Aldermanic Questionnaire: Michele Smith

NAME: Michele Smith       WARD 43
CAMPAIGN ADDRESS: 2527 N Lincoln Avenue, Chicago IL 60614
CAMPAIGN PHONE: 847-651-7916
CAMPAIGN WEBSITE www.michelesmith.org
EMAIL benjamin.c.head@gmail.com

1.  Briefly list your civic activities over the past ten years.
Social Action Chair, Chicago Sinai Congregation
Board member, Facing History and Ourselves
Board member, National Conference for Community and Justice
Alderman, 43rd Ward
Democratic Committeeman, 43rd Ward

2. As concisely as possible, state why you feel you should be elected Alderman. 
I believe that our city needs to move forward, rather than backward. I have accomplished many of the goals I had set out for my first term: expanding Lincoln Elementary School, preserving the LaSalle Language Academy as a magnet school, and negotiating a community-supported compromise to redevelop the former Children’s Memorial Hospital site.
I will continue to be an advocate for streamlining City spending, increasing the transparency and efficiency of City government, and expanding housing opportunities for all Chicagoans.
Over the past term, I’ve worked to streamline our City budget by reining in excessive spending, have increased the transparency of City Hall through the introduction of numerous ethics ordinances, and have worked to reduce inefficiencies in City departments – culminating in a reduction of our City’s structural deficient by over $300 million during this time.
Further, I have accomplished many of the goals I set out to achieve by expanding Abraham Lincoln Elementary School, preserving the LaSalle Language Academy as a magnet school, advocated for millions of dollars of local and state funding in repairing long-neglected infrastructure negotiating a vital redevelopment of the former Children’s Memorial Hospital site that will serve as a new neighborhood crossroads for our community.
I should be re-elected Alderman to continue the progress made over the past four years and ensure that our ward remains a viable destination for people to live, work and be entertained.

3. What are the three most important issues that will face the ward in the future?
An alderman’s job is to provide excellent constituent service, make informed legislative decisions and guide good development. Our greatest concerns from residents include the drive for continued school excellence, by focusing on making Lincoln Park High School an excellent choice for all of our residents.
We also want to continue our efforts in public safety which have reduced reducing crime overall by 11.9% between 2010 and 2012 (the most recent year for which data is available). I will continue in my role as a fiscal watchdog to ensure that property taxes are affordable for our residents.
We must replace some of the economic activity lost when Children’s Memorial Hospital closed in Lincoln Park. The construction of the Children’s site will begin the process of revitalizing Lincoln Avenue, which will be buttressed by the economic development plans we are investigating.

4. What is your campaign budget? How much have you raised to date?
Our budget is approximately $500,000 and finished the last quarter with approximately $321,000 on hand. We have raised roughly $350,000

WRIGHTWOOD NEIGHBORS ISSUES

1. Will you continue the practice of soliciting Wrightwood Neighbors recommendations with respect to zoning and development issues?, permit parking?, liquor licenses?, loading zones? Yes

2. Are you in favor of an ordinance that would allow the collection of admission fees for the Taste of Lincoln Avenue that raises money for Local Schools, Arts and Social Service Agencies? Yes

3. Will you strongly oppose any attempt to charge Wrightwood Neighbors for lost parking meter revenue during the Taste of Lincoln Avenue? Yes

4.  How will you communicate with Wrightwood Neighbors and its residents on local and citywide issues?
I will continue our practice of consulting with Wrightwood Neighbors on matters that directly impact the neighborhood, as I have since I’ve been elected alderman. I have asked for WNA’s guidance on the future of Lincoln Avenue, wayfinding programs, and other issues. In addition, we communicate with over 12,000 residents in our email newsletter. As I’ve done since being elected Alderman, I will continue my practice of consulting with the Wrightwood Neighbors on matters that directly impact their community. I have frequently asked for the WNA’s feedback on the future of Lincoln Avenue, the future installation of wayfinding programs, local liquor issues and other matters. In addition, beyond my frequent interaction with their board, I communicate items of neighborhood interest to over 12,000 ward residents on a weekly basis.

