Gazette Endorsement 2015
February 8, 2015

Mayor

Jesus “Chuy” Garcia.

Jesus “Chuy” Garcia.

The report card for Mayor Rahm Emanuel has been disappointing. His four years as Mayor have left many Chicagoans wondering if they are better off now than when he took office.

There are many things that have disappointed us in the Emanuel administration.

For one example, the mayor has potentially doubled the cost of a pre-kindergarten program for poor children by borrowing the money from investment banks instead of using the Chicago Public Schools (CPS) budget, putting the City on the hook for interest it does not need to pay.

Emanuel’s dealings with the CPS have been particularly problematical. Over the opposition of many parents, teachers, and community leaders, he decided to close 50 public schools—mostly in minority neighborhoods. And he seemed to go out of his way to cause friction with the Chicago Teachers Union and its president, Karen Lewis, exacerbating a relationship that led to the first teachers’ strike in Chicago in 25 years.

The mayor has had a penchant to replace CPS schools with private charter schools, once again going against the input of those who are most vested in a strong CPS system.

An elected school board might have been a check and balance, but Chicago doesn’t have one—the only jurisdiction in the State of Illinois that doesn’t. The board is appointed by the mayor, and despite polls that show Chicagoans favor an elected school board, Emanuel has fought the
idea. Although the mayor touts time after time he is doing what’s best for
the children of this city, his actions prove otherwise.

Emanuel seldom has passed up an opportunity to help out investment bankers and corporations. So the money to run the City has to come from somewhere, and that’s usually residents of the City, people just trying to make ends meet, who are tapped to pay the bills. We find it interesting that with just weeks before the election, the mayor has put the clamps on a tax break for new construction at the United Center, after doling out huge breaks to companies like Boeing and using TIF monies for the new multi-use arena at McCormick Place that will house DePaul University’s basketball team and to build a new Hyatt hotel.

The red light cameras are another area of disappointment. Recent studies show that they are not about safety, but they sure do raise revenue. The Gazette was in favor of the red light cameras when first implemented, as too many drivers in recent years have abused the amber warning light and blown through intersections. Now, we have to worry that the red light cameras are causing too many rear end crashes. Either fix the system or abolish it all together, but work with the Chicago Police Department, safety consultants, and community groups on the matter. Instead, the mayor has remained steadfast in his support of the system as it is currently designed.

The mayor’s promised tax increment financing (TIF) reform hasn’t happened, with the funds continuing to be used for favored mayoral projects instead of fighting blight. The promised TIF transparency has not happened either, unless you call a new website “transparency.”

Kudos to Ben Joravsky of the Chicago Reader and Tom Tresser of the CivicLab for helping to educate us on how TIFs actually work. The TIF system needs a complete overhaul and the millions in surplus should be used to address the City’s pension crisis. We don’t see either of these happening under the current administration.

It’s doubtful that average Chicagoans feel that Mayor Emanuel has community, rather than corporate, interests at heart.

Among Emanuel’s opponents are 2nd Ward Alderman Robert Fioretti; 7th District Cook County Commissioner Jesus “Chuy” Garcia; William “Dock” Walls, a community and political activist; and Willie Wilson, an entrepreneur and television executive.

Walls, who once served in the Harold Washington administration, has been on the ballot for the last several election cycles, but cannot muster widespread support. Wilson has invested $1 million of his own money into his campaign but does not have the experience in elective office that could make him a viable challenger. He lent his support to Governor Bruce Rauner last fall, campaigning against former Governor Pat Quinn in many African American communities.

Alderman Fioretti has deep roots in this community. He has some good ideas. Fioretti would do away with the red light cameras, and he favors an elected school board.

One of his more innovative ideas is to make Chicago the number one city in the country for worker-owned cooperatives—businesses located in the neighborhoods (instead of downtown) that are owned by the workers, who manage the businesses and share in the profits earned. He would create an Institute for Cooperative Development to encourage such businesses.

During the last ward remap, Alderman Fioretti was mapped right out of the 2nd Ward by clout-heavy colleagues on the City Council and Mayor Emanuel. He hasn’t forgotten this grave injustice, and why should he? He considered a run for mayor four years ago, but a bout with throat cancer thwarted his efforts. Now, cancer-free and running on a progressive platform, Fioretti is making his push.

Of all the aldermen in the Gazette’s coverage area, Fioretti has been both the most accessible and independent. He has voted with the Mayor only 45% of the time.

