Ameya Pawar elected to Chicago City Council
Chicago, Feb 25, 2011
First Indian-American elected to Chicago City Council
Thirty year old Ameya Pawar has become the first Indian-American to be elected to the Chicago City Council.. Pawar was elected Tuesday as the alderman for the 47th Ward on Chicago's North Side that has been represented by outgoing alderman Gene Schulter for over 30 years
"It is amazing. It was really amazing," Pawar, who was a virtual unknown when he entered the race, told ABC7 after the election.
Tuesday night, Pawar had not planned an Election Night party like other aldermanic candidates, the channel said. But when the numbers started coming in, he headed to Timber Lanes where the bowling alley owners were among his first supporters.
"It was a nail biter. We were nervous. We were just so hopeful. We were scared. The excitement was unbelievable," Karen Kuhn of Timber Lanes was quoted as saying.
Pawar, the son of Indian immigrants and an emergency preparedness expert working on his third master's degree, won with 50 percent of the vote.
"I don't think it mattered what my background was. They just wanted to get involved. They wanted a say in what was going on in their local government," said Pawar.
Pawar promises to have an elected ward council to guide his actions at City Hall and to give $50,000 of his salary to help offset the city's deficit or offer community grants. He says the city's budget issues motivated him to get involved.
"We have a lot of issues that we have to work through. But it's what you do in the private sector, non-profit sector when you have problems or issues, you bring in new eyes to a set of problems and you work on them together," Pawar was quoted as saying.
Pawar says he stands on the shoulders of other prominent Indian American as well as his parents and grandparents... IANS/ NRIprerss.com
About Ameya Pawar
Running for public office is something I have dreamt of since 2004, when I found myself becoming increasingly disappointed with the divisive nature of our politics. I often wonder at how politics always seems to trump the idea of public service, a dichotomy that truly mystifies me.
In the summer 0f 2009, I had the opportunity to spend 10 weeks in Jaipur, India, as part of the State Department’s Critical Language Program. As a State Department Scholar, I learned from some of this country’s brightest minds. In India, I had many interesting conversations about politics. One question continually arose: “Wouldn’t it be great if we could just set politics aside for once and focus on what is needed?” It reminded me of many late-night discussions in college, and it renewed the promise of my youthful idealism. So today I am running for alderman without a political agenda and with a focus on improving the city.
My name is Ameya Pawar and I was born and raised in the Chicagoland area. I earned my B.A. in Philosophy and Religion from Missouri Valley College, but returned to Chicago to receive my M.P.A. at the Illinois Institute of Technology. While attending IIT, I interned with the Village of Riverside. As a management intern, I worked directly with the City Manager, department heads and various elected officials.
Following graduation from IIT, I enrolled in the University of Chicago’s M.Sc. in Threat and Response Management Program. This experience really changed my life.
My first lesson in emergency management was the foundation for all my current work and serves as the foundation for this campaign. That first lesson was: All response is local.
I spent the next two years studying the interplay between social vulnerability, disasters, and systemic local issues that impact emergency management. Specifically, I was interested in developing mechanisms to help municipalities mitigate social vulnerability. I presented ideas related to disaster and vulnerability at the 2008, 2009, & 2010 FEMA Higher Education Conference, the 2008 American Sociological Association National Conference and the 2009 American Society for Public Administration National Conference. As a result of that work, my capstone group was offered a contract by Taylor & Francis to write a textbook. The book will be published in mid-2011.
I graduated from the Threat and Response Management program in June 2009. After I returned from the State Department program in India, I began work in the School of Social Service Administration at the University of Chicago. Through this program, I hope to gain a solid foundation in social policy and clinical social work that I can apply in the City Council.
Today, I work at Northwestern University as a Program Assistant in the Office of Emergency Management. My work involves assisting in the development of a comprehensive, university-wide business continuity program.
Due to my interest and concern for vulnerable populations, I joined the Board of Directors for the Illinois Center for Violence Prevention (ICVP) and, more recently, the Common Pantry. My time with ICVP has reinforced my commitment to mitigating violence through prevention. As a volunteer at the Common Pantry, I’ve learned first-hand about the hardships many families face each month simply to put food on the table.
“All response is local.” The moment I learned that phrase was one of the crystallizing moments of my life. I know that we can address many of our most pressing problems in Chicago by responding at a local level. We can work to mitigate the circumstances that stress our municipal services. We can renew our faith in government and demand that our leaders focus strictly on public service. I am idealistic and I am running with the so-called “naïve” outlook that idealism can change the world. I love this City and I know you do too. I don’t have all the answers, but I know that we can find them together.
