Over the course of the last 77 days I had the opportunity to meet with and listen to more than a thousand residents, business owners and community organizations about the specific needs and challenges facing Chicago’s 77 neighborhoods.
From Ravenswood to Englewood, I learned something of value in every community. Each visit produced thoughtful conversations focused on local investment opportunities and ways the City Treasurer’s office can better serve all residents.
One thing is clear, despite their location on the map, many Chicago neighborhoods share the same concerns: the need for investment, access to capital and more opportunities for local entrepreneurs and businesses.
Another concern topping the list is protecting workers’ retirement benefits. In North Center, I met firemen who take pride in the community they serve, however, they continue to watch many local businesses shutter while their own apprehension over city pensions grows. Police officers in Chicago Lawn’s 8th District also expressed a serious interest and concern about their pension fund.
On the day I took the oath of office as Treasurer, I laid out a 90-day Action plan that includes a proposal to leverage the purchasing power of all 10 local public pension funds to get lower investment fees — rather than treating each as a separate entity.
Aggregating the scale of these funds will drive down the overall investment cost, which could have an impact of more than half a billion dollars on the unfunded pension liabilities of Chicago. I recognize that this is a shared concern of many of hardworking residents, and I will fight for this policy change to end Wall Street’s free ride in our city.
In Austin, residents shared similar concerns about a lack of investment in local business and economic development. The Treasurer’s Office is now working with the South Chicago Chamber of Commerce to develop a business plan that meets the needs of their community.
In Washington Park, residents gathered at the Kleo Center to discuss a comprehensive community plan that will help uncover what business opportunities exist and how to leverage local assets. Because small funding gaps have kept projects from launching, the Treasurer’s Office can help residents learn the language of financial markets so they can become better financial activists and effectively advocate for what they need.
Those are just some of the long-term projects we are working on. We’ve already seen some immediate affects. In Woodlawn, we met a business owner who wanted to expand his business, but couldn’t get banks to return his calls. As his banker, investor, and advocate, I shared his story and now banks are competing for his business.
Visiting 77 communities in 77 days was the first of many ways I will learn about unique opportunities and challenges facing residents around the city. We will continue to build community relationships, which includes seeking input on financial education curriculum and getting feedback on bank scorecards to measure their performance and ensure accountability.
Additionally, each community I visited has identified a Thought Leader who will continue the conversation and maintain an open line of communication with my office. They will participate on monthly calls and quarterly meetings to advocate for their communities and find ways for me to support their efforts every step of the way. Having a seat at the table with our neighbors has given me an even better understanding of the city’s collective frame of mind when it comes to how we invest locally and for the long-term.
I thank each of the 77 communities for welcoming me with open ears as I work to reinvent the Treasurer’s Office and become our city’s most trusted financial steward. With the help of all residents, we can work together, one community at a time, to invest in our Chicago like never before.