Aldermanic candidates from across the West Side gathered Saturday for a candidates’ forum hosted by Bethel New Life – a final push to spread their messages before voters go the polls Tuesday.
Thirteen people vying for Chicago City Council seats in the 24th, 28th, 29th and 37th Wards, representing parts of Austin, East and West Garfield Park, North Lawndale and Little Village, took part in the 90-minute forum.
Schools, public safety, jobs and tax-increment financing districts garnered the most attention in a Q&A with the 30-some member audience, during which candidates lamented the state of their communities and pledged change if elected.
However, few candidates offered specific strategies they would use to rebuild their wards; their answers tended to be vague, and rarely were participants pressed to provide specifics.
The forum was generally civil, likely because of its unusual structuring. Instead of questioning candidates from each ward as a group, candidates were brought on stage five at a time. Each gave an introduction, then the audience or moderator posed questions to the group.
Ald. Emma Mitts (37th) did appear, however, and her presence seemed to bring out the fighter in some of the other candidates and audience members.
“I’m here to tell you that a lot has been done since I’ve been alderman,” Mitts said in her introduction. “I have a passion for it.”
The comment was met with anger from one audience member, who raised his hand and complained, “There’s gangs everywhere and streets all tore up.”
“Is there a question?” Mitts responded and went on to detail her achievements: a new health care facility in the works, jobs for ex-offenders, and a new facility by the nonprofit New Moms that will provide housing and support for the ward’s young mothers.
Education and youth were two recurring topics throughout the morning forum, as they have been throughout the campaign. Steven Pleasant, a former 37th Ward precinct captain, said he would promote positive activities for young people to “bring them back to morals.”
Carol Johnson, a 28th Ward write-in candidate, said she would work to empower local school councils and hopes to restore a sense of accountability to residents.
“I believe we can make a difference one block at a time,” she said.
On the topic of public safety, Roger Washington, a write-in candidate in the 24th Ward, drew on his 11 years as a Chicago police officer to describe how he would make streets safer in a time of tight budgets: Draw on already existing police groups and special officers within the department that are being underutilized.
“There are entities within the police district that aren’t being tapped,” Washington said. “They’re not being asked because nobody knows who they are.”
William Siegmund, one of two candidates officially on the 28th Ward ballot, promoted his idea for mobile police stations throughout the ward and recommended shifting cops to areas of high crime, as has been proposed by some Chicago City Council members. (A third candidate in the 28th Ward was removed on Friday by an Illinois appellate court.)
“If you have a high-crime area, doesn’t it make sense to move more police there?” he asked.
Kids from Bethel New Life’s mentoring programs performed during the forum; the performance was organized by 24th write-in candidate Johnson.
Candidates attending Saturday’s forum were:
24th Ward: Wallace E. “Mickey” Johnson, Wilbert E. Cook III, Sondra R. “Sam” Spellman, Valerie Leonard, Jimmy Lee Lard, Frank M. Bass
28th Ward: William Siegmund, Carol Johnson
29th Ward: Mary Russell Gardner, Roman Morrow
37th Ward: Steven E. Pleasant, Shanika Finley (Editor’s note: While Finley was in the audience, she didn’t participate. Sorry for the error!)