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League of Women Voters hosts 46th Ward forum
by Joseph Erbentraut
2011-02-09

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With little more than two weeks to go before the upcoming election, all 11 candidates who want to succeed 46th Ward Alderman Helen Shiller gathered at the Peoples' Church in Uptown Feb. 6 in a forum organized by the League of Women Voters of Chicago and moderated by its co-president Esta Kallen.

Questions posed by audience members over the course of the two-hour forum covered issues ranging from parking in the ward and economic development to low-income housing and public safety. Each candidate was able to spend up to one minute responding to each question following a two-minute introduction.

While the candidates' comments remained mostly civil, perhaps no question elicited more disparate or impassioned remarks than an opening question about tax increment funding (TIFs), which have also emerged as a major issue in the city's mayoral race. TIFs were recently responsible for the Wilson Yard development and have been criticized by some as city slush funds.

All the candidates agreed that TIF reform was needed but two candidates in particular—investment firm owner Andy Lam and 46th Ward Republicans committeewoman Diane Shapiro—were particularly critical of TIF usage in the ward. Lam said more attention should be paid to lowering the bureaucratic hurdles facing small-business owners and Shapiro called for TIFs to be "abolished."

"I believe that money should be returned from whence it came," Shapiro said. "Let's start something different that will be effective for all because all it is right now is our money, our private money being put to public use and that's got to stop."

James Cappleman, a social worker who previously ran for this post in 2007 and is currently one of three openly gay candidates in the race, described his plan for TIF reform including a scorecard that would evaluate whether a project utilizing TIF funding would truly benefit a "blighted" area, as was the original intention. The scorecard is part of Cappleman's "ward master plan," he said.

"I think it's the wrong use of our taxpayer dollars," Cappleman added. "Taxpayer dollars in a TIF should go to fix a blighted area, to make it a better place to open a business, purchase a property and see the tax dollars going into will raise new revenue and create new business ... and that absolutely needs to stay transparent."

The candidates' responses on the TIF issue foreshadowed many associated issues that were the subject of later questions pertaining to upping transparency in city government, spurring economic development and uniting the traditionally divided demographic factions within the ward.

Emily Stewart, a corporate finance attorney, stressed the importance of taking a more participatory approach in mending the city's budget crisis. Her plans for the ward also include reform of city employee pensions and undergoing a forensic audit of the city's finances.

"I want to ensure that the people in the 46th Ward and the people in the city of Chicago are able to maintain current levels of essential city services and realize an increase in their public safety services," Stewart said.

Later, in her closing remarks, Stewart—who is a lesbian—criticized some of her other candidates' stances on low-income housing in the ward, which has also emerged as a contentious issue in the race.

"Many people say they support affordable housing throughout the city of Chicago, just no more in the 46th Ward," Stewart said. "What we know is those people will be displaced. If you are not committed to any more affordable housing in this community, you are not committed to diversity."

Addressing economic development, several of the candidates said getting a handle on crime and remodeling the ward's Red Line stations was important, as well as creating new incentives for small businesses to come to the ward and fill innumerable empty storefronts. Molly Phelan, an attorney, specifically hopes to transfer the neighborhood into "the Midwest capital for live entertainment."

"It's what makes us unique and different and we can sell that to the rest of the world," Phelan said.

Don Nowotny, the third openly gay candidate in the race and the ward's superintendent for Streets and Sanitation, joined other candidates in calling for the immediate addition of more police officers in the ward to address public safety and gang activity.

Nowotny emphasized his 16 years of service in the ward as uniquely qualifying him for the post before speaking to the ward's diversity in the forum's final question.

"I've been on call 24 hours a day, seven days a week. I'd be out there for snow, for flooding, for trees being blown down," Nowotny. "I think diversity is our strength but the ward is still divided by economic income. We need to work together to pull this ward forward and I am committed to that."

Other candidates in the race include Scott Baskin, Michael Carroll, Marc Kaplan, Caitlin McIntyre and Befekadu Retta.


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