In our hearts, we want to see Bob Fioretti do well, but we just do not think he has been able to muster City-wide appeal, or that he can win.

We do think that Commissioner Garcia can, and his roots in this community are deep as well. Born in Mexico, he came to Chicago when he was ten as part of a working class family. He has lived in Pilsen and now resides nearby in Little Village. He graduated from the University of Illinois at Chicago. He was a longtime community activist before and after he was an elected official.

One of the few times Chicago has had a community-oriented government instead of a corporate-oriented one was during the 1980s under Mayor Washington. Garcia was an ally of Washington’s, and when he became an alderman he helped flip the council into being a backer of Washington’s progressive policies.

Garcia favors an elected Chicago Public Schools board, an end to the closing of public schools, and a moratorium on charter schools.

Concerning crime, Garcia said, “I will keep the promise Mayor Emanuel broke—the promise to put 1,000 new police officers on the street.” Garcia has an innovative idea to replace foreclosed properties with “peace hubs,”
and would train community members to run these safe zones. He also
has plans for counseling and outreach for crime victims. He favors a jobs for youth program to keep youngsters away from crime, and would beef up community policing.

He would reform the tax-increment financing (TIF) program, calling for a forensic audit of TIFs and for termination of many TIF districts after current projects have been completed.

Garcia suggested addressing the City’s pension crisis by using TIF funds. He also would improve bilingual education in the CPS; provide it with proper books, libraries, and recreational facilities; and create more small schools.

Garcia noted he has “spent my entire career, both in and out of public office, bringing people together, trying to unite communities and fight for better neighborhoods throughout the city.”

Bringing people together, favoring communities instead of corporations, and restoring progressive government to the City are tangible results that can be expected were Garcia to become Mayor. The Gazette endorses Jesus “Chuy” Garcia for mayor.

3rd Ward

Pat Dowell.

Pat Dowell.

Pat Dowell has been a good alderman, and an accessible one to her constituents and to the media.

She is reluctant to raise property taxes, favoring a Federal financial transaction tax on such activities as securities trades instead. She is in favor of TIF reform that would end some downtown TIF districts (not exactly blighted areas). Dowell favors a surplus TIF policy so TIF fund totals do not get too big, with the money going back to the Chicago Public Schools (CPS).

Dowell was one of the primary architects of the Bronzeville Development Plan, which won a Burnham Award for excellence, and she has brought development funding to the ward to preserve several historic Bronzeville landmarks.

According to the progressive group Take Back Chicago and the University of Illinois at Chicago (UIC), Dowell has voted with Mayor Rahm Emanuel 88% of the time. So she sometimes takes an independent stand, and advocates for issues in support of working families, such as increasing the minimum wage and returning TIF money to the CPS. She opposed CPS school closings, and has not favored charter schools in her ward.

Patricia Horton, a former Metropolitan Water District Commissioner, has some good ideas, particularly a master development plan, more equal access to TIF funds, and more community input into education.

We do not feel she could benefit the 3rd Ward more than Dowell, however. Pat Dowell has done the job and deserves another term. She receives the Gazette’s endorsement.

4th Ward

Will Burns.

Will Burns.

This is a race with three good candidates: Tracey Bey, Norman Bolden, and Alderman Will Burns. All three favor TIF reform and oppose property tax increases. Bey and Bolden want a moratorium on charter schools; Burns does not, but wants to ensure that charters are of high quality, and wants bad ones to be closed.

Bolden proposes what he calls a “La Salle Street transaction tax,” similar to that favored by Alderman Pat Dowell in the 3rd Ward, which he believes would raise $12 billion. He also would strengthen public processes that could avoid major privatization deals in which public assets are sold or leased to private corporations.

Being an incumbent, Burns has a track record. For example, as alderman he was involved in bringing Walmart and the Shops and Lofts at 47 to the community. According to Take Back Chicago and UIC, he has voted with the mayor 91% of the time. He would like the minimum wage increased and is in favor of affordable housing.

We really like the fact that Burns talks in favor of gun control—a stance heard less and less from elected officials as the National Rifle Association becomes more and more powerful.

We wish Burns took more independent stances when voting in the City Council, but we do like his accomplishments in his first term. For those who want a change in direction, Norman Bolden’s stands on the issues seem the most innovative, and we would recommend him. For those who like the steady progress the 4th Ward has seen in the past four years, Burns deserves another chance. We are among them, and endorse Will Burns for alderman.

