Alderman, 34th Ward: Carrie M. Austin
Jan 11, 2011
Updated: January 20, 2011 4:28PM
Birth date: 05-15-1949
Political affiliation: Democratic Party
Occupation/Firm name: City of Chicago
Marital status: Widow
Campaign HQ address: 11509 South Elizabeth
Campaign website: No response
What is your campaign budget?
What are your top priorities for the City of Chicago?
As Budget Chairman putting the City on solid financial footing for years to come is a significant priority. Many City employees, including myself, have had to make financial sacrifices to ensure Chicago's budget remains balanced. I am truly grateful to those unions that joined with non-union employees in taking furlough days; I know it has not been easy. Going forward, it is imperative that all stakeholders work together to find budget solutions because any solution must be a shared sacrifice.
I plan to continue my efforts to bring economic development to the 34th Ward. The recent opening of a new Target store has resulted in greater interest in my ward. I am also proud to have been instrumental in bringing the largest urban solar facility to the 34th Ward. This facility has provided significant construction jobs. Going forward, I intend to capitalize on this momentum to bring even more projects to the ward.
The City is in desperate need of infrastructure money. As Alderman, I support repealing Chicago's video gaming prohibition to provide the necessary monies to bring more capital funding from the state for infrastructure needs. I will also continue to advocate for greater federal funding in the Transportation bill for Chicago. I have also been involved with Metra's CREATE project and believe that will provide even more construction jobs.
What are your top priorities for your ward?
Please see the answers to question 1. Putting the city on sound financial footing will benefit the taxpayers of the 34th Ward, as will efforts to bring more infrastructure money from the state and federal governments.
The city is in serious financial trouble and can't afford the level of service it currently provides. For 2011, Mayor Daley, with City Council backing, balanced the budget without raising taxes or fees, relying instead on some cost-saving measures and one-time fixes, including using proceeds from leasing the city's parking meters. Do you support this approach? What should be done differently going forward?
Please be specific about your plans to reshape government: what services and departments would you scale back or cut? Can you identify new revenue sources? How can the City reduce personnel costs? What kind of concessions should the City seek from the unions?
The 2011 Budget also restored funding to the delegate agencies throughout Chicago. While not a part of the original proposal offered by Mayor Daley, as Budget Chairman I worked with my colleagues in the City Council and the Budget Office to ensure that this funding was restored. This funding provides support to many local chambers of commerce in our neighborhoods and these chambers provide support to our local businesses. In these extremely difficult economic times I was pleased to support a 2011 budget that contained no new or increased taxes and fees on residents and businesses. People are hurting and I do not believe that now is the time to ask them for any more than they are already paying. Going forward, we will clearly have to look at expenditure reductions and revenue growth to ensure the city budget remains balanced without an over reliance on one-time revenue sources. This will require input from all stakeholders to develop a budget that is balanced and fair.
Chicago cannot tax its way out of this budget crisis. Residents and businesses are facing difficult economic challenges and we simply cannot ask them to pay more. If we are going to balance our budget without relying on one-time revenues, the Mayor and City Council need to look at the entire operation of city government. Together we must identify core services that the city should continue to provide. This review will clearly take into account personnel, pension benefits and health benefits. To reduce city spending, we should look at changes to the benefits packages for new hires, including higher employee contributions. It is difficult to assess a value to these savings until a benefits package is finalized. Presently, the City waives fees to non-profits for such things as water, permit fees and inspection fees. These entities should be asked to pay half of these costs, which would generate an estimated $17.5 to $20 million in savings each year. The City should contract for animal control services either through another governmental entity or through a consortium of non-profit animal care organizations to enhance the service to residents. This would reduce spending by nearly $4 million each year. Any final proposal on the city budget involving personnel and benefits will clearly require a discussion with the unions that represent these employees and again, this will be a shared sacrifice.
