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4th, 5th Ward Candidates Spar at Hyde Park Forum

By Jamie Nesbitt Golden | January 12, 2015 6:02am
 Ald. Leslie Hairston (5th) (l.) and Ald. Will Burns defended their records at a candidate forum Saturday, Jan. 10, 2015.
Ald. Leslie Hairston (5th) (l.) and Ald. Will Burns defended their records at a candidate forum Saturday, Jan. 10, 2015.
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HYDE PARK — It might have been cold outside, but tempers were anything but at a forum Saturday featuring 4th and 5th Ward aldermanic candidates.

Incumbents Leslie Hairston (5th) and Will Burns (4th) defended their records while their opponents, buoyed by an energetic crowd, sought to challenge the aldermen on issues including education, housing and economic development.

The panel, hosted by the Coalition for Equitable Community Development, included 4th Ward challengers Norman Bolden and Bey Financial CEO Tracey Bey, and 5th Ward contenders Anne Marie Miles, Jocelyn Hare and Robin Boyd Clark.

While the forum remained civil, tensions rose between Hairston and Harlem transplant Boyd Clark when the latter spoke of the lack of economic development and use of TIF money in the 5th Ward.

“It’s great that we have a new high school, but none of the businesses have seen that money,” Boyd Clark said to a smattering of applause. Hairston responded by touting her accomplishments, which included bringing the second highest-grossing Starbucks in the city to 71st and Stony Island.

Meanwhile, Hare advocated a data-driven approach to solving the ward’s affordable housing woes, proposing the idea of Community Asset Mapping to pinpoint missing neighborhood resources.

“By doing a neighborhood analysis, we can plan for housing better and see where it’s needed,” Hare said.

4th Ward contender Bolden took aim at Mac Apartments and the University of Chicago, blaming them for skyrocketing rents, and Burns for a lack of oversight.

“They’ve restricted access to families, seniors and students,” said Bolden, who promised to maintain an “open door” policy to assure community voices are heard.

“Diversity isn’t just about race or income, it’s also about allowing folks who have lived here for a long time to continue to live here,” Burns countered, highlighting his efforts to set aside affordable units for seniors. Burns also reminded the audience of his support for the recent minimum wage increase, advancing it — along with a return to “open housing” testing — as possible solutions to the housing crisis.

All of the candidates agreed with the idea of a revised Affordable Requirements Ordinance, which allows developers to choose between setting aside of percentage of units in any new development as affordable housing or paying a $100,000 fee to the city. Hare suggested an increase in the fee and stiffer penalties for developers who don’t pay up while Miles advocated implementing an open lottery to improve building diversity.

Bolden criticized the initiative, saying it has only yielded 189 units in the last decade out of the 1,000 promised and that most developers got away with making only a single payment.

“It allows developers to easily gentrify instead of diversify,” he said, to applause.

The candidates were split on how to improve the school system, with Clark pushing for an elected school board and Hairston reminding the crowd that she’d spent the last year unsuccessfully petitioning for one while increasing the number of afterschool programs in her ward.

Most of the panel acknowledged the budgetary issues but cautioned against the reliance on state funding, calling for more community involvement.

Miles proposed an absentee hotline that would allow the alderman’s office to help residents lacking basic resources to keep their kids in school, an idea that elicited a scoff from Hairston, who explained that schools wouldn’t be able to report student absences to aldermen due to privacy issues.

The forum ended on a spirited note with all of the challengers calling for a re-evaluation of the Tax Increment Financing program, and greater transparency of the process. But as Burns took credit for improving the 53rd Street corridor, the audience jeered. Bolden said Burns pushed small businesses out of the area.

Both sets of candidates will meet one more time before the Feb. 24 election, with the Hyde Park-Kenwood Community Conference hosting a 4th Ward aldermanic forum on Jan. 24 at Kenwood Academy and a 5th Ward forum on Jan. 31 at a location yet to be announced.

Pastor Jedidiah Brown, who is scheduled to appear in front of the Board of Elections on an objection to his candidacy on Tuesday, attended the meeting but did not speak.

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