11th Ward

Patrick Daley Thompson.

Patrick Daley Thompson.

Incredibly, the 11th Ward aldermanic seat is open for the first time in over 40 years, as former Mayors have hand-appointed the alderman in this clout-heavy ward for decades.

Now, three candidates want to become the new alderman. John Kozlar is president of the Canaryville Little League. Maureen Sullivan is a community activist with several Bridgeport organizations. Patrick Daley Thompson is a commissioner of the Metropolitan Water Reclamation District.

The recent ward remapping, which continues to boggle our minds, stretches the 11th Ward north through parts of Pilsen, University Village, and the Taylor Street communities. Surprisingly, no other candidates have emerged in this race from those areas new to the ward, so whoever wins must break free of the mindset that the 11th Ward is only about Armour Park, Bridgeport, and Canaryville (the “ABCs,” as they’ve been known).

All of the candidates have good ideas on business revitalization, keeping management of the new heliport accountable, not raising property taxes, and fighting crime, and all have some projects that they care deeply about.

Kozlar would create a Citizen Assistance Computer System and hold more community meetings, which have been lacking under previous aldermen. Sullivan would work to finally redevelop the Ramova Theatre, and improve garbage collection and graffiti cleanup. Thompson would connect Pilsen, the University of Illinois at Chicago area, and Bridgeport while improving public safety and schools.

Thompson has some thoughtful ideas that are impressive—his understanding that the ward is more than Bridgeport, for one. We like the fact that he would employ, city-wide, policies that have improved pensions at the Water Reclamation District. He has suggested creating a Stockyards Museum on Halsted Street that would help bring in restaurants and retail shops. He also is the more experienced candidate.

We don’t agree with him on everything—his cavalier attitude about the Newman Center dormitory is disappointing. The fact is that the Newman Center leadership did not drag its heels on the contract it had on the site of a former German schoolhouse and Gethsemane Baptist Church at 1352 S. Union St., but was stonewalled by the previous alderman who took his sweet time in talking time and again to area residents on what they wanted. The new alderman needs to help the Newman Center find a spot for a dormitory and to make this a priority.

Now, real estate developers would like to build a much larger complex there than that planned for the dormitory. UIC has the highest number of Catholic students in Chicago and as we celebrate the 50-year anniversary of the east side campus, there still is no dorm for those students. That’s unfortunate.

We won’t dance around the “64,000 pound elephant in the room.” Thompson is a member of the Daley family. If elected alderman, can Thompson prove he is independent from Commissioner John Daley and from Mayor Rahm Emanuel? He would have to, particularly if he wants to have a chance for higher office some day. And that’s the other issue that is unique to this candidate and this race. Many area residents have voiced their concern that the 11th Ward seat is just a stepping-stone for Thompson to run for mayor someday, and to bring the power of the fifth floor of City Hall back to Bridgeport.

A run for mayor may well be in Thompson’s plans for the future, but he also is within his right to have higher aspirations. If elected alderman, Thompson will be able to prove to everyone whether or not he has what it takes to lead this City.

Whoever is elected, we hope the new alderman will foster legislation that helps the entire city, people of all ethnic backgrounds, and people of all economic statuses. A status quo alderman, favoring corporate over community interests and rubber stamping the mayor, is not what we need.

We feel Thompson can achieve great things—if he strikes an independent path and doesn’t run the ward like the family business. For those who want an independent now, between Sullivan and Kozlar, we favor Kozlar. We like his energy and ideas, and the fact that he’s a proven vote-getter, coming close to forcing a runoff with Alderman James Balcer four years ago.

In a close call, we believe that Patrick Daley Thompson has the most experience to run a very diverse and complex ward, and we endorse him. But if he wins, we will definitely keep an eye on his level of independence.

25th Ward

Danny Solis.

Danny Solis.

Four years ago, we once again endorsed Alderman Danny Solis, but we had some reservations doing so.

He supported the area’s two polluting coal plants for years before finally working for their closure, yet questioned the need for the Chicago Clean Power Ordinance.

In full disclosure here, the Gazette also was slow to see the negative impact these coal plants had on the community. But once health statistics and community activists showed us otherwise, we advocated for the plants’ closing. And so did Alderman Solis, who admits he was slow to come around, but once he was persuaded to change his mind, he fought for the plants’ closing. We believe that the health and lives of area residents trumps jobs every time.

