Rahm Emanuel, Candidate for Chicago Mayor

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Sunday, February 1, 2015

Rahm Emanuel

Candidate Full Name: Rahm Emanuel

Office: Chicago Mayor

Survey Questions (Character limit of 2,000 per response)

It's the next Mayor of Chicago that will deal with the full consequences of the financial decisions being made today. What strategies will you use to make headway with the budget difficulties?

The financial problems we inherited four years ago are due to decades of substantial borrowing, pushing debt obligations out into the future, ignoring the growing billions in shortfalls in our city pension funds, and utilizing long-term reserve funds like those gained from the parking meter deal to balance budgets and pay for short-term operating expenses. When I took office we immediately began the work of turning these practices around and strengthening the city's finances.

First, by actively managing our spending and revenues and implementing structural and long-term reforms to our budget, we have cut the city's structural operating deficit in half in just three years. At the same time, we added to the city's rainy day fund with each of my four budgets instead of raiding long-term reserves. Second, we achieved landmark pension reform that will address half of the city's billions in underfunded pension liabilities. Third, we have eliminated hundreds of millions of dollars of taxpayer risk by terminating seven swap and swaption contracts of more than $1 billion and renegotiating an additional 11 totaling $1.25 billion. Finally, we have substantially slowed the growth of the city's long-term debt from 8% in the three years before taking office, as compared to 3% in the last three years.

Decades of risky financial decisions cannot responsibly be undone overnight without substantial negative impact on residents and taxpayers, but my administration has made significant progress in aligning expenses with revenues to balance our budget and continue providing critical services, actively managing our long-term debt portfolio, and addressing our billions in underfunded pensions. Going forward, we will take this same approach to continue righting the financial ship of our city and ensuring the economic strength of Chicago.

2. Will you raise property taxes?

Over my first term, we have cut the city's budget deficit by 60% without raising gas, sales, or property taxes of the working people of Chicago. As much as we've done, I will continue looking to cut waste, fraud and abuse before I ever consider raising taxes.

3. How do you feel about privatizing city assets?

Learning from the critical mistakes made when privatizing the parking meters, I assembled a Midway Privatization Working Group, which included participation from organized labor, to examine the potential of a public-private partnership at the airport. Based on the group's findings, I did not support that deal. My administration is currently working with labor and good government groups to codify that process so that all future administrations are required to complete thorough and public due diligence before entering into a deal.

4. How will you improve the Chicago School System?

While the Chicago Public Schools have never been stronger, there remains much work to do. Graduation rates, attendance and test scores are all at record highs, but we should not feel satisfied until every student from every neighborhood is guaranteed the same high-quality education. There is a lot to be proud of: after four years of investments and reform, Chicago provides students with a full school day that will provide a student entering kindergarten nearly 2.5 additional years of instructional time by the time they graduate high school. For the first time, all 30,000 CPS kindergarten students receive a full day of kindergarten and 75% of 3 and 4-year olds below the poverty line have access to quality pre-school options. In addition, students and families have more high-quality school options including strong neighborhood schools strengthened by investments in International Baccalaureate and STEM programs, magnet, gifted, charter, and military schools.

But we still have more to do to ensure that every child has access to a world-class learning experience from birth. My administration will continue to pursue an education agenda built around five themes - expanding diverse and rigorous high-quality public education options for all Chicago families, empowering principals and teachers with greater autonomy and holding them accountable for performance, investing in student supports, engaging and empowering parents, and challenging the district to innovate to make Chicago a city of learning. My full plan is available here:

Investing in our children's future is a top priority and despite budget constraints CPS continues to make significant investments in schools, programs, and facilities that will benefit students in all Chicago neighborhoods across the city. Through $750 million in central office, administrative and operational cuts, we will ensure the funding stays where it belongs - with the students in classrooms across the city. But moving forward we must address the looming budget crisis with a far broader strategy. To start, I continue to work with our partners in Springfield to reform the pension system and give Chicago its fair share of education funding. Last year, Springfield passed pension reform for all school districts in Illinois except Chicago. Equally problematic, the state of Illinois budget pays the full pension cost for all school districts other than Chicago. Between these two disparities, Chicago is losing out on hundreds of millions of dollars in financial relief that can directly impact our classrooms. I will continue to work in Springfield to correct these disparities and fight to make sure that Chicago is no longer treated differently when it comes to education funding and pension relief.

