WICKER PARK — A forum for 1st Ward aldermanic candidates kicked off Wednesday night, marked by cheers and jeers from the audience.
The forum at Wicker Park Lutheran Church, 1500 N. Hoyne Ave., had candidates Andrew Hamilton, Ronda Locke and Anne Shaw setting their sights on incumbent Ald. Joe Moreno (1st), while trying to distinguish themselves from each other.
Moreno, who drew a crowd of supporters, came with quick responses largely based on his term as alderman in the Logan Square, Humboldt Park, Bucktown, East Village and Wicker Park area. Moreno was appointed to the post by former Mayor Richard M. Daley in 2010 and then elected by constituents the following year.
Timed responses touched on campaign contributions, city services, crime, bike lanes, transit-oriented development and support for Mayor Rahm Emanuel, at times drawing outright heckling from the crowd in support of their chosen candidate.
When asked whether each candidate would accept campaign contributions from individuals and companies with pending city matters, including developers and restaurant owners, most took the opportunity to blast Moreno, whose contributors include a variety of such private interests.
But the alderman has long argued that developers have contributed to local projects, he then turned the tables on Locke. A Local School Council volunteer, Commercial Park supporter and former Moreno staffer, Locke said she would refuse developer money as alderman prompting Moreno to respond, “The hypocrisy is what I have a problem with.”
Moreno said, at the request of Locke, he’s arranged for thousands of dollars for neighborhood projects in the past. “I don’t recall one time when I wrote those checks did she ask, ‘Did that come from developers?” he said.
“That was for the park,” Locke responded, at times nearly drowned out by the crowd.
“$3,500 is less than 1 percent of the money this alderman has taken,” she added.
When asked what specific actions candidates would take on behalf of the area’s growing Latino population — which stands at nearly half of the 1st Ward — many of the candidates promised a focus on education and improved city services. Shaw told a story of learning English as the daughter of immigrant parents.
“My Spanish is not very good but I can tell you that if I’m alderman I’ll be speaking Spanish four years from now,” Hamilton said. Moreno, in response, answered in Spanish, addressing a cheering crowd before switching back to English.
“If you’re going to run in a ward that you know will have many Spanish speakers you should already know a little Spanish,” he said. “In fact, you should know a lot.”
Asked about support for Mayor Rahm Emanuel's re-election bid, Locke said she did not. Shaw and Hamilton said they hadn't made decisions yet. Moreno, largely considered an ally of the mayor with 95 percent of his City Council votes in line with Emanuel from 2011 to 2013, said he has not yet endorsed the mayor.
Shaw, an East Village resident who has the backing of the Fraternal Order of Police, opposed the 2012 closing of two police stations; Moreno supported the 13th and 19th District closures.
"I would make [Community Alternative Policing Strategy] more robust so we have more community involvement," Shaw said before taking a shot at the alderman's record, largely based on a 2014 speech where Moreno reportedly bragged about closing the stations. "I certainly would not have closed the two police stations and called it my 'proudest moment.'"
This isn't the first time the two have gone head-to-head over public office: Shaw ran against Moreno in a 2012 ward committeeman race but lost to him, getting 27 percent of the vote compared to Moreno's 57 percent.
The 1st Ward candidates will make their case to residents at a second aldermanic debate on Jan. 29 at 7 p.m. at Wells High School, 936 N. Ashland Ave. The event will be moderated by Andy Shaw of the Better Government Association.
For a rundown of Wednesday night's 2nd Ward debate, click here.
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