While temperatures dropped into the single digits Thursday night, inside Galewood Community Church, where the Advocates for Neighborhood Development and Empowerment held its 29th Ward candidates forum, things got a bit heated at times.
The forum brought together six of the eight candidates – Lawrence Andolino, Bob Galhotra, Stephen Robinson, Zerlinda Smith, Chris Taliaferro and Ald. Deborah Graham – to answer questions focused on measurable plans for improving the ward.
Oddis “O.J.” Johnson and La Coultan J. Walls did not participate.
This was the second time in less than two weeks the candidates appeared together to discuss their plans for the ward. All eight candidates participated in a Chicago Westside Branch NAACP-sponsered forum Jan. 25.
As was the case at that first event, some of the candidates took the opportunity to openly criticize Graham.
When asked how he would get the community more engaged in offering solutions to the community’s problems, Taliaferro, a Chicago police officer and lawyer, blasted Graham’s leadership.
“We have to have a leader who serves others,” Taliaferro said.
He said the community wasn’t engaged because they lacked a leader who “has dignity (and) respects others as they respect themselves.”
“There’s a sense of lack of integrity with our current alderman and a lack of respect. We have to get our community engaged by having a leader they will follow.”
Later, when asked what would be different in four years if he was elected, Taliaferro again took a shot at Graham.
“Under Ald. Graham, we’ve had a 67 percent increase in homicides, where the rest of the city has seen a decrease in homicides,” Taliaferro said.
When Graham had her chances to respond, she focused on improvements to parks, her reaching out to residents through weekly ward meetings and working to bring a Mariano’s Fresh Market to North and Harlem avenues in Galewood.
But, she told residents, maneuvering zoning regulations and securing funding can take years.
“Having been alderman over the past four years, it is not a simple task to put together funding for development,” Graham said. “If you think it’s going to take you one to two years, you’re misleading yourself.”
She said it took time to put together park improvements, and the Mariano’s deal will take time, too.
“If we throw deals together, as fast as those businesses come in, they’ll be gone.”
One resident said she was impressed with the candidates but had hoped they would have discussed more their plans for businesses on North Avenue.
“I was interested to find out about the Walgreens that’s empty right now, and nobody addressed that,” Galewood resident Loretta Davidson said.
Oak Park resident Judith Alexander also wanted to hear what the candidates have planned for North Avenue.
“Oak Park and Chicago have to work together, along with the state and the county” to help businesses on that road to become more successful, Alexander said.
The following is a summary of the candidates’ responses during the Feb. 5th forum. Each candidate was given one minute to respond. You can also find the candidates’ responses to other questionnaires and see video from last week’s forum at theande.org.
Besides holding monthly or weekly meetings, cite three examples or other tactics that you will employ to improve transparency in the 29th Ward, and cite how long it will take you to implement each.
Andolino – “Transparency means democracy.” He said he would make no decisions without input from the community; he plans to use social media and community meetings to keep residents informed.
Galhotra – There’s a need for a greater social media presence to keep the community updated on events in the ward; also said he would provide training for residents to use the city’s data portal.
Graham – She’s already implemented the Austin/Galewood sustainability group, which developed plans for cultural arts, youth programs, public safety and transportation. She also said there are plans to change the Austin Town Hall into the Austin Town Hall Cultural Center to allow for more performing arts to be displayed.
Robinson – The emphasis should be on open communication; he would adopt an “open door policy” to make sure he is able to meet everyone in the ward.
Smith – She will create 44 committees, one for each precinct in the ward and hold weekly meetings with each committee, rather than holding one meeting for the entire ward on a monthly basis. She also said she would make sure residents can go to City Hall meetings.
Taliaferro – He will hold committee meetings with the public to get their input about issues. Information should be made available online for residents.
Do you intend to lead the development of a comprehensive business development plan for the entire ward? If so, what do you believe is a reasonable time for completion and a reasonable time for implementation of its recommendations?
Andolino – The focus needs to be on “rebranding” Austin to attract new businesses, and the time for implementation is now.
Galhotra – There are areas throughout the ward in need of economic development; the four-year term would be sufficient time to implement development.
Graham – Economic development starts with securing funding, which can take several years. Any real development that would attract new businesses would cost at least $10 million, and the alderman needs to lead the way in securing those funds.
Robinson – Training of personnel in manufacturing and attracting business would be his focus. He will repurpose closed schools in the ward as training facilities.
Smith – Adding pharmacies and grocery stores should be a priority for economic development. If elected, residents would see considerable change within six months, she said.