Thank you for taking the time for reading my bio. It is an honor to have you visit the Renew Chicago Web site, and I hope we will be able to work together.
Ameya's Campaign Policy
I am running an independent campaign. This means that I will not seek out endorsements from any candidate or party.
Campaign Finance Plan
Public debate of issues should be the driving force of a political campaign. As such, I believe it is not enough to talk about campaign finance reform as an ideal. We need to do something about it now.
Here is my plan for a transparent campaign finance plan:
I will make sure that everyone has an opportunity to run for the aldermanic office every four years. To do this, I will zero out my campaign fund before the start of each campaigning process so that every candidate starts on even financial footing. I will also work with my opponents to develop a fundraising dollar maximum. I pledge that I will raise only as much as the agreed-upon amount.
I also pledge to serve only two (2) terms.
Public Service Campaign
I envision a public service campaign in 2015 where all candidates can go on a ‘whistle-stop’ tour of the Ward to debate the issues. This is possible and I will make sure that it will happen.
Here is my pledge to you:
•We will focus solely on what needs to be done.
•We will not engage in discussions with individuals or groups whose goal is to discredit meaningful discussions.
Editorial board questionnaires
Candidate for Alderman, 47th Ward
Responses to our questionnaire
Previous political experience (elective and appointed positions):
M.A. University of Chicago exp. 2011 Social Service Administration M.S. University of Chicago Threat & Response Management M.P.A. Illinois Institute of Technology Public Administration B.A. Missouri Valley College Philosophy & Religion Other academic awards/honors United States Department of State Critical Language Scholar - 2009
What are the most critical issues in your ward and how would you address them?
As in most wards, property taxes, schools and crime are critical issues in the 47th ward, but they are linked to the most critical issue facing the city – the budget deficit. We pride ourselves on being a global city -- a city that is a hub of commerce, culture, and the arts. We recognize that we are the economic engine of the Midwest, plugging into a national and global economy that demands efficiency. Yet, our 50 wards are run like medieval fiefdoms. As the deficit nears a billion dollars in the coming years the residents of the 47th ward will pay more and receive less service. Services are not structured in a sustainable manner. For decades, the alderman threw money and resources at problems without care for how things got done or what they cost. This approach was endemic in Chicago. Years of inefficiency and inequity have finally caught up. This old way of doing things no longer works. We need to take stock of what works, fix what doesn’t, and get rid of what cannot be fixed. As alderman, I will go through every budget line to identify efficiencies, eliminate waste and make cuts. We can no longer afford to elect aldermen that believe their sole responsibility is that of a custodial figure. As alderman, I will create a ward council. Drawing from the entire community, this legislative body will mirror the City Council at the ward level. Residents and business owners will work with me to help craft a responsible budget and structure services. This council will be able to vote on the aldermanic menu, zoning, development and TIF spending. Renewing our government will require more voices and a real participatory framework. I will be both a quality control manager of local service delivery and a legislator.
The City Council has spent hundreds of millions of dollars in reserve funds to balance the city budget in recent years. How would you balance the budget without relying on one-time revenues? Should the city raise taxes? Please specify three areas in which you would cut city spending and estimate how much money would be saved.
You wouldn’t sell your watch to pay the water bill or pay your mortgage with a credit card. But that is what our City Council has been doing. By kicking the can down the road and mortgaging our future they are derelict in their legislative and fiduciary duty. By structuring services unsustainably, underfunding pensions and inserting clout at every intersection, elected officials created a structural deficit. To rid ourselves of this structural deficit, I will demand we address expenses before turning to taxpayers for additional revenue. To achieve this goal, we must implement zero-based budgeting for every department. Department heads must eliminate department budget surpluses and justify every line item. Here are three immediate cuts I would propose: - Immediately implement the savings/cuts outlined by IG Ferguson: $83 million in savings - Identify all Shakman exempt positions and immediately institute a 10% pay reduction: millions of dollars in savings - Reduce City Council expenses –reduce salaries to $60k, eliminate pension benefits and cut aldermanic expense accounts to $50k: $4.1 million in savings
Chicago’s four employee pension funds have a total unfunded liability of $14.57 billion. All four funds could run out of money by 2030. What steps do you recommend to make those funds solvent? Would you support higher contributions from employees? Higher retirement ages? Reduced benefits for future or current employees?
