Bridget Gainer, Cook County Commissioner – Tenth District
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Chicago Tribune: "Amnesty International should not endorse policy to legalize prostitution" by IL Attorney General Lisa Madigan, Commissioner Bridget Gainer & CAASE Executive Director Kaetha M Hoffer

April 4, 2014
By: Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan, Cook County Commissioner Bridget Gainer & Kaethe Morris Hoffer, Chicago Alliance Against Sexual Exploitation (CAASE)

An estimated 16,000 girls and women in the Chicago area are involved in the sex trade, according to a 2002 study. The only way we can put an end to prostitution is by penalizing its purchase.

An estimated 16,000 girls and women in the Chicago area are involved in the sex trade, according to a 2002 study. The only way we can put an end to prostitution is by penalizing its purchase. (Chris Sweda, Chicago Tribune)

During its annual meeting this week in Chicago, Amnesty International is set to decide whether it should endorse a policy to legalize the purchase of sex. It is a sad, ironic twist for an advocacy organization renowned for preserving human rights around the world.

Supporters of the policy change allege that decriminalizing paying for sex is a solution to the harms associated with prostitution. They say decriminalization would protect the health and safety of prostitutes and ultimately would curtail the domestic and international sex trade.

But decriminalization does not change the ugly realities of prostitution. Prostitution is not a chosen profession -- no young girl dreams of becoming a prostitute when she grows up. And the concept that most prostitutes are liberated women who choose this line of work to earn a good wage is a perpetuated myth. Those who are being paid for sex, many of whom are underage girls and boys, are commonly held against their will, subjected to violence and almost always have no other way to survive. These circumstances raise the question of choice.

Research on the supply side of the sex trade has proved this reality: Virtually every person bought for sex -- boy, girl, teenager or adult --would not choose prostitution if they saw another way to survive. According to the results of several studies, the majority of women in prostitution were victims of child sexual abuse, and most prostituting adults were first sold for sex as children. Most end up addicted to drugs or alcohol.

Poverty pushes many girls and women into prostitution, but prostitution does not provide an escape route. Pimps pocket most of the profits.

Decriminalization simply does not solve the problems of prostitution. It does not protect or improve the lives of those being prostituted. It legitimizes the abuse of women and children, trapping them in a cycle of desperation, violence and poverty.

In fact, the only people Amnesty International's proposed policy would protect are those who are the root cause of prostitution and trafficking: the johns and pimps who buy and sell people for sex.

Amnesty International says it works to "protect people wherever justice, truth, dignity and freedom are denied." In our view, someone who is purchased for sex is a living, breathing example of the denial of justice, truth, dignity and freedom. Relabeling prostitution as "sex work" does not make it any less exploitative.

We must abandon the naive belief that decriminalizing the purchase of sex is a remedy for the ills of the sex trade. We urge Amnesty International, instead, to adopt a policy that states that people who are bought and sold for sex are victims of a crime.

The International Labor Organization estimates at least 12.3 million adults and children worldwide are in forced labor or commercial sexual servitude. A 2002 study estimated 16,000 girls and women in the Chicago area are involved in the sex trade. The only way we can put an end to prostitution is by penalizing its purchase. Buying people is a crime. Amnesty International, do not lend it your good name.

Lisa Madigan is the Illinois attorney general. Bridget Gainer, D-Chicago, is a Cook County Commissioner. Kaethe Morris Hoffer is executive director of the Chicago Alliance Against Sexual Exploitation.

Copyright 2014 Chicago Tribune Company, LLC

Summer Opportunities with the Forest Preserves

Friends of the Forest Preserves is once again offering our paid summer high school program in the Forest Preserves of Cook County. 

Friends of the Forest Preserves was formed by concerned community members to support the Forest Preserve District of Cook County in achieving its mission: to restore, restock, protect and preserve its natural lands together with their flora and fauna for the education, pleasure, and recreation of the public. Friends is dedicated to protecting the 68,000 acres of forest preserves through advocacy, ecological restoration and promoting the preserves. It's been almost 100 years since citizens such as Jens Jensen and Dwight Perkins worked to establish the forest preserves.

