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City Pension Debt Part of 2nd Ward Aldermanic Forum

By Darryl Holliday | January 8, 2015 1:02pm
 New ward constituents, neighborhood development and support for the mayor were among topics touched on.
New ward constituents, neighborhood development and support for the mayor were among topics touched on.
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DNAinfo/Darryl Holliday

CHICAGO — All six candidates seeking to represent the newly redrawn 2nd Ward said at a forum Wednesday night that the city's pension crisis and debt were the biggest problems facing Chicago.

The forum, at Wicker Park Lutheran Church, 1500 N. Hoyne Ave., featured Bita Buenrostro, Brian Hopkins, Steve Niketopoulos, Alyx Pattison, Stacey Pfingsten and Cornell Wilson.

The current 2nd Ward alderman, Bob Fioretti, is not running for re-election and is instead challenging  Mayor Rahm Emanuel for the city’s top post.

Notably, the heavily gerrymandered 2nd Ward will have the dubious distinction of being the only ward located in an entirely different region of the city when redistricted ward boundaries take effect this year.

The 2nd Ward now looks like a horseshoe as it cuts through portions of the lakefront, covers parts of the Gold Coast, Old Town, Lincoln Park, Ukrainian Village, Wicker Park and Bucktown, specifically on North Avenue from the Milwaukee, Damen and North avenues intersection west to Leavitt Street.

The new ward constituents, neighborhood development strategies and support for Emanuel were among the topics touched on at the debate.

On the city's financial challenges, Pfingsten said, “We are borrowing money to pay for garbage cans.”

An aide to Fioretti and Preservation Chicago communications manager, Pfingsten suggested using Tax Increment Financing funds to pay for the city worker pensions, adding a half-percent to the 1 percent Cook County tax and lastly “downsizing to less alderman and less staff even.”

Pattison earned a smattering of applause when she said she would not sell public assets to pay for the city’s debt.

The city is estimated to have an unfunded pension liability of $19.4 billion. Furthermore, Chicago's outstanding general obligation debt has been estimated at almost $14 billion.

When the candidates were asked if they would support the re-election of Emanuel, two of the six — Niketopoulos, a media professional and Local School Council member, and Pfingsten, who dubbed herself “the lone independent” of the race — flat out said they would not vote for him.

“Does Rahm pay attention to the communities? I don't think he does,” Niketopoulos said, prompting disagreement from Pattison who argued a boost in tourism and local events like Choose Chicago as big efforts under the Emanuel administration.

Hopkins, a 17-year planning committeeman who touted his experience writing development plans and ordinances, predicted “a spirited race” and Buenrostro said she was open to partnerships with the mayor.

“[Emanuel] did have a lot of tough choices to make,” Buenrostro said. “If he becomes mayor I will work with him. I would not want constituents of the 2nd Ward to suffer.”

Looking to the future, many of the candidates spoke of preserving neighborhood’s unique character, questioning upcoming issues such as the redevelopment of the A. Finkl & Sons Co. steel plant site and a likely rise in street festivals and large-scale neighborhood events in the coming years.

The incoming alderman and community members will need to “develop the ward holistically,” said Wilson, a Marine Corps veteran.

For a rundown of Wednesday night's 1st Ward Debate, click here.

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