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Ald. Arena to Blame for Potholes, Challenger Michelle Baert Says

  The election for 45th Ward alderman is 10 months away, but the race is heating up.
Arena to Blame for Potholes, Challenger Says
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PORTAGE PARK — The race for the Chicago City Council may be 10 months away, but the fierce campaign has already begun in the 45th Ward.

Ald. John Arena (45th) was "too busy playing politics in other wards" to focus on getting the streets plowed during the brutal winter and filling the potholes that dot the Far Northwest Side ward's streets, according to a flier distributed by Michelle Baert, who has challenged Arena's bid for re-election.

Baert declined to be interviewed and did not respond to a list of emailed questions Monday about the flier, which was distributed to houses throughout Jefferson Park, Forest Glen and Gladstone Park as well as parts of Portage Park and Old Irving Park.

Owen Brugh, a spokesman for Arena, said the alderman worked closely with city officials to ensure the streets were plowed and potholes filled as soon as possible.

"It was a tough winter all over the city," Brugh said, but declined to comment in detail on Baert's charges. "It is way too early for this kind of back and forth."

The flier, which was paid for by Friends of Michelle Baert and includes the candidate's picture, features pictures of the all-too-familiar winter misery of cars and streets blanketed with snow and roads pockmarked with potholes.

The winter of 2014 is now in the record books as the third-snowiest and the coldest in Chicago history, according to the National Weather Service.

Baert's flier, which was not mailed but distributed door to door, said "surrounding areas were getting their side streets plowed and potholes filled" because those wards have "aldermen who work full time fighting for city services for their residents."

Baert announced in November she would challenge Arena, saying he had not done enough to combat crime, to fill empty storefronts and to ease the overcrowding in schools.

The aldermanic election is set for Feb. 24 and Chicago Police Lt. John Garrido, who lost to Arena in 2011 by 30 votes, is also running in the 45th.

Earlier this year, Arena, a member of the City Council's progressive caucus, formed the 45th Ward Independent Democrats, which has campaigned for a host of candidates, including Will Guzzardi, who defeated state Rep. Maria A. "Toni" Berrios to represent the 39th District, and progressive issues, such as the fight to raise the minimum wage.

As of March 31, Baert has approximately $15,000 in her campaign account, most contributed by family members, according to the Illinois State Board of Elections.

Arena has about $34,500 in his campaign account after raising $17,950 since Jan. 1 and spending $12,000, according to reports filed with state officials.

As for Baert's pothole claims against Arena, the city filled more than 600,000 potholes this winter and spring — 200,000 more than all of last year, said Pete Scales, a spokesman for the city's Department of Transportation.

"It was an extraordinary winter," Scales said. 

Potholes are not filled based on political considerations, Scales said.

Residents who see a pothole are encouraged to report it to the city by calling 311, Scales said. Aldermen and their staff members also use 311 to report potholes, to ensure a log is kept of every request, he added.

"Wherever they see them, they fill them," Scales said, adding that crews are dispatched to ensure that each part of the city receives equitable service.