LINCOLN PARK — The two issues that have created a heated divide in Lincoln Park have now brought out a series of challengers in Ald. Michele Smith's efforts to be reelected in February.
The redevelopment of Children's Memorial Hospital and expansion of high-performing neighborhood school Lincoln Elementary were Smith's main challenges in her first term. Smith tied the two projects together, delaying any progress on the hospital redevelopment deal until the overcrowding issue at Lincoln was solved.
Paul Biasco says Ald. Michele Smith will have her hands full with three strong contenders:
Both of those issues were addressed, but some neighborhood residents, mostly those living closest to the two sites, said they were left with a raw deal in each case. Deals, they say, that will compromise the historic nature of the neighborhood and neighborhood school.
Much of Lincoln Park, specifically the business community, was pleased when an agreement was finally reached to redevelop the former Children's Memorial Hospital site, which has been sitting vacant since June 2012.
As of last week, both the school annex and Children's Memorial Hospital redevelopment remain stalled awaiting legal challenges by neighborhood residents.
Neighbors who have been arguing that their voices were never heard during the decision-making process on either issue are now pushing for former Lincoln local school council member Caroline Vickrey to run.
Vickrey, a member of the Mid-North Association and former attorney, spent four years on the LSC and has been a vocal opponent of the decision to construct an addition to the school on top of the playlot.
While she said hasn't made her decision to run or not, Vickrey has been meeting with neighborhood groups and business people in the ward over the past few weeks.
"I'm definitely leaning toward it," she said. "I've gotten a very positive response so far from my reach out into the ward so it's looking likely."
Vickrey, 47, admits the decisions Smith has had to make were on "thorny issues." But she argues those decisions were made behind closed doors and left the immediate community out of the process.
"It's been very volatile. I really hope cooler heads prevail," Vickrey said.
Vickrey said she will likely make the final decision whether or not to run in a "week or so."
Another potential candidate vying to take over the 43rd Ward is Jen Kramer, a Lincoln Park resident who is director of entertainment and special events for Navy Pier Inc. and the previous president of Special Olympics Chicago, where she served on the board since 2002.
Kramer, 44, has the backing of the ward's former alderman, Vi Daley, who has been seen with Kramer at a number of community events as well as at her first fundraising event.
"[Daley's] been a great source of encouragement and support to me," Kramer said. "I wouldn't say we are working together, but she's definitely been a great sounding board and certainly encouraged me to run."
Kramer said her experience in both the private and public sectors in service and administration as well as time working with other city aldermen, will translate to success as an alderman.
"I really feel like bringing people together with a common thread in mind and having them be listened to is what's vitally important," she said.
Kramer declined to discuss the specifics of the hospital redevelopment and school annex deals, but stressed the need to get everybody "a seat at the table."
"I fully understand why people feel as passionately as they do, but I do feel like there's been a lack of leadership in the way these massive decisions have been handled," she said.
A third candidate solidly in the race, Jerry Quandt, says he has put together a team of about 30 volunteers preparing for his run.
Quandt previously served on Lincoln Elementary's Local School Council and was a driving force behind the push for a solution to the overcrowding at the school.
"I was watching people hurl points back and forth at each other not to solve the problem, but to argue for their solution," he said. "That prompted me to get involved with the issue … and I worked to bring people together on a compromise. It wasn't the best, but it was a solution."
Quandt was also involved in the community meeting process behind the hospital redevelopment and said the process "disintegrated" under Ald. Smith's watch.
Quandt said the ward faces three key challenges: balancing preservation and progress when it comes to development; investing in local schools and preparing for an overcrowding crunch at Lincoln Park High; and being an independent advocate for tackling the city's budget woes in a fiscally responsible way.
"This job is a community caretaker role, and it requires someone who can bring people together and to create a vision and establish criteria for accomplishing that vision. That wasn't happening," he said. "People in the ward don't know what an alderman does for them. They feel like the mayor makes decisions and the alderman goes along with it."
Meanwhile Smith says she is preparing to run for a second term.
Looking back on her first three-and-a-half years in office, Smith says her staff has had a significant impact in the ward ranging from preventing the ward from being remapped at the start of her term, to addressing long-neglected infrastructure improvements and finally the school overcrowding and hospital redevelopment.
"Children’s was an issue , the outcome of which is supported by the vast majority of the ward residents who recognize that we had to reach the best compromise that we could and It was a very tough compromise," she said. “As I said during my campaign we need to establish a new neighborhood crossroads for the heart of Lincoln Park and its critical for community development.”
Smith said in her second term she hopes to focus on making sure the city is run in a "fiscally responsible fashion," addressing issues that would raise property taxes such as the pension crisis and keeping families in the city.
"I think there's still a lot more to accomplish so I'd like to have the opportunity to represent my constituents in another term," Smith said.