The city's four employee pension funds have been called a "ticking time bomb," with Mayor Daley's pension commission predicting that the four funds will run out of money in 20 years. "There is no low- or no-cost solution to this problem," the commission wrote in a report earlier this year. "Deferring action is not a viable option." What is your plan for bringing the pension funds to solvency?
To meet this obligation by 2030, the City would be required to add an additional $714 million to the expense side of the City budget. Clearly this issue will be part of future city budgets. I believe the benefits plans for new employees must be adjusted and soon and should include higher employee contributions. Those who have served the city deserve to complete their service under the current terms.
Does Chicago need 50 aldermen? If not, what's a better number? What City Council committees could be combined? What other ways can the City Council save money?
Each Alderman in Chicago represents approximately 59,000 people. In most Chicago suburbs, many of which have a fewer number of residents than a Chicago ward, there are five to seven elected trustees representing the people in each suburb. Reducing the number of Aldermen elected to the City Council will reduce the impact local residents have on our legislative process. The next City Council will have to determine how it reorganizes its Committees. Since I have been Alderman, I have voted to reduce the number of Committees. The City Council should remain vigilant to ensure that all spending in the city's budget is efficient and effective.
Chicago was designed as a weak mayor, strong council form of government yet Mayor Daley wields considerable power over the City Council. What measures would you recommend to strengthen the council? On which issues should the mayor lead? On which should the council lead?
Structurally, the City Council has tremendous power. By a majority vote (26 votes) it can reject any proposal offered by the Mayor. As such, I do not believe that changes to the structure are necessary. Ultimately, it is up to the individual members of the City Council to come together and secure a majority if they do not like a particular mayoral proposal. As for who should take the lead on issues, the Mayor, any Alderman as well as any private citizen has the right to submit a proposal to the City Council for consideration. I believe if you propose an idea then you should take the lead on that idea and work to secure the votes in the City Council to make that idea a reality.
The city's tax-increment financing program has been criticized on several fronts, including the proliferation of districts, how money is diverted from schools and other basic city services, how TIF funding decisions are made and for an overall lack of transparency. How would you improve the TIF program? Does the TIF law need to be changed in any way?
I would contest your premise that TIF funding decisions lack transparency. In my community, every TIF funded project has been reviewed by the community and my office to ensure it meets the overall planning objectives of the area. In the 34th Ward, TIF spending has been very strategic and has fostered economic development. I believe all TIF districts should be evaluated to ensure they are performing as intended. Those that are deemed to be underperforming should be eliminated. I believe the state law should be reviewed to ensure that the allowable expenditures include all of the costs associated with enhancing the economic condition of an area.
Mayor Daley has focused on privatizing city assets. Are there any other assets the City Council should consider privatizing? If so, would you make any changes to the way privatization deals are negotiated and passed through the City Council?
At this time I do not believe the city should seek to privatize additional assets. However, going forward, any asset lease proposal will require careful scrutiny to ensure improved service levels at a lower cost. This scrutiny should include an analysis of the cost benefit, review of long term revenue losses, impact on employees and overall benefit to the city's budget and our taxpayers. Future asset leases should be subject to a special public hearing.
The Chicago Police Department is understaffed, with no lasting budget solution in sight. Given the current staffing levels, what changes would you recommend to use resources more efficiently? Do you support realigning beats in a way that moves police from lower crime areas to higher crime neighborhoods? What should happen to the diminished CAPS program?
First and foremost, I believe that the bulk of the Police Department's resources should be spent in putting police officers on the street. Realigning the department to achieve this objective must be a top priority. I believe that the Specialized Units and the Organized Crime Unit should be focused on the areas with the highest crime, particularly murders. CAPS is an important way to keep the community involved in the city's policing efforts. The strategic reassignments that took place as part of the budget process are designed to continue the CAPS program as originally intended. CAPS must maintain its focus on crime, not other city issues that are better handled within the departments that are designated to deal with such issues.
