The Sun-Times Editorial Board sent the candidates running for 48th Ward alderman a list of questions to find out their views on a range of issues facing the city and their ward. Harry Osterman submitted the following responses (the Sun-Times does not edit candidate responses):
Who is Harry Osterman?
He’s running for: 48th Ward alderman
His political/civic background:
- Alderman, 48th Ward (2011 – present).
- State Representative, 14th District (2000-2011).
- Prior to being elected State Representative, I was a member of any community organizations in Edgewater and Andersonville.
His occupation: Alderman, 48th Ward
His education: Gordon Technical High School, Class of 1985. Attended Illinois State University, Columbia College, and Loyola University
Campaign website: harryosterman.org
What are the top three priorities for your ward?
Harry Osterman: My top priorities for my community remain improving public safety, supporting and improving our local schools, community development and affordability. Our the last 8 years, we have made significant progress reducing violent crime and gang activity in the 48th Ward. This has been accomplished through resident, business owners, the police and many stakeholders working together to address safety concerns. We have added foot patrolmen on key streets, focused on problem buildings and businesses, and activated the streets in a positive way.
We have also worked to support the youth of our community and provide positive alternatives to gangs and criminal activity. I have brought the BAM(Becoming a Man) mentoring program to several of our grade schools and Senn High School. In January, we are opening a teen center at the Broadway Armory Park and Senn is starting a WOW mentoring program for young women.
These programs, along with many after school, art, and employment programs have had a positive effect on the youth involved and have added needed safety to our community. I will continue to work to improve the safety on every block of our ward.
The progress of the schools in our community has mirrored the positive growth of our community. Our grade schools, public and private, excel at providing an outstanding education that prepares our students for high school, college and beyond. The schools also are critical anchors that bring families and neighbors closer together in a big city. I have been a strong supporter of our schools and have worked to help Senn High School become one of the premier local high schools in our city.
I have helped foster a positive relationship between Senn and our grade schools that has benefited the students and schools. I was able to secure $13 million dollars to renovate the Senn school building to support the education of Senn students. I will continue support the ongoing improvement at Senn and our grade schools, and look to increase early childhood education options for our kids.
Supporting and guiding the community minded growth in our ward over the next 4 years is a priority of mine. In recent years we have worked diligently to add many new businesses throughout the 48th Ward, bringing jobs and vibrancy. We have worked closely with our chambers of commerce to support and grow our local businesses, ensuring that city bureaucracy does not slow their growth. We have also supported over 1000 new units of housing, a portion of which is dedicated as affordable, to help grow our community. I will work to continue this community minded growth, with significant neighbor input on these developments and the direction of our community.
I will work to add additional affordable units to these new developments. Over the next 5-6 years the CTA’s RPM project, which will renovate the Redline in our community and add new renovated Redline stations at Bryn Mawr, Berwyn, Argyle, and Lawrence, will have a significant impact on our community. My staff and I will be working closely with the CTA and their contractor to address the challenges of this massive construction project and manage the impacts on our community.
Recent civic work
Please tell us what you have done in the last two years to serve the city, your neighborhood or a civic organization. Please be specific.
Harry Osterman: As Alderman, my staff and I provide dedicated, responsive constituent services to all of the resident of the 48th Ward. Each week, we communicate to residents through our weekly newsletter to keep them informed of issues and events in our community.
Throughout the year, I hold community meetings and community outreach events to get important feedback from residents. I mention this because I am a strong believer in neighbors, business owners, community organizations, and others working together, side-by-side, to advance our community forward in a positive way. It’s what “We” can do together that is important to advance our community in a positive way. My office and I work closely with the City and neighborhood non-profits like Care for Real and TPAN to provide support and care for neighbors who need the most help and assistance. Below is some of the many initiatives I have been involved in on behalf of my community.
Parks: Worked closely with the Chicago Park District to fund and renovate Senn Park, Cedar and Cochran playlots, built a new lakefront dog park, developed and built a new teen center at the Broadway Armory, and added a new park staff member to Senn High School to coordinate after school and weekend programs.
Youth: Worked to bring important mentoring programs BAM and WOW to our local schools, supported many local arts, after school, and employment programs for the youth, started a 48th Ward Youth Council to get feedback on key issues.
Safety: Worked closely with neighbors, business owners and the police to further reduce crime throughout our community, supported victims of crime through court advocacy, sponsored over 100 community safety events each summer, supported reforms to CPD and the consent decree, sponsored the GAPA ordinance to provide civilian oversight of CPD.
Infrastructure: Worked to secure needed funding for the CTA RPM Redline project, repaved many streets throughout our ward, to improve pedestrian safety added new stop signs at key intersections, added speed indicator cameras to Broadway and Sheridan Road, added new bike lanes throughout ward, including the new Glenwood Greenway.
Arts: Supported Chicago Filmmakers purchase of Ridge Firehouse, supported the growth of the Edgewater Theatre community, supported the renovation of the Uptown Theatre, funded public art projects throughout the ward.
