Final 26th Ward Aldermanic Forum and afterward for West Town and Humboldt Park

Date: 
02/23/2015
coronairizarry

Adam Corona and Juanita Irizarry

All three candidates in the 26th Ward Aldermanic race were present at a West Town Forum in Euro Furniture, 2145 W. Grand Ave, on Tues., Feb. 17. The event was hosted by the

Smith Park Neighborhood Alliance (SPNA) and the newly formed West Town Neighbors Association (WTNA). Several questions asked refer to  issues that have been building in the area over the last few years. 

Maldonado

Alderman Roberto Maldonado

Candidates for the aldermanic seat are challengers Adam Corona and Juanita Irizarry along with the incumbent Alderman, Roberto Maldonado. 

Candidates

Adam Corona
Local community activist, Adam Corona believes that economic development is the most important issue facing the ward currently. He is a hands-on doer who has built relationships with officials from within the community to the state level, according to his supporters.  He is a former small business owner of a coffee shop, a union carpenter  and the 45th Ward Streets and Sanitation Superintendent for Alderman John Arena. 

For the last 16 years he has also worked as a volunteer to rid Humboldt Park of gang members and businesses that allow drug sales and other illegal activities. His inspiration is his 7-year-old son, who motivates and inspires him to advocate for positive change in his community.  His wife, Patricia, is a PhD social worker in the public health field. 

Corona says of himself that his English may not be perfect but "actions speak louder the words. As an independent thinker, I am not afraid to challenge elected officials and 'machine politics' and to roll up my sleeves to d what's needed." 

Juanita Irizarry
Juanita Irizarry wants development done "right." In a Chicago Reader interview she seemed to say that not all businesses are equal. She won't patronize Bang Bang Pie,    2051 N. California Ave., "because the name strikes her as insensitive." 

She has straddled living in Logan Square and Humboldt Park her whole life. Her career experience in community development issues, started with property management in the 1990s at the Hispanic Housing Development Corp.  She managed a lead poisoning prevention project and was part of the team that repurposed the old El Mercado market place to the Cermak Produce on North Ave.  

For three years in Pilsen, she worked on small construction company issues and affordable housing development. For the next 5 years, she was at the Chicago Community Trust then went, last year, to the Governor's Office of Health Innovation and Transformation. 

With an expertise in community development and affordable housing, Irizarry said, "It is not every day that a girl from Humboldt Park gets to go to Harvard and I believe that I need to bring back to my community all of that expertise I was so fortunate to gain." She has a graduate degree from Harvard Kennedy School of Government.  

Roberto Maldonado 
The incumbent, Roberto Maldonado,  believes the most important issue in the ward is public safety. 

He was appointed by Mayor Daley, in July 2009, to his current seat in City Council. At that at time, it was pointed out in the press that Maldonado owned more real estate than any other alderman. According to financial disclosures, there were 16 properties (including ten in the 26th Ward). 

Prior to that he served as the 8th District Cook County Commissioner. But, his political ties go back to 1984 when he worked for Harold Washington. At that point he left his career as a school psychologist and opened a mortgage company. 

Originally a school psychologist, he opened a mortgage company before working for now U.S. House Representative Luis Gutierrez, who is a former 26th Ward Alderman and whose sister Maldonado was briefly married to.* 

By 1988, he was Director of Management Services for the Mayor's Office of Employment Training, the agency's top purchasing official, in charge of the office's $1 million annual purchasing budget.  

Educationally, Maldonado holds and undergraduate and a master's degree from the University of Puerto Rico and, as he described, an ABT (all but my thesis) degree from  Loyola University Chicago. He lives in Humboldt Park with his wife and three children. 

WTNAaudience

Partial view of audience

Campaign Financials
The wide difference in financial backing, shows how it is that residents have been more or less inundated with mailings and materials by candidate. 

Links below bring up a list of donors for each candidate in order of donation size. Residents may find the supporter list interesting reading:

Adam Corona  26 receipts totaling $23,400.65

Juanita Irizarry 120 receipts totaling $56,890.47

Maldonado  224 receipts totaling $300,187.94  

Questions
The 8 questions posed to the candidates by narrator Kim Shepherd, CAPS Facilitator on the police, city services, housing development and community development. An extra question came from the audience at the end. 

