Competitive City Treasurer race features local State Rep, North Side Alderman
March 30, 2019

By Rick Romano

The City Treasurer race has not been considered competitive for more than a decade, but now two candidates—Near West Side 10th District State Representative Melissa Conyears-Ervin and North Side 47th Ward Alderman Ameya Pawar—are vying for the post.

In the first electoral round on Feb. 26, Conyears-Ervin received 224,183 votes for 44.3%, Pawar received 210,356 for 41.6%, and Peter Gariepy received 71,479 for 14.1%. Because nobody received more than 50%, the top two vote recipients, Conyears-Ervin and Pawar, moved on to the next round.

In preparation for the April 2 election, the candidates outlined their respective backgrounds and what they expect to bring to the office.

Melissa Conyears-Ervin.

Melissa Conyears-Ervin

Melissa Conyears-Ervin was elected State Representative in 2016. She sponsored the improved Illinois education formula bill, directing $221 million in additional funding to the Chicago Public Schools. She also was the chief sponsor of bipartisan legislation that protected funding for child care assistance to help working parents.

Conyears-Erwin serves on several legislative committees: Appropriations for Elementary and Secondary Education, Business Incentives for Local Communities, Economic Opportunity, Health Care Availability and Access, Property and Casualty Insurance, and Transportation.

Prior to her State post, Conyears-Ervin served in multiple managerial jobs at Allstate Insurance. During her Allstate stint, she earned a master’s degree in business administration and finance at Roosevelt University to add to her previous bachelor’s of science degree in finance from Eastern Illinois University. Also at Allstate, she became executive-in-residence, working at Breakthrough Urban Ministries, a charitable organization in Garfield Park.

She said the experience opened her eyes to the plight of the homeless and others affected by poverty.

“I knew then that I had to have a more direct effect on what was going on around me,” she said.

Conyears-Ervin was born on Chicago’s South Side and raised in the city’s Austin neighborhood. She and her husband, 28th Ward Alderman Jason Ervin, and their young daughter live in Garfield Park.

Her Treasurer approach

“I bring a unique perspective because of my background in finance,” she said. “I’m looking to expand the office.”

That expansion hinges on four key points.

First, have the treasurer’s office responsible for the Council Office of Financial Analysis (COFA) to better provide the mayor, City Council, and public with critical information about the City’s finances and budget. This would be designed to improve analysis of bond issues, revenue projections and budget impact statements.

COFA analyzes and reviews the City’s annual proposed budget and makes recommendations on spending reforms. “Right now, it’s part of the mayor’s administration,” Conyears-Ervin said. “That’s like the fox watching the henhouse. We need to look at what’s under the hood.”

Second, the treasurer’s office would conduct a financial analysis – including audits – of   Chicago Public Schools (CPS) and sister agencies.

Third, have the treasurer’s office perform audits and financial reporting of Chicago’s pension funds.

“That’s because we want to know how those funds are being invested and ensure that we are getting the best possible return on those funds,” Conyears-Ervin said. “That has been an important issue for the City, so we need to get a handle on that.”

Fourth, the treasurer will create and utilize a web portal containing all past as well as future financial analysis, audits and related material of all city financial bodies.

Because she focuses on fund investment, Conyears-Ervin favors banks supporting the needs of residents throughout the city.

“There has been a lot of talk about a public bank in the city created through the State Legislature,” she said. “I am more interested in help for right now. On day one, I will begin talking to bank CEOs about meeting the needs of those who don’t have access to the banking industry.”

Conyears-Ervin said she wants to fight against certain populations’ perceived lack of access to capital and financing.

“We want to make sure that we are investing so money is working for us and that all communities are represented,” she said.

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Ameya Pawar.

Ameya Pawar

Ameya Pawar was elected Alderman of the North Side 47th Ward in 2011, making him the first Indian-American and Asian-American elected to Chicago’s City Council. He was re-elected in 2015.

As Alderman, Pawar said he has led 12 pieces of legislation on tax increment financing reform, guaranteeing earned sick time, combating wage theft, and protecting and preserving affordable housing “for Chicago’s most vulnerable.”

Pawar’s City Council committee memberships are Budget and Government Operations; Council Office of Financial Analysis Oversight; Economic, Capital, and Technology Development; Special Events, Cultural Affairs, and Recreation; Zoning, Landmarks and Building Standards; Public Safety; and Rules and Ethics.

In his ward, Pawar launched Grow47, a comprehensive initiative to link local schools with their respective neighborhoods. The stand-alone nonprofit now works with schools across the North Side.

While in office in 2014, he authored a textbook on the connection between disaster and poverty and a socially constructed narrative around deserving underserved populations.

Pawar earned a bachelor’s degree in religion and philosophy from Missouri Valley College and a master’s degree in public administration from the Illinois Institute of Technology. He also has two master’s degrees from the University of Chicago, one in threat and response management, the other in social service administration. He also is a U.S. State Department Critical Language Program alum and a fall 2018 McCormick Foundation executive fellow.

Pawar was born in Chicago. As a youngster, his family moved to unincorporated Des Plaines, IL.

He lives with his wife and their young daughter in the city’s Lincoln Square neighborhood.

His Treasurer approach

Pawar said he is running for City Treasurer to drive reform and social change after tackling those issues from a legislative perspective.

“The first thing I would do is divest from fossil fuels and begin working on where all of our fees go—what big fees we pay to big banks and how we invest our pension funds,” he said.

Noting “we need to go big and bold,” he said he would “democratize” investments, focusing on green initiatives while providing relief to students with loans and to those who want to create businesses that are good for neighborhoods.

“When we invest in green infrastructures and affordable housing, we get denser and more affordable housing options,” Pawar said. “Support for small business creation is important because small business creates the most amount of jobs. We need to get funds into the hands of entrepreneurs.

“We also will work for those who want to go to college,” he said. “We want to lower the cost of loans. Imagine the difference it would mean if we could lower rates from 7.5% to 5%.”

Pawar also notes the importance of getting the most out of investing pension funds, focusing on improving the quality of life for those who depend on that income.

One of his initiatives, Pawar said, is selling shares of a major Chicago asset: water.

“We want to take that asset and make it public so that everyone in Chicago can benefit from ownership” he said, noting he would base this policy on a model in which Alaska shares oil revenues with residents. He also noted Norway uses its oil revenues to convert to clean energy.      

“These are the kinds of initiatives that we can follow,” Pawar said.

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