The two aldermanic candidates in Chicago's 32nd Ward race traded barbs throughout a Tuesday evening political forum, with incumbent Ald. Scott Waguespack coming under attack for his "personality conflicts" and challenger Elise Doody-Jones taking heat over her residency.
A pro-Mayor Rahm Emanuel super PAC's involvement in the 32nd Ward race was also discussed at the candidate forum, hosted by the South Lakeview Neighbors at the Athenaeum Theater, 2936 N. Southport Ave.
Chicago's 32nd Ward includes parts of Bucktown, Lake View, Lincoln Park, Logan Square, Roscoe Village and Wicker Park.
Waguespack, who has held the 32nd Ward seat since 2007, is a member of the city council's Progressive Reform Caucus. Doody-Jones is a small business owner who formerly served as treasurer of 1st Ward First, an independent political organization in Chicago's 1st Ward that supports the ward's current alderman, Joe Moreno.
Doody-Jones presently resides in the neighboring 1st Ward but says she will move to the 32nd Ward, if elected. She was asked about her residency at the top of Tuesday's forum, to which Doody-Jones explained that her Logan Square home is located just outside the ward's remapped boundaries.
"My feeling is that rats, criminals and education don't really care where the ward line is," she said, adding that, "I don't think that the people a half block away from me are all that much different than myself, and I also don't think that the people that are in this part of the ward are all that different and their needs are that different from my own family's needs."
For his part, Waguespack stressed that the ward boundaries were redrawn in 2012.
"If you have the intent of serving every one of the neighborhoods ... you should have the intent of moving when you realize at a very short timeframe after the map has been drawn that you're not in the 32nd Ward," he said. "I don't begrudge somebody running, but I think that the intent has to be there early on, very early on, and I think two years is more than enough time to allow yourself the opportunity to get into the ward boundaries as they exist."
The 32nd Ward aldermanic race is one in which Chicago Forward, the super PAC friendly to Emanuel and his council allies, has been active. The super PAC has amassed more than $2 million since its formation last June.
Chicago Forward has distributed mailers in the 32nd ward attacking Waguespack, one of the few outspoken critics of Emanuel on the city council. One mailer criticizes the alderman for voting against the mayor's 2015 budget, which includes a higher parking tax expected to bring in $10 million, some of which will be used to ramp up the city's pothole-filling efforts. Waguespack pushed back on the mailer during the forum.
"A lot of you know that the potholes that were so heinous last year weren't really filled in large part until August, but that mailer blamed me for the pothole money vote, which took place in November," he said, adding that he does not "blame the mayor entirely" for the city's slow pothole-filling response. "I think it's just the way the city is managed, and that stuff needs to be changed."
Doody-Jones, who said she has not taken money from Emanuel or Chicago Forward, said she had nothing to do with the super PAC's mailings, saying, "I'm sorry that those are coming to you, but I think that has to do with some personality conflicts that might be going on."
In response, Waguespack said, "There's no personality conflict from me to the present mayor."
"There might be in the reverse direction -- for people who stand up and actually say what they feel their constituents believe in, but I'm going to keep doing that," the alderman said.
Regarding the Chicago Forward mailer critical of his vote against the budget, Waguespack has previously stated that he opposed the fiscal plan in part over the police overtime it included. He reiterated his concerns over the city's high police overtime costs during the forum.
"If we're sitting there spending $100 million in overtime ... you've got a serious spending problem," he added. "You've got a serious budget problem, and for the last two years the mayor's office has basically said, 'We're going to control that overtime,' and they've been unable to do that at all. Each time we've asked for information specific to how that $100 million is broken down, they can't provide it."
As far as the issue of police manpower, Waguespack pointed out that the number of officers in Lakeview's 19th District is currently at about 330, which is down by more than 120 over recent years.
"I think there are times where you have to put your foot down and say, 'Enough is enough,'" Waguespack said. "And I've done that in city council. I'm going to keep doing that until the mayor figures out that the people in this area pay a lot of taxes [and] expect a lot of activity in terms of police officers patrolling their area."
Doody-Jones said she wants to see more beat officers brought to the ward, but acknowledged that the city is "definitely in a financial situation in which we might be limited at how many police officers we can actually hire, so we need to find ways to work together as a community to communicate better with the police in our problem areas."
The candidates were asked about solutions to address the city's fiscal issues, to which Waguespack said the city needs to reprioritize its spending.
"If we're looking at spending 50-plus million dollars for a private arena for DePaul, that's not a priority that I think we all share, especially when we're seeing this type of crime," he said, circling back to the issue of hiring more police officers. "I think there's plenty of opportunities, there's plenty of ways to reprioritize our spending so that we don't have to go and borrow another $1.9 billion that they don't show us where that money is being spent and say it's for other priorities, and just pull it out of where we already have it."
Doody-Jones said a progressive income tax at the state level would be a big help for the city financially.
"We need a different structure altogether," she said, referring to the state's tax system.
During her answer, Doody-Jones slammed Waguespack over what she described as the alderman's "feud" with the mayor.
"I keep hearing the mayor, the mayor, the mayor, and it sounds like you got quite the feud going on with the mayor," she said. "A lot of folks feel that that feud that you have with the mayor has hurt us adversely, which is one of the reasons why I am running. We need to find money to pay for all of these things, but a lot of the problem is at the state level. So we need to definitely press for a progressive income tax so that we can pay for our police and other items on the budget."
An audience member later asked Doody-Jones to expand on why she thinks the 32nd ward has suffered due to the "feud" between Emanuel and Waguespack.
"I think some parts of the ward are definitely being better maintained by the ward office than others," she responded. "There are parts of Bucktown that I have had some very angry people at the door. Their perception is that there is a head-butting happening between this incumbent and the current mayor."
On the topic of spurring more economic development in the ward, Doody-Jones said she would work to further streamline the business licensing process, adding that tax increment financing (TIF) funds, "if used correctly," could also help attract additional businesses to the ward. Taking another jab at Waguespack, Doody-Jones said the 32nd Ward needs to become more "welcoming" towards businesses already in the area.
"It is my understanding that unfortunately we do lose some businesses when aldermen tell folks, if they don't like the way they do business, to please leave the ward. We do have that situation in the 32nd Ward," she said. "It has happened time and again. Those are stories that do not surface very often, but we are aware that they occur."
Waguespack countered that his staff does a "very excellent job" working with different businesses in the ward. He also touted the businesses he's helped bring to the ward as well as his efforts around making zoning issues more transparent.
"When Elise talks about pushing businesses out, that's something far from the contrary," the alderman stressed. "If you have a situation like the Diag [Bar & Grill] and this issue keeps cropping up, you have to work with the neighborhood organization to make sure it gets addressed. And it's not me saying that, it's the neighbors who have to deal with bad businesses, and we have to make sure that we get them in compliance with the things they should be doing."
Local residents have raised concerns over noise, trash and other issues reportedly associated with the bar. In November 2013, the South Lakeview Neighbors sponsored a meeting with the bar's owners, residents and the alderman's office to discuss the issues and ways to address the problems.
During a "lightening round" of questions, candidates were asked about charter schools, an elected school board and their endorsements in the mayor's race.
Doody-Jones said she's not endorsing anyone for mayor, supports a "cap" on charter schools and favors the idea of an elected school board.
Waguespack is backing mayoral challenger Ald. Fioretti (2nd) and favors switching to an elected school board in the city. He said he supports the charter schools in his ward, though he is also a proponent of "making sure that charter schools like UNO are accountable to taxpayers."
The municipal election takes place on February 24. Early voting kicked off on Monday.