The next mayor will choose a new CEO for the Chicago Public Schools. Do you think the CEO needs to have education experience? Should the new mayor continue the Renaissance 2010 program of shutting down failing schools and creating new ones? Should the new mayor continue Ron Huberman's "culture of calm" effort, which aims to improve the culture of the toughest schools and provides mentors and extra support for kids at greatest risk of being shot? What should CPS do to improve neighborhood schools that are struggling to educate the large numbers of students left behind, the students that don't make it into test-based, charters or other specialized schools?
The CEO should have an educational background in that he/she should have experience operating an educational institution. However, I believe the CEO should operate the physical buildings and the Chief Education Officer should be most directly involved with curriculum matters and working with teachers. The Renaissance 2010 program is something the new Mayor will have to assess. My personal experience with Renaissance 2010 has been limited. Most schools in my ward are not a part of that program. The culture of calm program should be continued because it is important that we place our resources where they are most needed.
I strongly disagree with your premise that the children in Chicago Public Schools are left behind. For many, Chicago Public Schools are a preference. At the same time, I would urge Chicago Public Schools to place a majority of its resources in the classroom and this includes revaluation of the classroom size.
Do you support one or more casinos for Chicago? If so, where would you like to see casinos located?
A casino would bring much needed revenue to the city and for this reason, I support a casino in Chicago. Such a casino should be centrally located to ensure it attracts conventioneers and tourists. I firmly believe that a portion of revenues derived from this casino should be dedicated to providing assistance with the social issues that stem from gaming.
Aldermen have considerable influence over TIF, zoning and other decisions, both large and small, related to development and services in their ward. Do aldermen have too much influence?
I find this to be an interesting question since in an earlier question it was suggested the Mayor has all the power. However, as the elected ward representative, it is crucial for the Alderman to have an opportunity to bring the community to the table to discuss TIF projects, zoning changes and other proposals that affect the community. I do not however support any Alderman using these authorities to benefit interests outside the community.
If elected alderman, do you plan to maintain an outside job? Would you pledge not to hold any job that represents a conflict of interest, including those that involve spending public dollars?
As the Alderman, I do not hold an outside job, nor do I expect to in the future. Frankly there's not enough time. I would never hold a job that represents a conflict of interest of any kind with the city.
Would you accept campaign contributions or gifts from your employees? Would you pledge not to hire relatives on your staff?
I do not believe it is appropriate to restrict anyone's right to participate in their government in a legal manner. I do not solicit my employees for campaign contributions or gifts. I pledge to hire those most qualified persons for the position they are seeking.
Does the City need to change the way it hands out contracts? Should aldermen reclaim oversight of City contracts? If so, contracts above what dollar amount?
The City does not hand out contracts. Most contracts are awarded on a competitive bid basis and others are awarded through the request for qualification and request for proposal processes. City Council oversight of City contracts politicizes the contracting process and will likely increase the city's costs. The Department of Procurement Services should oversee the contracting process and under the current Chief Procurement Officer Jamie Rhee the department is making great strides on improving that process.
Do you support an inspector general just for the City Council? Would you support giving the city's existing inspector general power to investigate aldermen and their staffs, including subpoena power?
I voted in favor of an inspector general for the City Council. I do not support giving the city's existing inspector general power to investigate the Aldermen and their staffs. Giving a member of the executive branch of government power to investigate the legislative branch of government violates the separation of powers inherent in the U.S. Constitution.
Should there be new limits on who can lobby City Hall officials, including aldermen? Should former City Hall employees be prohibited from doing business with the city after their departure? If so, for how long?
Regulation regarding who can lobby City Hall officials must be developed to ensure they do not violate any individual's ability to exercise their First Amendment right to redress their grievances to their government. The current law prohibits city employees from lobbying for one year after they leave government. I believe this is a reasonable restriction that does not violate the First Amendment. To extend this time period further, I would have to weigh the opinion of the Law Department and other legal experts on whether a longer time period would meet constitutional muster.
What's the best book ever written about Chicago? Why?
Don't Make No Waves, Don't Back No Losers by Milton Rakove. This book speaks to the democratic process because the pendulum swings both ways.
