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. Dorothy A. Brown Cook submitted the following responses Dec. 23 (the Sun-Times does not edit candidate responses):
Who is Dorothy A. Brown Cook?
Her political/civic background: Clerk of the Circuit Court of Cook County, since 2000
Her occupation: Clerk of the Circuit Court of Cook County
Her education: I am a certified public accountant, an MBA and an attorney. My educational background is as follows:
- Harvard Business School of Government, 5 day class
- Chicago-Kent College of Law, Juris Doctorate, 1995
- DePaul University, Master of Business Administration – Finance, 1981
- Certified Public Accountant, February 1977
- Southern University, Bachelor’s Degree – Accounting/Computer Science, Baton Rouge, LA, 1975
Campaign website: dorothyformayor.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.
Dorothy Brown: The City of Chicago administers four employee pension funds, the Fire, Police, Municipal and Laborer’s Fund. Career firemen, police officers, sanitation workers and city laborers pay into these funds instead of Social Security, by law. They do not accrue or receive Social Security benefits for the time they work for the City.
Like any other American, retired municipal workers rely on monthly pension payments to finance their golden years. It is the obligation of the City to ensure that the pensions are funded and employees receive the pension benefits they deserve. Therefore, I oppose amending the Constitution to reduce pension benefits for current and retired employees. I would be open to considering a tiered pension system for new hires. The pension benefits promised at the time of hire is a contract, and the city must meet its contract obligations.
Of the following often proposed sources of new revenue for Chicago, which of the following do you favor, and why?
- A Chicago casino
Dorothy Brown: Yes. To increase revenue for the City, I favor building a casino in Chicago or a neighboring suburb with an intergovernmental agreement to share revenue. I favor this source of revenue because casinos have proven to be a great source of revenue. Many Chicagoans already go to casinos in other states, even all the way to Las Vegas. In addition, it would be a good attraction for convention business. I would, however, ensure that proper programs for gambling addiction would be available.
- Legalized and taxed recreational marijuana.
Dorothy Brown: Yes. I would support the legalization of marijuana for recreational purposes after conducting a study of the positive and negative effects that have occurred in the states where legalization has been enacted. Also, I support measures to include entrepreneurs from minority communities in the planning and licensing of new marijuana dispensaries to increase jobs in for those communities most neglected. Lastly, I would earmark marijuana sales tax revenue for public schools, law enforcement and drug treatment programs.
- A LaSalle Street tax
Dorothy Brown: Yes. A “LaSalle Street Tax” or financial transactions tax (FTT) is a very small tax on the trading (buying/selling) of financial assets such as stocks, bonds, currencies and derivatives (futures and options) based on these assets. It is essentially a sales tax, such as when we buy/sell shoes or computers. “LaSalle Street” has come to mean the financial/trading district, the “Wall Street’ of the Midwest.
Illinois has two of the largest financial markets in the world, the Chicago Mercantile Exchange (CME) and the Chicago Board Options Exchange (CBOE). Each year the value of products traded on these two exchanges totals well over $900 trillion. It has been estimated that Illinois could earn $10 to $12 billion per year from an FTT which could go a long way in helping with the public school and pension funding crises, according to the Fair Economy Illinois website.
The Fair Economy Illinois website also states that the United Kingdom, Switzerland, Hong Kong, Australia, France, and Singapore have a financial transaction tax FTT. These are all large markets, the tax has been in place for years without hurting these markets, and exchanges have not moved away. In addition, 10 other European countries have been working on a FTT. I think the time has come to have some serious discussions about a FTT. I would be willing to work with the CME, the CBOE, the governor and the state legislature to come up with a tax rate that would work for everyone. Solving the school funding and pension crises must be a shared burden.
- A commuter tax
Dorothy Brown: No. Many if not most commuters work downtown because that is where the jobs are located. I see no reason to tax them for coming to and working in the City, where they support retailers, restaurants and other services.