Nominations for Cook County JTDC Advisory Board

The Criminal Justice Committee of the Cook County Board is currently seeking nominations for individuals interested in serving on an Advisory Board to the Juvenile Temporary Detention Center. 

The JTDC provides temporary secure housing for youth from the age of 10 through 16 years, who are awaiting adjudication of their cases by the Juvenile Division of the Cook County Courts. The Center also provides care for youth who have been transferred from Juvenile Court jurisdiction to Criminal Court. These youth would otherwise be incarcerated in the county jail. Currently under the auspices of the Federal Court, the JTDC will soon be transitioning to the oversight of the Chief Judge of the Cook County Court.

The purpose of the advisory board is to provide public recommendations to the Executive Director of the JTDC, the Chief Judge, the President and Commissioners of the Cook County Board regarding the educational, physical, social, and psychological needs of the population; establish advisory performance measures to track and measure the achievement of the JTDC's mission and to provide public recommendations as needed to meet the educational, physical, social and psychological needs of the population at the JTDC.  
Juvenile Temporary Detention Center Advisory Board
  • Term: Staggered initial terms ranging from 1 to 3 years
  • Confirmation: Cook County Board of Commissioners
  • Compensation: None
  • Qualifications: Must be a resident of Cook County

To nominate yourself or another individual, please email resumes to

Register To Vote

For City of Chicago residents:

For Cook County residents:

2013 Property Tax Exemption Applications now available

2013 Applications for the Homeowner, Senior Citizen and Senior Freeze Exemptions are now available by the Cook County Assessor's Office. All eligible exemptions you apply for will result in a deduction on your second-installment property tax bill - to be issued by summer 2014.

2014 Cook County Unsung Heroine Award


In recognition of Women's History Month, the Cook County Commission on Women's Issues will be sponsoring a breakfast on Thursday, March 27, 2014, 8:30 AM - 10:30 AM, Chicago Cultural Center's Preston Bradley Hall located at 78 East Washington, Chicago, Illinois at which 18 women will be recognized as the County's "Peggy A. Montes Unsung Heroines." 

A heroine will be selected from each of the seventeen Cook County districts and an at large heroine will be selected by the four at large commissioners who were appointed by Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle to ensure that women from each area of the County will be recognized for their extraordinary contributions to their communities. 

Nominees must be a resident of the County Board district from which they are nominated. They should be women who, either in a professional or volunteer capacity, have made significant contributions to the well-being of their community for which they have not received widespread recognition. Elected officials are not eligible for consideration. Each member of the Commission on Women's Issues will seek community input for the identification of nominees for this award by forming a selection committee charged with soliciting nominations from community members and organizations and selecting the awardee.

For more information:

Crain's Chicago: "Illinois 1, Chicago 0 on pension reform"

December 4, 2013
By: Paul Merrion

After finally tackling pension reform, Illinois legislators now need to figure out a way to put some points on the board for Chicago. 

Mayor Rahm Emanuel was unable to link legislation for the city to the state's pension reform vote yesterday, an accomplishment he has likened to spiking the ball on the 20-yard line. 

"The work is far from finished," Mr. Emanuel said in a statement after the vote in Springfield. "The pension crisis is not truly solved until relief is brought to Chicago and all of the other local governments across our state that are standing on the brink of a fiscal cliff because of our pension liabilities. Without providing the same relief to local governments, we know that taxpayers, employees, and the future of our state and local economies will remain at risk." 

If reducing retirement costs was a necessity for the state, it's even more imperative for Chicago, which faces an enormous increase in pension contributions in 2015 if nothing is done. 

"We're always very aware that Chicago will be next," said Stacy Davis Gates, political director of the Chicago Teachers Union, which remains "in stark opposition" to benefit cutbacks for teachers. "It's been done, so there's a template. The second time is always easier." 

But some tough political and financial questions await the city as it seeks a next step to reduce its retirement costs. 

