Progress Illinois provides highlights from a fierce debate between Brian Hopkins and Alyx Pattison, Chicago's 2nd Ward aldermanic runoff candidates.
Tensions soared Tuesday night at the final Chicago aldermanic debate before the April 7 runoff election between 2nd Ward candidates Brian Hopkins and Alyx Pattison.
Hopkins and Pattison were the top two vote-getters in the 2nd Ward's six-way primary election, earning nearly 29 percent and 24 percent of the vote, respectively. Both fell far short of the 50.1 percent needed to avoid a runoff.
Hopkins is a former aide to Cook County Commissioner John Daley, brother of former Chicago Mayor Richard M. Daley, and past president of the Streeterville Organization of Active Residents (SOAR). Pattison is an attorney, Local School Council member and former legislative aide to U.S. Rep. Jan Schakowsky (D-IL,9).
Tuesday's debate, co-sponsored by the Ukrainian Village Association, the East Village Association and the Wicker Park Committee, was moderated by Crain's political editor Greg Hinz and Chicago Tribune City Hall reporter Hal Dardick. The event was held in Ukrainian Village at Columbus Elementary School, 1003 N. Leavitt St.
What started as a cordial debate between Hopkins and Pattison got heated when the aldermanic hopefuls were asked about possible reforms to address the city's $20 billion in unfunded pension liabilities.
That's when Hopkins pointed out that Pattison received "$75,000 in 72 hours from the public employee unions, and they are adamantly opposed to any pension reform."
"She's put handcuffs on herself," Hopkins said of Pattison. "If she's elected, she will not be in a position to advocate for pension reform, because the public employees' union have supported her candidacy to the tune of $75,000."
Pattison, who said she favors pension reforms reached through "an equal negotiation between labor and the people who they work for," has received campaign donations in part from the SEIU* Illinois Council PAC and AFSCME Illinois Council No. 31, among other labor groups and donors.
"The reason that (labor unions) support me is because my opponent and I have a very clear difference on the record when it comes to working people," Pattison stressed. "He would oppose Mayor Emanuel's $13 an hour minimum wage ordinance. I support that. He's told the Chicago Federation of Labor he's opposed to earned sick time ... I would be in favor of that. Labor supports me, because I support working people."
Both Hopkins and Pattison were asked whether they plan to be a full-time alderman without a side job, if elected. A second question focused on whether the candidates, if they make it to the city council, have intentions to later run for a higher office.
Pattison said she's "absolutely committed to being an overtime alderman," adding that she will not practice law while serving as alderman, if elected.
"My opponent apparently is taken to talking on porches about me wanting to run for Congress," Pattison said. "I don't know where he's getting this idea. I want this job. I want to be an alderman."
"I'm getting it from close mutual friends of ours who tell me that you've told them that," Hopkins replied.
To that, Pattison said, "Liar, liar pants on fire."
Pressed by Hinz on whether she would run for higher office as a city council member, Pattison said, "I won't rule it out for the future. I won't do it in my first or second term that's for sure. One thing that I am whole heartedly certain that I want to do is Finkl Steel. Once that starts, I want to see that through to the end. That could be a 15-year project."
Pattison was referring to the recently-closed A. Finkl & Sons plant in Lincoln Park that is being eyed for redevelopment. It is currently uncertain what will become of the 40-acre site.
Meanwhile, Hopkins said he would be a full-time alderman, if elected, adding that, "I have no other interest in any other job. And if I'm fortunate enough to be elected alderman, I plan to stay the alderman of the 2nd Ward as long as the voters will have me in that job."
Both Hopkins and Pattison said they would be independent aldermen. The candidates were asked why voters should believe them when they say they will not bend on crucial issues and votes.
Hopkins pointed to his "16-year history" of being an independent leader. While at SOAR, Hopkins said, "There were times when I adamantly opposed things that were very popular with the administration" under Daley, the brother of Hopkins' former boss, Cook County Commissioner John Daley.
For her part, Pattison said that she, unlike her opponent, "hasn't wrapped myself in the loving of arms of the current mayor." She held up a Hopkins campaign mailer featuring side-by-side pictures of Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel and Hopkins.
Emanuel "has not endorsed either one of us and yet you are all getting mail pieces that have my opponent pictured right next to him," she told the crowd.
The mayor is locked in a tough runoff contest against Cook County Commissioner Jesus 'Chuy' Garcia.
"You wouldn't believe the pressure we're both getting, I'm sure, to endorse one or the other" mayoral candidate, Pattison added. "I'm getting pressure to endorse one or the other, and I've steadfastly stood by my desire to run and serve as an independent alderman, and I won't budge from it."
Hopkins, an Emanuel supporter, said neither the mayor nor Garcia had pressured him for an endorsement.
When asked which mayoral candidate she voted for in the city's February 24 election, Pattison said Emanuel. She did not say who she will be backing in the mayoral runoff, explaining that she's "open ... to listening" to both Emanuel and Garcia.
