The Chicago Sun-Times Editorial Board sent mayoral candidates a list of questions to find out their views on a range of issues facing the city. La Shawn K. Ford submitted the following responses Dec. 23 (the Sun-Times does not edit candidate responses):
Who is La Shawn K. Ford?
His political/civic background: Democratic
His occupation: State Representative/Real Estate Broker
His education: Bachelor’s in K-9 Education
Campaign website: Fordforchicago.com
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.
La Shawn Ford: The question is a complex one, but no, as an Illinois legislator I am certain the state Constitution should not be amended, even if our pension responsibilities represent an unfathomable amount of debt. We should be responsible, most of all, to those who have been promised their retirement and security and who have planned their lives based on these promises. Then, there are those currently under contract. This is the time to be honest with them and halt the past trend of false promises. Lastly, those hired in the future also need not false promises, but adequate retirement security. The key here is simultaneously honoring our past commitments while providing transparency in how we move forward to provide a responsible retirement plan. Ultimately, false promises have to end.
That said, the question appropriately is about those who are under contract, those currently employed, and those talents we want to join our workforce. We need to do everything we can to abide by our agreements made to city employees, ensure current adequate retirement security, and creatively construct existing and new employee packages with blended tools to ensure we provide comprehensive security that the city can afford now and in the future.
For example, as part of my health platform, my goal as mayor will be to make Chicago the most insured city in the nation. Sufficient health care coverage for existing city workers and retirees will be ensured utilizing the Affordable Care Act (Obamacare) to the fullest extent while making sure that retirees who are in financial hardship have access to additional subsidies.
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
La Shawn Ford: I favor:
A Chicago casino & video gambling: A single casino is not a silver bullet, and it will have its challenges. This nor any other single approach will resolve the pension crises and the investment it will require to be an ethically equitable city. But with careful and ethical stewardship, a casino can be a stable fund that is not the corrupting influence some might expect. Similar to the lottery, with the right protections and supports in place, the funds from such a casino can help. The same is true for video gambling. Evidence within the state of Illinois shows that this can be a more powerful revenue generator than a single casino. But these should be placed carefully, and unintended consequences should be prevented from the start. They should for instance not be set in places that target our less well off residents.
Legalized and taxed recreational marijuana: Societal views change, and substantial research from Colorado, Washington, Oregon and other states suggests that the legalization of marijuana has not caused the harms expected. It has not, for instance, significantly increased new use by youth. And it is the focus of my legislative bill on the expungement of crimes associated with low-level possession of marijuana, criminalization has caused many and disproportional harms to those with less resources. That said, in order for the state to move towards legalized and taxes recreational marijuana, we have to ensure that legal changes previously criminalized our citizens occur first and convictions are expunged allowing all citizens to legally participate in this industry. I think it will be imperative that prior to opening the floodgates on this industry, we legislatively define how tax revenue will be directed.
A LaSalle Street tax: Each of these possibilities is not either/or responses. Too much dependence on any one as a silver bullet risks and intervention that has unintentional consequences, and we need a more participatory (less top down) democracy in this city. It is an intriguing possibility to be worked out with many different stakeholders.
I am not in favor of:
A commuter tax: A commuter tax is not by any means my first choice for addressing our city’s revenue issue. We should avoid steps that unduly burden our working men, women, and students coming into the city for employment, city colleges, and universities. Many of those traveling from the suburbs to Chicago may have left the city because of high taxes. A Chicago commuter tax will not help grow our population. Chicago must cultivate a reputation of fairness, not a reputation of taxing working families. Commuters spend money in our stores and our restaurants. In other words, the commuter tax punishes the working class that helps make our city alive and vibrant. This act would also divert money that typically comes from commuters, negatively impacting local businesses and sales tax revenue, which should be accessible to the city for operations. As mayor, I will put Chicago first, but I will always consider our relationship with our neighbors: in our state, outside our state, and internationally. That is why we also need to recognize that a commuter tax discourages the use of our train systems–the greenest option. The CTA and Metra should have a steady flow of passengers, and our highways and streets need fewer cars, less traffic and fewer emissions. A commuter tax would defeat these goals.
It is one possibility to look at carefully, but simply to use this short period before the election to say we will penalize non-voters who are nevertheless an integral part of this city, who keep our city vibrant by being central to the flow of our downtown activity and economy is not a decision to be made for political expediency. None of these decisions should just be clever political strategies.