Illinois lawmakers acted yesterday after House Speaker Michael Madigan warned that the state's pension contributions would rise to 23.5 percent of the state budget - in 2030. 

Under state law, which governs city pension funds, Chicago must increase pension contributions by $590 million, raising total contributions to $1.4 billion in 2015, almost 30 percent of the city's operating budget after mandatory interest payments. 

The pension fund for Chicago teachers alone has a $7.1 billion unfunded liability, separate from the city's $19.5 billion shortfall in funding for police, fire, laborers and municipal employee pensions. 

The state's pension reform deal may offer both a political and actuarial template for further action, but the intricate adjustments in benefits, contribution levels and other details aren't directly transferable to Chicago's plans. The same is true for Cook County's pension liabilities, which are significant but not as severe as the city's.

What No Reform Looks Like
Without reform, it would take roughly a 35 percent increase in property taxes to meet required pension contributions for all local governments in the Chicago area, according to Fitch Ratings, a Wall Street credit rating agency that recently downgraded the city's credit rating three notches. Alternatively, budgets would have to be cut by a similar amount or there could be some combination of both. 

Even after adjusting the state's reform plan for Chicago, it may not generate enough savings, given that the city's plans already have less generous cost-of-living adjustments than the state had. That means the city would have to seek a different formula of reforms that may or may not be as politically achievable as the state model. 

"You can design our own pension reform, but what if you can't pass it?" said Cook County Commissioner Bridget Gainer, who chairs the county's pension committee. "Do you want to take a bird in hand and know they'll approve it, or end up with nothing? It's a dilemma for Mayor Emanuel and President (Toni) Preckwinkle." 

Just one thing is clear: Reforms at the state and local level ultimately will have to get through the courts, given that the state constitution protects pension benefits from being reduced. 

"It doesn't matter who the mayor is, you can't skip over the constitutional challenge," said Michael Shields, president of the Fraternal Order of Police union in Chicago. "If there is reform or reneging, I can promise 100 percent that there will be litigation."

Copyright 2013 Crain Communications, Inc.

WTTW Chicago Tonight: "Razing Chicago"

"Boarded up homes; distressed neighborhoods - Chicago is struggling to deal with the fallout of the foreclosure crisis on top of depopulation on the south and west sides. The city is tearing down abandoned properties that are magnets for crime. But what else can be done to reshape troubled areas? We talk with Cook County Commissioner Bridget Gainer, who spearheaded the creation of the Cook County Land Bank, and Marshall Brown, an architect, urban planner and professor at the Illinois Institute of Technology."

Chicago Sun-Times: "Congress needs to push to pass Immigration Reform now"

November 10, 2013
By: Chicago Sun-Times Editorial Board

If enough people pay attention, America could get sensible immigration reform. 

That was the hope of more than 100 reform advocates who were ticketed for blocking traffic Wednesday afternoon at Congress and Clark outside the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement office at 101 W. Congress. The rally was one of many similar events staged around the country in recent weeks, and more are on the way. 

After years of debate, the U.S. Senate last summer passed comprehensive immigration reform, but the legislation is languishing in the House with just a couple of weeks remaining on the legislative calendar. On Friday, U.S. Rep. Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., said there's not enough time remaining to deal with the issue this year. 

Still, the outlines of a compromise have emerged, and - with enough prodding - Congress just might enact it into law. 

"Some of the people who said they would never go along with immigration reform have changed," said Cook County Commissioner Bridget Gainer, who supports the goals of those at Wednesday's rally. "There were two huge poles of disagreement, and over time the two camps on the opposite sides have shrunk and the camp in the middle has grown." 

The outlines of that compromise are in the Senate bill, which includes a path to citizenship for the 11 million illegal immigrants already in the country as well as strong border security measures favored by some Republicans. Now, the House needs to pass comprehensive legislation that can move the issue to a House-Senate conference, where a final version can be hammered out and sent to President Barack Obama. 

On Tuesday, Obama asked top business leaders who had gathered at the White House to encourage Republican support for reform. 

