Quick Hit Ellyn Fortino Friday March 20th, 2015, 11:30am

Chicago 16th Ward Candidate Responds To Residency Questions, Criticism Over Ownership Of ‘Unsafe’ Vacant Home

South Side aldermanic candidate Stephanie Coleman, who’s vying for the Chicago City Council’s 16th Ward seat, is taking heat over an “unsafe” vacant home she owns with her father in Englewood. 

Questions are also being raised over whether Coleman is truly a “lifelong 16th Ward resident,” as she claims.

Coleman’s campaign, however, says critics are “making false claims” against the 27-year-old aldermanic candidate and are “trying to deflect from real neighborhood issues.”

Coleman, who bills herself as a “daughter of Englewood,” is set to go head-to-head with progressive Ald. Toni Foulkes (15th) in the 16th Ward’s aldermanic runoff contest on April 7. The 16th Ward, which covers the Chicago Lawn, Englewood, Gage Park and West Englewood neighborhoods, was previously represented by Ald. JoAnn Thompson, who died suddenly of heart failure on February 9. Foulkes is running in the 16th Ward as a result of the ward remap. The 15th ward was previously a predominantly black ward, but is now majority Latino following the 2012 remapping process.  

Coleman, daughter of former 16th Ward Ald. Shirley Coleman, was criticized loudly this week over her ownership of a vacant Englewood home by the grassroots community organization Action Now, which is endorsing Foulkes in the race. Foulkes is a founding member of Action Now.

The property in question, located at 913 W. 59th St., has racked up dozens of building code violations in recent years, and the city of Chicago is currently seeking a court order to have it demolished.

Action Now members, who have dubbed Coleman a “slumlord” — an allegation the aldermanic candidate rejects — staged a protest at the blighted two-story home on Tuesday. The protesters argued that the property is contributing to Englewood’s “deterioration.”

“Buildings like these become havens for crime and are dangerous for our neighborhood,” Action Now member Charles Brown declared at the protest, adding that, “Stephanie Coleman’s track record as a property owner in Englewood disqualifies her to represent our neighborhood.”

Foulkes was the top vote-getter in the ward’s aldermanic election last month, but failed to reach the 50-percent-plus-one threshold to avoid a runoff. Foulkes, who faced three challengers in the February 24 election, garnered 43 percent of the vote, compared to Coleman’s 35 percent.

Members of Action Now have staged various protests against vacant and unsafe buildings in the city over the years. The group was instrumental in getting the city’s 2011 Vacant Property Ordinance approved and enforced. Under the measure, mortgage holders must register vacant properties with the city and properly maintain the buildings, among other provisions.

“A real ‘daughter of Englewood’ would be standing with us to ensure homes in Englewood are properly maintained so that they do not attract crime, like this one does,” Brown said at the protest.

The city is suing Coleman, her 80-year-old father David Coleman, who lives in the South suburb of Dolton, and “unknown owners and non-record claimants” over the property. As part of its lawsuit, filed in Cook County Circuit Court in 2013, the city wants the home torn down and is seeking maximum fines for building violations. The suit cites “dangerous and unsafe conditions” at the property that pose a “danger to the public health, safety and welfare,” including missing siding and flooring, damaged stair handrails and holes in the masonry. Among other problems, the electrical, heating and plumbing systems in the building, which “is vacant and open,” have been stripped and are inoperable, according to the lawsuit. The case has been set for a “trial call” on March 31.

In response to Progress Illinois’ media inquiry on this story, the Coleman campaign issued a news release pushing back on allegations made against the candidate. 

The campaign said David Coleman “bought [the] Englewood property about five years ago to convert into a community house for struggling parishioners,” adding that, “Records show Coleman’s name along with her father’s name because she is his emergency contact like many others with elderly parents.”

“He bought the house as a labor of love,” Coleman was quoted as saying in the release. “It’s a pet project that he hasn’t always had the resources to complete. He did it to help the community.”

Coleman told DNAinfo Chicago on Monday that the building in question “is not occupied, but it is secured. There are doors, there are windows.”

On Tuesday, meanwhile, the same day Action Now staged its protest, Coleman appeared on WTTW’s Chicago Tonight and was asked about the vacant home.

In the interview, Coleman dismissed the “slumlord” claim.

“In order to be a slumlord, tenants must live in the property, and tenants have never lived in that property,” she told Chicago Tonight’s Phil Ponce.

“And, you know, as a leader I will take full responsibility that I am on the title to help my father and being a full-time student and working, I take full responsibility,” she said, when asked about the property’s conditions.

Before the interview switched to a different topic, Coleman clarified that she “was recently a full-time student.”

The Coleman campaign tells Progress Illinois that the aldermanic candidate “worked two part-time jobs while earning her bachelor’s degree from Robert Morris College by the age of 19.” Coleman then went on to earn a master’s degree in nonprofit management, according to her campaign.

Meanwhile, the independent political organization United Working Families, formed by the Chicago Teachers Union, SEIU* Healthcare, Action Now and Grassroots Illinois Action, is calling into question Coleman’s claim that she is a “lifelong 16th Ward resident,” as noted on her campaign website. United Working Families is a Foulkes supporter.

Citing Cook County Circuit Court records, the group said in a memo to reporters that Coleman’s speeding tickets appear to show that the aldermanic candidate is “a ‘daughter of Dolton.'” Court records involving two cases in which she was pulled over for speeding, in 2009 and in 2013, show a Dolton address listed for Coleman. In a third speeding case from 2006, court records list a Chicago address for Coleman.

“Why did someone who claims to be a lifelong resident of the 16th Ward have a driver’s license with a Dolton address from at least 2009-2013,” UWF asks in the memo. 

The group also pointed out that in each of the three speeding cases since 2006, Coleman was apparently driving a “different brand-new luxury vehicle.”

“Slumlord Stephanie is lying to the residents of Englewood while living a life of luxury that many in the community never will experience, while operating a slum property that attracts not only crime, but protest,” the memo adds.

The Coleman campaign says UWF’s claims that the candidate “is a slum landlord who doesn’t live in the ward but in Dolton are veiled attempts to attack her working-class roots and shame people who spent their childhood in dual households.”

Coleman’s parents divorced when she was a child, according to her campaign, and “she regularly visited her father who lives in Dolton, but was an Englewood pastor.” Coleman maintains she has “lived in the South Side neighborhood her entire life.” Coleman, according to her campaign, received a vehicle registered in Dolton from her father.

“I have always been a product of two separate homes,” Coleman said in the prepared statement. “We always made it work. We were always a family unit.”

The Coleman campaign also made note that “Foulkes lists her residence in the 15th Ward.” Calling the claims against her residency and the vacant home “not only false but petty, personal attacks against her family, longtime advocates for Englewood,” Coleman’s camp reiterated their belief that the issues raised by UWF and Action Now are “attempts to deflect” residents’ attention “from the real issues important to them — safe streets, better schools and greater job opportunities.”

“I’m the good in Englewood. I’m the product of hope and opportunity,” she said.

*The SEIU Illinois Council sponsors this website.

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