KShepherd

Kim Shepherd

When Supt. McCarthy came to our area to talk about the closure of the 13th District and merger with the 12th District he promised that manpower would remain unchanged. In fact, before the merger the combined total of all officers in both districts was 532. As of October 14, 2014 there were 383 officers for a loss of 149 officers or a 28 percent drop. What will you do to get our district back to full strength or do you agree with the Mayor that there are enough police? Will you refuse to vote for a budget that doesn’t include money to hire more police? 

Corona and Irizzary both believe that more police should be hired. Current officers, they believe, are becoming fatigued and are losing family time. 

Maldonado said that 12th District Commander Staples just reported to him that the 12th has more officers than other districts, in addition to 6 tactical teams. He feels that if more police could be hired that they should go to areas where they are needed. 

Chicago’s police and fire pensions are two of the most underfunded in the nation. What revenue sources do you think should be used to increase the funding levels as mandated by state law? Would you consider a city- owned casino? 

Both Corona and Maldonado support a Casino. Irizarry does not but she does support a tax on services, which Corona and Maldonado  do not.

Maldonado does support a transaction tax. Corona wants to find another venue for revenue generating that does not increase taxation of those who are caring the burden of the existing system. 

What background, education and skill sets do you have that will assist you in representing the best interests of the residents of the 26th Ward? How will you use them to develop positive relationships with other council members, committee staff, and department and board heads, etc. to benefit the residents of the ward?

All three candidates referred to their backgrounds as indicated above. 

Some residents in this area of the ward feel like it is treated as an afterthought when it comes to basic city services like snow removal, pothole filling, resurfacing, stop lights and lights, tree trimming etc. It’s really tough to watch trucks go load up with salt at the facility at Grand and Rockwell and come down our streets without dropping any or lowering their blade. What will you do to ensure this area gets the city services residents deserve? 

As a Ward Superintendent, Corona hears service complaints all day. His expertise is in improving services by holding workers accountable. It they don't perform, he will go out and take care of it himself.

Irizarry said that using block clubs and neighborhood organization, she would rely on a dialogue with her office.

Maldonado said that the new grid system for garbage, snow and tree services has been inadequate. One of the problems is that Aldermen no longer have the ability to utilize trucks as in the past and that that needs revamping.  

We are meeting tonight in the Kinzie Industrial Corridor TIF. Further west and north there is the Humboldt Park Commercial TIF. What are your thoughts generally on how these TIFs have been utilized in the past and how would you use them going forward to attract small businesses to the 26th Ward? What specifically is your vision for Grand Avenue from Damen to the west?

If used properly, Corona said that they can be good but would get community input. He pointed out that the Small Business Improvement Funds (SPIF) can help to create more jobs. Emphasizing transparency, he said that communicating with the community is vital.

Irizarry said that her vision would be based on the community's. Believing that those monies should support all businesses, not just those that are Puerto Rican, she thinks they can help small businesses.

Like Corona, Maldonado said that SPIFs which get the business owner one dollar for each dollar spent is a great opportunity for the community. He pointed out that he worked with the community to make sure that the south side of Grand Ave. was zoned to not be residential. 

In your view, what have been the contributing factors to increased socioeconomic and racial diversity and gentrification in the 26th Ward? What, in your opinion, are the pros and cons of gentrification? Please be specific. 

Maldonado said that truly embracing economic, race and ethnic diversity will not be an issue over time. "I would like to be a facilitator for that integration of the two communities because that is the best way of making viable strong and diverse communities." 

Diversity, as stated by Corona, is the true strength of the neighborhoods. Having grown up in Mexico City, he wants his son to grow up in a completely diverse community. "I want him to learn what it is like to live with different races, ethnic groups and genders." 

He pointed out that before gentrification began, gang-bangers were on every street corner and now they have been pushed out. 

Irizzary agreed that a healthy mix of people is important for the communities. However, currently she believes that policies to handle that are required and not in place but looks to make that happen. She also expressed concern about displacement of people because they can no longer afford to live in the area because of property taxes. Not everyone can buy high price homes so maybe we need housing that they can buy. Single family ownership for low income families. 

