IN EARLY DECEMBER, Ben Joravsky interviewed mayoral candidate Toni Preckwinkle. Now chair of the Cook County Democratic Party, and president of the Cook County Board since 2010, she withstood the overturn of her soda tax to win reelection in 2014. Prior to her election to the board she was the longtime alderman of the Fourth Ward, and prior to that a CPS history teacher. This interview has been edited for length and clarity.
JORAVSKY: I was very intrigued by your call for a ban on the creation of new charter schools. In the past you’ve been supportive of some charters. Is this an indication that in your mind we went too far under Mayor Rahm and Mayor Daley by creating too many charters?
PRECKWINKLE: We want to provide quality education for all of our kids. When I was alderman—and I was alderman for almost 20 years—when people were thinking about moving into the ward they came to me and they said, we have two questions: Are the schools good and are the streets safe? So if we’re going to build a strong city, we have to have strong neighborhoods and schools that are community anchors, and we have to make them high quality in all of our neighborhoods.
And about the ban on closing more schools in the next four years, can we afford that, first of all, and why do you think that’s necessary?
When you close a school it’s not just closing a school, it’s withdrawing a community anchor. It’s not just the education that’s withdrawn—it’s a very public way of disinvesting in a community, especially if, after four or five years, the school is still vacant, boarded up, abandoned, an eyesore, and a blight in your community.
When you look back at Rahm’s decision to close those schools, do you think it has a connection to the drop-off in population Chicago has suffered in the black wards?
I don’t know what to attribute the population loss to—I think that’s something that bears further research. But you know, Mayor Emanuel came in basically disparaging teachers. I think there was a contract [that] was about to be up and he talked about how all the teachers cared about was money. Well, I was a teacher for a decade. I never met anybody who went into teaching for the money. I’m sorry, but people who go into teaching love kids, love their subject matter. Nobody’s motivated by the money to go into education. To close 50 [schools] and not have the infrastructure in place to see that those transitions go well, I think was a terrible mistake, and I said so at the time. That’s my tribe—I am a teacher.
Of course, the other great plank on your platform is kicking more of the TIF surplus to the Chicago Public Schools. Explain to folks exactly what you’re talking about with that issue.
TIFs have been used way beyond the initial way in which the program was envisioned—that is, catalyzing development in struggling neighborhoods. My state representative, majority leader Barbara Flynn Currie, has a measure in the hopper that would say that all declared TIF surpluses in Chicago would go to the Chicago Public Schools. They are the taxing body that suffers the greatest losses as a result of the sequestering of funds in TIF districts.
Mayor Rahm, as he’s heading out of office, has a proposal for a new TIF district on the north side of Chicago, the Lincoln Yards TIF district. It could bring in $800 million to a billion. He’s trying to rush it through before he leaves, during the lame-duck session. Are you willing to stand up and oppose that TIF district, at least until you become mayor and can review it?
Let me say this, I think any development of that magnitude and proposing that you put it all into a TIF district raises questions in my mind. I know this is in Brian Hopkins’s ward, and I will tell you the truth, I haven’t talked to Brian Hopkins about it. So I don’t want to be in a position where I haven’t even talked to the local alderman about a development and then take a position on it. But it’s troubling to me that this site would be the subject of tremendous TIF support. The question is whether you could do development there without the TIF and preserve those property taxes for the taxing bodies, particularly our public schools.
Bill Daley came out with a commercial saying he would have a moratorium on property tax hikes. Do you favor such a moratorium?
Well, here’s the challenge. The city of Chicago is not the only entity which relies on property taxes. Public schools do, the county does, and it’s hard to see how the mayor can pledge that your property taxes are not going to be increased if there are all kinds of other taxing bodies that have the same power to increase your property taxes. Property taxes are less regressive than sales taxes and often less regressive than fines and fees which governments also rely on. So I would hesitate to say I’m not going to raise property taxes, although I think that the first thing you have to do when you go into the mayor’s office is look at operations and figure out how we can be more efficient, how we can be more effective, how we can use our tax dollars better.
The feds came knocking on Alderman Ed Burke’s door in late November, going through both his City Hall office and his ward office. He had a fund-raiser a couple days later and a thousand people showed up. Were you one of the people that showed up at the fund-raiser?
No, it was the night in which I had three or four other things.
Would you have shown up if you didn’t have three or four other things?
If you are elected mayor of the city of Chicago, are you pledging you’re going to have a healthier relationship with the Chicago Teachers Union than Rahm Emanuel did?
Well, I hope to have a good relationship with all of our labor unions. It’s really critical that as mayor you have good working relationships with the all the constituencies that make up the city. Of course labor unions have always been an important part of our city fabric, and that’s particularly true of the Chicago Teachers Union, and as I said, teachers are my tribe. v