A property tax increase: We need some careful, graduated tax increases and ones that protect and attempt to uplift our residents in poverty so we are a more equitable and empowering city. We must ensure we do not displace more of our families.
A municipal sales tax increase: Chicago is one of the highest sales tax municipalities in the country. It drives residents away. I would be in favor of using some of the revenue generated by new tax platforms to lower municipal sales taxes.
Real estate transfer tax increase: I am also against a real estate transfer tax increase. There are other ways to drive more revenue into the city by ensuring equity and efficiency in our existing tax systems.
What other sources of new revenue do you favor or oppose?
La Shawn Ford: Small steps toward a more equitable city can have consequential outcomes on the funding the city receives (and deserves). I favor the following sources of new revenue:
Accurate city census: I will ensure that every resident is counted in the census, translating into millions of gained base tax revenue. Consistent with legislation I have put forth to remedy the problem, incarcerated Chicagoans who are currently counted in prisons located throughout the state for their full sentence will be counted at their last address on file.
Adjustment of Chicago’s state funding model: Chicago provides this state with a great deal of its funding, and a greater proportion of these funds need to return from Springfield to the City.
Accessing existing federal revenue: Illinois ranks 48th in Federal dollars returning to our state from Washington, DC. Some states receive up to $8 for every dollar, while Illinois does not even get $1. We must work with our Chicago Washington delegation to bring back more of those dollars.
Increasing, by volume, our tax population: Nationally, we lose millions of tax dollars by excluding reformed ex-offenders and others in poverty from fully participating in the job market. They are forced to have our tax dollars continuously subsidize their livelihood instead of them contributing to the tax base.
Closing corporate loopholes: We need to work toward more honesty and efficiency by partnering with Springfield to close corporate loopholes, to avoid tax dodging, and to ensure everyone is paying their appropriate share.
Graduated State Income Tax: In my role as State Rep., I supported the graduated state income tax and will continue to do so. We need real solutions that are not simply dreamt up and do not take into account budget considerations.
Corporate Head Tax in the State of Illinois: The City of Chicago would have to agree on the rate and the particular use of these funds.
Criminal Justice Reform: If we put effort to reform our criminal justice and policing systems, we will in turn save our city hundreds of millions of savings in lawsuits and waste.
TIF surplus declaration/TIF program changes: I would start with a moratorium on TIFs. The subsequent conversations would be public, and with experts because TIFs have too long been used outside its original intention—to serve as a transformative tool to improve our neighborhoods. We need to ensure that TIFs are used as they were intended and expand their use beyond the current mechanisms.
We have so much that can be done before the term “bankruptcy” is ever a reality. If we restructure how we operate, we can tap into resources that are already available to us and quite possibly, 1) reduce the tax burden on Chicagoans and 2) attract some of our lost residents back to the city. The repeated theme of shifting the poverty experienced by so many Chicagoans to a stronger degree of prosperity for all is central to my plan as mayor.
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?
La Shawn Ford: I am in strong support of the consent decree. There are ways it might be stronger, and it alone will not completely resolve all issues of police brutality and accountability, but it can begin to address disproportionate policing and repair the broken relationship between police and many residents throughout our communities.
My position may be different from other candidates. I believe this cannot solely be a top down process. There will truly need to be a broad, community-based effort.
All stakeholders need to be part of the conversation, and in restorative ways, including the Fraternal Order of the Police and those community members who have committed crimes or otherwise who are likely to get caught up in the criminal justice system.
There must be some consensus across stakeholders, and a recognition that the current path is bad for both the Chicago police and the communities in which they serve. I believe I have a realistic optimism that these groups can get together and have some hard and serious conversations and negotiations.
In addition, we need to work on economic equity and opportunity for all of our families. We need to make sure every child from birth will have a high quality education. We must make sure that students are successful in their interested career areas. CPS, City Colleges and the vocational schools must work together to bring broader prosperity. Employment, including youth employment, is key to reducing violence. We have been working intensely with the top tech companies to help build greater tech and computer literacy in our communities.
In other words, we have long been faced with some severe tensions. We need the police to act more like partners, like real community members, and yet there needs to be new forms of accountability for those police officers who have gotten caught up on the wrong side of brutal and ineffective culture.
What should Chicago do to reduce the number of illegal guns?