Please list your educational background
Waller High School (now Lincoln Park High School), Roosevelt University
Please list civic, professional, fraternal or other organizations to which you belong
I am an Eastern Star in the Masonic Brotherhood. I also belong to Logos Baptist Assembly.
Have you held elective or appointive political office or been employed by any branch of government?
I have been Alderman since 1994 and have been re-elected four times since. I worked for Alderman Wilson Frost, the Committee on Traffic Control & Safety and as an aide to a U.S. Congressman.
Please list jobs or contracts you, members of your immediate family or business partners have had with government
One of my sons works for the Department of Street & Sanitation, another son works for the Department of Water Management, another son works for me. My grandson used to work as an Aldermanic intern. One of my daughters works for the Secretary of State, another daughter used to work for the Metropolitan Water Reclamation District. At sixteen, my son who now works for Water Management was a part owner in a trucking company that had a contract with the U.S. Postal Service, which he secured on his own through the federal procurement process.
Name your five biggest campaign contributors and the amount they contributed
I make it a point not to track my campaign contributors and the amounts they contribute. However, all of the information is reported to the state board of elections and available to the public.
Please paste a brief biography here
Alderman Carrie M. Austin, the 4-term 34th Ward Alderman of Chicago's far southside community, favorably accepted appointment by Mayor Richard M. Daley on Thursday, August 5, 1994 to fulfill the unexpired term of her late husband Lemuel Austin, Jr. Henceforth Alderman Austin continues to carve a distinct brand that's earned her the esteemed political moniker of "Power Broker". By advocating "I had rather do and not promise, than promise and not do," she obligates delivery of equitable city services as a precise rule rather than exception, option or favor. All the while maintaining accountability and accessibility to the public she serves, despite the variable challenges, expectations and criticisms.
As testament to Austin's respectable work ethic, on Wednesday, May 23, 2007 Mayor Daley awarded Chairmanship of the powerfully prestigious Committee on the Budget & Government Operations, the second largest committee after the Committee on Finance to the Honorable 34th Ward Alderman. A seat which was also previously held by her late husband Lemuel Jr. In such capacity, Chairman Austin's the keeper of the budget--"having jurisdiction over expenditure of all funds appropriated and expended by the City and all matters concerning organization, reorganization and efficient management of City government, and federal and state legislation and administrative regulations of City interest" (excerpted from "Rules of Order and Procedure of the City Council, City of Chicago," For Years 2007-2011).
Responsibilities of the Alderman's Chairmanship, though notably accomplished, have not been without the usual adversities of its charge, most specifically the broad reaching effects of the current economic downturn of the times. Such unfavorable climate of prevailing recession-like trends having an also adverse impact on the City's budget. Cases in point include the privatization of city parking meters and non-paid holidays/mandatory furloughs for city workers, which was City Council majority approved, though distressfully, as a direct response to offsetting some of the exacting budgetary deficits in the absence of current, new or pending revenue streams. Furthermore, the meter privatization met with varying and expressed degrees of opposing public sentiment, while the mandatory shutdowns and reduction in the city service calendar went virtually without competitive expression. In the aftermath of all the meter privatization discussion and/or debate, both private and public, is the fact the 34th Ward has no parking meters within its boundaries.
The Alderman also Vice Chairs the Committee on Committees, Rules and Ethics and has membership in the Committee on Energy, Environmental Protection and Public Utilities, the Committee on Finance, the Committee on Health, the Committee on Housing and Real Estate, the Committee on Police and Fire, and the Committee on Zoning. She's a former Chair of the City of Chicago Black Caucus and now currently serves as its Secretary. She is also the 34th Ward Committeeman, State Central Committeeman and was a Barack Obama Delegate. Affectionately called "Chairman" by colleagues and staff, Austin is a staunch member of the 34th Ward Democratic Organization since 1972. Her commitment to public service includes working under former 34th Ward Aldermen Wilson Frost, Annette Bitoy, her late husband Lemuel Jr., as well as, State Representative Nelson Rice, Sr and former Congressman Mel Reynolds. She has garnered the respect of fellow council members, city departmental leadership, local/national government and corporate level officials, area and city pastors, community organizers, constituents and others that live, work and/or advocate for the betterment of ward affairs and across this great city.
