart and driven, Ald. Will Burns has accomplished much in his first term and deserves re-election to a ward that stretches from Hyde Park through the South Loop along the lakefront. He shepherded new development into the ward with an eye toward fortifying a diverse community, and he has been a force in the City Council. Burns has two opponents, the most impressive of whom is Norman Bolden. They remind voters what Burns needs to work on: He can be arrogant, not listen closely enough to community concerns and is often tightly aligned with the mayor. But Burns uses his relationship with the mayor to benefit the ward, and he prods the mayor when he disagrees. Burns focuses on bringing high-quality services, schools and development to the South Side. He knows city finances inside and out and could be a real leader in helping the Council make tough financial decisions.
Hyde Park, South Shore
After 16 years under Ald. Leslie Hairston, it’s time for a change in this South Side ward. Hairston has served her ward well but in recent years her aggressive, feisty and independent style has turned combative, erratic and far less productive. South Shore has struggled in recent years — a challenge for any alderman — but Hairston hasn’t done enough to manage and reverse that trend. We recommend Anne Marie Miles, who polled second behind Hairston in 2011. An attorney with ties to the University of Chicago, Miles has a strong command of ward and citywide issues, promises to do more to promote development in the ward and in particular on Stony Island, and would continue the 5th ward tradition of sending an independent alderman to the City Council. She’s also brutally honest about the city’s financial troubles, saying: “It does no one any good to pretend it doesn’t exist.” In 2011, she lacked strong ties outside Hyde Park but made that a priority over the last four years. That’s an area she must continue to work on. We also see a comer in Jocelyn Hare, a policy fellow at the University of Chicago. But Miles rises to the top in a field of six candidates.
Ald. Roderick Sawyer has been a thoughtful, progressive voice in City Council and has big plans for the ward he has overseen for the last four years. But has he delivered? We’d like to see more results from Sawyer, and that’s his charge for the next four years. He is endorsed over two opponents because of his smarts, his potential and his honesty on the tough choices ahead for a city in financial distress. But residents yearning for more development are right to expect more for their aging ward, which includes Chatham, Park Manor and part of Englewood. This campaign should be a wake-up call for Sawyer, pushing him to do more on development and to start holding quarterly ward meetings. He attends a variety of monthly community meetings, but residents want all-ward meetings. Sawyer, a lawyer, is our pick over police officer Richard Wooten and Brian Garner, who did not complete our questionnaire. This is Wooten’s second run. We admire his passion and his work on behalf of ward residents, but we think Sawyer is better qualified to deliver — soon.
Seven candidates are vying to unseat appointed alderman Natashia Holmes for this ward, which includes South Shore, Calumet Heights and Jeffery Manor. Holmes was appointed two years ago to replace Sandi Jackson, who ran afoul of the law alongside her husband, former U.S. Rep. Jesse Jackson Jr. We like Holmes’ economic development background (she’s a lawyer and urban planner) but she has failed to deliver or impress during her time in office. Instead, we’re backing Flora “Flo” Digby, who has an MBA and has had a long career in financial management. We like her economic development ideas and her straight approach. The city would benefit from her experience in budget management. In a race that’s likely headed for a run-off, Keiana Barrett is ready to step into the job after serving as Sandi Jackson’s chief of staff, but there are lingering questions about her association with the Jacksons. She has good experience working for the Chicago schools and the Congressional Black Caucus in Washington, but some have questioned her effectiveness.
Ald. Michelle Harris is an old-fashioned alderman in the best possible way — hard-working, always looking out for her communities, easy to work with. Her constituents are lucky to have her, and she’s endorsed for a second term for an aging ward that includes Pill Hill, parts of Calumet Heights and Chatham and Burnside. She has delivered infrastructure improvements, including a facelift for CVCA high school, an indoor track and field facility and other park improvements, and has been a strong advocate for her residents. She faces two strong challengers, barber and community organizer Faheem Shabazz and a promising education consultant named Tara Baldridge. We urge them, particularly Baldridge, to stay involved in politics. Harris’ challengers are right to push the alderman to be more inclusive and to push harder for quality development in the ward. Harris is stronger on ward issues than on citywide ones, though she does recognize dramatic action is needed on the city’s finances. She votes 100 percent with the mayor and, as the rules committee chair, has refused to act on an ordinance before her committee to give the City Inspector General the power to properly investigate aldermen. She says she doesn’t want to hold a hearing while a lawsuit is pending, but that doesn’t appear to be a legitimate concern. The ordinance has more than 30 co-sponsors but Harris says just six or seven aldermen are pushing it, and she needs a letter from at least 26 to move the ordinance. A check with one of the aldermen pushing the ordinance say that’s news to him. Harris is endorsed, but her first order of business after the election should be to move the inspector general ordinance.
Far South Side
In his 16 years on the City Council, Ald. Anthony Beale has pursued numerous economic development projects for his ward, one of the more violence-stricken and jobs-starved in the city. Beale also has been a strong voice against problems associated with red light and speed cameras, offering workable reforms. But we disagree with Beale’s effort to block the much-needed City Council office of financial analysis. We also have concerns about his commitment to ethics — a political ally gave his daughter a coveted University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign tuition-free legislative scholarship and his daughter got into Whitney Young after he called the principal. On balance, though, the ward, which includes parts of Altgeld Gardens, Burnside, Pullman, Roseland and West Pullman, needs a strong leader, and Beale’s the best on the ward’s ballot. Of his challengers, the most attractive is real estate broker and community leader Michael LaFargue. Neither he nor former gang member Harold “Noonie” Ward and Theodore “Ted” Williams, an educator, minister and activist, has persuasively made the case Beale should be replaced.
Far Southeast Side
If you need proof that residents of this ward have lost faith in Ald. John Pope, look at the number of challengers: activist Olga Bautista, Frank J. Corona, teacher Sue Sadlowski Garza, accountant Juan B. Huizar, compliance officer Richard L. Martinez Jr. and police officer Samantha Haddad Webb. We also remain troubled by Pope’s decision not long ago to hire as a legislative aide a man who had been placed on the city’s “do not hire” list because of sexual harassment allegations. In a meeting with the Sun-Times Editorial Board, several of Pope’s challengers said they once supported the alderman, but are disappointed in the job he has done, primarily on environmental issues in the industrial ward, which includes Calumet Heights, the East Side, Hegewisch, South Chicago and South Deering. Although Pope supported strong regulations on petcoke – a sore spot in the ward – his challengers felt he was tardy in taking on the issue. Of those challengers, Richard L. Martinez Jr. has the clearest vision of how to move the ward forward, and he has our endorsement.