BEVERLY — If Ald. Matt O'Shea (19th) is re-elected on Feb. 24, he believes it will be because of his record.
O'Shea was elected to his first term on Feb. 22, 2011. He defeated four challengers, including Anne Schaible who is again running in the upcoming municipal election. In the previous election, O'Shea received 14,426 votes or 61 percent of the total.
A lifelong resident of Beverly, O'Shea sat down with DNAinfo ahead of the vote to discuss his campaign.
O'Shea previously worked as an assistant to his predecessor, Ginger Rugai who served as 19th Ward alderman for two decades. He's also worked as a social worker in the Cook County court system, assistant director of operations for Cook County Sheriff Michael Sheahan and director of community programs at the Chicago High School for Agricultural Sciences.
His wife, Cara, is a teacher at the magnet high school in Mount Greenwood. They have three children: Brigid, 12, Patrick, 10 and Eileen, 8. All of them attend St. John Fisher Elementary School in West Beverly.
O'Shea pointed to improvements in public safety, education as well as business attraction and retention during his tenure. He also touted the restructuring of debt held by the Beverly Arts Center and the construction of the Morgan Park Sports Center.
"We've accomplished a lot, and there's a lot more work that needs to be done," O'Shea said from his office at 10400 S. Western Ave. in Chicago.
O'Shea believes improvements made at Morgan Park High School, Esmond Elementary School and Barnard Elementary School stand out during his current term. He was able to secure a shared grant of $540,000 for after-school programs at the three schools.
He also pushed for a dual enrollment program between Morgan Park High School and Saint Xavier University. And he believes Saint Xavier, Barnard and Esmond could also to benefit from future partnerships.
At Mount Greenwood School and George F. Cassell Fine Arts School, O'Shea said he worked to add space and reduce overcrowding. He also worked with administrators at the Ag School as well as state officials to increase enrollment at the high school by 120 spots — all of which are dedicated to students from the 19th Ward.
O'Shea further pointed to improvements in public safety during his time as alderman. According to statistics provided by his office, burglaries, robberies and motor vehicle thefts are all down by more than a third since his election. Aggravated batteries are down by 25 percent for the same time period.
"Factually, our crime is down since 2011. That is not declaring victory, but it's progress," he said.
He credited local police for the declines as well as efforts by his office to encourage residents to call 911. He also believes seminars on identity theft, burglary and senior scams have helped improve neighborhood vigilance.
If re-elected, O'Shea said he also hopes to continue to improve neighborhood business districts. He lamented the loss of Panera Bread on 95th Street and the continued vacancy of the former Borders bookstore.
"Moving forward, economic development will be my top priority," O'Shea said.
As part his economic development plan, O'Shea said he's willing to work with any business owner interested in changing the area's liquor laws — albeit for the "right" project. Notably, the sale of alcohol is prohibited on the east side of Western Avenue, along 95th Street as well as in several other smaller shopping districts.
O'Shea said he will not pursue a blanket effort to change these restrictions. First, such a move would require a difficult vote from constituents. Overhauling the current law could also open up these areas to the addition of unwanted nightclubs, O'Shea said.
Although often voting with Mayor Rahm Emanuel, O'Shea scoffed at the suggestion he was a "rubber stamp." He pointed to several battles with the mayor including his initial reluctance to bring back the South Side Irish St. Patrick's Day Parade and his outcry over the city's decision to increase the mandatory minimum wage.
O'Shea admitted to sometimes voting for measures he disagreed with but only after gaining certain concessions. He specifically pointed to an ordinance banning plastic grocery bags. O'Shea said he voted to approve the measure only after he was allowed to write in an exception for stores with only one location within the city.
"It's all about compromise," O'Shea said.
O'Shea believes his willingness to cooperate played no small part in two of the biggest developments in his tenure: the financial bailout of the Beverly Arts Center and the addition of an ice rink and gymnastics center in Morgan Park.
"We were months away from a boarded-up community institution at 111th and Western," said O'Shea referring to the Beverly Arts Center's $4.7 million in mortgage debt in September 2013.
O'Shea said he was able to work with the mayor's office, the lender and state officials to develop a plan to save the financially strapped arts center. Dubbed the BAC Challenge, the effort also required donations from local families who responded above and beyond the initial fundraising goal of $500,000.
Today, the arts center has a more manageable mortgage of $980,000. It also has a new director, who has been able to focus on bringing quality programming to the neighborhood, O'Shea said.
Undoubtedly, the Morgan Park Sports Center is the biggest development since O'Shea took office. The 64,000-square-foot building is set to be open this summer. It will occupy a pair of long-vacant lots at 11505 S. Western Ave.
"It is almost 20 years since the first discussions of a recreational center being put there," O'Shea said.
For her part, Schaible disputed many of O'Shea's claims. She said overcrowding continues to plague elementary schools within the ward, particularly in Mount Greenwood. She also believes the Ag School has the capacity to hold 1,092 students. Current enrollment stands at 682.
Schaible had different figures in relation to crime as well, saying shootings, motor vehicle thefts, murders and aggravated batteries are all up in O'Shea's tenure.
Unlike O'Shea, Schaible said she'd back an effort to overhaul liquor laws in "dry" areas throughout Beverly. But she'd limit these changes to strictly allow for the table service of beer and wine. She's also against using tax increment financing dollars to attract new tenants.
As for O'Shea's two biggest achievements, Schaible questioned why the finances at the Beverly Arts Center ever spiraled out of control in the first place. She further questioned the lack of parking at the Morgan Park Sports Center and if the $18.5 million for the project would have been better spent improving existing parks.
The two candidates will each have an opportunity to present their case at 7 p.m. on Tuesday at Morgan Park High School. A one-hour candidate forum will allow for questions and answers from both O'Shea and Schaible. The debate will be moderated by the League of Women Voters.
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