Prior to and separate from the unfortunate and unprecedented rise in violent and youth crimes plaguing Chicago's urban communities, this Alderman has consistently maintained close relationships with her Area Police Commanders (5th and 22nd District, respectively), Chief Deputies, Beat and School Officers, Tactical Sergeants and Officer Teams, as well as Superintendent Weis, First Deputy and both Senior and Field CAPS Officers and Staff.
Despite the Chicago City Aldermanic job classification being designated as a part-time position, this Alderman keeps an ongoing full-time schedule. The dictates of Carrie Austin as Alderman, Committeeman, City Executive Chair of Cook County Democratic Party of Illinois, State Central Committeeman--2nd Congressional District, Chairman of the Committee on Budget & Government Operations, community leader, advocate and other apropos representations in between are quite demanding, but met with Austin's consistent fervor and commitment to public service. And she emerges to meet the many calls to speak, panel and/or participate in public and private venues as humanly possible, always striving to meet the diverse obligations of officiating duties of her office.
The Alderman stays connected to public pulse by hosting weekly ward nights every Tuesday, monthly town halls every third and fourth Thursdays, and attending community-driven forums and activities. She regularly appears on local television and radio talk formats discussing the current events and issues affecting both her ward and community at-large. Also as a trendsetting proponent of quality in public education, Austin stays involved and available to area principals, as well as, CPS CEO and Departmental Central Office Personnel to facilitate student, family and school community needs. She delights in promoting community partnerships that build upon community-based resources. A prime example of such powerful display of human resource can be discerned in the deployment of community lobby to advocate for the closing of an infamous 24-hour liquor store, which was replaced by a new state-of-the-art public library. One of many successful village-driven outcomes.. Other acquisitions include a new Roseland Hospital Emergency Room and clinic facilities, new Davis/Langston Hughes concept school of mixed disabled and typic student population among other retail, commercial and real estate developments. Alderman Austin has Chaired the 2007, 2008, 2009 and 2010 Chicago Football Classic. This year alone, she has officiated grand openings of the ward's new Roseland Medical Center, new suburban-style Marshfield Plaza Shopping Mall, new Exelon City Solar Installation and ground breaking for the Ray & Joan Kroc Corps Community Center. Present and prospective development progressively increases the ward's economy, creating ongoing job opportunities, reticulating local revenue and increasing incentives for TIFs and NIFs.
This Alderman's certainly a green advocate too and encourages adopting such applications in all existing, where applicable, new and prospectus developments. This can be evidenced in green application observances at Marshfield Plaza and, most notably, by her current lobby to bring a "waste-to-energy" biomass system plant facility to her beloved part of the city.
Alderman Carrie's love for the Lord is quite evident in all she does! A former member of Messiah Temple under the leadership of Reverend Barney Saulsby, she willfully served on various committees. Her current spiritual servitude at Logos Baptist Assembly is under the formidable leadership worship of the distinct Reverend Donald Parson. And she openly espouses to freely pass on the good news and prosperity of the Gospel to all persons willing to listen.
The Honorable Alderman Austin is a noble mother of 7 children, grandmother of 28. So when she's not being a diligent shepherd, soldier, and servant, she likes to take time to relax and enjoy family and friends.
Lastly, during this paramount election season, Austin formidably engages all voting-aged adults to not only register to vote, but to exercise their right and stay vigilant of the importance of casting their vote. And also to encourage their family and neighbors to get out and vote. Residents of the 34th Ward can rest assured that their seating Alderman walks the walk beyond the talk. So be encouraged to dare not surrender Austin's proven power for the myriads of campaign promises . . .