Chicago Treasurer: party of one

By Heather McGraw

Of the three citywide positions up for a vote in the approaching Feb. 22 elections, the mayoral and city clerk candidates continue to campaign, but the office of treasurer is down to one name.

Stephanie Neely is alone on the ballot for treasurer after holding the position for six years. She won the citywide municipal clection in 2007, but originally took office in 2006, when Mayor Richard M. Daley appointed her to replace Judith Rice.

According to Jim Allen, spokesman for the Chicago board of elections, her former opponent, Elida Cruz, was removed from the ballot because of an insufficient number of legitimate signatures from registered voters.

“Ms. Cruz’s attorney later argued there was a computer glitch but offered no testimony, evidence or details of what the supposed glitch was, much less how it might have impacted the outcome of the objection,” Allen said.

Cruz said she has intentions to run as a write-in candidate because she wants to give voters a choice. The latest list from the Chicago Board of Elections shows she has filed a declaration of intent form to run.

“The city treasurer should act in an advisory capacity to the mayor’s office in terms of budgetary, financial and fiduciary responsibilities that the city of Chicago may have,” Cruz said.

Robert Bruhl a clinical assistant professor of political science at University of Illinois at Chicago, said electing a treasurer is a good way to ensure independence from other city government.

“If a treasurer is appointed by the mayor or City Council, it’s possible that the city treasurer may not be honest all the time,” Bruhl said.

The Chronicle spoke with Neely on Jan. 25 about how she sees the Office of Treasurer, her opinion on the current budget’s state and her potential plans for next term.

The Chronicle: Can you explain the duties involved with the office of treasurer?

Stephanie Neely: My statutory responsibility is to protect the city’s money. I manage a portfolio of about $7 billion. I am the person who transfers cash to the comptroller—who has the checkbook—when the money has been deemed appropriate to spend by City Council. I also invest the money, and since being elected treasurer four years ago, have earned close to a half a billion dollars in interest earnings.

The Chronicle: What’s your opinion of the current state of Chicago’s finances?

SN: In terms of what’s going on with our deficit—it’s not unique in this country for any municipality to have a shortfall in revenues. It’s the first time since the late ‘70s and early ‘80s [that] all revenues are down. Property transfer tax [revenue] is down. Personal income tax [revenue] is down. Sales tax [revenues] are down. The only way to balance any budget—be it the city’s budget, the state’s budget, the federal government’s budget—is to either increase revenue or decrease expenses.

The Chronicle: What are your plans for the next term?

SN: We are going to continue to provide my statutory responsibilities, which is to protect the citizens’ money, to provide liquidity and to grow the money. In addition, we have some great community outreach programs where we partner with Chicago Public Schools and City Colleges of Chicago to provide financial literacy to all of our citizens. … We’re going to continue to give the citizens what they want. We conduct town hall meetings very frequently to ask our small business community what they want.