Though we have come a far way since Education Secretary Bill Bennett said Chicago's schools were the worst in the nation, we have not come close to realizing our true potential. If we keep making critical investments and making the tough choices to put our kids ahead of politics, we will continue seeing record gains and achieve our goal of ensuring every child from every community has access to an excellent public education.

5. How would you work the Chicago Police Department and community members to make residents feel safe in their neighborhoods?

Despite the fact that we are experiencing the fewest murders than any year since 1965, and the lowest crime rate in decades, the measure of our success is whether a parent feels comfortable letting their child be outside. Until every parent in every community shares that same sense of security, we have more work to do. That is why I implemented a comprehensive crime reduction approach when I took office, incorporating the voices of law enforcement, community leaders and clergy to address the role of policing, prevention and the community in our common mission to reduce violence.

The Chicago Police Department has seen a dramatic change at all levels. At the top there is new leadership held accountable through CompStat, and among the ranks there are more than 1,100 new recruits adding new energy to the department for the first time in a decade. We have moved officers from behind desks to behind the wheel of a squad car - or the handlebars of a bike. At the same time, we are utilizing those resources more efficiently through intelligence-based policing. Operation Impact, which adds hundreds of officers on foot patrol in 20 areas that account for 3% of the city's population but 20% of its crime, has led to a dramatic decline in violence in those areas where officers are more visible and able to interact with community members. Through the Two Degrees of Association program, CPD has identified 500 individuals at highest risk of violence and has reached out to many of them to offer connections to services. In 2014, we formed a multi-agency task force on domestic violence and are piloting a program to help identify households at serious risk of injury or fatality. CPD has also shifted its focus away from low-level and non-violent drug crimes and towards preventing and stopping violent crime. As part of that strategy, the Mayor worked with City Council to pass a city law permitting civil citations for possession of small amounts of cannabis. That law has resulted in a nearly 40% decrease in arrests for small amounts of cannabis possession for the first half of 2014 compared to the same time period in 2012.

The strategy is not just about locking more people in jail, which has significant long-term costs to the City and County. In fact, citywide arrests for all crimes have declined by 11% while overall crime has declined by 27% and clearance rates have improved by 18% -- proving it is possible to reduce crime while arresting fewer people and fostering better cooperation with the communities we serve.

Developing higher levels of trust between communities and police has been a major priority for this administration. CPD created and implemented training for police officers to teach fairness and respect - also called "procedural justice." To date, more than 9,500 Chicago police personnel have completed this training. When police misconduct does occur, we are committed to responding swiftly and fairly and providing a new level of transparency about the process. Over the last 18 months, the Independent Police Review Authority, which investigates all serious police misconduct, has reduced its case backlog by 51% by streamlining its intake procedures, expanding the use of mediation, and holding personnel accountable for timely investigations. And, in a reversal of past practice, the City recently announced that it will make internal investigation files into alleged police misconduct open to public scrutiny.

While the Chicago Police Department plays a critical role in reducing crime in Chicago, we know cannot arrest our way out of the problem. Chicago's holistic, public health approach to violence reduction includes investments in prevention and intervention programs to help treat the root causes of violence, including poverty, trauma and disparities in education and workforce skills. Key prevention investments include, but are not limited to, universal Pre-K for families in poverty, an increase from 14,000 to 22,500 summer jobs through One Summer Chicago Plus, teen dating violence prevention, 150 refurbished basketball courts, 175 playground improvements, and 750 Night out in the Parks events. Intervention programs, which are designed to reach youth at higher risk of violence, include One Summer Chicago Plus, a summer jobs program specifically designed for justice-involved youth. Participants in the program were 43% less likely to be arrested for a crime than their peers - results that last for more than a year after the program ended, according to research published in Science Magazine. Other intervention efforts include replacing zero-tolerance school discipline with restorative practices, resulting in over 30% declines in out-of-school suspensions, referrals for expulsions and arrests of students.

