Attending the forum at the Legler Library, 115 S Pulaski Road, were:
- Jason Ervin, the newly appointed alderman and longtime aide of former Ald. Ed Smith;
- Carol Johnson, a community organizer who’s running as a write-in candidate after her name was removed from the ballot during the objections process last month;
- candidate William Siegmund, a bar manager;
- candidate Carmelita Earls, commander of operations for the Chicago Fire Department training academy; and
- Rev. Mike Stinson, who continues to appeal a court decision that knocked him off the ballot.
Candidates were asked questions by NAACP leaders and residents on a variety of topics, including crime, charter schools, affordable housing, the O’Hare Airport modernization project and how to ensure that businesses in the 28th Ward hire residents from within the ward.
Questioning began cordially enough, with the “official” candidates – those whose names will appear printed on the ballot Feb. 22 – inviting write-in Johnson to have a seat at the candidates’ tables at the front of the room. But the atmosphere shifted when Ald. Ervin, who arrived at the forum during the first round of questions, took his seat at the table’s empty spot.
Despite the moderators’ requests that candidates answer straightforwardly and with minimal rhetoric, some candidates’ responses became increasingly impassioned, inciting cheers from various camps in the audience as they began to attack Ervin, the acknowledged front-runner.
Personality-wise, the panel could not have been more diverse. Johnson spoke clearly and calmly, drawing on her experience on local school councils and community organizer.
Stinson and Earls, on the other hand, worked the crowd, using impassioned speech to make their points, though where Stinson relied on unemployment numbers and permit data to make his points, Earls peppered her remarks with frequent jabs against the new alderman.
“What have I done?” said Earls, a firefighter, responding to a question about why she should be trusted with public office. “I put my life on the line for 20 years … I haven’t been riding someone’s coattails to be somebody I wasn’t meant to be,” she said, referring to Ervin.
Siegmund avoided the name-calling and the limelight with his frequently vague responses, though his no-nonsense quips did draw occasional cheers.
“Cops are terrible over here,” Siegmund said while answering a question about public safety needs, earning moans of agreement from some in the room.
Ervin’s responses were measured, even when he was under attack. He generally offered less effusive but informed and policy-based answers that sometimes left the politicized crowd less than entertained. Audience members sometimes began to chatter during his responses, drawing shushes from other residents.
“I’m not talking about what I’m going to do,” Ervin said after describing a meeting he’d had Monday with business owners about their hiring processes. “I’m talking about what I’m doing today.”
“Go back to Maywood,” one audience member later said audibly as Ervin, who recently served as Maywood’s village manager, answered a question about allowing Chicago city residents to live outside city lines. (Each candidate said they would support continuing the rule requiring city workers to live in the city.)
But Ervin did have a few victories in the word combat. In the middle of the evening, candidates were asked a question about the successes of Renaissance 2010, a Chicago Public Schools initiative responsible for the creation of dozens of charter schools across the city.
Siegmund quickly deferred, saying he didn’t know about the issue. With her usual confidence, Earls effusively stated that the success of the program was its name – “Renaissance is a great word,” she said – but finally admitted she would need more information.
Johnson calmly summed up, “Renaissance 2010 has given parents choice,” she said, “but there’s no accountability.”
At his turn, Stinson said passionately – and erroneously – that the program’s flaw was that it was an unfunded mandate from the federal government.
“I think my opponent has mixed (Renaissance 2010) up with (No Child Left Behind), so his statement is completely wrong,” Ervin said flatly when his turn arrived, before discussing how the program — and the new school boundaries it delineated — in part caused the death of Fenger High School student Derrion Albert.
Early voting continues until Feb. 17. Election Day is Feb. 22.