Brian Hopkins has done everything from interning for the Illinois State Senate to helping advise President Bill Clinton's transition team to leading the Streeterville Organization of Active Residents ( SOAR ). He now faces Alyx Pattison in the April 7 runoff election.
In a recent phone interview, Hopkins talked about minimum wage, a reduced city council and a sick-time ordinance in a talk in which each candidate was allowed to ask the other one question.
Windy City Times: How do you feel about where you are, politically?
Brian Hopkins: I'm very positive. I'm not crazy about the fact that the political groundhog saw his shadow and that we have six more weeks of campaigning; other than that, I'm pretty happy with the outcome.
WCT: Were you surprised at all?
Brian Hopkins: No. When you have six strong candidates and you're going to slice the pie six ways, the chances that one slice is going to be bigger than half are mathematically improbable; we knew a runoff was going to be inevitable. I expected to finish first, and I'm very honored that I didbut the clock has been reset for round two.
WCT: Does your opponent surprise you?
Brian Hopkins: The polling data suggested that it'd be Alyx Pattison or Bita Buenrostro. It did seem like there was a race for second place at the time, and I think Alyx and Bita did change positions the last 10 days several times, and then Alyx gained some momentum.
WCT: The topic of finances is inescapable, and Chicago just got a credit downgrade. What do you feel can be done to turn things around? You're not in favor of property-tax increases, correct?
Brian Hopkins: I am not; I think there are alternative solutions out there. But you are right about the downgrade from Moody's; that is a canary in the coal mine. It's a sign that we're in full crisis mode. We really need to address the issue now. There are no budget gimmicks left.
I'm drawing on the experience I had with [Cook County] President Toni Preckwinkle. She inherited a significant structural deficit; it wasn't as significant as what the city is facing right now, but it was formidable. What she did was eliminate the sales-tax increase she inherited, so she's proven it can be done; you can eliminate a structural deficit without substantial revenue increase. I'm going to implement the tactics she used, which is to go through the budget, line by line.
It's a very laborious process but you can eliminate waste, you can consolidate functions, you can eliminate duplicative departments and you can find substantial cost savings. It can make a real difference when you combine spending reductions with some of the alternative revenue sources we've recently seen in the city, like the telephone tax that brought in an additional $50 million. We don't have to go back to the property-tax payersand the 2nd Ward pays among the highest property-tax rates in the city. They pay far more taxes than they get back in terms of city services.
WCT: The last time we spoke, you talked about getting double the discretionary funding for the ward that other wards get. How do you justify that in the face of this financial crisis?
Brian Hopkins: The amount a ward gets to spend on infrastructure needscalled "menu money"is a fraction of 1 percent of the budget we're talking about, so it's not going to have a major impact on the budget, one way or another. What I'm asking for is basic fairness; the 2nd Ward is the only ward out of 50 that did not have any overlapping geography from the old map to the new one. There was no incoming alderman who had incentive to spend some of the discretionary money in the new territory. There was a "hole-in-the-doughnut" effect. There's been a backlog in service requests that has increased substantially, and the incoming alderman has to play catch-up. We can get caught up on streets and alleys, handle tree-trimming requests, unclog sewers and help with rodent controlsome of the basic things that 2nd Ward residents have noticed. They have every right to expect more than they've been given.
WCT: Similarly, you are in favor of hiring more police. Again, I ask how the funding comes into play?
Brian Hopkins: Well, we spend more than $100 million in police overtime. To reduce that by just 25 percent would allow us to hire an additional 250 police officers, which starts us toward the goal of adding 1,000 police officers to our ranks. It's going to take some time to implement that. If you improve management, you can add these officers. Also, we have an aging police force; plenty have 20-30 years on the job. As they retireand they retire on the top of the pay scaleyou can replace them with young recruits who earn much lower salaries.
WCT: I know you've said the minimum-wage boat has sailed, but you would've voted against it had you been on city council. Why?
