LAKEVIEW — Mayoral candidates vowed to get Chicago back on track during the Green Party's mayoral forum at the Second Unitarian Church in Lakeview Saturday.
Ald. Robert Fioretti (2nd), William "Dock" Walls and Cook County Commissioner Jesus "Chuy" Garcia tackled education, tax-increment financing reform and environmental issues during the forum at the church, 656 W. Barry Ave. Candidate Willie Wilson did not attend, nor did Mayor Rahm Emanuel.
Garcia kicked off the forum by highlighting his experience as an alderman, state senator and Cook County commissioner, emphasizing the need to develop each Chicago neighborhood and "empower them to turn back the corporate agenda that has hijacked city government."
"My message is to bring prosperity to the neighborhoods...and ensure that all of Chicago moves forward," said Garcia, who could not stay for the entire forum.
Fioretti echoed Garcia's opening statement questioning the choices of Mayor Rahm Emanuel's administration: "We see [this administration] stripping away the programs that are necessary for our children, and we are facing a future that is headed in the wrong direction for way too many people."
Perennial candidate Walls emphasized the need for "superior education" for every children in Chicago, criticizing the decision to close 50 neighborhood schools.
"We have gang lines, that are well defined and well drawn," Wells said. "When you close schools, you force children to cross gang lines, and often times those children have to decide whether they want to live or get an education. They are forced out, especially when you close community schools. "
Garcia said the lack of an elected school board means there is less accountability.
"I voted against the bill that in 1995...gave all the power to the mayor [to appoint the school board]," Garcia said. "That's also the same bill that began charter mania that we've seen grow out of proportion in Chicago."
Fioretti highlighted his repeated efforts in city council for a moratorium on charter schools, and criticized lawmakers across the state for being absent during discussions about the school closures.
The candidates also targeted TIFs, with Walls calling them a tool to benefit corporate interests rather than blighted neighborhoods.
Fioretti agreed the TIF program can work, in theory, and detailed his efforts to use it to benefit the 2nd Ward.
"I've used [TIF funds to support] affordable housing, repair streets, create parks, enhance parks," Fioretti said. "That's what TIFs should be used for. They should not be used for corporations who can afford to build buildings like Marriott. You mean to tell me that a corporation can't build it's own hotel?"
The candidates also addressed the environment, with Walls advocated more wind, solar and geothermal power. Fioretti said local water systems needed to be better protected from chemicals, pointing to issues surrounding a petroleum byproduct called petcoke that coats the Southeast Side.
Uptown resident Ivy Czekanski, 34, attended the forum and was excited to hear from the candidates.
"It was nice hear the petcoke problem mentioned three times by the candidates," Czekanski said. "Mayor Emanuel has swept the issue under the rug. I think we are ready for a new mayor who can deal with the environment."
The mayoral forum was the first for Green Party, said Chairman Phil Huckleberry.
"We haven't done anything like this before; we are very happy that we are doing this this year," Huckleberry said. "We have been committed to giving Greens the opportunity, and other people the opportunity, to hear from candidates on some issues that may not come up in other debates or forums.
"These candidates are hitting the mayor on the same issues. Forums like these can help make a distinction from the other candidates."
Emanuel has agreed to a series of five debates before the primary election Feb. 24. The first will take place Jan. 27.
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