- A property tax increase
Dorothy Brown: Undecided. I would consider an increase only upon review and recommendation of a Citizen Budget Review Commission.
- A municipal sales tax increase.
Dorothy Brown: No. In fact, I favor implementation of periodic sales tax holidays. At 10.25%, Chicago has the highest composite sales tax in the United States. The City’s portion of the sales tax rate is small in comparison to the portions of Cook County and the State of Illinois, as noted in Table 1.
To generate consumer spending and build up the economy, the City of Chicago, Cook County and the State of Illinois should work to implement Sales Tax-Free holidays. In 14 states, various blocks of time are designated as sales tax-free for purchases of items such as clothing, computers, footwear, emergency preparedness supplies and other goods. Usually, shoppers do not have to pay city or state sales taxes on those items; there is a cutoff in the amount that is tax-free.
As Mayor, I would work with leaders in Cook County and the State of Illinois to implement a full Sales Tax-Free Holiday program. This would help generate sales and make Chicago more attractive to all types of businesses. This would also make Chicago attractive to consumers during that holiday period. Consumers would come to Chicago during the ‘holiday’ thereby spurring the economy while also benefitting from other taxes, such as motor fuel, hotel, etc.
- A real estate transfer tax increase
Dorothy Brown: Yes. The Bring Chicago Home Coalition recently launched a campaign to raise the real estate transfer tax by 1.2 percentage points on properties over $1 million. They have estimated that this new revenue stream could raise $150 million a year for housing and services for people experiencing homelessness.I would support a real estate transfer on property sold for more than $500,000. This would bring in an estimated $300 million in revenue. I would use this revenue for build affordable housing, and to help reduce the homelessness in Chicago.
- Video gambling
Dorothy Brown: Yes.
What other sources of new revenue do you favor or oppose?
Dorothy Brown: 1. Head Tax
Chicago had a head tax (also known as the Employers Expense Tax) until 2014 when it was eliminated. The tax was $4 a month up thru 2012, and $2 a month for 2012 and 2013, per employee, which was applied to businesses that employed 50 or more full-time workers or employees who performed 50% or more of their work service per calendar quarter in the City of Chicago, did not hinder economic growth or profits before the Great Recession of 2007-2009, during the Recession, or in the five years of recovery that followed until its demise in 2014. The tax represents a stable and effective source of revenue and I would consider reinstating it, with the proceeds dedicated strictly to funding the Chicago Public School system and teacher pensions, where the workforce of these very corporations are trained. This tax raised approximately $35 million in 2009 and 2010, and $15 million in 2012 and $10 million in 2013, after the reduction to $2.
2. City Sponsored Lottery, Naming Rights, and Advertising
I propose a City-Sponsored Lottery. I would hire a technology firm to build a secure lottery ticket sales system that would permit this lottery ticket to be purchased anywhere in the world. I would continue to permit local stores to sell lottery tickets so that they are able to make money from lottery ticket sales. But permitting world-wide electronic sales of lottery tickets would bring a large source of revenue to Chicago. This source of revenue would be easier to implement than a casino or legalized marijuana. I would ensure that there is a gambling addiction program available to help people understand the risk of gambling. The Illinois Lottery brings in about $1.3 billion a year. I would expect a Chicago Lottery would bring in comparable revenue and more since we would permit world-wide ticket purchases.
New revenue sources must be on the table therefore I would hire an advertising agent who would then analyze all of the city’s assets to determine the possibility of selling naming rights to city owned facilities and advertising on the city’s website and on other city assets.
3. Civic crowdfunding
I favor implementation of civic crowdfunding, which is the practice of soliciting and obtaining contributions for public services from a large group of people in the online community rather than traditional resources. The funds can be used for discrete projects such as constructing band shells, upgrading dog parks, installing energy efficient LED lights, developing literacy centers, renovating historic buildings, supporting farmers markets or community gardens, helping small cash-dependent businesses installing credit card payment systems and other initiatives.
