The race to represent the 3rd Ward in Chicago's City Council is somewhat of a dramatic one, with Ebony Tillman looking to unseat Ald. Pat Dowell, who defeated Ebony Tillman's mother for in the 2007 aldermanic race.
The race for Chicago's 3rd ward city council seat is somewhat of a dramatic one, with Ebony Tillman vying for the same seat her mother, Dorothy Tillman, held for 20 years before losing to current alderman Pat Dowell in 2007. The younger Tillman says residents of the ward asked her to run for alderman and told the Chicago Sun-Times that her mother's notoriety has followed her along the campaign trail. "I would say that people ask about my mom every other door, but really it’s more like every door. It’s the first question they ask everywhere I go," she said. "Even at the train station. It makes me feel very proud."
Although Tillman may get a boost from fans of her mother, famous for wearing big, flashy hats, Dowell is winning the popularity contest when it comes to endorsements. The incumbent has won the backing of the Sun-Times, SEIU (whose Illinois council sponsors this site), the Chicagoland Chamber of Commerce, Chicago Firefighters Union, AFSCME, UNITE Here, For a Better Chicago, Gazette Chicago, Chicago Tribune, Citizen Action, CFL, Teamsters Joint Council 25, the Chicago Teachers' Union, IVI-IPO, and the International Union of Bricklayers and Allied Craftworkers.
Dowell reported nearly $51,000 in her campaign fund at the end of 2010, according to election board records, and has raised another $24,700 in large donations so far this year. Tillman had just under $300 in her fund at the close of last year.
Over the weekend, the two candidates battled it out during a forum put together by the Greater South Loop Association. Each described what they believe are the major issues for the ward. Take a look:
During her first term in office, Dowell has worked to clean up the community. Last year, Dowell reached an agreement with nine liquor stores in her ward to stop selling inexpensive alcoholic beverages. “These alcoholic drinks are relatively cheap and easy to buy from simply begging on the street for change,” the alderman told the Chicago Defender. “Patrons will purchase these drinks and when they are done they would throw their bottles and cans on the ground littering up the community.” Dowell has also worked to move the ball forward on developing long-empty buildings in the ward, like Bronzeville's Rosenwald Apartments, which have been vacant for more than a decade.
A Tiff Over TIFs
When a question about the use of tax increment financing dollars in the 3rd Ward came up last Saturday, the stark differences between the candidates could easily be seen. Tillman accused Dowell of shortchanging ward residents, saying TIF funds should not be used outside the ward. Dowell defended how she has used TIF money. Watch:
Dowell also said she would look at using TIF dollars to fund improvements to the Chicago Transit Authority's Green Line, which runs through the ward.
Housing was another hot button issue at Saturday's forum. Tillman believes the loss of the Harold Ickes Homes contributed to homelessness in the ward, saying that many residents were promised that they could stay in their apartments, but were later removed. Dowell contends that any Ickes residents who want to return will be able to once new housing is built, but also pointed out that the site can be used for much-needed economic development.
Tillman also went after Dowell for turning down a deal to add a homeless shelter to the ward and accused the incumbent of failing to deal with substance abuse issues amongst residents that contribute to homelessness, despite the alderman's deal with local liquor store owners. Dowell says plans for a new homeless shelter are in the works and voiced her support of initiatives that promote affordable housing.
"We need to put more money into affordable housing," said the alderman. "I think the Sweet Home Chicago ordinance, which is is an ordinance I'm supporting, would provide resources for us to create more shelters, to create more housing opportunities for our homeless individuals. We have worked in the ward to bring in a new homeless shelter on Wabash Street. We've worked closely with the various single room occupancies in our ward to help them to be able to maintain homeless people and get them connected to the mainstream. There's basically a need for more resources."
Dowell presented the audience with concrete examples of how she would work with other aldermen to deal with Chicago's budget problems. Tillman, on the other hand, did not. Dowell's plans for working on the city's financial problems included merging committees and departments, cutting middle management in city government, and going to a grid system for the Department of Streets and Sanitation. Tillman said she would go through each line item of the budget to look for ways to improve the city's finances, but said she would need more time to look at it "because it takes a lot of research and is not something you can answer in two minutes ... or go along with the status quo."
When it comes to the city's pension problems, Tillman said "We have to investigate what has happened to the pension fund thus far. It has been touted that the current mayor has done some shady business with our pensions and these things need to be investigated. Before we can look at how to correct it, we have to look and see where these monies are now. I think once we get a good look at that, then we can begin to draft better ways to deal with our pensions."
Dowell says the city needs to look at the pensions of current employees and determine whether they can contribute more to their plans and evaluate whether the level of benefits for new employees needs to change, stressing that the "city has to find the money to pay for these unfunded pensions because typically city workers don't pay social security, so they are dependent on their pensions to live when they retire."
Dowell was one of only six aldermen to vote against having non-union employees take furlough days to help save the city money. A recent report by the city's inspector general found that the furlough days actually saved the city less than than the Daley administration promised, because it hurt the city's already ailing pension system.
Big Box Retail
The candidates did find one area of agreement: big box retail. Both candidates say they are in support of bringing big box retail to the 3rd Ward, with Dowell stressing the need for smart planning when such firms want to move in.
"I believe that big boxes are something that we have to contend with in this society," she said. "They don't come easily and we have to make sure that when they come into our neighborhoods they come in the right way ... and the right way in my perspective is that they are paying a living wage; work with the community around hiring, not just on the permanent jobs, but on the construction jobs; that they open up their shelf space to local businesses; and that they put up a store that is architecturally in context with the surrounding community."