37th Ward hopefuls discuss crime, education

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Nearly 100 people got to hear from the candidates running for 37th Ward alderman – except the incumbent, who was a no show.

The Jan. 29, event, held at Bethel New Life’s Amberg Hall, was sponsored by the Chicago Westside Branch of the NAACP.

Candidates Maretta Brown-Miller, Leroy Duncan and Tara Stamps attended the forum.

It was announced at the event that Ald. Emma Mitts couldn’t attend the forum because of an emergency involving a constituent. Just prior before the 6 p.m. forum, Mitts was at an event at Austin’s McNair School, according to multiple sources.

Crime and education were among the topics Westside NAACP officials and audience members raised.

Stamps, who’s a Chicago public school teacher, said she’s opposed to closing schools. Stamps is also against “zoning” for more charter schools, as well as the city’s “turnaround” program that includes firing and replacing existing building teachers and other staff.

Brown-Miller, who works for the Chicago Park District in legislative and community affairs, said she hopes the city is done with closing schools. She also wants to make sure that parents – and students – are more involved in their schools.

“The community has to get involved, and the churches need to open their doors,” she added.

Stamps, however, said many parents are involved but are struggling in other areas of their lives.

“It’s not that are parents don’t care. I run into parents every day. The idea that our parents don’t care and are not involved is a lie,” Stamps said, adding that she also supports an elected school board for Chicago.

The Chicago Board of Education is the only school district in the state that isn’t elected but appointed by the mayor.

Stamps also criticized Ald. Mitts as a “rubber stamp” alderman for supporting charters and turnaround schools.

Duncan, who’s lived in Austin for more than 40 years, said he’d push for schools to call home more if students aren’t attending, like in some of the suburban schools.

“By any means necessary, they will find out what’s happening with your kid and why they’re not attending the school. We will do that in the 37th Ward,” he said. “We will talk with those principals and get them involved.”

The community, he added, is facing another educational threat in the form of more contract schools.

“They’re talking about putting a cap on charter schools, but they’re talking about bringing in contract schools. And when they bring in the contract schools, they’re going to be private schools,” said Duncan, who’s an Austin CAPS (Chicago Alternative Policing Strategy) facilitator.

A contract school doesn’t have the same autonomy as charter schools; they must follow state rules and regulations as other public schools. Charters are largely exempt from the rules.

While charters can be run by a private entity or a school district, contract schools, under CPS, are operated by private entities that have a contract with the district.

CPS has more than a 100 charter and contract schools in the city, including some in Austin.

To get more families involved, Brown-Miller said she’d bring back truant officers to help with the kids, while Stamps said she’ll look to revitalize local school councils.

The three candidates also expressed support for early childcare education and using tax dollars, grants or bonds to fund locally.

Candidates were asked what they thought about opening gun stores in the 37th Ward, which many in the audience opposed. They were also asked about the 2nd Amendment and a citizen’s right to legally own firearms.

Brown-Miller said she opposes such stores in the ward but supports the 2nd Amendment.

“I know a lot of you all already have guns in your possessions, and there might be a lot of you who are packing now, let’s keep it real,” she told the audience.

“I think that you are allowed to bear arms in your home. . . . But we don’t need a gun store in our community. We have other issues that we need to deal with.”

Duncan added, ” I will be working for the 37th Ward, and we have to go with what the constituents want. Now, you want to bear arms, bear arms. That’s my position.”

Stamps said she believed in everyone’s legal right but is adamantly against gun stores in the community.

“Should that be a proposal, I would bring that to the people. But as a person, I am against any more of our people with any more access to the very thing that is killing our community, not just in the 37th Ward and on the West Side, but across this country,” Stamps said.

The candidates said they support de-criminalizing marijuana, citing the high number of blacks and Hispanics who’ve been arrested and charged with carrying small amounts of the drug.

Concerning opening up medical marijuana clinics in the ward, Duncan said he’d consider the issue with constituents and would treat them like any other business in the community.

Brown-Miller said she’d let the community decide on whether it wanted such clinics. She added that medicinal marijuana helps patients suffering from serious illness, including a relative of hers.

“Everybody that’s smoking a joint, they are not drug addicts. Some people who do smoke marijuana for medicinal purposes, like my cousin in California, I mean, it helps him. He’s not a bad person; he’s not a drug addict,” she said. “Some people need it, and as a community, let’s decide how it’s used.”

Stamps, however, opposes such clinics in the 37th Ward.

“We don’t even have a Walgreen in the 37th Ward, so if we can’t even get a Walgreen for regular medication I find it quite interesting only when certain people can get a tax break or kickback, now they want to legalize marijuana, which is the reason why so many of our people are sitting down there at 26th and California,” Stamps said, adding that if people needed medical marijuana, they can go to other communities that have those clinics.

Duncan noted there is a Walgreens in the ward – at North and Cicero avenues, though one closed recently in the ward.

Who is each candidate supporting for mayor?

Brown-Miller said she’s backing Ald. Bob Fioretti. Stamps said she’s supporting Jesus “Chuy” Garcia, who, like her late mother Marion Stamps, was a community activist. Duncan said he hasn’t decided yet who to back.

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