Homelessness: Worked closely with the City on a pilot program that led to housing of 60 homeless residents, work with the City and care providers to assist homeless residents.
Senior Citizens: Supported renovations to several senior buildings, worked with residents from the Fisher Building and Hollywood House to improve services and the relationship between management and residents. sponsored an annual senior health fair, supported the Edgewater Village, a group that offers support for seniors living independently.
Argyle Street: Developed and secured funding for the Argyle streetscape project, which created the first shared street design in the city, this project lead to private investment into businesses in the area, created the Argyle Night Market festival, which brings 5,000 people to Argyle Street every Thursday evening in the summer.
Schools: Strong supporter of 48th Ward schools, secured funding for capital projects at several schools, including $13 million to renovate Senn High School, new playground turf for Peirce school, a renovated auditorium at Swift school. Supported fundraising to support educational programs at each of the schools, as a member of the Education Committee fought for improved support from CPS for special needs students.
Business development: recruited and assisted many new businesses opening in the 48th Ward, creating new jobs, assisted many business owners with issues with the city, worked closely with the chambers of commerce to highlight our community and our many businesses, worked with residents to support our local businesses.
Housing: worked with residents from the East Andersonville to downzone the area, preserving the housing and character of the neighborhood, supported over 1000 units of new housing including affordable units, preserved several historic building slated to be torn down.
Throughout the year celebrated the diversity of the Edgewater, Andersonville, and Uptown communities, including sponsoring the 48th Ward International Day.
Chicago is on the hook for $42 billion in unfunded pension liabilities, which works out to $35,000 for every household. Those pensions, in the language of the Illinois Constitution, “shall not be diminished or impaired.” Should the state Constitution be amended to allow a reduction in pension benefits for current city employees or retirees? How about reducing pension benefits for new employees? Please explain.
Harry Osterman: It is critical that we address our unfunded pension liability as it effects the long-term economic viability of our city. We must work closely with the State and the new Governor on this issue and every option must be explored. I support the City creating a dedicated funding stream to support adding new revenue to cover increasing pension costs. This can come from difference sources, including a Chicago casino. The City has taken many needed cost savings measures in recent years, including reduced benefits for new employees. The City must continue to work collaboratively on this issue with the unions that represent retirees and current employees.
Of the following often proposed sources of new revenue for Chicago, which of the following do you favor, and why? A Chicago casino, legalized and taxed recreational marijuana, a LaSalle Street tax, a commuter tax, a property tax increase, a municipal sales tax increase, a real estate transfer tax increase, video gambling.
Harry Osterman: The City of Chicago continues to need new revenue to address unfunded pension liability and providing needed city services. I support a new city-owned Chicago casino and the creation of a city-owned sports gambling venue. I am less supportive of neighborhood video gambling. I support the legalization and taxation of recreational marijuana. I do not support an increase in the municipal sales tax, property tax, or real estate transfer tax. The new Mayor and the City Council should create a revenue committee to review the possibility of a commuter tax and the LaSalle Street tax, including the potential revenue gain to the city and the effects on job creation.
What other sources of new revenue do you favor or oppose?
Harry Osterman: I do not support an increase in property taxes on homeowners. The recent assessments and property tax increases continue to force out long time residents of our communities and has a harmful effect on small businesses.
Tax-increment financing districts are a primary economic development tool for Chicago. In a TIF district, taxes from the growth of property values are set aside for 23 years to be used to support public projects and private development. What changes do you favor, if any, in Chicago’s TIF program?
Harry Osterman: I have been a strong supporter of increased transparency of the TIF program and for surplussing unused TIF funds, sending the funding back to CPS, and other taxing bodies. I support an annual public review of each TIF district, during the budget process, so the City Council can review each TIF. I support closing TIF districts early if they have completed their goals. There also should be an increased review period for large TIF projects. The City also needs to create additional economic development tools to begin to ease the City’s reliance on TIF’s. The City also must work with the State on a capital program to fund critical school and infrastructure projects, which often are paid for using TIF funds.
What will you do to rein in aldermanic prerogative?
Harry Osterman: Alderman are elected to make decisions that are in the best interest of their community and are held accountable by the residents of their ward. Aldermanic prerogative mostly rises up related to issues of affordable housing. For our city to grow in a positive way there needs to be quality affordable housing options in every Ward in the City. The new Mayor and the City Council must make expanding affordable housing options a priority and ensure that housing is developed in every community. The leadership of the new Department of Housing, the new Mayor, and the new City Council must make real, achievable goals for adding new affordable housing in each ward and follow through to build it. Dealing with this housing issue in a straight forward and collaborative way, will address many of the concerns regarding aldermanic prerogative.
The City of Chicago has entered into a federally monitored consent decree to overhaul the training and practices of the Chicago Police Department. Civil libertarians say it is long overdue, but others say it is unnecessary and could make it tougher for the police to do their job. What’s your view?
