JEFFERSON PARK — The 45th Ward Mom wants to become the 45th Ward alderman.
Michelle Baert, who publishes a website and Facebook page filled with listings for family-friendly activities as the 45th Ward Mom, said she would challenge Ald. John Arena in the 2015 aldermanic election.
Baert said the ward, which includes Jefferson Park, Forest Glen and Gladstone Park as well as parts of Portage Park and Old Irving Park, needs new leadership. As alderman, she would focus on combating crime, filling empty storefronts and easing the overcrowding in schools, Baert said.
"Somewhere along the lines, the leadership in our ward forgot the basics," said Baert, who has three sons. "I will put families first in every decision."
Arena, who won his City Council seat by defeating Chicago Police Lt. John Garrido by 30 votes in 2011, did not respond to a phone message about Baert's announcement.
Garrido has said he is strongly considering a run for alderman again, but with the election a year and a half away, it's too early to make a decision.
"When our elected officials fail to meet the voters' expectations, you'll see numerous candidates jump in the ring," Garrido said. "My guess is Michelle [Baert] will be the first of many to step up in the 45th Ward."
In an interview with DNAinfo.com Chicago, Baert said Arena's focus on the arts and the revitalization of the Six Corners shopping district had been misguided and left other parts of the ward to languish.
"We are more than just Six Corners," said Baert, who has lived in Jefferson Park for 12 years. "The Milwaukee Corridor has had too many empty storefronts for too long."
Arena has been working to transform Six Corners, once the city's premier shopping district, into an arts and entertainment district that will draw people from across the city.
Arena also has sponsored nearly a dozen murals and several public art projects and festivals in conjunction with Arts Alive 45, a nonprofit organization, in an effort to draw art and culture lovers to the Far Northwest Side.
"There is nothing wrong with art, but it should not be a priority," Baert said.
Baert also criticized Arena for his contentious relationship with Mayor Rahm Emanuel. Arena has voted against Emanuel more than any other Chicago alderman, and has criticized the mayor — who also faces re-election in 2015 — on a variety of issues, including education and transportation.
The residents of the 45th Ward have been hurt by Arena's frequent clashes with Emanuel, Baert said.
"I would strive to have a productive relationship with the mayor, one that would move the ward forward," Baert said.
Residents of the 45th Ward pay a lot in taxes to the city, but don't see that money return in the form of services, and Arena is to blame for that disparity, Baert said.
Baert launched the 45th Ward Mom Facebook page on Mother's Day, and has garnered about 1,650 likes with a mix of posts about neighborhood events, such as movie nights at Jefferson Memorial Park, and local fundraisers and events.
Baert, who has been on the board of Variety Children's Charity for 13 years, has advertised the page at local events and with fliers dropped in mailboxes across the ward. The Facebook page prominently features her name and a picture of her wearing a racing suit and holding a race helmet.
"I've been excited by the feedback," said Baert, adding that she is recognized as the 45th Ward Mom when she takes her kids to the park. "I'm always surprised there is so much going on the Northwest Side."
In August, a rival Facebook page popped up titled Chicago's 45th Ward Working Moms, which posts links to some of the same family-friendly events. Jill Arena, John Arena's wife, appears in many of the Facebook's pages photos, and is tagged in its cover photo. The page has about 160 likes.
Jill Arena said she was not an administrator on the page and declined to answer questions about it.
In a Facebook message, the page's administrator rejected a request for an interview from DNAinfo.com Chicago.
"Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery," Baert said.
As alderman, Baert said she would focus on reducing crime, improving education and creating good-paying, stable jobs.
Police resources are spread too thin in the Jefferson Park Police District, which is the largest in the city, said Baert, who works as a director for Sherman Worldwide, a public relations and marketing firm. Her husband, Rudy Pamintuan, is serving as her campaign treasurer.
"I want people to understand they need to be the eyes and ears of the the police," Baert said, adding that she would work to beef up the number of police patrolling the 45th Ward. "They can't be everywhere."
A member of the Beaubien Elementary School Local School Council, Baert said she supported Emanuel's push for a longer school day and the inclusion of art, physical education and music in the curriculum for all students.
Arena has about $7,500 in the war chest of his Friends of 45 campaign committee and about $2,700 in the war chest of his Citizens to Elect John Arena campaign committee, according to the most recent reports filed with the Illinois State Board of Elections.
Baert's committee, Friends for Michelle Baert, has about $4,000 from a single contribution from a family member, according to the most recent reports filed with the Illinois State Board of Elections.