The digital revolution has come to the municipal bond market. Normally, state and local governments sell municipal bonds to finance public capital projects. However, the minimum purchase requirements of most general obligation bond offerings are beyond the means of the average citizens. To engage the average citizen in their communities, progressive cities such as Somerville and Cambridge, Massachusetts and Denver, Colorado have successfully implemented mini-bond finance programs using digital underwriting service companies.
Mini-bonds are more affordable than traditional municipal bonds for certain potential investors. They are available in minimum denominations of $1,000, as opposed to the traditional $5,000 denomination. Also, the bonds mature in a shorter period of time. For example, the 2018 Cambridge, Massachusetts mini-bonds will mature in five years, whereas most municipal bonds mature after 10 or 20 years. The principal will be paid at maturity. There is no fee to purchase mini-bonds if they are purchased online through a recognized underwriting services company. Other brokers may charge their customary fees.
5. Bicycle Registration Fee
In the last several years, Chicago has seen an explosion in the number of bike lanes created and opened. The lanes clearly demarcate sections of the roads for cycling downtown and in the neighborhoods. This is a wonderful initiative that encourages health and fitness, and may reduce the number of cars on the crowded streets of Chicago.
Like everything in life, the bike lanes came at a cost. It should have been the users—cyclists—who paid since they are the main beneficiaries of the service. They didn’t pay because Chicago does not have a bicycle registration tax.
The cities of Honolulu and Colorado Springs have successfully collected bicycle registration fees and used revenues for bicycle infrastructure improvements. I would create a bicycle registration fee program to pay for improvements to bike lanes.
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?
Dorothy Brown: Police officers are not the enemy, they should be our partners. They are sworn to serve and protect Chicago from crime and disorder, which so plainly affects our communities. In all encounters with the residents of Chicago though, police officers must demonstrate good, professional judgment and take actions that are constitutional, ethical, and measured. A consent decree is just a way for there to be a monitoring mechanism in place to help ensure that the elements of the decree are properly implemented and followed. The proposed consent decree memorializes many of the items found as lacking through the review performed by the U. S. Department of Justice in its report released in 2016.
As Mayor, I will work assiduously to implement the consent decree and make other managerial reforms to restore Chicago’s trust in CPD. I will:
- Create a rigorous oversight and governance structure
- Train officers on the proper use of force
- Make timely, accurate and complete investigations of police misconduct
- Increase data collection and transparency
- Implement community policing
- Improve the direction, supervision and training of officers, including implicit bias training, and
- Promote the well-being of officers.
As Mayor, I will organize a panel of law enforcement experts from Chicago and around the country to help re-organize the CPD from the top to the bottom, and bring in 21st Century policing techniques. There would be a review of the management techniques used for oversight of department personnel, there would be a review to determine the proper proportionality needed at all levels, management, number of districts for a city of our size, number of supervisors, number of detectives and the number of patrolmen. The policing and investigation techniques used at all levels would also be reviewed and updated; in addition to updating the training of officers, including instituting in-service training, which currently does not occur.
What should Chicago do to reduce the number of illegal guns?
Dorothy Brown: Guns don’t kill people, people do. Most gun crimes are committed by a small number of criminals. We must target the small number of individuals who inflict carnage on our streets and communities. A good place to start is with vigorous investigation of non-fatal shooting and gun possession cases to prevent future shootings and homicides. I support efforts by CPD to strengthen these types of investigations, which would reduce the number of individuals using illegal guns.
Also, state-of-the-art technology has made it easier to identify weapons that were used in multiple crimes. Experts compare and analyze guns, bullets and shell casings recovered from crime scenes and help police officers trace the origins of firearms to the owner or seller. I support efforts by the law enforcement community to adopt advanced ballistics technology.
