Andrew Goczkowski: 2021 candidate for Des Plaines mayor
Three candidates for one seat
City: Des Plaines
Occupation: Grants coordinator
Employer: United States Congresswoman Jan Schakowsky
Civic involvement: Elected alderman, 8th Ward, city of Des Plaines; 10 years of work as congressional staff
Q. How do you view your role in confronting the pandemic: provide leadership even if unpopular, give a voice to constituents -- even ones with whom you disagree, or defer to state and federal authorities?
A. We face many challenges because of COVID-19, and the tools available to a municipality to meet those challenges are limited. The health response and vaccine rollout are under the jurisdiction of the Cook County Department of Public Health, and the necessary stimulus for local residents and businesses requires a federal response.
Within that context, our local role in this situation is critical. We are part of a team encompassing state, county, and now finally federal authorities. We share critical goals: Avoiding preventable deaths and helping get the pandemic under control. Higher-level authorities have the appropriate expertise and jurisdiction to establish broad public health guidelines to meet these challenges, and the city's role is to reinforce those decisions and keep our residents informed. It is our duty to make sure that we are taking every step we can to keep those most vulnerable in our community safe, instead of undermining public health efforts. It is our duty to make responsible decisions for the good of our community instead of decisions that may be more politically expedient in the short term. Some officials have failed at those duties, but I have worked hard to stay true to mine.
Q. Did your town continue to adequately serve its constituents during the disruptions caused by the pandemic? If so, please cite an example of how it successfully adjusted to providing services. If not, please cite a specific example of what could have been done better.
A. The city, and especially the mayor's office, should have a unified and broad messaging strategy to reach all residents, via social media, email, phone, texting and any other available means needed to communicate urgent information about guidelines, vaccination availability, and other relevant information moving forward.
There is significant room for improvement in terms of how the city communicated with its population during this crisis. We must do a better job of engaging with residents to talk about the impacts and the stakes -- especially as Des Plaines suffered an infection and death rate much higher than most of our neighboring communities.
Other initiatives have been very successful though. Our city has taken significant steps to help its constituents survive amid the COVID-19 pandemic. We suspended shut-offs for nonpayment of municipal water bills, and the city has utilized great flexibility working with constituents who may be behind on their utility bills because they are in a precarious financial position.
While City Hall had to shut down for a time during some of the worst infectious periods, a contingency plan was soon implemented allowing residents access to the first floor for financial services, and meetings were available with other staff by appointment.
Q. In light of our experiences with COVID-19, what safeguards/guidelines should you put in place to address any future public health crises?
A. It is impossible to know all the unique challenges posed by the next crisis, but we can take lessons from this one. Des Plaines should establish guidelines and supports to help restaurants operate safely in a future public health crisis. Restaurants that invested in outdoor spaces and/or could maintain a robust takeout or drive through business were able to protect critical revenue streams. Moving forward, restaurants in Des Plaines can incorporate these elements into their plans from day one -- providing resiliency in the face of crises like the one we are living through and benefiting our community and businesses in the long run. The city has a role here; there are opportunities to steer residents toward local businesses by promoting 'shop local' branding, further enhancing the city's online interactive dining guide, and aggressively investing in our local grant programs to entice new businesses and help existing ones renovate their establishments for future success. I strongly support allowing food trucks to operate within the City and incentivizing Des Plaines establishments to invest in a truck would provide many similar benefits to their business and provide new dining opportunities for residents in other areas around the city.
Q. What cuts can local government make to reduce the burden of the pandemic on taxpayers?
A. In recent years, Des Plaines has established a successful track record of enacting responsible budgets and has not passed a property tax increase onto its residents for some time. We should continue this pattern, and I look forward to working with the council to push for budget resolutions that keep the city in a strong financial position without putting additional burden on taxpayers that have in many cases been barely hanging on for the last year. In response to the reduced revenues forecast from the COVID-19 pandemic, the city also implemented a voluntary early retirement program for its staff. This program was extremely successful, saving the city a significant amount of resources while we weathered the pandemic and avoided layoffs for workers who have devoted their professional careers to serving our residents. The city did recently pass a pay raise for our city manager, but I was the sole "no" vote because a pandemic is not the time to be bolstering the salary of a top level official while so many are struggling to pay for basic necessities for their families.
Q. What do you see as the most important infrastructure project you must address? Why and how should it be paid for? Conversely, during these uncertain economic times, what infrastructure project can be put on the back burner?
A. There are many important infrastructure projects here, from city efforts to purchase and demolish flood ravaged homes near Big Bend Lake, to addressing neighborhood flooding throughout the city, to better connecting residents on either side of the notorious S-curve. The most important (and maybe most ambitious) infrastructure project that the city must tackle long-term is addressing the impact of trains on our community. Trains often block multiple major thoroughfares simultaneously, impacting resident commutes and significantly hampering transportation routes through our city. This issue is challenging, and solutions will require significant investment from federal and state partners. We must work with these partners to create an underpass allowing traffic to move under the rail line at either Algonquin, Oakton, or Thacker. The impacts of this change would be dramatic, benefiting an enormous number of residents caught by trains on this line throughout the day. The city's infrastructure budget benefits from and depends heavily upon casino revenues, and we will have to make hard choices in 2022 regarding how to smartly invest limited 2020 infrastructure dollars from the casino's reduced revenues. Difficult decisions will depend on the specifics of individual projects and a careful cost-benefit analysis from our capable professional staff.
Q. Do you agree or disagree with the stance your board/council has taken on permitting recreational marijuana sales in the community? What would you change about that stance, if you could?
A. I support the city council's decision to allow recreational marijuana dispensaries in our city. In a state where recreational marijuana is making enormous amounts of money and dispensaries are present in many of our neighboring municipalities, refusing to allow a facility within our borders leaves critical tax dollars on the table for no additional safety benefit.
Q. What's one good idea you have to better the community that no one is talking about yet?
A. I have a lot of new ideas that I would like to see implemented to benefit our residents, and it is difficult to pick just one. However, I am convinced that one of the best parts about Des Plaines is our amazing diversity. Many of us have neighbors who come from all over the world -- we have significant South Asian, Polish, Assyrian, and Hispanic populations, just to name a few. These people from very different backgrounds raising their families in our community makes us all better off, and I think that the city should do more to deliberately engage with and invest in including these populations. I strongly support the creation of a multicultural advisory group that would regularly connect city staff with community leaders from these and other demographics, establishing critical two-way communication between the city and populations that are sometimes underrepresented. This would go beyond a feel-good story -- it would be a real effort to build trust and relationships between the city and its residents, ensuring that they have meaningful access to information about city initiatives and a productive way to relay any community concerns to staff.