La Shawn Ford: This has been an impenetrable problem, one of the reasons I have passed legislation for a task force to work on solutions:
I believe we need more Federal collaboration to force surrounding states to help stem the gun trade, and I believe the positive solutions mentioned in the question above will reduce the need for this trade to be as strong as it is. I will work to fight tough on crime gun policies, ones that replicate the historic mistakes of the War on Drugs, which have led to extreme levels of over-incarceration of people in poverty.
There are at least two problems with the mandatory minimum sentences the State of Illinois has placed on those with multiple gun charges:
1) Due to years of over criminalization, many of our residents in poorer neighborhoods already have a criminal record and are eligible for more severe sentences, and
2) Many young people in these neighborhoods carry a gun because —out of fear and a lack of trust that the police will protect them—they feel they need to take matters into their own hands and carry a gun.
Like the War on Drugs, this over-reliance on harsh punishment will result in more people of color behind bars without addressing any of the root causes of why people are carrying a gun in the first place. We are only perpetuating a cycle of removing people and sending them back with a record, increasing the likelihood that they will be sent back again. We need to break this cycle. We need fewer people on our streets with a felony conviction, not more. We do not need mandatory minimums. We should do everything we can to better understand who would benefit from diversion programs, and do our best to divert those who commit a weapon offense into these programs. We need to connect them with resources that will place them on a better path. Addressing our violence issues will not be easily fixed by any one approach.
In addition to your thoughts on how to stem the problem of illegal guns, what else should the next mayor of Chicago do to reduce the rate of violent crime in our city?
La Shawn Ford: I appreciate the distinction this question makes between violent and non-violent crime, but, as my previous responses have suggested, we must think much more broadly about our approaches to justice. We also cannot see the solution to the problem as simply more enforcement. We need to avoid more legislation that results in more people locked up, more families disrupted, and more people who return to the community with a record. I am working on state legislation related to problems associated with the Chicago gang database, and the likelihood that such “solutions” will have unintentional consequences to those who have fewer resources to protect themselves. These approaches will not end violence and it may only unintentionally make the problem worse. Civilian oversight, and any efforts to ensure systems are fair and people driven, such as input from youth throughout the city, will help adjust the culture of our current system.
We cannot simply discount the good police work that is done in this city, even if there is so much to improve. We need transformative relations between the police and the community, unlike any other city in the country. We need to untangle the history of oppression and find restorative solutions. We need diversion and healthcare for mental health and substance abuse difficulties. And we need more sealing and expungement so that many of our formerly incarcerated people can gain employment and further their education. Ultimately, we need a sense of safety in every home, every street, and at all times. We need to ensure re-entry support for felony-holding Chicagoans to transform their lives.
What is the appropriate role of charter schools within the Chicago Public Schools system?
La Shawn Ford: Charter schools, and selective enrollment schools, can be excellent, and I believe they are more like public schools than many people know. Nevertheless, some of them have seemed to weaken our neighborhood schools and contributed to the current epidemic of closures. Charter schools can create a view that neighborhood schools are the selection of last resort. This seems to have, in cases, weakened our neighborhood public schools, and contributed to the epidemic of school closures. We may have enough charter schools for now, and we need renewed attention to our neighborhood schools. What has in the past been seen as schools that are “chronically low-performing” do not, and never needed closure. They need to asset-based scientific evaluation, holistic best practices, and caring attention. Some schools need repurposing, such as additional room for mental health services and other programs, and innovative ideas the students, parents, and the teachers desire. Still, other neighborhoods require new schools such as the new comprehensive high school in Austin that I have worked hard on as state representative.
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? Please explain.
La Shawn Ford: I support a democratically-elected School Board overseeing CPS. I am fully in favor of putting the board in the hands of publicly elected community members who represent respective regions of the city – South Side, West Side, North Side, etc. CPS is a monolith, that this is a core part of their challenges, and I believe continued, but careful, decentralization is key. Many of the most effective interventions in CPS history have involved decentralized CPS. The CEO needs to work effectively with a democratically-elected board, have experience in the classroom, and be able to support more local control –parents, teachers, and administrators—based more on the assets of individual schools and communities.
What else would you do as mayor to improve the quality of public school education?