5. What can be done to have more non-liquor based, sales tax paying retail tenants on Halsted, Lincoln, Diversey and Fullerton?
For Halsted/Lincoln/Fullerton, the new development on the old CMH site will invigorate the area and bring new customers and businesses to the neighborhood. In addition, I will be rolling out a cultural development plan for the 43rd Ward to bolster our theater, culinary, and entertainment industries.

6. How will you deal with problem bars in Wrightwood?
We have taken decisive action against problematic operators in the Wrightwood Neighbors boundary. I worked very closely with neighbors to shut down “Good Bar” on Halsted. I also worked with neighbors to force bar owner without a PPA license to severely limit its activities and withdraw its attempt to obtain a PPA for a year, as well as negotiated a successful change in ownership to ensure they operate in a responsible manner. I have also moved to aggressively restrict the operation of the Wild Hare, but was overruled by the City. After vigorously attempting to prevent the venue from opening, we ultimately entered into a very stringent plan of operation to mitigate problematic behaviour. We expect establishments with a liquor license to be good neighbors.

7. What will you do to reduce property taxes for residents of Wrightwood?
I have been one of the strongest advocates on the need for pension reform on the City Council. If we do not act decisively and make real reforms to our City’s pension system, property taxes will skyrocket. The only way to keep property taxes from increasing dramatically is to get our City finances in order, and I will continue to advocate for these critical reforms during my second term.

8. What are your plans to maintain the quality of the schools that serve the Wrightwood Community?
I fought to get funding for the Field of Dreams at Alcott and will continue to be an ally to that school. In addition, I worked to make Lincoln Park High School a wall-to-wall international baccalaureate institution. That is part of an ongoing effort to make Lincoln Park High School an attractive option for all neighborhood residents.
I believe that it is vital to keep young families right here, rather than see them move to the suburbs. The best way to encourage young families to remain in the City is to provide quality public education. We have had success in that endeavor: there has been a marked increase in the number of children in the Ward. The number of children 0-5 in the ward has increased 28% and the number of children 5-9 has increased by 38%.
It is vital to keep young families in our City, rather than relocating to the suburbs. Over the past several decades, we have seen a tremendous loss of potential intellectual capital due to the flight to the suburbs approach.
Over the past four years, I have been a staunch advocate towards the preservation and progression of education in our community. I have fought to get funding for the Alcott College Prep “Field of Dreams”, have worked with CPS to make Lincoln Park High School a wall-to-wall International Baccalaureate institution, and led the charge to expand Lincoln Elementary to address the severe overcrowding concerns it current faces.

9. What will you do to encourage preservation in Wrightwood including protecting orange rated buildings?
I have and will continue to encourage the reuse of historic structures. In particular, I worked to ensure that the new development at the former CMH site will incorporate the one orange rated building on the site. Our historic structures are a vital component of the fabric and character of Lincoln Park. I also held a seminar to help teach residents about living in a landmarked home.

WARD WIDE ISSUES

10. What are your top priorities for the Ward?
Organizing the community to advocate for improvements for Lincoln Park High School, Developing and executing an economic development plan for Lincoln Park, including a cultural and tourism plan, improving public safety and infrastructure.
Organizing our community to advocate for improvements to Lincoln Park High School is a major focus for me. We have had a great deal of success in improving public elementary schools in the area, including Lincoln, Alcott, and Newberry. We need to see the same sort of success with Lincoln Park High School to ensure that it is a viable and attractive options for local families.
I will also be rolling out a cultural economic development plan to boost commerce and tourism in the ward by focusing our efforts on creating a cultural crossroads in the 43rd Ward. We will work closely with the culinary, theater, and entertainment industries to bring new dollars into our community as well as provide ample dining and entertainment options for ward residents.
I am also focused on public safety in the Ward. In the last four years, I have organized crime walks, roll calls, increased police patrols, worked with local police to better patrol North Avenue Beach, volunteered as a court advocate to push for tougher sentences for those who offend in the 43rd Ward, and established a block-by-block crime consulting program between police and local residents.

11. What is your long-range plan for development of the ward?
I will be rolling out a 43rd ward cultural development plan, which seeks to increase the level of cultural tourism and bolster a thriving theater, entertainment, and restaurant district. By making the 43rd ward a cultural destination, we can increase commerce in the ward and provide ward residents with ample entertainment and culinary options.