Until now, House Republicans have focused on a piecemeal approach that deals with one aspect of immigration reform at a time, which Democrats oppose because it could result in more border security, for example, but not a path to citizenship. So far, not even the piecemeal measures have made it to the floor. 

Some Republicans are leery of being punished by voters in their districts for appearing to reward immigrants for coming to this country illegally. Others may not want to hand Obama a political victory. 

But some Democrats think the political winds are changing enough that immigration reform can become a reality. 

From this perspective, the recent government shutdown has marginalized the tea party wing of the Republican Party, which now must show it can govern. Polls indicate that after the shutdown, Republicans also face the possibility that the Democrats could pick up the 17 seats they need in 2014 to regain control of the House. In many of the districts that will be in play, the Latino vote is significant. In the 2012 president race, Obama got 71 percent of the Latino vote, leading some Republicans to fear they can't win national elections if they continue to bottle up immigration reform. 

There's also the human equation. For years, the nation has labored under policies that are both inhumane and economically destructive. Who really wants to see families torn apart when a breadwinner is taken away for deportation, or workers being taken advantage of because fear of deportation keeps them from standing up for themselves? It doesn't need to be this way. 

The immigration reform bill the Senate has put on the table doesn't fully satisfy anybody because it's a compromise. But compromise is what's needed now. 

Last month, U.S. Representatives Luis Gutierrez and Jan Schakowsky, both Illinois Democrats, were arrested in Washington during an immigration rally. Schakowsky said the arrests were necessary to bring attention to the debate. "There are real [issues] are out there instead of these manufactured crises, and they are getting no attention," she said. 

It's time to give immigration reform that attention -- and to make it the law.

Copyright 2013 Sun-Times Media, LLC

Wall Street Journal: "Weak Tax Base Hurts Renewal"

October 28, 2013
By: Kris Maher

ALLENTOWN, PA - Like hundreds of other American cities, this faded hub has struggled for decades as people and businesses flocked to the suburbs. The flight hollowed out the city center and pushed property values to among the lowest nationwide. 

Mayor Ed Pawlowski has compared Allentown to a sick patient. Now he and others are pursuing a radical course of treatment: transplanting a hockey arena and more than a million square feet of office, retail and residential space to the heart of downtown. 

Allentown's problem can be seen in a single metric: The city's estimated value of its taxable real estate on a per capita basis, $28,621, was the fifth-lowest among the 250 largest U.S. cities last year, according to an analysis by The Wall Street Journal of data from Merritt Research Services LLC. It was ahead of only Buffalo, N.Y., Detroit, Rochester, N.Y., and Philadelphia. A few cities weren't available by August 2013, when Merritt collected the information. 

The property wealth of cities is an important measure of fiscal health. Most municipalities rely heavily on property taxes for revenue. 

Mr. Pawlowski said the property-value figure is now higher because of a recent countywide reassessment of values, the first in more than 15 years. "Over a billion dollars in new development will dramatically increase the property values in the city," he added, referring to the redevelopment project under way. 

In Allentown, property-tax revenue has remained flat at about $28 million for several years, nearly one-third of the city's $90 million budget. The city hasn't raised property taxes for nine years because officials fear that could drive out more people and companies. 

Allentown and the nearby region once had a strong industrial base in textiles, steel fabrication and heavy machinery, with companies such as Bethlehem Steel and Mack Trucks employing thousands. People from across eastern Pennsylvania shopped at the city's department stores. 

But today, many factories sit empty in overgrown lots--a decline lamented as far back as Billy Joel's Reagan-era hit "Allentown." Discount stores line the city's downtown. The largest employers now are PPL Corp, an energy and utility holding company, Lehigh Valley Health Network, a health-care system, and state and local government. Its schools consistently rank among the state's poorest performers. 

"The city in the long run is not going to be able to survive if we can't improve property values," said J.B. Reilly, a developer behind new buildings in the city's core. While the city owns the arena, other buildings in the project are privately owned. 