La Shawn K. Ford: I started off as a teacher, and nothing is more important to me than the quality of public education. I showed up to the Cook County Jail the other day and one of my past students remembered me and said I was the one teacher and taught the one class that she remembered. The new mayor of Chicago has to have the well-being of these students closest to one’s heart. This campaign, against poverty, and for equity and prosperity has to put CPS students at the center. The city of Chicago needs a mayor who will be an advocate to ensure all students in the city receive the allocation of funds they have the right to, the same as every other student in the state. I am a full supporter of Illinois’ new education funding formula, but there is so much more we can do, and I have set forth only some of the funding that we can use to back up these school-based efforts. But most of all, I believe that if we work on a justified sense of safety, affordable housing, and revitalization (without gentrification) many lower income families, displaced to the South and West Side suburbs will return to this city. This will fill our schools, improve our schools and our economy, and make us a more vibrant and alive city than ever.
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?
La Shawn Ford: At the state level I have always supported our sanctuary state model.
And one of the ways I am proud of prior Daley and Emanuel administrations is their work toward Chicago being a sanctuary city. Yet the Chicago Welcoming City Ordinance has its loopholes and a true sanctuary city goes beyond protection from ICE on the outside to the sense of freedom of all of residents to get the services they need, and, when humanly possible, in the languages in which they need those services. Our schools need to be sanctuary schools. We can work toward the purest sanctuary city model in the country by it being designed “with” and not “for” those without documentation and their allies. A real sanctuary city will be inclusive in every meaning of the term at new and more protective levels.
What are the top three environmental concerns facing the next mayor of Chicago?
La Shawn Ford: 1. Preventing Lead Exposure from our Drinking Water: This may be as serious and costly as our pension crisis. In both cases we need to work on the problem in a graduated way. We will be open and transparent about the problem. We will locate where the problems are most severe and will prioritize areas where children have the greatest exposure. While working on replacing the pipes, we will ensure all residents in those areas are fully informed, subsidize filtration, and implement other best practices to mitigate the problem.
2. Protecting the fresh water of Lake Michigan: In an age of climate change, there is no greater resource for our city than our Lake Michigan water that is part of a much larger ecosystem. There are a variety of threats to our water and these will be a priority.
3. Building Educational and Economic Systems around Green Technologies: Chicago should be recognized as a world center of Green technologies that are not only developed here in the city but tested and practiced throughout the city.
Chicago is famously a city of neighborhoods, which is part of its charm, but also in some ways a weakness. It can make it hard to build bridges across racial, ethnic and social lines. What would you do to build those bridges?
La Shawn Ford: My campaign is based on fairness to all families in every corner of the city, not along racial and ethnic lines. Nevertheless, we all have a shared responsibility to bring about a fair and equitable city. We have to all acknowledge that many of our residents are in situations of poverty. Through better bridges and hard work and some significant sacrifice we can begin bringing about more prosperity for all, which will benefit all, including the overall economy, and then further bridges will be built. We need more affordable housing, rent control and homeownership. We need more revitalization without gentrification. We need more public and private sector partnerships that will keep all of our neighborhoods strong but lift up those neighborhoods that have too long struggled behind. We need mental health and substance abuse services, stronger and more equitable schools, and generally be a stronger city together. We need to better replicate best social justice practices in other, comparable cities, and do them all more effectively than any place else.
What past or present Chicago mayor would you model yourself after or take inspiration from? Please explain.
La Shawn Ford: I take inspiration from Mayor Harold Washington. Harold Washington was raised on Chicago’s South Side and made history as the city’s first African American mayor. His victory over the Chicago Machine and business as usual is a perfect model. Washington’s vision of fairness, transparency, neighborhood empowerment, and balanced economic growth is a shared vision. It was exciting to see him connect people that previously felt disconnected. It was impressive to watch him put policy and events in place that united the city. As a young student –watching how he was received, not only in the city but internationally — I was inspired by him. I have friends to this day say they remember, when their parents traveled internationally, people would ask, “How’s Harold?” The infrastructure he put in place was the foundation that future mayors built upon. As mayor I want to ensure that our city is on a path of prosperity for all of our residents now and also for years to come. My platform is based on fairness to all families in every corner of the city not just in favor of the Loop and gentrified neighborhoods. All aspects of the budget will be transparent and much budgeting which be shaped by participatory practices.
Other than “Boss” (because everybody says “Boss”) what’s the best book ever written about Chicago, non-fiction or fiction. There are no wrong answers, of course, so we hope you’ll have some fun.
La Shawn Ford: The War on Neighborhoods Policing, Prison, and Punishment in a Divided City by Lugalia-Hollon and Cooper and Kotlowitz’ There are no Children Here. We need good story combined with hard truths.
Also running for mayor: