Posted by StreetWise in Magazine Articles
SOAR 2nd ward forum
Frank Sinatra music was the prelude to a 2nd ward candidate forum January 22 hosted by Streeterville Organization of Active Residents (SOAR) at the Drake Hotel. More than 200 attendees sat in a room overlooking Lake Michigan where Winston Churchill spoke in 1929 and Princess Diana keynoted a luncheon to raise awareness of breast cancer in the year before her death.
SOAR President Gail Spreen said the goal was to present candidates from the seven communities that comprise what had been largely the 42nd ward until its redistricting: Streeterville, Gold Coast, Lincoln Park, Bucktown, Ukrainian Village, Wicker Park and Old Town. The event was free to SOAR members but $10 to $15 per person otherwise.
Streeterville is an affluent ward, bounded on the east by Lake Michigan, on the west by Rush Street and on the north and south by East Lake Shore Drive/Oak Street and the Chicago River. Between these latter two boundaries is Michigan Avenue’s Magnificent Mile, home to tens of thousands of retail jobs and a destination for tourists.
Yet as a public face of Chicago, Streeterville residents were very much concerned about crime, such as an early morning “smash and grab” at Neiman Marcus last December. Two men were arrested after driving a minivan through the store’s windows and strewing handbags on the ground outside the store, according to NBC5. How would the candidates handle crime throughout the Chicago police districts, panel moderator Bob Reed of the Better Government Association asked, from questions submitted earlier.
Alyx Pattison responded that the issue was personal to her, since a girlfriend was robbed at gunpoint at a gas station in the ward in the middle of the afternoon; as a mother, she decided to leave the city. Hiring more police for the ward was her suggestion, along with concrete planters on Michigan Avenue to deter similar smash and grabs.
Brian Hopkins said he was president of SOAR when flash mobs – gangs of kids who coordinated mass theft by cell phone — first emerged on Michigan Avenue. He had been part of a task force where merchants took their most expensive merchandise out of windows. In addition, neighborhood doormen were organized so that they could call each other on their cell phones.
Stacey Pfingsten said she had been the main liaison with a neighborhood walks program that had put “feet on the street” in Streeterville. She agreed about the need for 1,000 more police because she said OT police largely come from outside the ward and are less familiar with its issues.
Steve Niketopoulos said that when he moved to Ukrainian Village five years ago, he responded to two local break-ins by starting a block club that has since grown to 10,000 Chicagoans in 19 neighborhoods; enough people used their cell phones to report car break-ins that police were able to make arrests in the act within an hour. He would do the same with the existing Streeterville Walks program.
Cornell Wilson said he would develop community policing with neighbors and doormen. The real issue is prevention: youth perpetrators don’t have jobs or education.
Bita Buenrostro said she would hire more police and get the neighborhood involved through CAPS meetings.
Yet Mayor Rahm Emanuel says the money is not there to hire more police officers, moderator Reed said. What now?
Buenrostro said that Chicago should go to the federal government and ask for help because crime could cost Chicago conventions.
“Budgets are values documents, setting priorities and deducting from there,” Pattison said.
Hopkins cited $100 million in the police overtime budget, which if cut 25 percent, could mean 250 new police officers, although he supported a plan to add 1,000.
Pfingsten, Niketopoulos and Wilson all supported study of the OT budget.
What about traffic congestion, especially on Delaware and Pearson Streets east of Michigan Avenue, Reed asked.
Hopkins said that people typically wait in the middle of the intersection to turn, especially on streets such as St. Clair, Ontario and Huron. Automated technology could deter gridlock by making them wait 10 farther back or farther forward.
Pfingsten favored more safety officers in yellow vests directing traffic as well as
“thoughtful long term planning.”
Niketopoulos said raised crosswalks – speed bumps – would slow down traffic. He would introduce participatory budgeting to include such improvements.
Wilson said that he might encourage development outside the ward and improve the Chicago Transit Authority.
“Part of me is happy how beautiful our city has grown, how successful it has become,” Buenrostro said. Prolonging yellow lights to four seconds so people don’t have to rush could make a difference, since congestion starts when people move ahead of their turn.
Pattison noted that North Avenue – the connecting street for the ward – is similarly gridlocked. She supported hiring traffic control personnel and also water buses on the north and south branches of the Chicago River.
Reed got a SOAR member to shout out that there were 1,000 dogs in the ward. How did the candidates feel about redevelopment of Lake Shore and Seneca Parks?
Pfingsten said she has heard the neighborhood concern that Lake Shore not turn into a “Disneyland kind of park or amusement park like Maggie Daley Park.” One of my favorite things is meeting all the dogs; we have to carve out an area for a dog park.”
