By CHRISTOPHER AMATI
All five candidates running for 4th Ward Alderman in the special election, Feb. 28, were in attendance at the Bronzeville candidates’ forum hosted by moderated by former 20th Ward Alderman and radio personality Cliff Kelley. During the forum, which took place at Kennicott Fieldhouse, 4434 S. Lake Parke Ave. on Feb. 21, the candidates stayed on topic but a few lively debates also took place.
About 200, people attended the forum to hear each candidates’ positions on a variety of issues and their personal approaches to problems in the community.
The candidates – Sophia King, current Alderman appointed by Mayor Rahm Emanuel after former alderman Will Burn’s resigned; Ebony Lucas; Gregory Seal Livingston; Gerald McCarthy and Marcellus H. Moore Jr. – were given two minutes to make an introductory statement and then asked a series of questions on subsidized housing in Bronzeville, Tax Increment Financing (TIF) in relation to property taxes, school improvements, infrastructure, litter and trash in the neighborhoods, the lack of sufficient city services in the community, housing and development , independence from City Hall and the mayor and how to make Bronzeville more ecologically friendly.
King emphasized her long-standing connections to the community and track record as appointed alderman, emphasizing safety in the community, collaboration with school principals to improve educational opportunities and the importance of opportunities and resources for young people in the ward. She expressed the desire for market-rate housing and Chicago Housing Authority (CHA) inclusion in the rapidly developing north part of the ward – in the south Loop and the Michael Reese site area in particular – as well as throughout the ward. She stated that TIFs should be used the way the late Mayor Harold Washington wanted them to be used in spurring economic development and through that increasing school funding.
“If used correctly, they can be a good thing” King said.
She also spoke about her work with Dunbar High School in working to bring apprenticeship programs with unions to provide opportunities for jobs and mitigate hopelessness and unemployment in the area. She pledged to continue her efforts to sell vacant lots inexpensively to local residents to see those properties utilized and upgraded and to push for African-American contractors to be included in infrastructure projects in the ward. She Emphasized that development must be carefully controlled to serve residents as well as investors, she said that the alderman must help ‘shift the paradigm’ towards more community inclusion.
In her closing statement, she touted her endorsements by the Service Employment International Union and Chicago Federation of Labor and pledged to stand up for minorities in the community she wishes to continue to serve.
Reverend Gregory Seal Livingston introduced himself as an involved and active member of the community and challenged King on several fronts. He said that the LaQuan McDonald shooting had ignited “another great Chicago fire” and he urged people, especially youth, to turn “rage into policy and programs” and he urged residents to help “redistribute the pain” underserved citizens feel so in order to bring about change. He stated that he “knows where to go to make change.”
Livingston said that a person is shot in Chicago every two hours and that Chicago needs “a new birth.” He said public funds should be not used for private projects such as the Pritzker- owned Hyde Park Hyatt and emphasized community-guided development instead.
“Every child should be able to walk to a great school,” Livingston said, while pointing out the persistent inequality in schools and neighborhoods as proof of a system that fails many residents.
Livingston also spoke of the need to hire from within neighborhoods, declaring that discriminatory hiring by race class and gender was designed to “keep the advantaged and disadvantaged apart.” On the question of litter in the neighborhoods, he proposed hiring young people to clean up the streets and educating what he referred to as “rough people” in maintaining a more tidy community.
He also urged that the lakefront area of the ward be understood as an asset by the community and leveraged with developers instead of just ceded to them.
He noted that alternate economies rooted in crime and disorder develop in underserved communities and said he believes that investment will bring down the level of violence seen there.
Livingston said if elected alderman he would be independent of the mayor.
“I want to be elected not selected,” he said referring to King’s mayoral appointment as alderman.
Sparks flew at the meeting when Livingston accused King of receiving money “with LaQuan’s blood on it” from the mayor. King countered by saying some of Livingston’s money was from Governor Bruce Rauner, who she blamed for harming city schools while pushing for political advantage.
“How can you take Gov. Rauner’s money and then call yourself independent?” She asked.
In his closing statements he stated that’ the Machine is alive and well’ and vowed to be responsive to the community rather than City Hall.
Lucas introduced herself by saying she wanted to be “the change we need to see” and said she was “frustrated by under-resourced schools and violence.” She said she wants to see citizens receiving the services they are paying for. She complained about the lack of focus on developing affordable housing and said she saw a need to upgrade CHA housing for seniors and other citizens.
Lucas said $230 million had been taken from the schools and put into TIFs and she wants to see schools receive proper funding and to see the restoration of arts, music and other programs in schools with that funding.
She stated that a root cause of violence was a loss of hope in the future among the young and said that she looked forward to “opportunities for engagement” in education to remedy that.
In addition, Lucas said she saw a need for all schools in Chicago to receive equal funding, stating that TIFs had taken money away from schools and only returned a portion to them. She said parents as well as students should be educated to fully take advantage of educational opportunities and wants to see community organizations educate those parents on how they can advocate for the resources needed for schools in their community.
“Every child must receive a quality education,” Lucas said.
She said there needs to be “a plan for the entire community.”
Lucas said that developers did not consult communities before making and executing their plans. She said small business owners should also be made aware of the resources available to them. She stressed a sense of ownership in the community and urged that residents demand that city services such as Streets and Sanitation be accountable to all neighborhoods. She also suggested community cleanups as a way of instilling pride in one’s neighborhood. She said that she would be an accountable and accessible alderman committed to the ward rather than City Hall.
McCarthy introduced himself by saying he has a six-point plan that included energy-efficient living and putting people first.
“What are we going to do together?” McCarthy asked those in attendance.
He spoke of the need for rent stability to protect residents from gentrification. On the subject of TIFs he stated that they should be used correctly or gotten rid of, urging that developers for projects in the ward be chosen from neighborhood residents and that training programs for neighborhood youth should be tied to TIFs. He expressed dismay that so many schools in underserved neighborhoods have sunk to a “level 2” designation and said that residents should demand more from their leaders and themselves and called on them to “get rid of those who don’t listen to us.”
McCarthy also pointed out the disparities between North side and South side neighborhoods, comparing communities like Bronzeville to Andersonville on the north side, which he stated had undergone a tremendous positive transformation while those below Roosevelt Road had remained distressed. He said demanding services other parts of the city receive was a key to that desired transformation.
Aggressive planning instead of accepting what developers want and attracting tourist dollars that other parts of the city now acquire through music clubs and cultural attractions were also important, according to McCarthy. He said that comprehensive plans to make the ward a better place and working with developers to bring the benefits of wind and solar energy to residents are things he would like to see.
He promised to advocate for residents who want safe streets and said “If we want change we have to do something different.”
Moore emphasized his commitment to the community through engagement as a Little League coach and King High School council member. He expressed concern that the cost of living in the ward would rise with the building of the Obama Presidential Library and the redevelopment of the golf course along the lake into a more expensive and elaborate facility. He said he wished to protect the diversity the ward and wanted to maintain affordability for long-time residents. On the subject of TIF’s, he said that they can be used to fund schools but that “tough decisions have to be made.” He said that citizens must be part of the decision-making process. He said citizens must be more active on frequently under-utilized governing institutions such as Local School Councils. He said that getting people “who will stand up to the mayor” was important.
Moore said there is a connection between violence in a neighborhood and the lack of retail. He said that he knows what retailers and corporations are looking for, touting his experience in working with them as an asset.
He said tax dollars returning to the community, relying on block clubs to help “take our streets back” and relying on one another and proactively reaching out to take ownership and restore pride rather than waiting for the city were other initiatives he supported.