Sunday, December 19, 2010

Q&A with the Rev. James Meeks

A Sun-Times interview with Meeks, the Mayoral candidate. Here are some of the answers I do like from him:
Q. Do you have business-recruitment techniques you’ve used here that you’d like to take citywide?

A. We have the “Arise’’ program. People come to the church and propose start-up businesses. A panel of judges votes on the best presentation. The winner gets $5,000 to start a business. I’d like to see the city figure out a way to invest in start-up business. I’ve tried to work with the alderman to bring a simple thing to this neighborhood called a supermarket. I would like to use TIF [Tax Increment Financing] funds to make sure there is a grocery store in every neighborhood. I’m working with the general assembly to change the law so that revenues that exceed a certain amount in TIF accounts can be used for blighted communities.
Q. What do you think of Daley declaring parts of downtown “blighted” to start TIFs there?

A. Development downtown is good. Downtown is the crown jewel of our city. We should protect big business at all costs. When big business grows, it creates jobs. Downtown TIFs can also benefit neighborhoods like Austin and Englewood that are blighted. We want people in blighted communities to cheer every time there is a new expansion downtown … because they also know it benefits their community.
Q. You have fought to end the inequities in funding Illinois schools. As mayor would you have more leverage to fix that?

A. As long as we could show the general assembly how these dollars would translate into student improvement, I think the appetite is there right now. If we spend “X’’ number of dollars on full-day kindergarten, you’ll see improvement. We did a survey and 75 percent of people in the state are willing to pay more to education if we could show there was some improvement.
Q. How do you solve the city’s under-funded pension crisis? 

A. One of the biggest problems the new mayor faces is pensions. What real leadership does is put the proposals on the table now so everybody can see them. I think the present employees have to pay more into the pension system. We’re going to have to maybe raise the retirement age from 50 to 55. I think the city is going to have to contribute more. I think we’re going to have to move to a two-tier pension system. This will all be part of negotiations. It depends how many jobs we want to save.

Q. What do you think of leasing out city assets like parking meters, the Skyway and Midway Airport?

A. People who talk about reversing the parking meter deal, I don’t know how you can talk about reversing it when the billion dollars has already been spent. We’re stuck. I am not in favor of mortgaging our future, especially when we don’t have any assets left that would be revenue-generating. [Midway Airport] would be another short-term solution. I am not a fan of privatizing city assets. There are some worth looking at, like garbage collection. But Midway? After the parking meters, I think there is not an appetite from the citizens to privatize anything big like that.

Q. You think we could privatize garbage collection?

A. That could work, privatizing garbage collection, looking at a different grid, reducing the amount of men that are on the trucks now could work. We have three because of union rules. The one that drives it can only drive. But our situation is dire — we might not be able to do all the things that we used to do.
You know I've been wanting to write a post here saying that I'm having a tough time getting worked up about this mayoral race. Emanuel is the one who many expect to win, but the others in this race aren't people I would be crazy about voting for. Meeks could win my vote, but I feel as if he should stay in the state Senate to continue to advocate for public school changes in Springfield. He would have a tough time as Mayor, surely.

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