Recently, the prestigious Police Executive Research Forum (Forum) issued an action plan to reduce gun violence (see Police Executive Research Forum, Key Findings and an Action Plan to Reduce Gun Violence, June 8, 2018). The Forum identified key measures to keep guns out of the hands of people who are legally prohibited from owning them, including:
- Strengthening federal and state background check systems to include information on drug abuse and mental health
- Conducting background checks for all private sales and transfers
- Provide sufficient time for law enforcement to conduct background checks, and
- Expand criteria for denying a firearm purchase to include stalking and intimate partner domestic violence
I support these measures and would add a requirement that companies who terminate an employee for violent or threatening behavior must report the incident to law enforcement. In turn, law enforcement would determine if the now-terminated employee poses a threat of violent retaliation to the former employer and co-workers.
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?
Dorothy Brown: In Chicago, there were fewer murders and non-negligent homicides in 2017 than in 2016. However, in 2017, the number of reported rapes increased by 10.8%, from 1,589 to 1,762.
All detectives, recruits and officers who conduct sex crime investigations must be trained to handle rape and criminal sexual assault cases with respect and dignity toward the victims. CPD has begun to increase staff sensitivity and understanding of the effect of trauma on victim’s memory. As Mayor, I will work with advocacy and support groups to ensure that training is effective and responsive. Also, I will ensure that detectives, officers and investigators maintain a high level of professional sensitivity when dealing with victims.
Thirdly, I will direct the Mayor’s Office to raise awareness about services available to victims and witnesses.
Regrettably, our children are confronted daily by violence and conflict in their communities. The threats come from bullies in schools and neighborhoods, abusive family members at home, gangs on the street, and excessive exposure to violence on TV and other media. We must help our children identify appropriate responses to threats and dangers.
To help students navigate their way through conflicts, I will implement a curriculum on conflict resolution at every elementary and high schools. At all ages, students can learn about negotiation, mediation and consensus as the tools of conflict resolution. CPS should adopt a conflict-resolution curriculum that is age-appropriate and specific to help student learn the three essential tools.
There are several well-established approaches to conflict resolution available for system-wide adoption.
- Process curriculum — conflict resolution is taught as a separate course and included in daily lesson plans
- Peaceable classroom — conflict resolution education is integrated into the existing curriculum and is used as a classroom management strategy.
- Peaceable schools — conflict resolution is taught to every member of the school community, including parents, learns conflict resolution principles and processes.
As Mayor, I will establish a Task Force on Conflict Resolution Education in Chicago Public Schools for all grades. Helping youth to better deal with conflict will go a long way to stopping the violence.
What is the appropriate role of charter schools within the Chicago Public Schools system?
Dorothy Brown: I have never been a proponent of charter schools because they have contributed to a reduction in enrollment and closing of Chicago Public Schools, and diverted funds that should have been dedicated to a higher quality public education for all children.
However, since charter schools exist, and those workers are charged with teaching and caring for some of the children of Chicago, it’s important they are well-trained, well-supported and well-compensated to prepare students for their roles as citizens, providers and workers. Therefore, it is appropriate for teachers at charter schools to organize into unions as needed so that they will receive the support they deserve from unions, and be treated fairly by school administrators and elected officials.
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.
Dorothy Brown: I favor a representative school board elected by popular vote. Elected school board members will be more inclined to listen to the opinions of citizens concerning educating the children of Chicago, operate with transparency, and be open to communicating with the community. In additions, school board elections will prompt citizens to take a greater interest in the schools, as well as shield schools from mayoral and aldermanic politics, while allowing school board members to act independently and in the best interest of the school system.
- School board members should have terms of 2 to 3 years
- School board members should not have personal connections to the Mayor.
- Parents, community advocates, activists, and education professionals from all walks of life should be informed to run to be elected for school board.
What else would you do as mayor to improve the quality of public school education?
