2015 5th ward alderman candidate: Michael Haji-Sheikh

By Andre Phillips

Involvement: Associate engineering professor at NIU, former soccer coach, music boosters member, Faculty Senate member and DeKalb County Community Gardens volunteer

Q: What do you think is the most pressing issue in your ward?

A: Right now we have a large contingency of retirees. A lot of that is having being on fixed income. [There’s] no one issue; we have streets that are falling apart, we have sidewalks falling apart. The whole city is struggling with tax base, ability to pay for streets, roads and sidewalks. One single thing I would say that is a citywide problem is we don’t have enough jobs to support the infrastructure.

Q: What is your position on lowering taxes?

A: I am for freezing taxes at the present level; the city staff is asking for an increase. As the economy improves and city revenues increase, then [try] to reduce the city portion of the property tax.

Q: If there are any budget cuts, how would they affect the schools, NIU, businesses, etc.?

A: I don’t believe Gov. [Bruce Rauner’s] budget cuts of that level will happen. It’s a political non-starter. But, in the case of [the] city standpoint, [the] No. 1 thing to start doing is preparing essential restructuring of the city government.

If the $2 million is pulled out of the city’s budget, essentially it would cause a restructuring, what I call longterm structural problems with pricing in the city’s government. We just increased the cost of management structure in city hall for over half a million dollars because there was a belief they needed to fully staff the management function.

There a lot of external reports, plans, ideas that money most likely halted so that we end up working our way up non-essential expenditures first. We should flatten city government as much as possible. It’s sad to say we just hired a bunch of people and we may have to let people go.

I don’t want to see the traditional way of city governments often do, which is they start cutting lowest-level employees first and work their way up. The low-level employees are the first face you see in city government, the people that clean streets, people doing road repair, policing, the firemen; those are the people we see every day and those are the last place[s] to start cutting.

Q: What concerns would you focus on between NIU and the community and how do you think that can help better shape the community?

A: NIU’s fundamental issue with the community, especially the 5th ward, has been lack of transparency. The new president [Doug Baker] came in with a bunch of, I would say not necessarily open plans and secret dealings with developers and city officials and in the 5th ward we were blindsided by many of these.

The locals, not everyone, really like the idea of the Elwood [Historic] District and don’t want to see that gone. They would like to see maybe it downsized and turned more into family housing again, but not necessarily, as Bill Nicklas once said in a secret letter to the Board of Trustees, ‘a student centering neighborhood.’ Once they go in older neighborhoods, not necessarily blighted neighborhoods, [and] build large dormitories, slash retail facilities.

I believe the idea there was to try and bring the city and university closer. We have 800 students in my neighborhood. If you cant do something downtown to attract those 800, why is putting 2,000 more in that neighborhood going to do anything different?

There was an area in my ward that I’m perfectly happy with them working with — the university and city, the ShoDeen property, south of [Route] 38. They had some great ideas. They turned it into a wasteland. It needs to be fixed. But, I believe that money has to come from ShoDeen and not the city.