12. What will you do to ensure that the redevelopment of the former Children’s Memorial Hospital site will have a positive impact on the community?
I have worked with neighborhood residents to reduce the size of the planned development and ensure that it is a good fit for the neighborhood. We all can see the impact that the loss of CMH has had on our community. We needed to revitalize the commercial hub of Lincoln Park. We had a vision to create something that our community can enjoy: a new neighborhood crossroads centered around an acre of open space—three interconnected plazas. This will include sidewalk cafes, a playground, space for public art, and a hub for neighborhood program. All of these measures are designed to bring added benefit to the residents of Lincoln Park and will bolster our theater and non-bar entertainment. While the development is designed to be walkable, there is both easy access to public transportation and ample parking.

13. What will you do to revitalize the commercial streets in the ward?
The 43rd Ward’s largest employers are DePaul University followed by the cultural and hospitality industry. As the home to Steppenwolf, Victory Gardens, the Lincoln Park Zoo, History Museum, and many other such attractions, the 43rd Ward is the second-largest site of cultural attractions outside downtown. However, Lincoln Park is not a designated cultural hub in the City’s Cultural Plan. I have been in contact with our arts organizations, the Lincoln Park Chamber of Commerce and the entertainment/culinary industry to address this problem. I will be rolling out a draft economic development plan later in 2015 to be studied by my ward.
Since I have been Alderman, I have worked to promote our in-line shopping districts of Halsted/Armitage, Clark Street, and Lincoln Avenue. I had an Italian trade mission visit Armitage, which was reported on as a vibrant and exciting destination in an Italian magazine. I also have actively promoted local shopping through my online newsletter, which has a circulation of 12,000 people.
I also negotiated the redevelopment of the Children’s Memorial Hospital site, which will bring a new retail and residential development to the heart of Lincoln Park while creating roughly an acre of open space. I worked closely with ward residents to address congestion and density concerns, securing major concessions from the developer.

14. Are you in favor of restoring the #11 Lincoln Avenue Bus? Yes

15.  Will you institute participatory budgeting to allow ward residents to vote on discretionary spending (menu money) in the ward? No

16. What criteria do you or will you use in determining whether or not to support a zoning change or variance?
The first and most important criteria for determining support for a zoning change or variance is how well the proposed project will fit with the character of the neighborhood. Any zoning change needs to add, rather than detract, from the quality of life in the neighborhood. I work closely with community organizations on zoning issues and force developers to ask consent of immediately adjoining neighbors when a variance is requested.

17. What services need improvement in the ward? How will you achieve this?
Most City services are too slow—we need to get our City finances in line so we can afford sufficient crews to provide faster service.
It will be difficult if not impossible to address our City finances, and by extension, our City services, if meaningful pension reform does not take place. We have also attended to long-neglected infrastructure needs, including water and sewer mains. These vital facets of our infrastructure protect against urban flooding and cannot be ignored.

18. What should be done to address the rat problem in the ward?
I believe that rat infestations are a public health issue and should be dealt with as such. I sponsored an ordinance that would require construction sites to take appropriate steps to limit the rodent population.

19. What should be done to improve safety in the ward?
The 43rd Ward is one of the city’s safest neighborhoods, and I have enjoyed excellent working relationships with the 18th and 19th District police, which are responsible for my ward. However, there is much that neighborhoods can do in crime prevention.
In the 43rd Ward, the single largest type of crime is theft from open garages, open doors, followed by forcible entry. These findings led me to conduct a “Lock Your Door” campaign in 2013  (http://ward43.org/wp-content/uploads/2012/02/Lock-Your-Door-Campaign.pdf). This campaign called on residents to lock their doors, and install a good deadbolt. We demonstrated several quality locks at our seminar and posted information about them on our website. CPD estimated simple compliance with this campaign could reduce home burglaries in half.
I have also engaged in an aggressive court advocacy program (http://ward43.org/wpcontent/uploads/2012/02/Its-Not-Just-a-Bike-Theft.pdf).
As a result of our program, we have successfully obtained tougher sentences for people engaged in crime. This program is designed to send the signal that criminals are simply not welcome in our community. As a direct result of our advocacy, a judge sentenced a repeat offender (http://ward43.org/wpcontent/uploads/2012/02/2-Court-Advocacy-Victories.pdf)
to 8 years in prison, in one example.
Shortly after taking office, I met with the Commander of the 18th District to address the issues then occurring at North Avenue Beach and asked for a plan to reduce crime on the beach. The 18th District increased bike patrols, added an ATV patrol, and placed the mounted unit at the foot of Lincoln Park. The 18th District also placed cadets at the beach entrances to do searches for illegal liquor. As a result of these actions, there have been no major incidents on our beaches from North Avenue to Diversey since 2011.
In addition to participating in multiple roll calls and crime walks in my ward, I have worked with the 19th District to support the creation of a program to ameliorate problems that stem from homelessness.
However, more can be done in our CAPS program. Specifically, I think that CPD should explore using more social networking to allow individuals in communities to communicate, bearing in mind that it is important to make sure such communication is responsible.

