29th Ward candidates go head-to-head at Galewood debate

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For the first time since the Feb. 24 election, the remaining two 29th Ward candidates squared off in a heated debate Wednesday night, with each accusing the other of being dishonest with residents.

The hour-long debate — held at Redeemer Church, 6740 W. North Ave. — featured both candidates going on the offensive to try to expose what each said were flaws and inconsistencies in their opponent’s platforms.

Economic development and crime were among the issues debated by the candidates — incumbent Ald. Deborah Graham, who won about 41 percent of the vote last month, and challenger Chris Taliaferro, who garnered about 22 percent.

They beat six other candidates, including debate moderator Bob Galhotra. Now those votes are up for grabs.

A poll released Tuesday, March 17 by Aldertrack showed Graham and Taliaferro in a dead-heat, each receiving 30.2 percent support from 596 likely voters who were surveyed by Ogden & Fry. The one-question poll showed 39.6 percent of voters were undecided; there was a 4.1 percent margin of error.

Taliaferro, a sergeant with the Chicago Police Department and an attorney, repeatedly brought up Graham’s past efforts to bring liquor stores and a pawn shop to the ward as an indication of her “lack of leadership.”

“I decided to run for alderman because I started to follow the career of Ald. Graham, and I saw that this ward needed new leadership,” Taliaferro said.

“I particularly saw that Ald. Graham had not been honest with the Galewood community in bringing the pawn shop to the community. I also saw that Ald. Graham lacked a sense of integrity and honesty. I didn’t think she was serving the community in the way it deserved to be served.”

But Graham, who faced criticism by many of her challengers in recent months, seemed prepared to offer a conciliatory tone to her constituents but also went on the offensive herself.

During her opening statement, Graham said the negative feedback she’s received from Galewood residents over a pawn shop she allowed to open on North Avenue has been “a humbling experience.”

“I did not make the decision to support that business or entity to cause a firestorm in the community,” Graham said. “I simply just wanted to fill the space to help the business, the bank, that was there.”

On crime in the ward, one of the top issues for Taliaferro’s campaign, the alderman deflected the responsibility for the ward’s high violent crime rate, with homicides up 67 percent from 2013 to 2014, back onto her opponent.

“The question should really be, ‘What has (Taliaferro) done to reduce crime?’” Graham asked. “He is a sergeant that oversees the police officers. It is his job to supervise the police officers that are on the street.

“He is laying the crime patterns on me; he is responsible for the police officers; he is responsible for implementing tactics. What has he done to reduce crime, not what is he going to do? What have you done to reduce crime in the community?”

Though the candidates worked hard to try to distance themselves from one another, both said they agreed with all the proposals mentioned during the yes-or-no question portion of the debate:

  • a moratorium on charter schools
  • pension reform for city employees
  • hiring additional police officers
  • allowing the once-a-decade redrawing of ward maps to be put on a ballot for voters to decide
  • a new library in Galewood
  • and a push for state legislators to force an elected school board in Chicago.

Following the debate, members of the audience seemed to be unswayed by the candidates’ performances, with many steadfastly continuing their support for whichever candidate they supported before the debate.

Galewood resident Portia Ball, a Graham supporter, said she had never heard of Taliaferro before the election and questioned if he was concerned with or capable of addressing the communities’ needs.

“There’s a difference in being (in office) and being on the outside looking in,” Ball said. “You can always say what you’re going to do, but once you get in there, and you haven’t participated in the city functions, you don’t know what you’re going to run into.”

Those in Taliaferro’s camp expressed their continued support for the challenger, saying the debate solidified what they said was Graham’s lack of commitment to the ward.

“The things (Graham) has done —the pawn shop, the liquor store on Madison Avenue, how she has constantly lied to the community, how she’s plotted with Larry Andolino to get the votes in the Galewood community — she’s a disservice to the community,” Galewood resident Donald Glover said.

On election night, Andolino, who was the third-top voter getter, told AustinTalks he would be supporting Taliaferro in the April 7th runoff.

Then, several days later in a press release issued by the alderman, Andolino said he was backing Graham and that he was being appointed chairman of the Galewood Economic Development and Zoning Committee.

Graham — who has reported receiving over $130,000 in campaign contributions since Jan. 1  — told the Austin Weekly News last week that perhaps Andolino had changed his mind because former Ald. Ike Carothers is supporting Taliferro, who’s reported raising just over $20,000.

Carothers resigned in 2010 from the 29th Ward seat after he plead guilty to corruption charges. Then-Mayor Richard Daley appointed Graham, who had been serving as a state representative, to complete the final year of Carothers’ term.

When she kicked off her campaign in late 2010 to run for her own four-year term on the Chicago City Council, Graham told supporters she wasn’t running  away from “the idea that I’ve been associated with Carothers. He helped me break into politics.”

Voter will have several more chances to hear Graham and Taliaferro discuss the issues:

  • 1 p.m. Saturday, March 21 at Third Unitarian Church, 301 N. Mayfield Ave.
  • 6 p.m. March 26 at Sankofa Cultural Arts and Business Center, 5820 W. Chicago Ave.
  • 6:30 p.m. Tuesday, March 31 at Austin Town Hall, 5610 W. Lake St.

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