We cannot take benefits away from current employees or retirees because our elected officials failed to do their job. But before we address pensions, we must address the budget deficit. After we do that, we will have earned the trust from the public and pensioners. We can then have a discussion about pension obligation bonds, additional taxes and other revenue sources to fund pensions. Simultaneously, we must create a new benefits system. The current pension system is not sustainable over the long-term. If we maintain our current course, the system will be forced into bankruptcy. I will introduce an ordinance that will prevent pension fund bankruptcies and restructure the entire pension system for sustainability. The following will be enacted for all new employees: The components outlined below would be phased in over a 20 year period. - Increase retirement ages to 67 - Decrease benefits - Increase employee contributions - Offer a private sector 401k program as an alternative to new defined benefit program
Should more city services be operated under contract by private companies? Should city facilities such as Midway Airport be leased for private operation?
I will vote NO to leasing/selling water services. I will vote NO to leasing/selling other assets until the City does the following: - Establish long-term reserve fund - Create formal asset lease fund withdrawal policy - Adopt Civic Federation policy on asset lease fund use - Requires 60 days of public input prior to any lease or sale. The terms of the deal must be available online with mechanism for public comment - Requires public hearing in every ward 15 days prior to City Council vote on asset lease/sale - Requires specific project plans for use of money; if there is no plan the money is deposited into escrow and can only be accessed for specific projects via ordinance - Prohibits the use of funds for budget deficits or on-going operations
Chicago’s tax increment financing districts raise about $500 million a year, which is spent outside of the normal city budgeting process and largely at the discretion of the mayor. Do you believe the money has been spent wisely and responsibly? Should the City Council and/or the public play a larger role in deciding how TIF money is spent? Should the city reduce the number of TIF districts?
Tax-increment finance funds are supposed to be used for the development of blighted areas. The Mayor and City Council have used creative definitions for blighted (Lincoln Square, Loop and French Market) and as a result have shortchanged schools, parks and other City services for nearly a generation. Here is my TIF reform plan: - Freezing current TIF program and redirecting money back to services - Prohibiting the creation of any new TIFs until program is reformed - Prior to the restarting of the TIF program a concrete City definition of ‘blighted’ is developed - Porting of funds must be done with City Council approval - All TIF districts would adjust frozen EAVs for inflation or CIP - Allow more local control (residents can opt to have TIF districts avoid capturing increments of school, etc) - Require a project plan with concrete deliverables prior to the creation of any new TIF district - Prohibit any elected official from accepting donations from any firm receiving TIF dollars in any TIF district - Require public bidding of any TIF contract In my ward, I will work with the Ward Council before any TIF district is proposed. This council will also help me develop project plans and serve as a financial control over expenditures and contracts. Lastly, all six TIFs in the 47th ward should be reevaluated to see if they are generating positive results in the ward. If not, the TIF districts should be abolished.
Should the chief executive and board of the Chicago Public Schools be appointed by the mayor? If not, what model of CPS administration do you support, and why? Please assess the success or failure of Renaissance 2010. How would you improve the performance of the public schools?
Michelle Rhee recently stated that when a Mayor appoints a Chief Executive and Board, there is a shared vision. That vision is for a better system. Her newly created Students First organization succinctly summarizes the problem: “America's schools are failing our kids. On this point, the data is clear. While some people blame the kids, or simply want to throw more money at the problem, we know that real change requires a better system.” The Mayor should appoint the Chief Executive and the Board. If we elect our Mayor then we are buying into his/her vision for education. The City Council should have some input through a confirmation process. Renaissance 2010 has not been around long enough to assess all its impacts. But there are some interesting data points emerging. According to a 2009 report from the Chicago Education Consortium, some schools have improved, while many remain below average or similar to system-wide schools. Charter schools have not improved outcomes on achievement tests and sufficient monitoring systems are not in place to track progress. The results are mixed and point to a much larger problem. There’s no silver bullet in the effort to improve our schools. But today, instead of focusing on the unique situation facing each school, we try to identify easy one-stop shop solutions (charter schools, school closings and teacher evaluations). We rely too much on quick fixes. Many students that attend public schools live in neighborhoods where there is economic decay and/or limited access to critical resources. If we can understand that safe passage is a problem for many children, then moving children to different schools does nothing for safe passage. If we know that proper nutrition contributes to cognitive development then we should understand that school closings do nothing for a hungry child. If we know that early childhood education, access to primary care and parental involvement is what makes for a productive family, then the absence of even one of these is detrimental for a child. We need to give Renaissance 2010 a chance to thrive after taking some corrective actions. But most important, we cannot pin all our hopes on the program. For the program to succeed, we have to look at each school critically and identify the best solutions. If we do that, we can improve the performance of our schools.