Dorothy Brown: In addition to lobbying for an elected school board, I will implement educational reforms that prepare our children to become lifelong learners and responsible citizens. I will:
- Improve all neighborhoods with a comprehensive economic and community development plan
- Restore and reinvigorate neighborhood schools
- Reassess use of testing and test results
- Strengthen core curricula, vocational education and conflict resolution education
- Revamp special education services program
- Protect students from sexual abuse and assault
- Expand mental health services in schools and communities.
- Continue to improve and increase school finances, and
- Reorganize the Central Office and update the capital plan.
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?
Dorothy Brown: I believe Chicago must reduce the fear of deportation and possible family break-up among people who are in the country without documentation. The goal is to encourage undocumented immigrants to be more willing to report crimes, use health and social services, and enroll their children in school.
I will ensure strong enforcement of the Welcoming City Ordinance(Chapter 2-173), which prohibits the City from considering citizenship or immigration status as a factor in the provision of City benefits, opportunities, or services, unless required to do so by state statute, federal regulation, or court decision. The Ordinance requires agencies to accept foreign driver’s licenses, passports or matricular consular (consulate-issued documents) as valid forms of identification for all purposes except completion of federally mandated I-forms. In addition, the Ordinance prohibits agencies from investigating or assisting in the investigation of the citizenship or immigration status of any person unless such inquiry or investigation is required by Illinois state statute, federal regulation, or court decision. Lastly, the Ordinance prohibits agencies from disclosing information regarding the citizenship or immigration status of any person unless required to do so by legal process or for other specified reasons.
Also, I will continue the City’s Office of New Americans, which reports directly to the Office of the Mayor and provides comprehensive information about immigration and the Sanctuary City Policy, as well as ensure continuation of the Chicago Municipal Identification Program (Chicago CityKey Program) and expansion of services for transgender immigrants. I will also create an Advisory Committee of the various immigrant groups so that I can be assured that I am addressing their specific needs.
What are the top three environmental concerns facing the next mayor of Chicago?
Dorothy Brown: The priorities are promoting clean and efficient energy, improving water management and strengthening the recycling program.
1. Promoting clean and efficient energy
I support the goals of Chicago’s Renewable Energy Challenge, which calls for organizations to speed up adoption of renewable energy, such as solar, wind or hydropower sources. By moving away from fossil fuels, Chicago will improve air quality, reduce pollution and create jobs in the clean energy sector, while providing abundant energy to operate the electric grid. Chicago must support incentives for homeowners and businesses to install innovative products such as smart thermostats that process energy more effectively and efficiently at reduced cost. The City should replace gas guzzling cars and trucks in the agency fleet with modern electric vehicles and support electric vehicle charging stations.
2. Improving water management
Many homes and businesses in Chicago receive water through lead service lines. Unfortunately, lead has leached into the water supply for 1 in 5 homes with water meters, exposing young children to greater risks of brain and nervous system damage and adults to high blood pressure and kidney damage. The City must develop a capital budget and plan to remove and replace lead service lines for the health of the public.
To protect our waterways further, the City must
- stop the spread of invasive species such as Asian carp,
- reduce dependence on single-use plastics, Styrofoam and other products that are not biodegradable, and
- alleviate the release of untreated sewage into Chicago waterways by investing in “green” infrastructure that reduces water runoff.
3. Strengthening the recycling program
Chicago has one of the lowest recycling rates in the United States. Less than 9% of household waste is recycled. As Mayor, I will
• expand access to public recycling and composting sights,
• conduct an audit of the City’s waste management policies and contracts and implement cost-effective recommendations for improving service, and
• institute a program where the citizens will get a benefit from re-cycling. I would create a program whereby each participating citizen would get credit against their waste bill for every full can of recyclable waste.
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?
Dorothy Brown: Before the City can build a bridge, the City needs to know where it is going. Chicago needs a unifying vision of fair and equitable development for all neighborhoods and communities. The stark reality is that community development has been uneven and Chicago has cleaved into a city of haves and have-nots. This cleavage must be bridged so that all Chicagoans can enjoy the fruits of prosperity.