Taliaferro – While the entire ward needs economic development, Austin should be targeted for improvement first; development would likely take longer than a single four-year term.
What successful programs in other wards do you think could also provide benefits to the 29th Ward?
Andolino – Bronzeville is a model for communities that want to “rebrand” themselves. The improved image would also force the media to stop portraying the ward in a negative light, he said.
Galhotra – He wants to promote food street vendors because of the shortage of grocery stores in the ward.
Graham – She cited her work with Accelerate 77 to help communities identify sustainable community actions and partnerships with residents from surrounding communities as examples of bringing ideas for development in the ward.
Robinson – Galewood and Oak Park have better school and library systems that the ward should try to match.
Smith – The ward should look to and mirror neighboring communities, such as Oak Park.
Taliaferro – He will implement participatory budgeting, which gives ward residents the chance to decide how funds should be distributed in the ward.
Given your knowledge of the conditions in the ward, what ordinances do you plan to impose to improve the conditions of the 29th Ward?
Andolino – He will better enforce existing ordinances and expand zoning ordinances.
Galhotra – He will sponsor an ordinance to “give more teeth” to the city’s inspector general to help eliminate “corrupt politicians and corrupt alderman.”
Graham – She will work on zoning ordinances to make it easier for businesses to apply for a license and to be able to use zoning ordinances to keep unwanted businesses out of the ward.
Robinson – He will advocate for removing many of the red light cameras from the ward. While red light cameras are needed around schools, senior facilities and parks, too many are in place in areas where people can barely afford to pay the tickets.
Smith – Her priority will be imposing a moratorium on liquor stores and churches. Public safety should be a top concern for an alderman, she said, and the ward has too many liquor stores, which she said endangers the public.
Taliaferro – Before new ordinances should be imposed, the existing ones should be better enforced by law enforcement.
How will you ensure your staff will be knowledgeable about city resources, respectful and responsive to the community?
Andolino – He will ask for the community’s input on hiring, and would create a report card system to evaluate how all the people in his office are performing.
Galhotra – His staff will focus on being courteous to and respectful of the ward’s residents.
Graham – Her staff is well-trained to answer questions from constituents and to be resourceful in finding answers.
Robinson – He will hire from within the community and would enact a committee made up of ward residents to assist in hiring.
Smith – She will hire knowledgeable residents from within the community.
Taliaferro – Each employee will receive special training on how to be courteous and respectful to residents.
How, as a highly effective leader, do you plan to get the community more engaged in implementation of solutions to issues in Austin?
Andolino – He will use every available tool to communicate with the community and encourage residents to be involved by making it known to them that their voices are needed.
Galhotra – The most effective way to engage the community is through one-on-one communications. He said he would also rotate meeting locations to give more residents an opportunity to participate.
Graham – She will continue to invite the community to weekly meetings through email, robo-calls, mail and fliers.
Robinson – He will consider going door-to-door to engage and educate those without access to the Internet.
Smith – She will encourage residents to become engaged by continuing to be an active participant in advocating for the needs of the community.
Taliaferro – He will inspire others to participate by being a role model for integrity and respect that residents can look up to.
Tell us how we should measure your performance.
Andolino – The measurements should be based on how well the community is being engaged, the amount of effort being put forth by the alderman and if the alderman is doing things to help the community rather than just talking about the issues.
Galhotra – Residents should ask, “Are less people dying in Austin?” He also said an alderman should be judged on how quickly and efficiently services are being provided, and how well schools are performing.
Graham – She asked that residents judge her on her work developing public parks and fixing roads in the community.
Robinson – He should be judged based on his effectiveness in public safety, housing, business development and educational training.
Smith – She will be held accountable for not being a “rubber stamp or a puppet” for Mayor Rahm Emanuel, securing government pensions, creating a $15 per hour minimum wage and making sure streets are being cleaned in a timely manner.
Taliaferro – An alderman should be judged on how well his or her objectives are being met.
What will be different in the ward four years from the date of your acceptance, as compared with the other candidates?
Andolino – Residents will see an increase in economic development and a decrease in crime.
Galhotra – There will be a renewed sense of trust in government based on trust, confidence, transparency and independent leadership.
Graham – Galewood will have a new library, there will be a Mariano’s grocery store on North Avenue, improvements to public spaces and an increase in the number of businesses in the ward.
Robinson – Communication will be improved and he will build a new library in Galewood.
Smith – She will be a change from the “old politics” and will stand with residents in their efforts to improve the ward.
Taliaferro – There will be a decrease in crime, and residents will have an independent thinker who will lead with “honesty and integrity.”