Regarding Emanuel, the candidates were asked which past city policies of the current mayor they would have voted against if they were an alderman at the time.
Hopkins and Pattison agreed that they opposed Emanuel's handling of the recordbeaking closing of 50 Chicago public schools in 2013.
Pattison also said she would have voted against "privatization in virtually every instance," adding that, "I can't imagine why we would ever sell or convert a public asset to somebody else's gain."
Hopkins said he takes issue with Emanuel's underwhelming "Infrastructure Trust," a plan to use private money to finance public projects, and the mayor's changes to the controversial parking meter deal. The 2013 parking meter changes, which include free parking for some parts of the city on Sundays and a pay-by-cell option, were part of a settlement with the parking meter company over outstanding legal disputes.
"I think we could have done much better" on the parking meter changes, Hopkins said. "If we're going to reopen that horrible contract, one of the things that I would have like to have done is shorten the duration of it, [and] had it end in our lifetime."
Regarding the city's parking meter contract, Pattison has come under criticism from her opponent for her past work at Katten Muchin Rosenman LLP, a law firm that was involved in the parking meter deal negotiations.
Hopkins took the opportunity to bring up the issue at the debate, asking Pattison what her involvement was with the parking meter deal.
Pattison said she had no involvement with the parking meter deal during her time at the law firm.
"The allegation that I ever, ever earned a single dime from that is patently and flatly false, and he knows it," she said, referring to accusations made by her opponent. "The idea that I ever benefited from it or that the law firm benefited unfairly from it is patently false, and he knows it."
Hopkins interjected that Pattison "was a partner" at the law firm when the parking meter deal was inked.
"It was four years before I made partner, Brian," she stressed. "How dare you?"
Hopkins prompted that back and forth during the most intense portion of the debate, during which the candidates were allowed to ask each other questions.
Pattison asked Hopkins about a recent mailer his campaign sent out criticizing her position on taxes. The mailer in question says Pattison is "open to raising property taxes by millions and even proposed a sales tax on services that would cost local families $450 million per year."
The mailer also reads: "Mayor Emanuel & Brian Hopkins: The team you can trust to hold the line on taxes." It fails to mention the fact that Emanuel has has suggested expanding the sales tax to services as a means to help tackle the city's pension problem.
Pattison asked Hopkins, "Why did you omit the fact that you support the same sales tax on services statewide that I do?"
"Because I don't support it. I think it's a bad idea," Hopkins responded.
Pattison fired back that Hopkins is on record supporting the idea in a newspaper questionnaire.
"Well, I changed my mind then," Hopkins said. "I think it's a bad idea."
"So he changes his mind when it's convenient to put that in mail," Pattison told the audience.
Hopkins tried to clarify his sales tax position, saying: "What I've said was if the state of Illinois wants to take action in the general assembly to expand the sales tax to services, that's fine. I wouldn't tell them not to, and I wouldn't object to it. But if I'm an alderman, I'm going to object to any effort to expand the sales tax to services."
During his turn to ask another question, Hopkins wanted to know which aldermanic candidate Pattison voted for during last month's election. Pattison said she voted for Ald. Joe Moreno, who represents the neighboring 1st Ward.
"I think it's important when you ask for people to vote for you that you can actually vote for yourself," Hopkins replied. "My opponent is not a resident of the 2nd Ward, and I am."
Pattison explained that her home, located near Western Ave. and Division St., is in the 1st Ward and just outside the 2nd Ward's gerrymandered boundaries. She has previously been unable to move into the 2nd Ward because a developer left her condo association on the hook for a "huge issue" that she had to help resolve. Pattison said the situation at her home was resolved in December and that she would "be happy to move into 2nd Ward, if elected." She said her reasons for running for 2nd Ward alderman "are pretty pure."
"It's part of my neighborhood," Pattison stressed of the 2nd Ward.
Chicago's 2nd Ward seat is being vacated by current Ald. Bob Fioretti, who made an unsuccessful bid for mayor. Fioretti opted to run for mayor after he was drawn out of his original 2nd Ward into the 28th Ward during the 2012 remapping process.
As part of the most recent remap, the 2nd Ward's boundaries were changed dramatically. The oddly-shaped North Side ward runs through 13 neighborhoods, stretching from the lakefront on the east to Ukrainian Village on the west.
Among other topics, the candidates were asked their positions on the city's much-despised red light and speed camera programs.
Pattison said she's open to keeping the photo enforcement cameras in place "if we are open to the reforms" put forward by city council members.
"I'm not ready to write the whole program off in part because it is a revenue generator, and that's a horrible, horrible reason to have had them, but now we have a $70 million hole to plug," she said, noting that the city also does not have "the police power to be giving us those tickets."
Traffic technology, Hopkins said, can be used for "positive" or "destructive purposes."
"We've used red light cameras and speed cameras for destructive purposes," he added. "The technology can be used, but it has to be used effectively, and it has to have the trust of the public. Right now, it does not, so we have to completely redesign that program -- both the speed cameras and the red light cameras."
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