The redevelopment is a gamble. Failed building projects--many including arenas or stadiums--have loaded other ailing cities with debt but brought few benefits. 

Projects such as Allentown's that include office and retail space are more likely to lift real-estate values, said Brad Humphreys, an economist at West Virginia University. He said development surrounding a National Hockey League arena in Columbus, Ohio, helped that city restore a section of downtown. 

The Allentown project, with $500 million worth of construction under way and another $500 million in planning, is among the largest in small- to midsize cities nationwide, said Christopher Leinberger, a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution. 

A city economic development authority issued $220 million in bonds in 2012 to pay for construction of the Allentown arena and related costs. The city itself doesn't guarantee the bonds. 

Allentown has looked to several sources to boost its budget. In 2006, voters approved an annual "local services tax" of $52 a year on people who work in the city. Most recently, it leased its water and sewer services to a county authority for the next 50 years for $211 million up front. City leaders expect to use the funds to pay off all or nearly all of an unfunded pension liability, whose state-mandated minimum annual payments had been set to account for about 30% of Allentown's budget by 2015. 

Mr. Pawlowski, a Democrat who recently launched a campaign to run for governor in 2014, argues the city has come back from the brink. Moody's Investors Service recently upgraded its credit outlook on the city to stable from negative. 

Allentown's population grew 11% from 2000 to 2010 to a total of 118,000, making it the fastest-growing city in the state. But its new residents largely are low-income transplants from New York City and New Jersey, drawn by the city's low rents. 

In the early 1980s, its median household income was on par with the state and nation as a whole. But by 2011, it was $35,700, compared with $51,600 for the U.S., according to the U.S. Census. Nearly 26% of residents live in poverty, double the 13% nationwide. 

The Allentown project relies on a four-year-old state law that enables the city economic-development authority and private developers to use taxes generated in the redevelopment zone to pay public and private construction debt. 

The project includes an office building already leased to a health-care system, a residential and retail complex, a 180-room Marriott Renaissance Hotel and the arena for the Phantoms, a minor-league affiliate of the Philadelphia Flyers scheduled to begin playing there in 2014. The team will make lease payments to the development authority. 

Developers project 3,000 to 4,000 more people working in the city, with 1,000 service jobs created for residents over the next several years. 

"I have my fingers crossed," said Josh Tucker, who owns a four-story building downtown that houses his store, Jaetees Wicker and Rattan. 

Across the street, two crane booms swing in wide arcs across the sky. The raked floor for the arena's 8,500 seats can be seen through the unfinished windows and doorways of the structure. 

Mr. Tucker, 52 years old, said the building he bought in 1983 for $150,000 didn't appreciate at all for nearly 30 years. Recently, he was offered $500,000, but he says he wants to hang onto it and see whether the project succeeds. Mr. Tucker and other residents said the city also needs to address deeper socioeconomic problems, including crime. 

Mr. Pawlowski said the city has boosted the police department and that crime fell 32.8% between 2006 and 2012. 

Mr. Reilly, the developer, acknowledged that some people will likely be displaced if property values rise markedly. But he argued change is vital. "Having a mix of more middle income and lower income needs to happen," he said.

*Jeannette Neumann contributed to this article.

Copyright 2013 Dow Jones & Company, Inc.

Cook County Sheriff's Office: 25th Annual Youth Service Medal of Honor

On behalf of Cook County Sheriff Thomas J. Dart, applications are available for the 25th Annual Sheriff's Youth Service Medal of Honor Award. The award is given to young people throughout Cook County who contributed at least 100 hours of volunteer service to their communities. Last year over 350 students received the Sheriff's Youth Service Medal of Honor. Together they contributed over 45,000 hours of service in hospitals, churches and other charitable organizations.

This is an outstanding honor and the Sheriff's Office is proud to have an opportunity to recognize these young people with this award. This award is available to students who reside in Cook County and have provided at least 00 hours of volunteer service while in grades 9-12 between September 1, 2012 and August 31, 2013. 

To apply, a completed application must be postmarked no later than October 16, 2013:

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