As President John F. Kennedy stated, “A rising tide lifts all the boats.” The time has come to create a comprehensive community and economic development plan that raises the tide of opportunity for all of Chicago. From all walks of life, community leaders can work together on planning committees that cross racial, ethnic and social lines and develop a plan for fair and equitable development. To reach this goal, I would institute eight (8) Community Development Planning Districts (CDPDs) that take into consideration the size and diverse needs of Chicago. For each of the CDPDs, I will create a team of planning professionals and community leaders who would work with the various community stakeholders to develop an Economic Development Plan for each CDPD.
The eight (8) planning districts would be established as follows (presented alphabetically):
- Central Business District
- Northside, North Central and Northwest Side Districts
- Southside, South Central and Southwest Side Districts
- West Side District
Each CDPD would obtain input from key stakeholders, including youth and millennials, representatives of the business, on-profit and educational communities, elected officials, economic development practitioners, and faith-based organizations. Each district would be required to develop a residential plan that includes affordable housing, establishes public and private partnership opportunities, leverages the human services of not-for profit and faith-based organizations, promotes human resource development through education and training for school age children and adults, and strengthen social, recreational, arts and cultural opportunities.
What past or present Chicago mayor would you model yourself after or take inspiration from? Please explain.
Dorothy Brown: In 1983, Harold Washington was elected Mayor by a broad-based coalition of progressively minded people across the city. His election was historic and changed the direction of Chicago politics. Chicago had been governed by machine candidates who treated city government as a personal fiefdom, rich with patronage opportunities for connected insiders, but paid for by the average taxpayers. Insiders benefitted, corruption reigned, and residents were shut out of critical decision making that affected the lives of their families, neighborhood and communities. Mayor Washington changed that by instituting citizen-based politics. He died way too early, leaving behind a power vacuum that was filled by old-line machine politicians.
We are living in their world today, a world of haves and have-nots, still separated by the color line that W.E.B. DuBois identified in the opening years of the 20th century. Soon, we will enter the third decade of the 21st century. We cannot prosper if we continue to live lives segregated along racial, ethnic and class lines. Mayor Washington understood that. He began moving Chicago across the lines and forward to a bright future. I want to continue Mayor Washington’s movement and fulfill President Kennedy’s vision of a “rising tide” lifting the boats of opportunity for all Chicago. Our claim to be the city that works hangs in the balance. I am like Fannie Lou Hammer — I am sick and tire or being sick and tire. It’s time for change, it’s time for fairness, it’s time for equity, and it’s time for justice for all citizens of Chicago. Like me on Facebook, Dorothy Brown for Mayor, follow me on twitter and Instagram, @dorothyformayor, and check out my positions on my website, http://www.dorothyformayor.com.
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.
Dorothy Brown: The Haymarket Affair: The History of the Riot in Chicago that Galvanized the Labor Movement
Few things were as controversial during the late 19th century as the Haymarket Affair. Depending on one’s perspective, the riots and the violence that ensued were the result of anarchist terrorists attacking law enforcement authorities with a homemade bomb that was detonated during a large public event, killing a police officer and wounding several more. Others who were more sympathetic to the plight of the people protesting for better working conditions that night in Haymarket Square in Chicago on May 4, 1886 portray it as a peaceful rally that was marred by a heavy handed response attempting to disperse the protesters.
Workers and those advocating on their behalf were galvanized by the events to push for what they considered much needed reforms, many of which would come over the next few decades. As professor William J. Adelman put it, “No single event has influenced the history of labor in Illinois, the United States, and even the world, more than the Chicago Haymarket Affair. It began with a rally on May 4, 1886, but the consequences are still being felt today. This is a great book. It captures an embarrassing day in Chicago’s history, but it also speaks to how an event like this changed the lives of many.
Also running for mayor: