Candidate Full Name:
Patrick J. O'Connor
5th Congressional District
Patrick J. O'Connor for Congress
Campaign Office Mailing Address:
5681 N. Lincoln Avenue
Please tell us about yourself, your background and why you believe you are qualified to hold this office.
The 5th Congressional District is an urban, large suburban district of municipal entities that rely upon their local revenues, and the county, state and federal government, to various extents, for the dollars they need to provide services and infrastructure to their residents. My time in city government makes me uniquely qualified to work on federal legislation for our district because I have experience fashioning budgets and policies that incorporate the use of federal funds for local use.
I know how federal red tape and unfunded mandates hurt the local units of government and, by extension, the residents of the 5th Congressional District. Similarly, my 24 years as Chairman of the Committee on Education and Child Development has given me an experience on urban public education that surpasses that of any candidate in this race. I pride myself on my record of bringing tangible evidence of our tax dollars back to the community. I have brought a new library, new police station, firehouse, playgrounds, school renovations, and the first high school built in Chicago in the past 30 years and now the best high school in the state ? Northside College Prep. I have also fought to keep Tempel Steel and its jobs in the city and worked with the many small businesses to expand and remain vital sources of jobs and revenue for the City.
At a time when local neighborhood hospitals have been closing, I have worked with Swedish Covenant to see unprecedented growth to ensure that top quality health care is more accessible in the neighborhood. When the state was slow to act, I introduced and passed ordinances to deal with hazardous hospital waste disposal and in 1986 Chaired the subcommittee and wrote the report to begin moving Chicago away from landfills to recycling as a means of disposing of waste and being environmentally responsible. Over the years I have worked with administrators and the teachers union to settle and avoid long strikes that do not serve our school children; I have worked with local police and community groups so that the 40th Ward now has the lowest crime rate in the city; supported innovative programs like CeaseFire to address growing gang violence throughout the city; established school based health clinics and brought approximately $140 million new investment to the 40th Ward.
I try to do things, that while not glamorous, contribute in a positive way. Liquor moratoriums, the City's primary way of controlling the number of liquor licenses in the City was my creation, passed over the objection of the City Corporation Counsel, and later affirmed by the 4th District Court of Appeals. I established a blanket fee waiver for school construction projects, an approach now used for all municipal corporate permits, recognizing the fact that when we charge the Board of Education for a permit fee we, in reality, charge the same taxpayer, only we have added time and money to the project by slowing the process and required payment to contractors to get the fee itself. I established a junior lifeguard program which helped hundreds of children have opportunities not only to compete and travel, but also provided many with summer jobs as lifeguards at $10.00 per hour. Many, having started in public service, have gone on to lives in service as police and firemen.
I believe I have made a difference by working hard, being accessible to my constituents and putting the needs of the people I serve first and foremost as I make decisions. I grew up not far from where my wife of 31 years and I have raised our five children. I grew up working as a Park District lifeguard, played 16 inch softball, Chicago's game, and drove a truck as a union member, all through college and law school. I have been able to serve and represent the people of my community because I am part of that community. I will take the same values and dedication to Congress to work on behalf of the people of the 5th Congressional District.
Please tell us your general views about the role of government and some of the most important things you would like to accomplish in office?
My view of the role of government is that it is there to help. This is a view that was passed on to me and by brothers and sister by our parents who admired President Franklin Roosevelt and President John F. Kennedy and the hope these two presidents instilled in generations as they proved that government, with the proper leadership, can be part of the solution and not part of the problem.
Too often today, government is viewed as Ronald Reagan once said, that one of the most frightening greetings was "I'm from the government and I'm here to help." President Obama is in the process of restoring this sense of government as a helping partner and I share this goal. However, government should never be viewed as the only answer to a problem, it should be a part of any process and solution and it must be a respectful partner.
The goals I am setting when elected Congressman are to ensure that the 5th Congressional District receives its share of federal dollars that are needed to rebuild its roads, schools and public transportation and that I work on legislation that creates jobs that pay a living wage and invest in our small businesses which are the cornerstone of economic development in the district. I look forward to joining with the entire Congress and President Obama in finally providing quality, affordable healthcare to everyone and working to ensure that social security is protected by fighting against all attempts to privatize it and to ensure it is adequately funded. I will work to protect our environment by capping carbon emissions and investing in projects that build green. I will also work to ensure all of our youth receive the education they deserve from pre-school through college by adequately funding programs such as head start and the Pell Grant College Tuition Loan Program.
The current economic crisis is squeezing the middle class. What should Congress do about it? What specifically would you do if elected to Congress?
Low and middle income families are always hit hardest during economic downturns and Congress needs to provide immediate relief by revising unemployment insurance benefits and suspend taxes on these benefits, extending COBRA, and providing mortgage relief to keep people in their homes in order to stabilize home asset values. We need to provide states fiscal relief to help avoid property tax increases.
If I am elected, I will work to enact legislation to address these issues as well as issues relating to health care and Medicare Part D reform, public investment in clean energy and infrastructure, and to ensure that the 5th Congressional District receives its share of the economic stimulus dollars for job creation.
What are some of the main things you would do to help create jobs in Illinois?
Other than investing in specific industries, like auto, banking, airlines, etc., the Federal Government's best way of creating jobs is to provide programs and money to local units of government, state, county and cities, to give them the ability to attract and incent businesses to locate and stay within their boundaries. Too often, federal programs do not have the affect of creating jobs because accessing their money comes at a cost to the local tax base, and particularly in this economy, local matching funds are just not available.
That being said, I believe the main source of federal job creation is investing in our infrastructure. We need to build and repair our roads, bridges, schools, and public transportation systems. We also need to invest in building green, which will create new jobs. I will work to ensure that federal dollars come back to the 5th Congressional District to invest in creating new jobs. A fully funded workforce development program is also needed, and I support the reauthorization of the Workforce Development Act to ensure our citizens are educated and prepared for jobs in the future.
I believe that small businesses are the cornerstone of local economies, and I would expand the Loan Program for small businesses because access to capital is a main need for most businesses.
Congress needs to provide start-up and long term financing by investing in programs that ensure these funds are available to local small businesses. I will tie any financial loan programs to loans for local community banks to invest in small businesses. Health care costs often cause small businesses to close and to address this problem, I support allowing small businesses to join health care coalitions to lower health care premiums.
I also support legislation that provides emergency relief to small businesses affected by the rising prices of heating oil and natural gas. This legislation would authorize the Small Business Administration to make disaster loans to help small businesses that have sufficient economic losses because of rising heating costs.
What do you think can be done to bring short-term stability to gas and energy prices? Also, what do you think is the best strategy - to both affordably and responsibly - provide for the nation's future energy needs?
To bring about short term stability to gas and energy prices, I support President Obama's proposal to release light oil from the Strategic Petroleum Reserve and replacing it later with heavier crude oil. The reserve is there to help in times of emergency and the economic crisis, combined with rising gas and energy prices, constitutes an emergency. I also support providing emergency energy rebates financed by five years of windfall tax on the record oil company profits. This could provide direct relief to individuals of $500 and $1,000 for married couples. To provide for our nation's long term energy needs, we must reduce our dependence on foreign oil and protect our environment. I support the cap on carbon emissions at a rate that will ensure reductions of 80% by 2050 and I will oppose legislation that gives away permits to emit carbon rather than auctioning them. We can most effectively implement our climate policies through market mechanisms, and auctioning greenhouse gas emission permits also creates a much needed new revenue source. I also advocate directing the revenues from carbon permits toward creating jobs and ensuring the development of new clean energy technologies. I support policies that encourage smart energy solutions that encourage energy efficiency and promote renewable energy such as appliance and lighting standards, consumer tax incentives for improved electrical efficiency, increasing CAFÉ standards and a national Renewable Energy Standard. I also support and will make priorities of policies that promote powering our nation with alternative, green renewable sources of power ? solar and wind; expanding ethanol alternative fuel programs; promote construction programs that build green to reduce global warming emissions, reduce utility costs and generate renewable energy.
Finally, our cars, trucks and buses must be more fuel efficient and Congress needs to tie aid to United States automakers to more fuel efficient cars. I recently passed out of the City Council legislation for the use of neighborhood electric cars in Chicago.
Is there anything that can be done to make health care more accessible and affordable in Illinois? If so, what would you do?
I believe Congress must stop talking and finally do something to provide accessible, affordable health care for everyone. However, that will take time and while working towards universal coverage, I support increased funding for SCHIP that ensures more children in Illinois receive health care coverage and extending COBRA so that workers who lose their jobs in this economy through no fault of their own are eligible for COBRA indefinitely. To bring health care costs down I support allowing the government to negotiate with drug companies to get the best possible prices on prescription drugs and I support reforming Medicare Part D to remove penalties for changing plans during the first year.
Also, as an Alderman, I created school based health clinics and I support increasing federal funding to expand school based health clinics and restoring neighborhood health clinics. I also support federal funding for innovative evidence based public health programs such as CeaseFire that significantly reduce crime and health care costs. I feel strongly that all health care reforms must include mental health provisions and have long been an advocate for mental health parity.
Please state your general views about the war in Iraq.
My general view about the war in Iraq is that regardless of the initial positions pro and con, the fact is we are now there and the question now is what to do about it. I support President Obama and will support his recommendations as Commander in Chief. I believe that Congress needs to support our new President in his foreign policy and give the new strategies a chance to work. However, I also feel we need to have a military supported exit strategy and plan in place for an Iraq after we withdraw our troops. In addition, I feel strongly that Congress must do a better job of addressing the problems facing our returning veterans and their families, especially with respect to mental health care and physical rehabilitation. We also need to ensure that our military families are receiving decent, livable wages and quality housing while serving in our armed forces. For too long, Congress sends young people to war and forgets about them afterwards and this is unacceptable.
What are your thoughts on how to deal with illegal immigration? Also, what do you think should be done about illegal immigrants who are already here in the U.S.?
I support proposals that would allow those living here illegally but otherwise following our laws, to come forward, and have a pathway to citizenship, that could include application fees, fines or other measures targeted at border protection costs. We need to improve and we need to increase the number of people we allow into the country legally to a level that keeps families together and meets the demand for jobs that employers can document that they cannot fill with US citizens. We should not pass a border enforcement bill that is not part of a fair and comprehensive reform bill. I support the legislation Congressman Gutierrez sponsored, the Citizen Promotion Act that ensures the immigration application fees are reasonable and fair.
What ideas do you have for improving our education system and for making our colleges and universities more affordable?
I served as the Chairman of the Committee on Education and Child Development and have seen firsthand the needs of our public schools. I would improve our education system by investing federal funds in school infrastructure repair and increase funding for evidence based programs with a proven success rate such as Head Start. I would also invest in teacher training and work to ensure our classrooms have the newest technologies so our children can compete in the global market. I would put an end to unfunded federal mandates such as No Child Left Behind that tie the hands of local teachers and school systems and create a financial burden on local school systems.
As the father of 5 children who I have put and am putting through college, I know how expensive higher education can be and I feel Congress has long needed to reform Title IV's student assistance programs. I support and will strengthen the Pell Grant program, as well as putting funding into campus based financial assistance loan programs and increase federal loan limits so that borrowers are not forced to take out alternative private loans which generally carry higher interest rates and usually lack borrower benefits like deferments. I support legislation like the Ensuring Continued Access to Student Loans Act of 2008 and the College Student Relief Act which reduces interest rates on government subsidized loans. I also support the College Opportunity and Affordability Act that encourages colleges to limit the price increases for tuition, restore accountability to their student loan programs, and work to simplify the student loan application process.
I helped fund the Taxpayer Assistance Program with City and Board of Education Support and this group helps people prepare tax returns to obtain their earned income tax credit payment. Simultaneously, they help parents and students prepare their FAFSA form to be eligible for student assistance. The average eligibility has been over $10,000 per student.
What are your highest priorities for protecting the environment in Illinois?
My highest priorities for protecting the environment in Illinois are to strengthen and restore cuts to the federal Clean Air and Clean Water Acts, and we must ensure any "bail out" money to auto makers includes provisions to help US automakers build cleaner and more fuel efficient vehicles. I will support legislation that recognizes and invests in green infrastructure and green job development that will immediately put people to work and reinvigorate our economy while protecting our environment.
I will support caps on carbon emissions to reduce by 80% carbon emissions by 2050, I will support a ban on building new coal fired plants that do not require substantial climate change emission reductions, expanding coal use hinders the development of cleaner, safer and more sustainable technologies such as renewable power ? wind and solar. I will work to strengthen and restore protections for bodies of water such as isolated wetlands, headwater streams and prairie potholes. Safeguarding these resources is critical because they recharge groundwater, prevent flooding, ensure clean drinking water and protect wildlife habitats. In the last 8 years, the United States EPA issued new guidelines that resulted in approximately 20 million acres of the remaining lower United States wetlands being placed at risk for pollution and outright destruction.
I will support dedicated funding for the maintenance and upgrading of our nation's sewage infrastructure and increase funding for the Clean Water State Revolving Fund that assists communities with maintaining and upgrading their wastewater treatment facilities and infrastructure. I will also support requiring that improvements to existing infrastructure be exhausted before costly new road projects are approved. The current paving over of America has to be curtailed, with a more well thought out comprehensive approach found. When new road projects are necessary we need to coordinate construction impacts on surrounding ecosystems. Factors that can be utilized include flexible highway design ? median barriers adjusted to reduce negative impacts on natural areas, use of "split profile" roadways and "split interchanges" to reduce impacts on wetlands, flood buy out properties and other natural resources. We can improve transportation and enhance ecosystems by integrating ecological, economic and social factors into our planned approach. Putting more money into mass transit and a more efficient intercontinental rail system would help move people more efficiently with less reliance on oil based technologies, reduce the need for new roads and create more jobs for the effort. I would support Wilderness designation for Ripple Hollow, Burke Ranch and Camp Hutchins in the Illinois Shawnee National Forest. The people of Illinois overwhelmingly by a ratio of 7 to 1 supported wilderness designation for these 3 areas and their voice should be heard.
Rep. Greg Harris
Rep. John D'Amico
Ald. Bernie Stone
Senator Ira Silverstein
Ald. Margaret Laurino
Democratic Committeeman Randy Barnette
Democratic Committeewoman Mary O'Connor;
Terry O'Brien, President/Commissioner Water Reclamation District
Robert Boskovich, President/Business Manager, Iron Workers Local Union No. 1