CANARYVILLE — Whatever candidate wins the 11th Ward alderman's chair next month, it's clear that some form of change is coming.
It will start with basic services like a phone number that leads to voicemail, online service requests, email blasts, social media pages and ward nights — services that have been missing from retiring Ald. Jim Balcer's old-school operation but amenities that all three candidates vying to replace him have pledged to provide.
The three candidates — Maureen Sullivan, John Kozlar and Patrick Daley Thompson — took to their podiums at a packed St. Gabriel auditorium on Wednesday to make their case for how they'd improve the 11th Ward, which neighborhood historians say has been governed by appointed aldermen dating back to 1969.
In some ways, the forum hosted by the Canaryville Improvement Association was a rehash of what the candidates have already laid out to voters in their campaign websites, TV appearances and news stories.
Sullivan, the political newcomer who's scored endorsements from the Chicago Teachers Union, Illinois Green Party and a few grassroots groups, staked out a progressive platform that includes participatory budgeting for the alderman's $1.3 million discretionary budget, using tax increment financing funds to renovate the Ramova Theatre and tough stances against charter schools.
Kozlar kept to his message of having the ward work together to get things done. Addressing the critics of his young age, the 26-year-old law student said becoming an alderman wasn't a one-man show.
"Well, who said I'm doing this by myself? I have five great neighborhoods that are going to help me," he said, referring to the redrawn ward map that now includes parts of University Village and Pilsen in addition to Bridgeport, Canaryville and Armour Square.
And Thompson, the Metropolitan Water Reclamation District commissioner and corporate real estate attorney with close family ties to the Daley political dynasty, laid out his vision for Halsted Street — "the spine of our community" — while acknowledging the financial realities of a city facing a massive financial pension crisis.
Still, the forum offered a chance for each candidate to roll out some new ideas and for Canaryville residents to hear messages tailored to their South Side enclave.
Thompson, for example, unveiled a plan to convert the vacant city-owned landmark Stock Yards National Bank building at 4146 S. Halsted St. into a restaurant and museum that would pay homage to the history of the Union Stockyards.
Sullivan had volunteers pass out blueprints for what a renovated Ramova Theatre might look like, complete with a cafe, gallery and office space.
Kozlar said he'd like to convert the beleaguered Tilden Career Academy High School, with its low enrollment and below-CPS-average 58.8 graduation rate, into a trade school that could offer a pipeline to the workforce for students who aren't bound for college.
(The other candidates also supported some sort of action to give Bridgeport, Canaryville and Armour Square students a new public high school option — Sullivan wants to explore a piecemeal renovation that could include a trade school; Thompson said he'd support a new high school in the ward.)
Throughout the night, Sullivan and Kozlar took aim at Thompson's ties to Balcer and Cook County Commissioner John Daley, both of whom share space at the 11th Ward office with Thompson.
Sullivan called the trio the "three amigos" and saved some special venom for Thompson, who's part of the South Loop Chamber of Commerce, a group that's been criticized by some Bridgeport business owners for a lack of action.
"I want to know where the hell he's been," she said. "He's been on the chamber and Halsted Street needs help."
Wednesday's forum was the first of two public discussions featuring the 11th Ward candidates. Another forum hosted by the Bridgeport Alliance is scheduled for 3 p.m. Sunday at First Lutheran Church of the Trinity, 643 W. 31st St.
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