Brian Hopkins: I think a raise to $11-$12 [an hour] would've been more reasonable. I supported the state referendum, which suggested a $10/hour level. I have problems with the $13 level, and some even suggested $15. If you jump to $15, that's about an 87-percent increase over the current level. Small businesses can't afford that; it's unfair to impose that mandate on businesses in Chicago when businesses in the suburbs are not experiencing that. If each municipal government adopted a separate minimum-wage law, you'd have confusion and unfairness. I do support a reasonable increase and I support a uniform minimum wage throughout the entire state.
WCT: You mentioned small businesses. What if the $13/increase were only applied to businesses of a certain size or with a certain number of employees? Would you be more in favor of it then?
Brian Hopkins: Again, you've got the administrative problem of trying to enforce that mandate. Let's say the [cutoff] is 50 employees. You might have a business that could have 51 employees one day and 49 a week later. People's wages would change from week to week, and it would add to the cost of doing business.
WCT: You support a city council with 25 members. Why is that?
Brian Hopkins: People are correct in thinking that we're layered with too much government. As a state, we have one of the highest number of governmental jurisdictions in the country. There are steps we can take to reduce the amount of government and cost that we have, and that's a good thing. For years, I've supported combining the offices of state treasurer and comptroller. I've supported that, on the county level, we could combine the offices of assessor, recorder and county treasurer.
So reducing the city council gets us closer to the idea of having a smaller government, and that makes more sense. San Francisco has five, I believe; 50 is just a huge number of elected officials.
WCT: As you know, your opponent was allowed to ask you one question, so here it is: Do you support 1st Ward Ald. Joe Moreno's sick-time ordinance. Why or why not?
Brian Hopkins: Joe Moreno? I'm not familiar with that version.
WCT: Every employee would earn one hour of sick time for every 30 hours worked, with a limit of nine days a year, depending on the size of the employer. Moreno and 15th Ward Ald. Toni Foulkes proposed it.
Brian Hopkins: Would that be for full-time or part-time employees? If it includes part-time employees, I would say "no." That's a mandate that seems to be a one-size-fits-all solution that small businesses would have difficulty complying with. I think a small-business owner deserves the right to make decisions about the types of employee benefits that they offer. It's a good idea to encourage business owners to treat their employees well and offer sick time when it's appropriatebut forcing them to do it isn't a good idea and I wouldn't support it.
WCT: The last time we talked, you discussed the local domestic-partnership registry you supported back in '03. I was wondering if you could talk more about your interactions or experience with the LGBT community.
Brian Hopkins: I have a lot of experience supporting the CORE Center Foundation. It's the primary mechanism to fund the Ruth Rothstein CORE Center, which is a model for the country. It was pioneering work to create that entity, which centralizes provision of outpatient care. In his capacity as chair of that foundation, I've had the pleasure of working under Commissioner John Daley. It was established in the late '90s, and it's really thrived. It's an important part of the health-care service environment for the LGBT community.
WCT: Have you endorsed anyone for mayor?
Brian Hopkins: I have. I've endorsed Mayor Emanuel for re-election. I believe Commissioner [Jesus "Chuy"] Garcia is also a great leader with some good ideas, but I believe Mayor Emanuel has done a good job in his first term making decisions under difficult circumstances.
WCT: So why should voters choose you?
Brian Hopkins: I've got over three decades of governmental experience on multiple levels. In addition to Cook County, I've worked for the General Assembly, I worked on the staff of Dawn Clark Netsch, our great state comptroller, and I supported her when she ran for governor. Dawn Clark Netsch brought a fiscal sanity to government, and I learned a lot from her and Toni Preckwinkle. They're role models I try to emulate in government service. They're both women of integrity, and people who brought a common-sense approach to balancing a budget, requiring a government to live within its means while still being compassionate to people who rely on government services to help them. That's the kind of alderman I would be.