Harry Osterman: For our City to be safe in every community we must re-establish trust between Chicago residents and the Chicago Police. That trust has eroded in many communities over many years and through many incidents. The consent decree is a needed measure and important step to improving the Chicago Police Department. The consent decree builds on recent reforms and helps ensure that department policies, training, officer support, community engagement and other areas are improved which will help residents and officers. I will work to support the implementation and funding associated with the consent decree. Additionally, I support the GAPA ordinance which provides civilian oversight of CPD, the Police Board and COPA. This ordinance, in addition to the consent decree, is critical step give the community an important role in policing in Chicago. I believe this will move communities and the police closer together which will help improve safety in Chicago.
What should Chicago do to reduce the number of illegal guns?
Harry Osterman: Each year the Chicago Police Department confiscates around 10,000 illegal guns. These guns are involved in the carnage that we see every weekend and are involved in the deaths of innocent people, the tearing apart of families, and the fear in our communities. The city must work closer with prosecutors and legislators to address those using illegal guns in crimes, to ensure they are prosecuted. Many gang members carry and use illegal firearms, because they have little fear of being prosecuted. This must change. The U.S. Attorney, A.T.F., and State Police should provide additional support in arresting and prosecuting those bringing illegal guns into our City. As we begin to re-establish trust with communities around Chicago, neighbors and police need to work in tandem to identify those using illegal guns and spreading the violence. CPD needs to make improvements on solving violent crimes that go unsolved and un-prosecuted.
What is the appropriate role of charter schools within the Chicago Public Schools system?
Harry Osterman: The current charter schools in Chicago need to provide a quality education for their students. There are no charter schools in the 48th Ward, and I do not favor an expansion of charter schools in Chicago. In the 48th Ward, we have a number of high performing CPS grade schools that do an outstanding job educating the children of our community. The grade schools have a close working relationship with our local high school, Senn. With strong support from myself, my office, teachers, administrators, parents, volunteers, the business community we have created a educational network in our community that supports the educational development of the children of our community.
Should the Chicago Board of Education be solely appointed by the mayor, as is now the case? Or should Chicago switch to an elected school board or some hybrid?
Harry Osterman: The Chicago School Board plays a critical role in setting policy and budgeting for the education of the children of Chicago. I support a school board that has some members appointed by the Mayor and some that are elected by Chicago residents. This model will provide increased transparency, community minded decision marking, and shared accountability. All of us have a role in continuing to improve the education provided by CPS. The City Council Education Committee also needs to take a much larger role in addressing issues concerning related to CPS.
Is there enough affordable housing in your ward? Please explain.
Harry Osterman: In recent years, the housing cost in the 48th Ward has continued to climb. This has made it more difficult for families, senior citizens, and other residents to afford to stay in our diverse community. I have worked to add more affordable housing units through implementing the City’s ARO ordinance and asking developers to add more affordable units to new developments. Over the next 4 years, I will work to add more affordable housing units throughout our Ward, but also throughout the entire City.
Chicago, by ordinance, is an official “welcoming city.” This means the Chicago police are generally prohibited from detaining undocumented immigrants on behalf of federal immigration authorities. What’s your position on this policy? What more — or less — should be done with respect to undocumented immigrants who live in Chicago?
Harry Osterman: As Alderman who represents a very diverse community and greatly values that diversity, I support the sanctuary city ordinance. The ordinance has provided needed support to immigrants and their families during this divisive time in our country’s history, with our current President. I support the City’s continued legal efforts to stop the Trump Justice department from deporting immigrants and refugees, and separating families. Locally, I have helped connect residents to legal services, raise awareness to the negative immigration practices of the Trump Administration, and brought residents together to celebrate the rich diversity of our community.
Should the inspector general have the power to audit and review City Council programs, operations and committees? Why or why not?
Harry Osterman: I support giving the inspector general the power to audit and review City Council programs, operations and committees. The Office of the Inspector General has provided critical feedback on the operations of the City government, and that has led to savings and efficiencies. The new City Council should be open to such review.
Would you employ, or have you employed, staff in your office who have outside jobs or contracts with entities that do business with the city? If so, please explain.
Harry Osterman: No
Is there a past or current alderman whom you model yourself after, or would model yourself after, or take inspiration from? Please explain.
Harry Osterman: My mother Kathy, who served 2 years as Alderman of the 48th Ward, has always been my role model and inspiration. My mother excelled in bringing together people of different backgrounds and points of view to address neighborhood issues, and that example has had a lasting impact on me. Over the last 8 years, I have worked in an inclusive way to bring neighbors and 48th Ward stakeholders together to move our community forward in a positive way. My staff and I focus on helping people everyday, and are dedicated to the service of others in our community. I remain motivated by the hard work that my mom, Marion Volini, Mary Ann Smith and many others have done before me to improve our community for all our residents and put us on the path we are on today.