Election Rundown: 2nd Ward aldermanic race

By Darryl Holliday

A historic election will take place in Chicago on Feb. 22 that could alter the city up to the highest levels of government. According to the Chicago Board of Elections, the races for mayor, alderman, city clerk and city treasurer have drawn the highest number of candidates on record.

“This will be the beginning of the post-[Mayor Richard M.] Daley era, which means a fundamental change in politics and government,” said Dick Simpson, former 44th Ward alderman and head of the Political Science Department at the University of Illinois at Chicago.

There are currently 11 vacancies in the City Council with 350 candidates having applied for aldermanic seats. According to Simpson, the current election cycle may be one in which the City Council becomes a stronger legislative body. About 15 to 20 of the seats will turn over, making it the largest new group of aldermen since the 1970s.

The city’s structure is largely framed by City Council, legally, physically and financially. The council has complete authority over the city’s $6 billion budget. Additionally, every law is passed and every new building is approved by the 50 aldermen who make up the body and represent each of the city’s wards. All of these powers will come into play as the city attempts to plug a $1.5 billion budget hole.

“They’re going to have to cut some services or raise taxes,” Simpson said.

Along with a record number of candidates, voter registration is up in every ward in the city.

As the 2010 census results arrive within the next couple of months, they are expected to show that Chicago has changed considerably during the past 10 years. Further facets of change, including the redistricting of boundaries, may be in store for a city already in transformation.

Over the next four weeks the Chronicle will be closely following the election in the 2nd ward, in which Columbia is located, as well as developments across the city of Chicago.

We begin with an overview of our 2nd ward candidates.

The Chronicle: What are the most important issues currently facing the 2nd Ward?

Enrique G. Perez: The three most important issues facing the ward—and really, the whole city in my opinion—are jobs, schools and crime. A fourth issue, which is an undertone to all of those issues, is the budget.

Genita C. Robinson: Well, I would like to lead with something positive: I think we have an amazing ward … I think the issues facing the ward are [those] facing the city at large: the economy and the lack of jobs, our educational system, the increase in crime—or at least, the perceived increase in crime—I know there’s some data to the contrary. And I think for a lot of people, there’s a growing concern regarding the city budget.

Federico Sciammarella: I think innovation in education and increasing employment opportunities for the more underserved parts of the 2nd Ward are some of the most important issues. I think concern of foreclosure and mortgages are also important and complex issues.

Melissa Callahan: There are different issues, the ward is different on each side … I think on the West Side, the most critical issues are a lack of job opportunities—there’s a strong need for economic development. There are issues of crime as well. [In] the South Loop, I think the sum of [its] issues [is] a lot of parking restrictions. I know the residents would like to see more development over there. There are issues of a lack of city resources [in] the South Loop as far the schools go.

James A. Bosco: The most important thing you can do for the 2nd Ward is keep [it] alive: so goes the 2nd Ward, so goes the city. The most important issues facing it mirror those facing the city, which are education, security and the need for reform.

Bob Fioretti: [The issues are] the same [ones] that have been [in the 2nd Ward] from day one: job creation, job preservation, improving our educational system and improving the quality of life for the citizens of the 2nd Ward.

The Chronicle: What is your plan for tax increment finance funds in the 2nd Ward?

GR: TIF funds have been a really good economic tool, but there are a lot of questions about TIFs and a lack of transparency. We need more information on how useful TIFs have been—what the outcomes have been for the dollars—before we can make decisions on how to use that money … there’s some detailed analysis that needs to

be done.

EP: TIFs are a tale of two situations: The benefits do not accrue equally to residents … if I had to come up with a solution, I would say no more TIFs should be created in the city of Chicago unless the area is truly blighted. The TIFs that are already there, like the ones here in the South Loop—we really need to consider not putting any more money into them and refunding any future monies back to Chicago Public Schools, [the] Chicago Park District and the other various taxing authorities.

MC: I think the TIF money was originally meant to develop underdeveloped communities, and the West Side is a very underdeveloped community. A lot of the TIF money that is available should go to local business to help them provide jobs to people on the West Side.

FS: I think [the] original purpose [of the TIF funds] was great, but over the years its course has changed. We definitely need to re-evaluate TIFs and how they’re utilized. I would make the process more transparent. Once you engage the community and say, ‘Where are our biggest needs?’ I would say, and I think this is a fundamental aspect: education. If we can develop a plan to work with private industry and use some of that TIF money to create schools that are community schools—that are not magnet schools—that anyone can get into as long as you live in the neighborhood.

JB: We need TIF reform. The TIF is a Ponzi scheme … TIFs take in about $500 billion a year—[it’s] a state statute, so I wouldn’t personally be able to just shut it down, [but] the City Council can shut it down under the current TIF statute. I would actually petition Springfield, Ill. and ask them to eliminate the TIF statute altogether so we can have an orderly—mandated by the state—elimination of the TIF.

BF: TIFs are a good economic tool, especially in blighted areas. A lot of the ward that was blighted 15 years ago is no longer blighted … we still need to use our TIF funds to bring in good jobs, good job creations, helping development of our parks … it’s still a good economic tool we ought to be utilizing for the benefit of our citizens, as long as we continue to see a benefit for our citizens.

The Chronicle: How would you ensuresafety in the 2nd Ward?

GR: I think we need to rethink how we allocate our police, not in terms of how many officers are assigned to a district, but really in terms [of] how [they] respond to calls. It doesn’t have to be that you’re [an officer] from a particular district to respond to a call—if you’re the first available officer, and that [call] comes in, you should be responding.

EP: The one department in the city we do need to increase manpower [for] is the [Chicago Police Department], [we’re] really in a situation where we don’t have the coverage we need.

MC: We need more officers here [in the 2nd Ward]. If we don’t have the funds to hire more officers right now, I think [relocating officers] is something that should happen until we can hire more.

FS: Ensuring efficiency in [the] CPD’s budget is of the utmost importance.

JB: Crime is a real problem in the 2nd Ward and citywide, and by real problem, I mean it depends on where you’re at. The lack of police officers has fundamentally altered crime statistics in this city because there are not enough cops to respond to crime. It’s systemic and philosophical—we don’t measure what we’re supposed to be measuring.

BF: We’ve used citizen involvement to a much greater degree. We closed down places that have been bad for citizens by using citizen involvement … in most of the areas in the 2nd Ward, the crime rate has gone down to the benefit of the citizens.