To strengthen and build on the City's public health approach to violence prevention, earlier this year we formed the Mayor's Commission for a Safer Chicago. The Commission brings together over 130 City staff, community and faith leaders, practitioners, parents and youth to update the City's plan to address violence. United in a belief that violence is preventable and not inevitable, the Mayor's Commission for a Safer Chicago represents a new way of doing business: a model of shared vision, shared action and shared responsibility. In December 2014, the Commission will publish recommendations in youth employment, health, restorative practices in schools, safety and justice, and safe places and activities.

Despite this progress, we continue to have a gun problem - driven in large part by the ease with which someone can go to the suburbs, Indiana or Wisconsin to easily purchase a weapon or get it through a straw purchaser. Until we have better state and federal laws to keep these guns out of our communities in the first place, we'll continue to face challenges. We should begin by passing the Chicago gun store ordinance on the state level. This would require all gun dealers in Illinois - which account for 40% of the guns recovered in Chicago crime scenes, to implement best-practice policies such as training, security plans, inventory audits, tracking merchandise recovered in crimes, employee background checks, and videotaping the point of sale.

6. Do you support or oppose the vote to increase the minimum wage in several steps to $13 an hour by 2019? Why?

I strongly support our work to raise Chicago's minimum wage to $13 an hour and tie future increases to the cost of living. For decades the minimum wage has failed to keep up with inflation. The value of the current minimum wage is 22 percent lower in real dollars than it was from 1960 to 1980, and with one in five Chicagoans living in poverty I could no longer sit back and watch as their wages continued to erode.

Our ordinance will give more than 400,000 workers a raise and lift roughly 70,000 out of poverty, including more than 5,000 single mothers. The ordinance would provide a big boost to the local economy as well, injecting $860 million in stimulus over five years. We drafted the ordinance based on the recommendations and analysis of the Minimum Wage Working Group - a diverse mix of community leaders, experts, labor leaders, and aldermen - who determined that the benefits of a $13 minimum wage would outweigh the costs. The working group met eight times in five weeks, held five public meetings across the city, and heard from hundreds of residents, listened to expert testimony from representatives of all sides of the minimum wage debate, and review dozens of studies of previous increases.

According to the Working Group, the vast majority of studies found the impact of prior wage increases on jobs to be minimum. A $13 minimum wage a 42 percent increase when adjusted by inflation over five years, placing it on par with the increases studies by the working group, including the nearly 40 percent federal increase I helped pass in 2007. The working group also conducted an analysis based on census data, interviews with industry groups and individual businesses, and trade publications that found that those businesses most affected by a minimum wage increase would still see only single-digit percentage increases in their total business expenses when that increase is phased in over five years. That is why 44 aldermen voted to give more than 400,000 workers a raise.

7. Are you in favor of Chicago's Red Light Camera program? Why?

As in hundreds of other cities, Chicago's red light camera program has proven to be an effective tool in making our streets safer for drivers, bikers and pedestrians. At intersections with red light cameras the number of crashes that result in injuries have fallen by 22 percent. From 2005 to 2012, the number of people injured at intersections with red light cameras dropped from 1023 to 798. But the red light camera program can only be effective if the public trust is as strong as the public safety impact.

My administration inherited this system and took quick action with the Inspector General when we learned of problems. I fired Redflex when we learned of fraud, and implemented a much more thorough level of accountability when a new operations contract was awarded. The new vendor has more advanced camera equipment and analysis capabilities. The vendor was required to establish an early warning system to identify ticketing anomalies, hold more frequent management meetings to review performance with Chicago Department of Transportation officials, and post ticket data on the City's open data portal to ensure full transparency for motorists and taxpayers.

My administration continues to work with the Inspector General when needed to ensure we are constantly monitoring and improving the system.

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