Candidates for the 29th Ward seat squared off Sunday with many of the hopefuls taking swings at the current incumbent.
From the start, Ald. Deborah Graham was the center of several verbal jabs from other candidates.
Chris Taliaferro, a Chicago cop and lawyer, took the first shot while responding to a question about what each candidate would do in their first 100 days in office.
“We don’t need 100 more days of Ald. Graham,” he said to some applause from the audience of roughly 75 people. “We’ve had six years of a lack of development in our community. What we need is someone who will stand up for the community, fight for the community and bring development to the community because we haven’t seen that development.”
Taliaferro spoke after Graham, who promised to continue working on bringing more development to Austin. Graham said she’d spend part of her first 100 days finalizing the Mariano’s Fresh Market deal for North Avenue and Harlem in Galewood.
The alderman added she’s secured roughly $225,000 in grants to study Austin’s business districts on North Avenue, Chicago Avenue and Madison Street. (State Rep. Camille Lilly and state Sen. Don Harmon, along with Graham, announced the grant earlier this month.)
“Once we nail down the Mariano’s, we’re already in partnership with Oak Park and Chicago to plan North Avenue to implement a TIF (tax increment financing) district that will help the business owners in that area,” Graham said, adding that she’s also looking to spur development at Central Avenue and Madison Street.
In another testy exchange between Graham and Taliaferro, the two squared off on a question about whether the candidates supported opening a medical marijuana clinic in Austin.
Graham said she would not support or propose the required special use permit to open such a facility unless the community wanted it. Taliaferro accused Graham of not letting the community know about such proposed locations.
“There’s a proposed location on Harlem and Belmont. Every resident in that area was not aware of the proposed medical marijuana site and dispensary. I made them aware of it,” Taliaferro said, adding that he doesn’t support that proposed location.
He added that any clinic should not be near churches, schools or residential areas.
Breaking from the format, Graham took another mic and said that wasn’t true and that the location has not been proposed.
Concerning medical marijuana clinics in the community, the other candidates were either in favor of or opposed to them.
“First and foremost, I don’t support it because we have a bunch of kids who have been locked up for selling drugs, weed, who can’t get jobs, who can’t get any city services or public assistance housing because they’ve been convicted for having small amounts of marijuana,” said Zerlina Smith, a community activist.
Smith said she doesn’t support re-zoning neighborhoods for “weed clinics” when there’s a need already for more mental and health clinics in the community.
But Bob Galhotra said people suffering from serious illness will be going to those dispensaries, not the general public.
“The people in the state of Illinois who can buy pot at these clinics are cancer patients, people with MS (multiple sclerosis), people with serious diseases. It’s the most restrictive law in the entire country about who can get pot. So it ain’t going to be homie scoring weed at the pot clinic,” said Galhotra, a Cook County public defender.
Galhotra also took a jab at Graham, saying that she didn’t seek community input concerning pawn shops on North Avenue or liquor stores on Madison that have opened under her watch.
Concerning a question about who each candidate is supporting in the mayor’s race, Graham said she was focused on her own contest but that she’ll be “working” with Mayor Rahm Emanuel, which drew boos from some in the audience. Smith said she’ll support anybody but Emanuel.
Candidate and attorney La Coulton Walls said he’s supporting businessman Willie Wilson.
“It’s because of economic development. He’s a CEO. He’s a successful man who came from rags to riches. He’s amassed a fortune and built a business. He employs and hires people. That’s what we need with economic development,” Walls said.
Activist Stephen Robinson said the jury’s still out but Wilson was at the top of his list, and he’s also looking at Jesus “Chuy” Garcia and William “Doc” Walls.
Galhotra said he doesn’t have a candidate yet, while Taliaferro said he’s supporting Wilson. Attorney Lawrence Andolino said he’s undecided.
Community activist Oddis Johnson said he doesn’t support Mayor Emanuel but won’t endorse anyone else in the race. But if Emanuel faces a run-off challenger after the Feb. 24, election, Johnson said he’ll be supporting that person against the mayor.
The candidates Sunday were also asked about police Supt. Garry McCarthy’s job performance and whether he should be replaced. As a current police officer, Taliaferro said he could not say anything disparaging against the superintendent because of department rules.
But Taliaferro said he believed McCarthy has done a good job and has been an advocate for some officers but that he would change some things in the department.
“I would make sure that we have a better relationship with the community as police officers,” he said.
Robinson said he’d support former 15th District commander Al Wysinger, the department’s current No. 2 top cop, as superintendent.
Galhotra encouraged the city to start hiring its police superintendent from within instead of looking outside the city, as was the case with McCarthy and his predecessor, Jody Weiss.
Walls said he’d give McCarthy a no-vote of confidence because of the drugs and crime continuing in the community.
Smith said McCarthy and Emanuel need to go, and Johnson agreed.
“First off, he’s fired, bottom line,” said Johnson, a 50-year resident of the Austin. “We need more education with the police effort in the community. Hopefully, we’ll have it better with the union to bring in more of our own kind in our community because they understand our community.”
Andolino didn’t address McCarthy directly but said that officers who work in the city should live in the city. And he added that officers should come from the community they serve.
“They understand the community best,” he said. “That’s what has to change. In Austin and the various other communities throughout the city, the most effective way to deal with crime is the have officers from those communities because they know the kids, they know the residents, and they can build that trust.”
Graham said she disagreed with the some of McCarthy’s actions, such as reassigning recent 15th District commander Barbara West to the 11th District. But Graham said the department has worked to improve community relations through CAPS programs like National Night Out.
Here’s how our partners at the Austin Weekly News covered the forum.
And here’s the CAN-TV recording of the forum.