Solis has been alderman for nearly two decades. During his tenure, crime is down in the ward, money has been invested in schools, there is more affordable housing, and he has worked for fair housing for people of all ethnic backgrounds.

He has brought new streetscaping and landmarking. He was instrumental in the development of University Village housing and retail in an area that was once little more than empty lots adjacent to the old Maxwell Street Market as well as the transformation of the old South Water Market into University Commons.

It’s this type of work that has earned Solis our endorsement in the past and these are notable achievements for any alderman. We wish he would show more independence as a member of the City Council though and not vote lock step with Mayor Emanuel. Solis’s argument is that no matter how he votes in the council, he continues to deliver for his constituents.

We disagree with his current stance on the Pure Metal recycling plant in the 25th Ward. After finally getting rid of the two polluting coal plants, the last thing the 25th Ward needs is another business that could cause safety, environmental, and traffic problems. We believe it would be too close to Benito Juarez Community Academy, has the potential to increase pollution in the river, and such facilities across the country have even been known to blow up.

Alderman Solis might have petitions with 700 signatures of support, but there are plenty of other people in the ward who do not want the shredder and have been fighting against it. The 25th Ward is finally getting a better quality of life, and the shredder would be a huge step backwards. The number of jobs does not outweigh the environmental concerns.

Nonetheless, we do understand Alderman Solis’s views. Jobs are vital to the predominantly working-class 25th Ward and he sees Pure Metal as an opportunity to bring more jobs to the community. While opponents of the shredder cite safety issues, Alderman Solis cites other studies that show that their fears might be unfounded, as modern plants follow more stringent safety measures.

In fact, Alderman Solis is running on an environmental platform. Just recently, he introduced an ordinance to make it easier and more affordable for Chicagoans to add solar panels to their homes, and he is touting his efforts to close the coal plants, adding the first green streets in Chicago, and cleaning up the Loewenthal Metal site. As of this writing, he remains in support of the metal shredder, but is waiting on an environmental study from the State of Illinois.

The crowded field in this race includes teacher Ed Hershey, former Solis chief of staff Roberto Montano, Arise Chicago’s Jorge Mujica, and community organizer Byron Sigcho. We are impressed by Hershey’s view that housing for working and poor people is needed in Roosevelt Square, and Montano’s plans to strengthen communities ties with the University of Illinois at Chicago (UIC).

We like the work of Pilsen Alliance, an organization for which Sigcho is an organizer. Sigcho also is lead instructor at the UIC Center for Literacy. He has been fighting the metal shredder, and is on the Fisk Redevelopment Task Force, which is working on a much needed public park at the site of the old coal plant. He supports TIF reform, and has plans to improve all areas of the ward, including Chinatown and Roosevelt Square.

For us, this race comes down to Sigcho, a strong community activist and environmentalist, and Solis. If you are looking for a change in leadership, Sigcho is the best choice. If you like what Solis has delivered over the last two decades, he deserves your vote.

We endorse Alderman Daniel Solis. We are impressed by what he has achieved for the 25th Ward, and he has shown he can be persuaded to change his mind if new facts are presented to him. We hope he will give careful consideration of all the facts regarding the metal shredder and reverse his views if the pending State environmental study sounds a clarion warning.

27th Ward

Walter Burnett.

Walter Burnett.

Alderman Walter Burnett has a long track record in standing up for the little guy against the moneyed interests. Yet, in a ward whose demographics are constantly changing, he also works well with local business and community organizations, and has often successfully balanced the interests of longtime residents and businesses and newer ones. Burnett also is accessible to the community and to the media.

Challenger Gabe Beukinga is running a campaign on local issues. Like the Gazette, he opposes the proposed Fulton-Randolph Historic District. Burnett still is on the fence, and we wish he would come out against it. Beukinga wants a moratorium on charter schools and advocates for TIF reform. He wants an elected school board, while Burnett is on the fence about that one, too.

So Beukinga has taken some bolder stances on some important issues than Burnett has. According to Take Back Chicago and UIC, Burnett has voted with Mayor Emanuel 100% of the time—a dismaying figure. But an alderman’s job is much more than voting, and Burnett is active and beneficial to the community. Somehow he has given steadfast loyalty to the Mayor while serving his constituents. Not an easy thing to do these days.

Burnett has taken some good stands in voting to increase the minimum wage, for affordable housing, and for a moratorium on charter school expansion, and has opposed Chicago Public School closings. We feel Walter Burnett has done a good job in a very diverse and dynamic ward, and support him for another term as Alderman.