Some – but not all – of the West Side aldermanic candidates squared off Wednesday in the first of several voter forums being held before the April 7 runoff.
Ald. Emma Mitts and her 37th Ward challenger, Chicago schoolteacher Tara Stamps, attended, as did 29th Ward candidate Chris Taliaferro and 24th Ward candidate Vetress Boyce.
But 29th Ward Ald. Deborah Graham and Michael Scott Jr., who’s running for the open 24th Ward seat, were no shows.
About 50 people attended the March 11 event, organized by the Northwest Austin Council.
Mitts, who’s in a tough fight with Stamps, repeated this motto throughout the forum: “unity for the community.”
When asked what knowledge each candidate had about their wards, Mitts said no one knows the 37th Ward like she does.
“When I took over the ward, on North Avenue and Cicero, we had nothing,” said Mitts, who was appointed alderman 15 years ago by then-Mayor Richard Daley.
“It was a vacant lot for for 13 years, and every bit of those 13 years there was nothing there. But since then, one thing I do know about my ward is that I brought in the first Walmart to the city of Chicago,” Mitts said to audience applause.
Mitts added that she also brought the first Forman Mills retailer and Planet Fitness to the ward.
Stamps said abandoned buildings in the ward should be converted into resource centers or commercial developments.
“These represent a ripe opportunity should the city want to reinvestment in communities,” said Stamps, who reiterated her opposition to closing more public schools.
“I believe we can work with other organizations to use those buildings for community hubs where you can put in several programs that speak to human resources in our community … Until they decide or we figure out what we’re going to do with the 50 schools that they closed, no other [new] school should be open. That’s the first thing.”
When asked about rooting out bad business owners in their wards, Taliaferro, a Chicago Police sergeant and lawyer, said such businesses need to be thoroughly vetted before being allowed to open.
“We have to look at the type of business we’re bringing into our community,” said the 29th Ward candidate.
“Businesses that are not viable in the community but are thriving off of our residents, we shouldn’t allow them in,” Taliaferro said. “We have to set up committees to vet the businesses that are coming in our community, and based on the type of business, (we) can choose to either support it or not show support.”
The candidates were asked if each supported raising property taxes to pay off the city’s debts, including under-funded pensions.
Mitts and Taliaferro said “no.” Stamps said she supported a progressive tax rate, with the wealthy paying more rather than increasing taxes on middle-class and low-income residents.
Some of the candidates were critical of Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s leadership on a number of fronts.
Stamps and Taliferro said they’re supporting Emanuel’s challenger, Cook County Board Jesus Chuy Garcia.
Mitts said she’s backing the first-term mayor because she’s worked with him. But Mitts said she’ll work with whomever is elected mayor but because that’s how things get done.