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44th Ward aldermanic incumbent, challengers engage at Center on Halsted
by Carrie Maxwell, Windy City Times

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The Lakeview Citizens' Council and the Lakeview East and Lakeview Chambers of Commerce hosted a 44th aldermanic forum Jan. 17 at Center on Halsted.

A packed house of voters and supporters gathered to hear from all the candidates in this race—incumbent Tom Tunney and challengers Austin Baidas and Elizabeth Shydlowski. ( Patrick Shine is no longer running for alderman. )

Award-winning journalist, ABC-7 Chicago political analyst and Chicago Sun-Times columnist Laura S. Washington moderated the forum.

Washington said it has been gratifying to see the crowds at the various political forums across the city and told the candidates no personal attacks would be allowed. Each candidate provided a brief introduction outlining their backgrounds and qualifications.

Tunney spoke about his record as the current alderman ( he is also the owner of the Ann Sather restaurants ) including shepherding the Center on Halsted and Center on Addison to completion, retaining the 19th precinct police station location in Lakeview, improving the ward's public schools and the Wrigley development deal. He also noted that he was the first openly gay alderman on the city council.

Shydlowski said she is a working mom who has lived in Chicago for 23 years and in Lakeview for the last four years. She explained that when her father died when she was 12 years old she watched her mother navigate the complex Veterans and Social Security Administration systems for survivor benefits and that is when she knew she would dedicate her life to public service which she has done in Texas, where she grew up, and Chicago. Shydlowski explained that she is running to work for the taxpayers, not political insiders and will be focused on three issues—safe neighborhoods, strong schools and end corruption.

Baidas explained that he wants to fight corruption and end insider deals. He said that his first foray into government was due to the corruption he witnessed during the Great Recession of 2008. Baidas noted that he has worked for both the Obama administration and the State of Illinois where he was tasked with saving money without cutting programs and was instrumental in passing marriage equality in Illinois in 2013. He explained that his goal as alderman will be to fight for progressive change and represent the people of Lakeview, not corporations, developers, political insiders or right-wing billionaires.

Among the topics Washington and audience members raised were night games and alcohol availability at Wrigley Field, rising property taxes, budget shortfalls, neighborhood small-business issues, the Red-Purple CTA line modernization project, safety concerns in the ward, the minimum wage, affordable housing, the school system, aldermanic privilege, corruption, the Lake Shore Drive redevelopment and reforms such as term limits, having outside jobs and rotation committee leadership.

Both Baidas and Shydlowski said the Wrigley night games/concert numbers and alcohol access should be kept at the current levels, and that any changes need neighborhood input from residents and business owners before they are made.

Tunney said his record stands for itself and he repeated that throughout the evening on various issues. He spoke about the increase in night games was done to keep Wrigley Field in the neighborhood and said some of those were turned into concerts which he is not happy about since that was not "in the spirit of the agreement" they made. Tunney said the alcohol license on the plaza is in a three-year trial that will be revisited and adjusted based on what happens with it. He said the night games contract is not up for renegotiation for another seven years so no changes can be made until that time.

In terms of rising property taxes and the budget shortfall, Shydlowski said there should be a moratorium on TIFs ( tax-increment financing ) and fiscal transparency. She also pointed to Tunney's vote in favor of a $500-million tax increase.

Tunney said property taxes are too high and there needs to be a progressive income tax. He explained that TIFs are not used in the 44th Ward except for the Red-Purple line modernization project.

Baidas said corruption and insider deals cause property taxes to be raised so proper assessments need to take place. He also called TIFs a terrible system.

Neighborhood businesses of all sizes were also discussed, including the empty storefronts caused by an exodus of small businesses in the ward. Tunney said that as a small business-owner he was criticized for not supporting the minimum wage increase that was proposed and voted on by the city council.

Baidas said there is a problem with the empty storefronts and some solutions are to make them art or community-gathering spaces.

Shydlowski said the complicated process with fees and forms that the city requires to start a business has to be streamlined and aldermanic privilege has to stop.

In terms of the high rates of crime in the ward, Baidas and Shydlowski said everyone deserves to feel safe and that will only happen when there is a properly trained and fully-staffed police force.

Tunney said he cannot support former Chicago Police Department Superientendent Garry McCarthy for mayor because of McCarthy's record. He also spoke about his role in adding officers to the ward and making sure all the street lamps are lit up every night.

Shydlowski was the first candidate to bring up Ald. Ed Burke and the scandal surrounding him, adding that aldermanic privilege has to end.

Baidas said that what Burke did as an attorney to help President Donald Trump get out of paying his fair share of property taxes on Trump Tower is appalling and cannot happen anymore. He also said Tunney has protected Burke over the years—which Tunney did not address when given a chance by Washington.

As for reform ideas, Baidas and Shydlowski said there should be term limits on alderman and the mayor and rotating committee assignments on the city council. They also pledged to make this their full-time job and said that should be the case with every elected official.

Tunney said the voters are the ones who decide whether someone should leave public office and disagreed with his opponents about holding another job while in office and again defended his status as a business-owner. He did agree that rotating committee assignments are a good idea.

Each candidate gave a closing statement in which he or she touted accomplishments and reiterated what they want to do for the ward if they are elected.

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