DUNNING — A retired city worker running for 38th Ward alderman said his highest priority is to get a new high school built in Dunning to give parents an alternative to Steinmetz and Taft high schools.
Michael Duda, 55, who retired in 2012 after 15 years as a supervisor in the city of Chicago's water department, said a new high school will solve a host of problems in Portage Park and Dunning by boosting property values and attracting families with young children.
"We need a quality alternative to Steinmetz," said Duda, adding that he would continue to work to improve the high school, which draws students from parts of Dunning and Portage Park.
Acknowledging that the price tag for a new high school is likely close to $100 million, Duda said it was needed because Chicago Public Schools' selective enrollment system is weighted against students from relatively affluent areas such as the Far Northwest Side.
"A new high school would help everything in the ward," said Duda, who grew up near Hiawatha Park and has lived near Shabbona Park for 14 years. "It would definitely boost property values, and that would fill the storefronts that have been empty for a long time."
A proposal to build a new high school on vacant land near near Oak Park Avenue and Irving Park Road in Dunning has been floating around for many years, without concrete plans moving forward.
Taft High School in Norwood Park remains the largest and most crowded public high school in Chicago, with 3,233 students studying in a building meant for 2,184 pupils, according to data released by Chicago Public Schools officials.
Steinmetz has 1,628 students, down approximately 10 percent this school year from last school year.
Duda, who is married and has no children, is one of seven candidates in the Feb. 24 election, the first under a new City Council map that moved most of Dunning from the 36th Ward into the 38th Ward.
Ald. Tim Cullerton, whose family has represented the 38th Ward since 1973, will retire when his term ends in May.
The new 38th Ward map has turned the election into the "wild, wild west," Duda said.
"I'm a hands on guy," Duda said. "I know I can do better."
A challenge filed by Janelle Rau-Clauson, an assistant director for the Service Employee International Union, against Duda's nominating petitions claiming that the candidate did not collect enough signatures was dismissed by Chicago elections officials.
"I did everything by the book and didn't cut any corners," Duda said. "The challenge shouldn't have happened. It just takes money away from candidates."
Duda has no plans to set up a Facebook page or website for his campaign, saying he prefers to talk to voters one-on-one. In addition, Duda said he doesn't plan to raise any money for the campaign — until he makes it into the runoff between the top two candidates set for April 7 in the event that no candidate gets at least 50 percent of the vote.
If elected, Duda said he would focus on making sure city services are delivered to residents. The current system of responding to requests for help is a failure, he added.
"They're polite, they'll take your call," Duda said of the current aldermanic office. "But you never hear back. The residents deserve a lot more than they are getting."
The other candidates in the race are Chicago City Council legislative aide Belinda Cadiz; Realtor Tom Caravette; Carmen Hernandez, a City of Chicago water department investigator; Cook County Forest Preserve police officer Jerry Paszek; Heather Sattler, the chief operating officer of the 100 Club of Chicago; and Ald. Nicholas Sposato (36th).
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