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Garrido Again to Challenge Arena in 45th Ward

 From left, John Garrido and John Arena.
From left, John Garrido and John Arena.
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Twitter/JGarridoIII; John Arena

GLADSTONE PARK — Get ready for Round Two.

Chicago Police Lt. John Garrido said Friday he would challenge Ald. John Arena (45th) in next year's aldermanic election, after losing by 30 votes to Arena in the 2011 race for the Chicago City Council.

Garrido said Arena has failed to fulfill his promise to bring more businesses and jobs to the 45th Ward, which includes Jefferson Park, Forest Glen and Gladstone Park as well as parts of Portage Park and Old Irving Park.

"I wanted him to succeed," Garrido said. "But I don't think he is up to the job."

Arena said in a statement he believed he had made "great progress" on his goals of making city government more accountable, while bringing businesses and responsible development to the 45th Ward.

"I have a deep respect for the democratic process, and I look forward to an honest and spirited campaign," Arena said.

Michelle Baert, who publishes a website and Facebook page filled with listings for family-friendly activities as the 45th Ward Mom, has also announced plans to run for 45th Ward alderman. She did not return a phone message Friday.

As alderman, Garrido said he would create an environment that would attract businesses to the 45th Ward. 

"Ald. Arena is an obstructionist," Garrido said. "He fights with business owners. It is his way or the highway."

Arena is to blame for the closure of the Portage Theater, which has been dark since owner Eddie Carranza shuttered the Six Corners landmark in May, Garrido said.

Carranza closed the theater after Arena said he would block Carranza from taking over the liquor and public place of amusement licenses at the former movie palace because of his pockmarked track record at Logan Square's Congress Theater. Carranza ultimately lost his liquor license at the Congress, which would have prevented him from obtaining a license at the Portage Theater regardless of Arena's action.

In addition, Garrido said Arena mishandled a proposal to tear down a long-vacant former Bank of America at 4901 W. Irving Park Road and replace it with a Cermak Fresh Market grocery store.

Arena has asked Mike Bousis, the owner of the property, to consider opening a grocery store elsewhere in the 45th Ward, and allow the former bank building — and a historic theater inside — to be salvaged, leaving the project in limbo for 11 months. 

"We need to create an environment to attract businesses and make them want to come to this ward," Garrido said, adding that business owners will go elsewhere in an effort to avoid dealing with Arena.

Garrido, who is also a lawyer, also questioned the alderman's temperament, saying he becomes "angry and defensive" when residents oppose his positions.

Arena declined to be interviewed Friday or respond directly to Garrido's statements.

The theater in the former bank building could become part of the burgeoning arts and entertainment district at Six Corners that Arena hopes will revitalize the area, which has been struggling for decades to regain a measure of its former glory as one of the premiere shopping districts in the country.

Garrido said he would also support the growth of arts and entertainment in the 45th Ward, but that it was "not enough of an economic development plan."

Arena has focused too much on revitalizing Six Corners, neglecting other parts of the ward that are also struggling to fill empty storefronts, Garrido said.

Garrido and Arena have also clashed over a proposal to improve the flow of traffic and reduce crashes along Milwaukee Avenue in Jefferson Park and Gladstone Park.

Garrido launched a petition objecting to a proposal for protected bike lanes between Lawrence and Elston avenues, saying it would snarl traffic, hurt businesses and be used infrequently by cyclists.

While Arena has not endorsed the proposal for protected bike lanes along Milwaukee Avenue, he has said residents should have more choices in how they travel, whether by car, bike or by foot.

Garrido said he expected to have to raise $150,000 for the 2015 campaign, which he will kick off by marching in the Northwest Side Irish Parade Sunday.

Garrido, who is assigned to the Jefferson Park Police District — which includes the 45th Ward — has no money in his campaign committee account, which lists more than $48,000 in debt to Garrido and his father, John Garrido Sr.

Arena has approximately $28,600 in his campaign account, while Baert has an estimated $4,800 on hand, according to Illinois State Board of Elections.

Garrido, who is married and has two dogs, has lived in Gladstone Park since 2001. In 2010, he ran as a Republican for Cook County Board president. Although Chicago City Council races are non partisan, there are no other Republicans on the council.

A member of the Hitch Elementary School Local School Council, Garrido also organized a benefit concert in September to raise money for two charities that help the families of officers and firefighters killed in the line of duty.

Garrido said he expects the election to be hard fought, particularly because of resentments that have lingered since the 2011 election.

"I hope we can keep it to the truth and keep it positive," Garrido said.

After the 2011 election, Garrido sued Arena and three unions that supported the alderman for defamation, claiming that advertisements asserting Garrido took money from a firm involved in the much-maligned 2009 parking meter privatization deal and would collect two municipal pensions if elected were "outright lies" that hurt his reputation and his career as a police officer and a lawyer.

Although it was initially dismissed, the suit was revived in June by a state appeals court and is still pending.