Historically, many people in the ward voiced dissatisfaction with the re-zoning and development process in the 26th Ward. Recent examples include the development near Norwegian Hospital and condo buildings at Grand and Western. Do you support the formation of a ward-wide Zoning and Development Advisory Committee comprised of representatives from each neighborhood organization which would work with you to review and, as needed, make changes to applications for zoning changes, large-scale developments and government-sponsored or subsidized housing in the 26th Ward? Related to that, do you support the current affordable housing requirements ordinance? What, if any, changes need to be made to the ordinance?

Corona and Irizzary said "yes." Corona said that the contracts for such projects need to come from a larger pool of bidders and not just one bidder. 

Irizarry also said that the other problem has been in leadership. Not notifying residents in a timely fashion and lack of communication can turn into a battle. She also stated that the affordable ordinance needs tweaking because the current one devalues community by saying it is low income. 

Maldonado said that he believes in community meetings and that there was one for the proposed Norwegian American property. 

There are many city-owned lots in the 26th Ward. How do you feel those lots can be converted from trash strewn eyesores and havens for rats to other more productive uses? Specifically, in the 2300 block of West Erie where home prices range from $350,000 to more than $1 million, if neighbors indicated a desire, would you consider selling them to a developer of market-priced homes or utilize one lot for a Dog Friendly Area and another for a community garden?

Both Corona and Irizarry, believe that there should be community involvement regarding such lots. 

Corona is for a dog park and community garden. 

Maldonado said that there less than 30 city lots in the Ward and that he supports building middle class housing, $90,000 per year income for a family of four, which would be the basis for a diverse community. 

Extra question was about a problem with a specific business

The answers were aimed at Maldonado treating businesses differently based on their contribution level. 

Closing
Each candidate did a one-minute wrap up which in brief was:

Corona said that he is the only real independent, not beholden to any other politician or taking developer dollars and is not in the race for personal interests. He said that he wants to replicate what John Arena has done in the 45th…bringing in economic development. (In the 45th it is 80 new businesses along the corridors.) "If you go down our streets now, it is mainly social services and empty storefronts. Furthermore he said that crime has risen by 30% in the last year. 

Irizarry said as an independent leader, she wants to hear from the community. She believes that it is important to fight back in City Hall too, not rubber stamping relight cameras, parking meters and closing schools. Her plan is all about process and community engagement. 

Maldonado said that public safety, education and economic development are the major issues in the area and that major strides forward have occurred. He specifically pointed out that 6 or 11 schools have now gone to level ones and that the Military Academy and ChiArts are now in the Ward.

MaldonadoVictoria

As Maldonado writes down some information, Victoria waits for the information

Afterward
In the question about gentrification, Maldonado said, "I would like to be a facilitator for that integration of the two communities because that is the best way of making viable strong and diverse communities."

Since many constituents and his colleagues have complained about his lack of communicating, this reporter asked what he is going to do differently that would achieve that goal.

His response was to talk about the Norwegian American Hospital development. But we were interrupted by a young woman, Victoria, who has lived in the Ward with her husband and child for several years.

Very agitated, she first talked about the intersection of Chicago and Grand Avenues where there is a light but, according to her, people turning west onto Grand do not stop and her family and others have come close to being injured.

He said that he was unaware of this and she became more angry because she called 5 times. He invited her to his office on a Monday afternoon but she could not do that. She asked for his phone number, wanting his cell phone number. He gave her the office number and when she learned that she expressed her additional anger. They reached an agreement about who was calling whom.

The end result of that exchange is that Kathleen, Maldonado's Chief of Staff, called her and was to do something that was not defined about the intersection. There was no date given for next steps or resolution.

Maldonado also called her and he was going to check on the car wash at Rockwell and Washtenaw where they park cars on the sidewalk forcing pedestrians to walk into the street. To date, nothing has been resolved.

The Alderman and this reporter resumed our conversation and I explained that what had just transpired was an example of why I had asked the question.

He said that he is very accessible, has been to every door in the Ward multiple times and has weekly Ward Nights. He also said that that did not mean that there could not be improvements in his office.

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