Pattison said she remembered the park fondly from sunning there as a Northwestern Law student. She had attended advisory meetings on Lake Shore Park but “people said to me they felt the plan for the park was a fait accompli.” There was a need to listen to people who wanted to preserve the park’s tennis courts as well as those who wanted a dog park, which she suggested could be on the rooftop of the field house. She cited a SOAR program where a park planner said there had to be a place where neighbors could meet.
Wilson said he loved both parks and supported the mayor’s plan to bring 55 million visitors; “parks are part of that plan.”
“Yes, we are bringing tourists with parks but dogs are members of the family, we need room for them,” Buenrostro said. “We have to invest in dog parks. As congested a city as we are I don’t believe they have room to play.”
SOAR had previously taken a hot issue from controversy to consensus and Hopkins said he wanted to do the same “when the fate of Lake Shore Park hangs in the balance. There’s room for a dog park.”
Niketopoulos said he favored a dog park and that crime groups he worked with had helped reunite 150 dogs with their owners.
Why should they be alderman, Reed asked in opening and closing statements.
Buenrostro said that when she was 8, her family was forced to leave Iran, where her father was executed by the shah. She was a political refugee in Sweden and at 19 came here on scholarship to North Park University. Twenty years later she is a senior executive at a corporation that manages three successful restaurants. “I have had TV show want me to take over their failing businesses and turn it around. I like to think Chicago’s failing budget is the same. I will work to make sure every one of you get the city services you work for and pay for.”
Pattison said that she was raised by a single mother who was a secretary and who took care of her own mother who had dementia. “I was always aware how close we were to falling off the financial cliff. When I was very small, we relied on food stamps and later on Social Security and Medicare and good teachers in public school who told me I could do whatever I wanted to do if I worked hard. It’s important to me that government is working for people.” She had spent three years working for a member of Congress and 10 years in the private sector representing corporations.
Hopkins described a childhood moment when he pointed out a crack in a new city curb to the burly worker who had overseen it as the moment he knew he was different. He came to his first meeting at SOAR in 1999 and left as treasurer. He has three decades of experience in all levels of government. He worked in the state Senate with Dawn Clark Netsch and as chief of staff to John Daley, Cook County Finance Committee Chair and “I have been reading very thick budgets for 20 years of my life.”
Pfingsten was director of constituent services and outreach for the second ward alderman until she left last September. She grew up on a farm south of Kankakee and moved to Chicago right after graduation from Eastern Illinois University. She worked to save Tree Studios/Medinah temple from becoming a high rise, earned a master’s in historic preservation – which she said was part of the community’s character — and then worked to save the Lake Shore Athletic Club, which is now high-end senior housing in the ward.
Niketopoulos said that he is president of the Ukrainian Village Neighborhood Association, which coordinates three different police districts, 14 ward offices and 25 neighborhood associations. The 2nd ward race is 100 percent new territory with no incumbent and thus “a real chance to change the status quo.” As an educational TV producer, “I have had enough success to know what works in people coming to me with their issues.”
Wilson, a former Marine logistics officer who worked in Africa on civil affairs – building hospitals and schools, delivering medicine – said he went to Northwestern Law School where he was managing editor of its Journal of Law and Social Policy. He would work with neighboring aldermen in the 1st, 27th, 32nd, 42nd and 43rd wards rather than say, “those potholes are on your side of the street. I am not going to take care of them.”
46th ward candidates’ forum
Using individual pieces of spongy injera bread as their base, members of Uptown United/Business Partners shared a communal meal of chicken and beef in spicy garlic/chili power/ginger Bebere sauce along with collard greens and salad for a 46th ward candidates’ forum January 22 at Demera Ethiopian Restaurant, 4801 N. Broadway.
Incumbent Ald. James Cappleman is being challenged in the February 24 municipal election by Amy Crawford, a partner at Kirkland & Ellis LLP; and by Denice Davis, former chief of staff to previous 46th ward Ald. Helen Shiller.
Economic development in the ward was the scheduled topic for the forum, not surprising since the Michelin-starred Demera is across the street from the Uptown Theatre and the Green Mill Cocktail Lounge and within half a block of both the Riviera Theater and Aragon Ballroom concert venues, all part of a proposed entertainment district at Lawrence Avenue and Broadway Street. However, the candidates spent more time discussing their positions on affordable housing and the closing of local schools as well as future use of these buildings.
In a question submitted earlier to Uptown United/Business Partners, the candidates were asked how they envisioned Tax Increment Financing (TIFs) to promote small business and economic development.
Davis said that all money in the TIF should go to parks and schools.
Crawford also said that after urban blight, TIF surplus should go to public schools. The Clarendon/Montrose TIF has not raised any incremental value, Crawford said, perhaps because its focus on high-value projects is a disincentive.
“I believe the TIF should be used for the original purpose of increasing tax revenue,” Cappleman said. He cited the $6 million streetscaping in the ward as helping businesses like Demera Restaurant create more revenue. “TIFs tend to work well not in blighted areas but in areas that show promise of economic development, such as Wilson Yard [which resulted in both a Target and affordable housing two blocks south on Broadway] and the Broadway-Lawrence TIF.”
Where did the candidates stand on raising the minimum wage, given the concern of businesses that the increased cost could hurt them?
Cappleman said he proudly supported the ordinance for Chicago’s $13 minimum wage and is a sponsor of the $15 minimum wage ordinance. The alderman said he spoke to business owners and worked for an adjustment period in implementation of the wage. He looked at the history and found that instead of horror stories, there was an $800 million stimulus from people who had been formerly living on the edge.
The wage should be $15, Davis said, because people now have a hard time buying just the basics and would be able to buy more with a higher wage. However, she said she would exempt smaller businesses.
Crawford said that studies show the industries that are hardest hit by the higher minimum wage are restaurants and retail. Conversely, these businesses are also helped more as people get more spending money, she said.
During the audience Q&A, an activist with the group POP 46 asked Cappleman specifically about the loss of 1500 people from the ward, particularly those with Section 8 vouchers.
Crawford said she heard from her neighbors that there is proper balance of affordable housing in the ward.
Cappleman said no government-subsidized housing has been lost in the ward but rather market-rate housing. The Norman Hotel at 1325 W. Wilson was 40 percent unoccupied. “If I am going to be an advocate I cannot allow people to live in substandard housing,” he said. As buildings have emptied out, he said he has convinced owners to use Chicago’s Low Income Housing Tax Fund to subsidize people making 30 percent of the local Area Median Income (where 100 percent is $50,700) or less.
The city lost 2,200 units in two years and 1,200 of them came from Uptown, Davis said, which led to the moratorium on Single Room Occupancy hotel conversions. She described a friend who slept on a friend’s couch until she found another place outside the ward because she was a senior citizen and Section 8 rates did not increase even as the price of housing did. She said she would create affordable housing wherever possible.
Had $65 million in TIF funds been diverted to the Uptown Theatre and if they had an optional $65 million, what would they do with it, was another question from the audience.
“I think the Uptown Theatre is a big deal,” said Crawford, who added that she would like to see someone stand up for neighborhood schools. She liked the idea of a community center at Graeme Stewart School, 4525 N. Kenmore Ave., one of 50 schools closed after being deemed underutilized last year. She had heard that Decatur Classical School wanted to move there but she did not want to see TIF funds go to the school unless it made room for neighborhood kids.
Cappleman said the question was the first he had heard of $65 million in TIF funds. He said the Urban Land Institute called restoration of the theatre essential to the neighborhood’s economic development, but said the project would involve federal, state and local dollars.
“As far as the school, I started out as a teacher in fifth grade,” said Cappleman, a clinical social worker. “Stewart School needed $12 million to $15 million to bring it up to code and was one-third occupied at the time it closed, with 17 students per grade.” A community center would not work for the building, he said, something with a return on the investment was needed.
“In terms of Stewart School, there was no one to fight for us, the alderman was not there, nor did I see Amy,” Davis said. She charged that school interests came up with a comprehensive plan in June 2013 but that the alderman had courted Decatur Classical, a selective enrollment school. If Decatur would gain access to the building, she favored half its spaces open to neighborhood children. And if she had $65 million, Davis said she would raise Americans with Disability Act compliance and “buy condos up for people in need of affordable housing.” Earlier, Davis had said she was opposed to tearing down housing for parking for the entertainment district, where she said she would partner with local schools and Truman College to create jobs for local youth.
In opening statements, Cappleman said he serves on the Affordable Requirements Ordinance task force to encourage the building of more low-income housing. He created a task force that worked with the Cook County State’s Attorney’s office to reduce violent crimes by 38 percent, according to the Chicago Tribune, he said. He also cited $500 million in infrastructure improvements to the ward, including the $203 million Wilson Red Line station project begun last fall. He said he voted to help the Chicago Microlending Institute, which Demera had taken advantage of.
“The work I have done speaks for itself,” Cappleman said in closing statements. “With the decrease in crime your retail sales have gone up.”
“I love Uptown,” Davis said in opening statements. “I don’t know any other place in the City of Chicago where you have every economic group, every nationality, every language. It’s a reason people people move here [but] the community we had no longer exists. I want to be the alderman to bring it back. Right now condo owners say that crime is because of people in subsidized housing and people in subsidized housing feel they are being displaced because of condo owners.” In closing statements, Davis said that instead of someone spending four years learning to do the job, she was top-ranked in terms of constituent services under Shiller and “could hit the ground running.”
Crawford said in closing arguments that the 46th ward race is “kind of like the Christmas story: alderman past, alderman present and alderman future.” She charged that Cappleman had “gotten bogged down” and said she could bridge the ward’s current divide through her background in business, as a lawyer who had represented LGBT plaintiffs in civil rights cases, low-income families, and people with disabilities and mental illness.