Chicago mayoral and 24th Ward aldermanic hopefuls spoke to West Side residents at a Tuesday night candidate forum. Progress Illinois was there for the event.
Chicago aldermanic hopefuls running in the West Side's crowded 24th Ward race made their pitch to voters at a Tuesday night candidate forum, with many vowing to, if elected, boost employment and economic opportunities in the North Lawndale community.
Eight of the 12 candidates vying to replace retiring Ald. Michael Chandler (24th), who announced earlier this month that he would not seek re-election, attended the forum, held at One Way Baptist Church, 4152 W. 16th St.
Mayoral candidates Ald. Bob Fioretti (2nd), Cook County Commissioner Jesus "Chuy" Garcia and community activist William 'Dock' Walls also made brief remarks at the event, attended by about 50 people.
During his opportunity to speak, Fioretti reiterated his support for a moratorium on charter schools, TIF reform and the re-opening of community mental health clinics, among other issues. Fioretti also ripped Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel for his "obscene war chest" and the $2.5 million the mayor has spent thus far on campaign ads, including one applauding his work to increase the city's minimum wage to $13 by 2019.
"We've been fighting for $15 an hour, and then they go to $13 by 2019, pennies above poverty," the alderman told the crowd. "What is that about, really? It doesn't help us, because we need good jobs in our community."
Garcia, who came to the meeting after having oral surgery that day, had difficulties talking and asked his political organization's Vice President Ronelle Mustin to speak on his behalf. Mustin applauded Garcia for helping to "make it possible" for the Little Village Lawndale High School to be built and also for being "on the frontline on this Ferguson issue."
"He's been to the marches for that," Mustin said, referring to protests in response to high-profile police killings of unarmed African-American men. "That's who he is."
For his part, Walls stressed the importance of improving employment opportunities in struggling communities, specifically among young African-American men.
"We have to spend more money on education, rehabilitation and skill development and a whole lot less money on incarnation," he stressed. "We're locking these young men up and separating them from their children and from their family, and they will never realize their full potential."
After the mayoral contenders spoke, aldermanic candidates were given up to 10 minutes to introduce themselves and their platforms to the audience. Most of the candidates touched on broad themes, but offered few specifics on how they would implement their ideas. There was no question and answer session with the candidates.
Aldermanic hopeful Frank Bass, who runs a lobbying firm, pledged to help lure manufacturers to the community, if elected.
"The 24th Ward is in a perfect position to have an alderman who's going to go after these manufacturing companies" and bring them to the area, he stressed.
Candidate Vernell Hollis-Swanigan, who works in social services, followed up on Bass' comments, saying, "Yes, we want to bring manufacturers back to the 24th Ward," but "why come back (if) our people are not going to be able to get the jobs?"
She noted that the 24th Ward has a large population of African-American men in particular with criminal backgrounds, which makes it hard for them to get jobs. If elected, Hollis-Swanigan said she would work to provide more record expungement services and other job-related supports for ex-offenders in the community.
Businesswoman Vetress Boyce said her main priority for the ward is economic development and bringing "business back to the forefront of this community." If elected, Boyce said she would also push to have future economic development projects in the ward come with community benefits agreements.
Denarvis Mendenhall, whose background includes work as a pharmaceutical drug investigator with the U.S. Food & Drug Administration, spoke about reducing crime, forming a stronger relationship between police and the community and providing more youth programs.
Youth and job training programs were also highlighted by LaDarius Curtis, who serves on the board of the West Side-based social services organization Goodcity.
"At the end of the day, those kids on the corner, they don't just need jobs ... We need careers," the candidate said. "The only way to really have careers is to change the mentality of our young people."
If elected, Michael Scott Jr., Chicago Park District manager for the central region, said he would work to increase the availability of affordable housing in the 24th Ward.
"We can all talk about economics and ... bringing economics here, but if we don't have the people here, nobody is going to set up shop here," he said. "You have to have quality, affordable housing that will bring people to our community."
Aldermanic hopeful Regina Lewis, founder and CEO of Ashunti Residential Management Systems Inc., a West Side drug abuse and addiction treatment center, wants to implement financial assistance programs to help first-time homebuyers and entrepreneurs in the community. Another idea she floated is to turn permanently closed public school buildings in the ward into job-training centers.
Candidate Roger Washington, assistant pastor at Neighborhood United Methodist Church, said "spirituality" is a key part of his platform.
"We need a spiritual-based leader to bring these people together to get this community back up and running," he said. "I want these churches to come together and unify."
After the meeting, Valerie Leonard, co-founder of the Lawndale Alliance, said she was surprised that few aldermanic candidates commented on issues involving the public school system, TIFs and the city's budget. Leonard was also disappointed that the candidates overall lacked "more thought-out platforms."
"The ones that had a so-called plan, I still think that could have been more well-developed," she said. "They didn't demonstrate in the pitches how they'd actually go about doing what it is that they said they would do and how they would navigate City Hall on behalf of the constituents."
Also in the audience was Paul Norrington, founder of the North Lawndale Presidential Library Committee, which partnered with the University of Illinois at Chicago on a proposal to bring the Obama Presidential Library to North Lawndale. While many of the aldermanic contenders talked about the need for economic development in the ward, few addressed the "game-changing" potential library site and the future community benefits and challenges associated with it, Norrington noted.
If "we get the library, whoever the alderman is, there are also dangers that come with that, because gentrification will follow," he explained. "What are their plans on dealing with that gentrification issue? There will be plenty of opportunities coming to the ward. How will that be managed? Whoever is the alderman this next term, they're going to have a big job just because of the library, and I hope that they can focus in on that."
The other aldermanic candidates running in the 24th Ward are Wallace "Mickey" Johnson, Sherita Ann Harris, Darren Tillis and Larry Nelson.