How can Chicago encourage employers to locate in the city?
Chicago can encourage employers to locate to the City by passing a balanced budget, eliminating structural deficits and structuring services sustainably. We ask companies to relocate or open new operations in Chicago. We ask them to invest in Chicago. Similarly, the City must invest in providing quality services to the employees of these companies so they stay. The families of these employees want to send their kids to good schools and enjoy clean parks and receive a high level of services. The relationship is symbiotic. To make sure we can provide all these services, we must make sure they are structured in durable way so that employers will continue investing in Chicago for multiple generations. But to get that investment from employers, the City must invest in reducing tax burdens and maintain efficiency. If we can do that, we will attract thousands of jobs because a City that needs less revenue but can deliver a high level of services is a City that thrives.
Has the Chicago Housing Authority’s Plan for Transformation been beneficial for Chicago?
The CHA plan has been beneficial for Chicago insofar as it eliminated high-rise projects. However, the plan is incomplete and has created problems which must be addressed. Since 2000, the CHA has demolished nearly 22,000 units of affordable housing. The loss of this stock has meaningful impacts on the working poor and other families struggling to make ends meet. There are many Chicagoans that pay a majority of their income towards housing and many that have no housing at all. The Plan for Transformation fundamentally altered the nature of the CHA. Today the CHA is building mixed-income developments for families, the disabled and seniors but the CHA has not made a dent in replacing the 22,000 units that were eliminated. The affordable housing market in Chicago is stretched to its breaking point, and although the transformed CHA is no longer addressing that problem, there needs to be a conversation about housing for those unable to find it on the private market.
Should the City Council adopt a living-wage ordinance? If so, should it apply to specific employers or all employers? Please explain your position.
Individuals and communities are in dire need of more employment opportunities. Targeting certain sectors and employers has moved jobs away from the City, lost the City important tax revenue, and laid the groundwork for political battles and gains regarding Unions. I am not opposed to a living wage ordinance but it must not hinder critical development and opportunities. If the inevitable result is a loss of big employers to our City, then I will not be in favor of an increase in wages, over and above other acceptable City wages, for a specific sector or employer.
How can Chicago reduce violent crime?
We must act as one city to address violent crime. We are all exposed to violence on a daily basis and there are profound social and financial costs to every Chicagoan. Here is my strategy to reduce violent crime: - Increase leveraging of violence prevention programs like Cease Fire and other community based programs - Increase funding to anti-bullying programs in CPS - Realign police districts and beats for more robust police coverage - Develop floating task forces that work with community to identify emerging trends - Leverage research and evidence from University of Chicago Crime Lab as a value-add to policing strategies In the long term, we must address systematic problems like poverty, housing and education. We must invest in schools, infrastructure, eliminating food deserts and leveraging the connections between every City service to find tipping points for change. To have a lasting and sustainable impact on reducing violence, we must work to rebuild what is broken.
How would you improve the ethical standards of city government?
Improving the ethical standards of local government starts on the Ward level. I will hold myself to the highest ethical standards. I will lead by example. Here is my plan: - Develop a ward council which increases transparency and gives people a mechanism to help make decisions about tax-dollars and hold me accountable - I will not accept donations from City contractors or anyone receiving TIF money - I pledge to serve 2 terms - I will reduce my aldermanic salary to $60,000 - I will provide a written justification for each vote and post votes online - I will not hire family members - I will introduce an ordinance that grants the current IG oversight of the City Council. - I will sponsor/co-sponsor/or vote in favor of an ordinance that provides City Council oversight over contracts - I will work to increase TIF and budget transparency
Should Chicago retain or repeal its ban on video gambling? Do you favor or oppose one or more casinos in the city? Please explain.
I believe the City of Chicago should retain its ban on video gambling and I oppose the development of casinos. I oppose gambling because casinos levy a regressive tax on the poor. Casinos are inextricably linked to organized crime and if the casino is City-owned then the government benefits from the misfortunes of its residents. Not every job or revenue stream is worth the cost.
Tell us something about yourself that would surprise us.
Something surprising? I love country music and would like to learn to play the banjo.