20. What will you do to prevent overdevelopment of residential properties including breezeways, raised decks and lack of rear yard green space?
I am currently working closely with neighborhood organizations and developers to encourage atgrade rear yard open space. I oppose the construction of new breezeways in existing locations.
The reduction in open green space on residential properties increases flood risk by preventing proper drainage.

CITY WIDE ISSUES
21. Which city services or assets, if any, do you believe should be privatized (e.g. Midway Airport) and what are your criteria?
I am generally opposed to the privatization of City assets.

22. What recommendations do you have to solve the pension crisis without putting an undue burden on property owners and retirees?
There is no doubt that the current level of pension underfunding is completely unsustainable. Funding the current level of pensions at actuarial levels would require a 60% increase in property taxes – and that would be a catastrophic event for our city. The clearly unacceptable alternative would be to cut virtually every city service except police and fire.
I have written extensively about the pension crisis beginning in 2012, calling for hearings, which later I led. Surprisingly, at those hearings, many of the trustees admitted that the funds were dramatically underfunded, but had no plan to deal with the impact of funds running out of money, or more importantly, had not informed their membership of the funding status. Since those hearings, I also led community meetings, explaining in a presentation that unilateral actions ranging from raising property taxes 60% to defaulting on obligations could be potential outcomes of the crisis, and calling instead for a collaborative solution. Fortunately, the unions involved in the Municipal Employees and Laborers Pension Fund did collaborate with the city, resulting in a deal reducing the overall liability for that fund by $3 Billion. I expressed strong support for the deal, calling on Governor Quinn in the press to sign the bill. That transaction relied heavily on reductions to the Cost of Living Adjustments that balloon the liability and yet do not affect the core benefits on which the retirees rely, as well as modest increases in employee contributions, plus increases in the City’s portion to bring it up to actuarially-sound amounts.
Since changes to pensions cannot be unilaterally imposed, but must be the outcome of negotiations, I would support a combination of changes to pensions and new sources of revenue that would result in a total pension liability to the City that is sustainable for the taxpayers, results in a restoration of a good credit rating, and provides retirement security to the retirees.

23. Do you support casino gambling for Chicago? No

24. Will you vote to require a citywide referendum before any gambling is instituted in the City? Yes

25. Will you vote to increase the City subsidy to the CTA? Yes

26. Do you support renegotiation of Chicago’s parking meter privatization deal? Yes

27. How should enrollment in magnet schools be determined?
This is not a one-size-fits all issue. Different magnet schools are designed for different purposes. Enrollment criteria need to be decided on a school-by-school basis.

ALDERMANIC ISSUES

28. Will you maintain a full time ward service office? Yes

29. Will you be a full-time Alderman with no other employment? Yes

30.Please specify the minimum number of hours per week you will spend performing your aldermanic duties.
60+ HOURS

31. Please describe how you will insure a smooth transition? (if applicable)
NA

32. Will you continue leadership and participation in the Chicago Sculpture Exhibit Program? Yes

33. Please describe your service office staffing plan, including the number of staff, full and part time, how you will pay for them, and the number of hours per week that your service office will be open.
I employ 5 full time staff. Three are paid full time by the City, and two are contract employees partly paid for by the City. I raise money to support staff salaries. My service office is open 5 days a week, Mondays 9-7, and Tuesday-Friday 9-6.

34. Will you accept campaign donations from people or businesses seeking zoning changes or variations in your ward? No

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